I Am … Was … Speechless

For the first time in a long time, I am speechless. I have been for awhile, that’s why I haven’t written anything here since March 29th. I have been absolutely drained, indignant, and exhausted. I was feeling like my work as an advocate was irrelevant and ineffective. It’s not that I became weary of writing, I still love it very much, but I was torn that there was so much going on in my own movement that I disagree with, and I was particularly torn over what I will discuss in a moment. It’s hard to criticize both sides, it makes you feel alone. Then last week, I received a message from a former schoolmate and friend who reminded me that what I’m doing as an advocate is important. With that being said, let’s talk about the more troubling reason I have been speechless … the mind-numbing absurdity of the religious right.

It’s very easy for those of us who engage in pop culture, as progressives, to become blind to the dirty religious underbelly that still permeates our culture. We see progress, laws passed to protect us, backlash and swift consequences for laws that harm us, and our world continues to get better. But behind it all, behind every “religious freedom” bill, and in response to every celebrity who speaks out for us (thank you Bruce Springsteen, Ringo Starr, and others), there sits the brooding and plotting bitterness of the religious right. Every day, the most outspoken evangelicals take to their radio and television shows, their websites, and the publications who print their material, to spew more misinformation and hatred about us … and they have become so comical, so cartoonish, yet so dangerous, that I was left speechless.

By now, everybody knows about North Carolina’s “bathroom bill,” HB2. For those who don’t you can Google it, I will not give it anymore credence by posting a link. In a nutshell, this bill keeps all counties and cities in North Carolina from enacting anti-discrimination laws to protect LGBTQ+ people. It actually prohibits municipal governments from extending non-discrimination ordinances to LGBTQ+ people! HB2 is the result of the irrational fears and panicked reactions of those furious over their loss of privilege, as they take to the streets screaming about “religious freedom.” Arguments for the bill were (are) few, focusing mainly on the debunked “allowing Trans people to use the restroom that best matches their gender identity will make way for pedophiles and other perverts to just say ‘I’m a woman;’ and get access to our wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters.” Never mind the fact that sex crimes have not gone up in places where Trans people are protected while they pee. Never mind the fact that nearly everybody in North America who goes out in public regularly, has most likely shared a restroom with a Trans person and didn’t know it. Never mind the fact that most in favour of the legislation are getting their information from a book that is very obviously not an authority on LGBTQ+ issues, and its evangelical messengers who are just as ignorant as their congregants.

As soon as there were consequences from companies like PayPal … as soon as celebrities like Bruce Springsteen and Ringo Starr started cancelling shows in North Carolina … as soon as politicians decided to veto discriminatory legislation in their own states … the loud and proud religious opponents of equality absolutely lost it. And they continue to lose it! Their anger is manifesting in more and more outrageous claims. Some of these claims are getting so outrageous that I have personally spoken with fans of these people who are starting to raise their eyebrows and question what is being said. This is unprecedented. In my experience, it’s very rare for a follower of any popular evangelist to question what that evangelist has to say. This is a good thing, but at the same time, we have to stay on guard. There are, after all, still many who believe it, and more fear means more risk of violence.

I wonder what it’s like. What is it like to live everyday in fear of what you have never encountered, a fear that only exists because of what a minister told you, or what you think you read in the Bible? Even when I was an evangelical Christian, I wasn’t as out of touch and afraid as these people are. It has really begun to reach a different level. America is boiling over, and it’s causing turmoil beyond her borders as well. Angry evangelicals, the ones who seem to have forgotten how to form a coherent thought or argument, are influencing the impressionable, and violence toward gay, lesbian, and transgender people the world over is going up at the very time it was starting to go down. This is a particularly scary time for Transgender people, who are being subjected to such an obscene level of misinformation that walking out the door can cause an anxiety attack. And all of this is happening because extreme conservatism is in its death throes, and Christian extremists are scrambling to ruin as many lives as they can before the ship goes down.

I have had two reactions to the comical, yet dangerous behaviour of these people over the past few weeks. The first is to laugh. When I hear a full grown adult crying about how they can no longer exercise their religious freedom to oppress others, I find that so pathetic that it’s funny. The second is to become altogether angry and sad. Their rhetoric, as cartoonish and silly as it is, is doing real damage. My fellow Trans people are being killed in droves, my fellow LGBTQ+ people hunted down and murdered all over the world, and all because of the lies of people who use religion to gain dominance. That’s what this is all about, after all. Christians in the west have had the upper hand for so long, that the thought of losing it scares the hell out of them (pardon the pun). So many of them say “I do not condone violence. I am not a hater. I do this out of love.” These are the same people who support Uganda’s laws that punish homosexuality with jail time, and Russia’s reluctance to act in any way respectable. They say nothing of the “corrective rape” of lesbian women going on in so many countries, and some have even gone so far as to praise the actions of ISIS when they throw gay men from rooftops. At the very least, they stay silent on all of the harm, preferring instead to use their voices to say we’re wrong. If this is love, I don’t want it.

