Long Road To Nowhere: In Conversation With A Casual Transphobe

A.K.A.: Watch me beat my head against a wall for almost 3,000 words. [~4,600 words including commentary. Content Warning: Transphobia.]

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This past Monday, a particularly disturbing post came up in my Facebook newsfeed. The post was a series of screenshots posted by the first person from I added from high school after starting my new Facebook [check out her feminist manifesto!]. In the screenshots, a woman from my hometown–Baltimore, Ohio–was airing out her thoughts on a gender variant child in the village.

[Note: If you’re interested in a personal primer, I’ve written at length about growing up in Baltimore in this essay.]

I chose not to even like the post that featured these screenshots on Monday because I was too stressed out by it. I went back on Tuesday and read through them again. I obsessively clicked through the comments section. I relived the earlier parts of an on-going debate.

What was playing out was a verbose argument between a well-mobilized (if aggressive) network of social activists and reactionary villagers who couldn’t help but jump in to defend their neighbor/couldn’t wait to jump on opportunity to spew transphobic hate while getting to call Millennials snowflakes.

Unsure of how to address the situation, I decided to take some advice I’ve been hearing a lot in the last 3 months. After the election, when it was revealed not only that Trump had actually squeaked one out but had done so with the help of the majority of voting white women, I heard calls for white people to start conversations with Trump supporters.

I didn’t get a chance to ask the original poster who (of if) she voted in the Presidential election. But I did reach out to her through a Facebook message to see if she was open to talking with me about she had said and why people were reacting to it so strongly.

I’m not sure what I expected to get out of telling some stranger from my hometown (population: 3,000; more Confederate flags than people of color) that her casual gossip was part of a culture of exclusion, erasure, & outright hatred that had very real and very violent effects on a group that has existed for thousands of years. But I generally try to avoid expectations, especially of people.

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Bad dating show, great life advice.

Having no expectations means I’m rarely disappointed. That’s why I wasn’t surprised to find that behind her casual gossip discussing the gender identity of a child in her community was a confluence of some of the typical defense of the unconsciously bigoted.

Her unwavering beliefs relied upon (in no particular order):

  • One of the fundamental heresies of modern American Christianity; namely, that Jesus wouldn’t want queers to have civil rights in America despite the fact that Jesus would needs “queers,” “civil rights,” and “America” all translated/explained.
  • A powerful internal sense of what constitutes sin, no doubt arrived at after years of biblical & theological scholarship and not, I’m sure, cobbled together from a loose mosaic of conservative morality axioms.
  • A sense that she was the victim in this situation; specifically, a victim of “bullying” on the part of my friend and her activist network who had mobilized an attempt to boycott a coffee shop she claimed to own & operate on her profile but denied owning and operating in other comments. (In a related note, a Thursday morning post from that coffee shop purported that the establishment was under new management, to which I says, “A likely story.”)
  • A boilerplate “I have gay friends” defense, which, among other problematic implications, seems to imply that her gay friends actually like her.
  • A very retro association between queerness and being abused as a child.
  • A foundation of morality on love & respect, which, like, why did you talk shit about some kid on your Facebook then?

It is currently Thursday night, and I’ve decided to share my conversation with her from the last couple of days in light of some other news in Ohio.

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The Short North during a Pride Parade.

Over this past weekend, a gay couple was attacked in Columbus, the state capital. They told media they were walking home from a bar in the Short North They’ve reported that 8-10 men began to harass them with hate speech before starting to throw bottles and, eventually, assaulting them.

The gang of attackers–all of them obvious cowards–brutalized the couple, who had recently moved to the city from California. (To which I say, “Shit, that must’ve been a really fucking good job offer.”) Local news picked up the story on Tuesday, but some of the lesser known national press is running the story now, too.

“I thought I was going to die,” Mantej Sandhu, one of the victims, told a local TV station. He and his partner, Bryson Beier, had intentionally moved to the Short North neighborhood in Columbus, famous for its vibrant gay scene.

“We’re like, ‘Let’s try to center ourselves in the gay area as much as possible,'” said Beier. “I mean we’re very proud to be in the LGBT community. We take pride in that.”

