Before I begin, a few notes. This does not apply to everyone who may read this. This is aimed, generally, at the large amount of allies we in the trans community suddenly have, since the passage of HB-2.
Allies who were nowhere to be found in the first nineteen years I was an out trans. Allies who knew not and cared not while I suffered injustice and indignity alone. Understand that what I am about to write comes from that place.
First of all...being as I am an out trans, post-op, with a birth certificate...HB-2 never actually directly impacted me. Oh, sure the negative vibe surrounding trans in general did...but the law itself never negatively impacted me. So why did I get out there to fight?
I had come to North Carolina in 2014...with the intent and purpose of living my life in peace, as the woman I finally had become...in a place where nobody knew my past. I had, and desired, no connection to the local LGBT community. For a year and a half, I succeeded. My neighbors did not even know I was trans. Some may have suspected, none KNEW. Then, HB-2 happened. And I gave up everything I had hoped to build here...in order to fight it. So...why would I do that?
The answer can be found in the testimony I gave before the NC House on that fateful day...that day that will forever live in infamy...March 23, 2016.
You see, in 1998, I was denied a college education...over these stupid bathroom issues. Five days after Matthew Shepard was killed in Wyoming, on college campus, for the unforgiveable crime of being a gay man...I was told by the Dean of Students at my college...that I could only use men's bathrooms on campus!
This, after a semester of using ladies bathrooms with no issue. This, in spite of holding a Kentucky drivers license identifying me as female.
At the time, I was attending Sullivan College (now Sullivan University) in Louisville, KY. The Dean of Students, Dr. John Padgett (yes I still remember his name) informed me that I could only use men's bathrooms on campus...in spite of the fact I was living full-time female, and held a Kentucky drivers' license identifying me female...and the Dean had no proof of any kind that I was, at the time, pre-op...and there had been no issue with me using the ladies room...certainly I had never done anything wrong.
None of that mattered to Dr. Padgett. He was determined to shove me into men's bathrooms...and put me in direct risk of becoming the next Matt Shepard!
I was thus in a position of having to choose between pursuit of higher education...and protecting my own personal safety and dignity. I chose my safety and dignity. I dropped out of college two weeks into my second semester. And to add insult to injury, I was forced to pay for an entire semester of instruction I never received!
I came out to fight HB-2...and gave up everything I had hoped to build down here (and which I had been, with some success building) in order to fight...so that the college students of today...would not be forced to make the same horrible choice I had to make, way back in 1998.
I tell this story for a very specific reason which I will now make clear: Being an ally does NOT come without personal cost...without personal risk. Being a REAL ally IS NOT ALWAYS SAFE!
Too many of our new-found allies...are allies only when it is totally safe to do so. And that is not getting it done. It is NOT creating the kind of substantive difference we transgender people need...it is NOT creating a real difference for us.
We need at least SOME of our allies (more than are doing this now) to take the personal risks...to step up the game to make a true difference for us.
Too many people SAY they are allies, but are not willing to do what it takes. Too many local companies SAY they support trans...but set a trans woman down in front of them for a job...and watch how quick the trans woman does NOT get hired! And watch how quick they trot out their ONE token trans woman employee to say, "See...we support you..."
THIS IS NOT GETTING IT DONE! We have, in the trans community, an unemployment rate FOUR TIMES AS HIGH..as the general public. And underemployment is rampant. We have a homeless rate many times higher than the general public. All of this contributes to the fact that we have a rate of suicide/attempted suicide TEN TIMES AS HIGH as the general public! This is not because of any inherent mental condition that accompanies being trans...IT IS A DIRECT RESULT OF THE UNFAIR AND DISPERATE TREATMENT TRANSGENDER PEOPLE RECEIVE AT THE HANDS OF SOCIETY!!
So...what do we do about it? What am I asking for...you ask?