If you think you don’t support violence, think long and hard about what initiatives you do support. Learn about the beliefs of those who do support direct violence against me and people like me. Anti-LGBTQ+ beliefs and rhetoric is standard everywhere. It’s all in the same pot, and if you go around condemning me, I am going to see you as just as dangerous as the gun-wielding psycho hunting people like me in Russia. My desire to live, my instinct toward self-preservation, keeps me from differentiating between you and the predator in Africa waiting for the opportune moment to rape an LGBTQ+ person. I know you don’t want to be lumped in with those people, but your rhetoric is the same. And I know it’s the same, I have spent the last three years learning that it’s the same. I know very well the minds of those who wish me harm, either directly or indirectly. Don’t you dare tell me this is out of love.

So I was speechless, I have been speechless, but I guess I’m not anymore. As a matter of fact, I’m more pissed off now. It’s still not safe for me to be myself in some places, and that is unacceptable.

It’s Not “Gender Confusion”

When talking about Trans issues, despite having no knowledge of Trans issues, many evangelical activists like to use the term “Gender Confusion” (or “Gender Confused”). It’s time this was confronted. When people like my favourite evangelical Dr. Michael Brown use this term, it feels like nails on a chalkboard to me. Now, for the record, the reason he is my favourite evangelical is because he is so adamantly outspoken about LGBTQ+ issues, even having written several books on us, but has so little knowledge it’s actually comical. As laughable as his work may be, however, he wields a certain amount of influence, and so do his colleagues. People need to know that Trans identity is not a matter of confusion.

Terms that minimize the validity of LGBTQ+ identities always tend to stem from the same premise – “It’s wrong because God.” The term “Gender Confusion” is inextricably linked to the idea that “God doesn’t make mistakes.” Indeed, “man and woman he created them” is right there in the Bible, and it makes sense that a believing Christian would take that to mean we are all born as one or the other. The obvious problem with this is that people are trying to pin down God’s plan … a plan that is supposed to be unknowable.

So how are we to know what God’s plan is? While it’s true that Genesis lays out the plan for procreation, how do you make sense of people who are born infertile, or those who are intersex? Did God make mistakes with those people? You wouldn’t say so, would you? You would say that they were born that way on purpose, a part of God’s plan, the reason for which we cannot know; and the reason you would say that is because you can’t deny physical evidence … but it’s easy to deny what you can’t see. Gender identity is invisible, and when it enters the discussion, God’s plan is no longer a mystery. All of a sudden, the plan is known, God doesn’t make mistakes, and Trans people are merely “confused.”

Does this not look like faulty logic to you? Is it not the height of arrogance to claim a faith in an unknowable God, and have the convenience of changing the narrative to claim to know exactly what he wants when it suits you? Is this not exactly what we mean when we talk about religion being used to justify hatred or dislike? Gender variance is unseen, it has an element of mystery, and instead of trying learn about it, how cowardly it is to grab your holy book and impose your own biases upon it.

It would be troubling indeed if Trans identity was a product of confusion. To come out and live openly despite the dangers of doing so, to struggle through the rift between social ideals and self, to live in constant fear, to fight for proper healthcare … all due to confusion? We don’t attribute women’s issues to confusion when many women face similar struggles, so why do it with gender identity? Granted, the doctrine of original sin allows for such confusion, attributing it to our fallen nature, but once again we have the application of personal bias to reach a desired conclusion.

Take a moment to consider these questions. Could Trans identity be part of God’s plan? What if the struggles faced by Trans people are due to human social bias, a bias that God did not ordain? All Christian denominations teach that humans are flawed and fallen, what if our dislike of difference is the flaw? Maybe Trans identity isn’t the problem. Maybe the problem is the use of the Bible to justify condemnation. Maybe … just maybe … you’re wrong.

At the end of the day, we are here, we are very real, and many people are going to have to learn to deal with that. Trans identity is broad, it is many things to many people, and if you are not willing to ask questions and accept that diversity is a wonderful thing, I feel sorry for you. You may be confused, but we are not. Trans identity is not “Gender Confusion.” Ask and learn, or bask in your own ignorance. Either way, we know who we are.