I only found out about this attack earlier today. My reaction was similar in intensity to what I felt when I heard the news that Rae’Lynn Thomas, a trans woman of color who lived in Columbus, had been murdered in cold blood in her own home. But instead of a deep and overwhelming grief like I felt with Rae’Lynn’s case, I was consumed instead by rage.

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Me, pictured earlier today.

I wish I had some really moving takeaway from the conversation below, maybe a magical insight that would erase all of the darkness surrounding our country right now like a supernova.

But I honestly don’t know what to  make of this exchange. Part of me is tempted to write the entire thing off, cut my losses, and go full Mariah on the village of Baltimore. (Picture me, shaking my head & smiling: “I don’t know where.”)

I think I’ve been reminded of the dangerous, willful ignorance of many people–something I tried to forget about when I left Ohio a year and a half ago. Of course, dangerous, willful ignorance is everywhere–even(/especially) the White House–so I don’t know where I thought I’d run to.

Maybe you can tell me what to take away from what follows. (Please? Pretty please??)

Because the only remotely positive thing to come out of all this so far is a weird sliver of self-serving revenge fantasy satisfaction. After spending years terrorized by a town where people sent me pretty regular death threats (and spending more time and money in therapy), I felt like I was finally standing up for the weird, sad, closeted-half-to-death queer I was when I lived there.

[Two more notes: 1. I’ve redacted a lot of identifying information from the below due to claims from this woman’s defenders that they would be doxxing her critics and using that information to engage in retaliatory attacks. There’s too many people I love still in Baltimore, so I’m hoping removing her name will keep this from making it back to her or, more importantly, those making he threats. 2. For the sake my own sanity, I’ve added commentary that was not in the original conversation in italics in brackets just like these.]

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Our feature presentation.


TUESDAY AFTERNOON & EVENING

LUCY:

Hi, [transphobe]. I’m friends with [feminist manifesto friend]. Before you freak out, I’m not writing to threaten or lambast you. I’m writing because I’m a trans woman who grew up in Baltimore & spent my entire life in the closet there out of fear.

If you’re open to it, I’d love to start a dialogue with you about why some of your attitudes are so dangerous for people like me. [I thought it was important to approach her in the space she was in, but that had little effect.]

It may seem inconsequential to you that you hold personal opinions about my community, but I can assure you that these forms of discrimination have very real effects. They contribute to elevated suicide, unemployment, & homelessness rates among trans people, especially trans youth. (I’m happy to provide some research if you’d like more in-depth statistics on any of these claims.)

I haven’t been back to Baltimore in quite some time, and that’s intentional despite the fact that my loving parents still live there. As a visibly trans woman, I have a lot of apprehension about returning to a town where people used to threaten my life just because they thought I was a gay man. I shudder to think what some of Baltimore’s residents would do to me now.

As scary as that is, comments like yours are a part of that same concern for me. Attitudes like yours, ones that invalidate trans people’s feelings, only contribute to the larger issues our community is trying to overcome. When you write “it’s totally stupid” for LGBTQ youth to come out, you’re saying that the only way you’ll accept them is if they stay in the closet.

That rings very true for me given my childhood in Baltimore. I spent a great deal of middle and high school at [local school district] trying my best to dodge and block accusations that I was something other than a straight boy. [“If you can dodge a slur, you can dodge a ball.”] It left me with some profound issues to work through as an adult, including a daily urge to end my own life.

I worry that this message is getting too long [This was an on-going concern for me. I was totally unable to make my messages short enough for easy digestion.], so I’ll wrap things up by saying that I hope you’re willing to engage with me about these issues. [Feminist manifest friend] can be militant at times. While movements need people like her (Google the Stonewall riots if you’ve never heard of them [i.e., because I know you haven’t heard of them]), they also need people to engage in conversations with others who don’t understand.

It’s my hope that your comments come from that–a misunderstanding–and not from hate or malice in your heart.

Best of luck with your businesses. [Sometimes, it’s therapeutic to throw shade.]