If you have read this far, by the way, I thank you. I know this is harsh...and I am not done being harsh yet, I am afraid. But I no longer have the time, the patience, or even the inclination to sugar-coat this for you all anymore. I am laying bare the actual grim reality we transgender people face. I am putting my allies on notice:
I am DONE being nice about this. I am DONE asking pretty please for equality, pretty please for fair and decent treatment. I am DONE asking pretty please not to be hurt and I am DONE asking pretty please to even be considered human at all! I am simply DONE.
For twenty years, I have been nice. For twenty years, I have begged and I have asked pretty please. And I do not see things getting better in real, substantive ways.
I am not getting any younger. I am now closer to fifty than forty, and I am acutely aware that every day...I have to wake up and watch more of my life taken from me...an inch at a time. Every day, I watch my life being made less...and I see not enough people doing what it will take to change it. Must I watch my entire life laid waste??
Now, if you have read this far...here comes the good news. There ARE things you all can do...to be REAL ALLIES. There are things you can do that will begin to make the kind of difference that we transgender people need. And you can do these things regardless of which political party is in power.
And if you want to be a REAL ALLY...then we need you to start doing these things. They are NOT always going to be safe. They are NOT always going to carry no personal risk, no personal price. But the good news there is...the more people who do the things I will now outline...the less risky and the less costly they become!
Let me start by telling you that, for twenty years, my watchwords have been "Without economic justice, there is no justice." Nothing else matters if we are unable to survive financially. That is just the reality of living in a capitlist society.
And, those who stand against us...what ELSE do they think the result is...of denying us transgender people the ability to work and earn a living? Of denying us places to live?
I promised I was going to lay this bare: THE RESULT IS THE DEATH OF MY SISTERS AND BROTHERS!!
These are people I consider family, and I am watching them die every day. I am watching them die not by gun or knife (plenty of them die that way too...and are memorialized every year at a TDOR event) - no, I am watching them die by economic deprivation.
And it may seem harsh, but I do not care anymore: I do not care if your sensibilities are offended...I do not care if I shatter your safe little world...in fact, that is precisely what I HOPE to do here!!
Whether it is by gun, knife or economic deprivation, the result is the same...and as far as I am concerned, it is MURDER. And if you are not ACTIVELY fighting against this...then you are passively involved in it.
So...what am I asking you to do?
Do you have influence with hiring managers? USE IT!! You do not have such influence? Fine. Will you actually recommend a qualified transperson for a job at your company? Will you stick up for your transgender co-worker...even at the risk of being alienated by the rest of your co-workers...even at the risk of having them turn on you...and do to you what they so often do to us - actively try to get you fired? Will you take that kind of risk? THAT is an ally!
Would you recommend a transperson for an apartment to your landlord? Would you stick up for your transgender neighbor...even at the risk of being shunned by the rest of the neighborhood? Will you take that kind of risk? THAT is an ally!
Showing up waving a sign at a rally as a nice, safe part of a faceless mob...is not getting it done. We need some people to step up and take some personal risk.
Heaven knows I am not asking anyone to do what I have not done myself, I gave up EVERYTHING I HOPED TO BUILD HERE...to fight against a law that did not even apply to me...because I did not want the college students of today...to have to make the same horrible choice I had to make.
When you are out and about...and you see a transperson being harassed or verbally assaulted...will you step in to the defense of the transperson? Even if you do not personally know the transperson? If you are out and about and you hear someone making disparaging remarks about transpeople...with or without a transperson around...will you SPEAK UP...and will you tell that person that it is NOT OKAY?? Will you take that kind of a risk? Because THAT is an ally!
THOSE are the kinds of actions we need our allies to start taking. Because these are the things that will begin to make a real difference for us. And I do not see enough of it happening...or I would not feel a need to write this article. And the more people who do it...the safer it becomes to do it!
Just as it takes more than waving a piece of cloth to be a good American...so also it takes more than waving a sign...to be a good ally. Will YOU be a good ally?
I can only hope that my words touch a few people and spur them into action.
Because our very lives depend on it!