 

TRANSPHOBE [presented sic (i.e., without style/grammar/spelling edits) throughout this piece]:

Oh Lulu if you knew me you would know I have no hate in my heart!!!! In fact if I could see you in person I would hug you ! [No thanks.] Listen honestly I know it seems crazy that kids would pretend to be confused but with all the attention and publicity a lot (not all) are doing it for attention. [It actually doesn’t seem crazy; it seems like a garbage reactionary theory of trans identities.] A few I know personally and they’ve never ever had issues. It was a personal comment related to things I have been personally seeing. I am really sorry that you have been treated so horribly! [Words are wind.] I can tell you that I have been the biggest advocate against bullying and the reason I pulled my kid out of [local school district].[Transphobe home-schools her kids.] A few girls that don’t like me decided to start trouble and share that I’m this hateful bigot when I am totally NOT! [The previous sentence should be inscribed on a stone & sent into space for aliens to discover and discern.] There’s so much sensitivity about all of this right now that people are taking what I said and twisting it so they can boycot and whatever else. [Inigo Montoya would like to speak with her about the word “boycot” if I had to guess.] I really am sorry about everything you have gone through , I really know how mean people can be. I’ve gotten threats all day and it’s had me in tears. I feel like they are bullying me coming after my business. Which by the way I have never used to pronounce my religious beliefs, never! I’ve fed teens for free and been totally loving beyond accepting to any of them. [Steel yourself for this next part.] I have gay friends and even though they know where I stand spiritually they also know I love them. [I would LOVE to meet these gay friends in a situation where I could hear what they really think.] I’m so glad you actually messages me and have been so kind and civil and not hateful and mean. For that I thank you !!!

 

LUCY:

[Transphobe], your sentiments are very sweet and I appreciate that. I can totally empathize with feeling threatened–like I said, I’ve been there. But I have a couple of issues with what you’ve written here.

I’d like to start off by admitting that I’m not exactly well connected in Baltimore or at [school district] anymore, so I can’t speak to the specific situation you’re addressing in detail. But I’d still like to address some of what I consider really dangerous ideas you’ve shared.

I’d also like to say that some of this might be uncomfortable or even upsetting for you to read, [i.e., time to put your big girls pants on, sweatie] but that’s sometimes what it takes to confront ourselves when it comes to issues like this one. After I get through some issues I have with what you wrote, I’ll try to explain myself more in the hope that it’ll make the stuff I’m about to say make more sense. [Why was I so nice?]

I want to start by saying that the fact that your words were targeted at a specific child (or children) is what I find the most reprehensible in all of this. It is not okay to discuss the life of a child in your community so flippantly. Regardless of what you might think of their clothes or identity, that is crossing a line. [She never even apologized for this.]

Beyond that, I think it’s a dangerous assumption that you can know what is going on inside this child’s head. From what I can tell, you are not qualified to speak about who this kid is. It’s unclear to me how well you know this kid (or kids) personally. But it seems pretty clear that you don’t have the experience or education to discuss the gender identity of any child without saying something that might offend even the most hard-ass of trans people or our allies.

That rings true in what you said about kids “pretending” to be confused, too. What you see as a cry for attention might actually be a cry for support. From what I remember of Baltimore, there was no group at the school, through any church, or organized by any community group or business to give LGBTQ people a chance to come together. That isolation is worsened by school bullies, teachers who look the other way, and friends who abandon you. In my experience, the other LGBTQ kids wouldn’t even speak out because they’re afraid of being targeted the same way. [And I don’t begrudge any of them for that; they were all smart to do so.] The bullies aren’t just kids who call someone dirty names–it’s an entire community that leaves someone out in the cold.

And that brings me to my final big point: In this situation, you are the bully. I understand that it might feel like [feminist manifesto friend] and her friends are picking on you. But I’ve known [feminist manifesto friend] for almost 15 years. You can question her methods, but I don’t believe this is a personal attack on your humanity. I see it as the opposite–a loud attempt to get you to recognize the humanity of trans people, even those of us are only just beginning the process of questioning, self-discovery, and transition.

Okay, so that’s the mean stuff I have to say about message [i.e., anything critical that I’d expect a conservative to fight me on]. I’d like to share a little bit more about myself now in the hope that it will help you understand why I said what I have so far. [WITNESS MY HUMANITY, FOOLISH CIS SCUM.]

When I lived in Baltimore (and for several years after), I aggressively tried to live up to the macho standard of manhood I’d seen demonstrated throughout my life. I drove a pick up truck, I worked in demolition & renovation, and I did my best to hide that none of it felt right and I wanted to die.

What had started as confusion–running around in mom’s bras as a 4-year-old–had turned into something that had consumed me entirely.

I’m telling you this because I want you to know that confusion is a very real thing for trans people and there’s a lot of complicated reasons why.

The biggest reason is usually that no one has told them that they can be trans. That’s exactly what happened to me. It wasn’t until I saw Caitlyn Jenner on a magazine rack that I said to myself, “Holy shit. I could actually do that?” [Unrelated but still important: fuck Caitlyn Jenner.]

But another big reason that gets talked about more is that people like to attack other people when they see them breaking the “rules” of gender. Sometimes, this means physical violence. But comments like the ones you’ve made are also a form of attack.

I thought for most of my life that I was just “confused” because that’s what other people said about me. Others told me that I deserved to die for who I was, and, for a long time, I believed that, too.

Regardless of what they actually said about me, the message was clear: It was always something along the lines of “Act how you’re ‘supposed’ to or disappear.”

I think it’s unfortunate for you that your post has made you a lightning rod for people who’ve felt that same feeling or sympathize with those who have. [All tea, all shade.] It seems like this was more your [lame as fuck, weak as hell] hot take on some town gossip than an argument against trans people [even though obviously it can be both].

But a lot of trans kids go through confusing phases. Lots of us seem like we’re desperate for attention. (I know a few girls who post selfies like it’s their job.) [AND THEY SHOULD BE FUCKING PAID FOR IT BECAUSE TRANS WOMEN ARE BEAUTIFUL.]

You’re allowed to think whatever you want about us. But when you post about it where others can see, people might call you out on how those beliefs actively hurt a group of people that has been abused by so many for so long.

It’s not about your religion or that you’re worse than Hitler. It’s about people like [feminist manifesto friend] taking a stand for people like me. Because that’s kind of a new thing.

For what it’s worth, my partner is a youth minister in the discernment process for becoming a priest. [I tried it.] They also identify as agender–they don’t want to be a boy or a girl–and use they/them as pronouns to reflect that.

One of their favorite Bible passages is what started to bring me back around to seeing the power Christianity can have for changing the way people think. You might know it–Galations 3:28. [Come through, Jesus.]

It’s different depending on which translation you read, but here’s one version: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” [There’s a giant mural of this verse near my partner’s place now and we both love it.]

Anyway, I hope some of this was helpful or interesting for you. [Rough transition off the Bible quote, but referencing scripture is still pretty new to me.]  It’s certainly a lot of information [that’s been systematically purged from multiple society throughout history]! I’m happy to discuss any of it more or suggest articles about these issues that are probably more fun and engaging that this.

[Let’s get real:] I didn’t know what I was going to write to you, [transphobe]. I was a really powerful mix of angry & sad when I first saw [feminist manifesto friend]’s post with your words. I’m not sure what motivated me to reach out to you and spill my guts like this.

I don’t really believe in trying to change people’s minds. It’s usually way too much work and barely ever worth it in the end. But I hope you’re open to some of the ideas here. They saved my life.

~*~*~

WEDNESDAY MORNING & AFTERNOON

TRANSPHOBE:

Ok I’ve thought about a lot of what you’ve said and you’ve opened up a very personal part of your life that I totally respect. I do want to ask you something more personal and I hope you’re not offended and will be totally honest with me about it, but were you ever abused in any way as a child????

 

LUCY:

Only by other kids and never sexually. My parents are two of the sweetest, smarts, most loving people I know. I only wish I had known that sooner so I could’ve come out to them when I was younger.

In fact, the claims that abuse as a child causes transgender identities have been discredited repeatedly by scientists despite some people’s attempts to push these ideas. [Looking now, the research is actually surprisingly spotty on this. But most research related to trans people is so biased & limited, barely any of it is useful for anything.]

Most experts in the child psych & LGBTQ issues now believe the opposite is true. That is, they believe that being LGBTQ puts kids at a higher risk for being assaulted, not the other way round.

The current thinking on this is that LGBTQ kids become targets because they’re marked as sexually different or because an adult is trying to “teach them a lesson.”

In either of those scenarios, the child is taken advantage of because they’re already being conditioned not to talk about issues related to sex or gender in an LGBTQ-unfriendly environment.

 

TRANSPHOBE:

No that’s not why I asked. I have two wonderful gay friends [Sure you do.] and they were both abused as children . I know it’s not the case with everyone but just wanted to ask [in order to give myself an easy out for misunderstanding the gender identities of 1.4 million Americans]. This is all I can explain to you – I love and follow Jesus , I believe and follow the whole word of God. I believe your kind of lifestyle is sin [They don’t call it “pride” for nothing.] but so is being a gossip or doing out of moderation like getting drunk, lieing, being a glutton. Hatred murder in your heart. [“Hatred murder in your heart” is a great album name.] So when I flippantly make comments about teens or anyone doing things for attention there is absolutely no hatred in my heart and I do not judge any of the sin any more than if Someine has an issue with lieing. [I.e., I’m not sorry because I believe I’ve done absolutely nothing wrong.] I believe whole heartedly that God does not make mistakes! That what is says in the psalms is true! You were knit together by God in your mothers womb and you were fearfully and beautifully and wonderfully made! [This is a reference to a Biblical passage commonly used to discredit trans identities.] With that being said, God also is not the author of confusion but the enemy of our souls is. [I didn’t have the heart to tell her I’m a casual Satanist.] Jesus loves you passionately and more than any person ever will or could! [He should’ve put a ring on it, then.] And He is the only one that can fill the void in all our hearts. With that being said, I hope you can feel my heart. I am [The only paragraph break in all these messages from her was a typo.]

Sorry for all hurt you’ve experienced in your life. I have really been hurt by these attacks against myself personally, I know that’s just a little bit of the bullying you’ve experienced. [“I do not wish to compete for a trophy in suffering.”] But as you can see bullying people for their opinion does not make things right. It only spreads more fear and negativity and hate. We all just need to love and respect eachother with all our differing opinions! I may not like your belief or opinion [or the truth of your identity you’ve arrived at after years of torturous denial and harassment] but it’s not ok for me to attack you for it. Don’t I deserve the same respect???

 

LUCY:

Everyone deserves respect. The difference comes in the political realities of these things, though.

When someone attacks me or someone like me, they’re attacking a member of a group that’s suffered for centuries. They’re attacking someone who can still be fired or denied housing in most of the country for being who they are.

Christianity, in comparison to the LGBTQ movement, is still an incredibly powerful political force in the U.S. [Okay, Mike Pence? I fucking admit it already, for fuck’s sake.] I believe it’s essential to consider the power dynamics of these situations and not just think about people’s beliefs in a vacuum.

Christians are not being fired or kicked out of their homes for their beliefs in America. Maybe this did happen, hundreds of years ago half way across the world. Maybe there are still isolated cases here and there, but even these are often protected specifically under federal, state, & local laws [and–duh–the First Amendment].

The same is not true for LGBTQ people. Less than half of the states have specific protections for sexual orientation and gender identity written as law, meaning that people can be fired for being gay or trans in those states without any repercussions. Religion is protected in all states.

Notably, legislators across the country are not trying to pass laws dictating where Christians can use the bathroom. Another powerful example is sodomy laws. Until a 2003 Supreme Court decision [let me repeat: two-thousand-and-fucking-three], many states still had laws banning anal sex and used these to prosecute the LGBTQ community.

One of the central questions I often find myself asking is: how is this possible in a Christian nation?

My sense of Christ is that he was a radical leftist who believed in a form of socialism. He wanted the sick, the poor, everyone to have the opportunity to thrive.

When Christians today claim they have a right to deny other people rights or services based on their beliefs, it feels like it’s in direct contradiction to his teachings.

Every human deserves a level of respect for their humanity–namely, everyone is entitled to life, liberty, & the pursuit of happiness.

But beyond that, respect is earned. When your position is that a group of people that’s been historically abused deserves to continue being abused by those in power, you run the risk that people will not respect that.

It often doesn’t matter whether or not you think there is hate in your heart because, for many of us, there is hate in your words and that is already too much to bear.

 

TRANSPHOBE:

I understand and respect everything you are saying. Some things I just cannot agree on but i am so happy we can respect each other and agree to disagree! More people should be like you. [I agree. #MakeEveryoneTrans2K17.] I appreciate you reaching out to me! I pray many blessings of love and peace will fill your life! [Maybe just don’t ever say anything that’s not a prayer for love & peace in my life ever again?]

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See you in hell!

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