 

Pick Your Battles

When I began writing as Outspoken Ally, I was a new advocate. Like many new advocates, I was eager to loudly proclaim the message of equality and speak out against bigotry at every opportunity. I wrote about it, and I did it. Every chance I got, I did it, and what I found over time was that I was wasting a lot of unnecessary energy. Many people are up for the discussion in some form or another, but some either don’t get it or don’t want to. You have to pick your battles, because some just aren’t worth having.

Yesterday, I was speaking with an acquaintance who I have known since High School. The conversation was fine, until he unexpectedly launched into a string of very hurtful insults toward gay men; his comments littered with the word “faggot.” It took every bit of strength I had, but I immediately decided to let it go. Why? Because I would have voiced my discomfort with what he said, and then been dragged into a long, drawn out shouting match that would have left me exhausted, angry, and stressed; having made zero progress. Sometimes a hateful person is just a hateful person, and clashing with them isn’t worth the energy.

Let me assure you that I am still wholly committed to this work. What has happened over the past couple of years is that I have calmed down a little bit. My anger with inequality and those who uphold it, though still there, has given way to a more measured approach. Rather than fight every battle, I prefer to fight those battles that are worth fighting. I can argue with a person who just doesn’t care, and wind up feeling like I wasted precious time, or I can sit down with a person who wants to have the debate, and walk away with a sense of validation. If my opponent is unswayed but was receptive, it was worth the time.

A case in point is Dr. Michael Brown. I find Dr. Brown misinformed to say the least, and have written about him before. In my latest post (Trans Rights In 2016), I said that he decries Trans people as freaks, perverts, and liars. It is true that on his radio show he calls them broken and unnatural, frames the public washroom debate as an opportunity for dangerous men to gain legal access to young women, and blames people like me for perpetuating the “lie” that your gender can be different from your physical sex. Although not using the words “freaks, perverts, and liars,” his message is exactly that, and he took offence to my saying so. It is unlikely that I or anybody else will sway Dr. Brown … but engaging with him IS worth it. As wrong and misleading as I feel he is, he is still capable of intelligent debate. He is a smart man who believes he is doing good, and with people like him, the argument is almost always worth having. That’s why I then encouraged you all to voice your opposition to his misinformation on his Facebook page. (Taking my entire message into account, however – my numerous blog posts speaking out against vitriolic attacks, cursing at those we disagree with, and threats of violence – anybody who reads me regularly knows that I endorse civil opposition only)

If you feel the need to take every opportunity to fight, go for it. As long as you approach it with civility, you have my support. What I am encouraging you to consider here, is to save your energy for fights that are worth having. Before engaging, ask yourself one question. Is it worth my time and energy to confront this person? If you’re anything like me, you might find it less stressful, and more effective for your advocacy, to pick your battles.

Trans Rights In 2016

2016 has to be the year of Trans rights. On November 13, 2015, an article appeared on theguardian.com, outlining the very pressing dangers facing Transgender and gender non-conforming people in the United States today. It was devastating to say the least, and it serves to warn us all that the struggles of Trans people deserve more attention in the year to come.

2015 saw the landmark SCOTUS ruling legalizing marriage equality throughout America, and that was just one of many victories won this year. Despite the fact that LGB people are still facing discrimination, harassment, and the ever-present fear of violence, things have gotten better overall. 2015 has been a great year for equality! We must keep this momentum going in 2016, and at the same time prioritize our push for the same progress in Trans visibility and understanding.

As of Nov 13 (the publication date of the article above), there had been 21 Trans homicides in 2015; almost all of whom were Transgender women of colour. Of the 53 Trans murders between 2013 and 2015, NOT ONE had been reported or prosecuted as a hate crime. Due to social pressures, stigmas, and threats of further violence, we know that most violent crimes against Trans people go unreported, leading to the safe assumption that these numbers are not even close to revealing the reality of the situation. It should be noted here that these are U.S. statistics, but that the struggle for Trans people across the world, including my country of Canada, is just as real.

A Congressional group dedicated to the rights and equalities of LGBTQ+ people in the U.S. has taken the step of putting together a Transgender Equality Task Force, and we have to put our passions into this as well. Governmental and grass roots groups have to both work hard for this, a combined effort that has seen success for decades now. We have to fight just as hard, though hopefully not as long, as we have for the rights and equalities of LGB people.

Note what was just said about the victims of these crimes – in 2015, most were Trans women of colour. It is rightly pointed out in the article that the issue here goes much deeper than mere Transphobia; a definite issue to be addressed, but it only scratches the surface. The deeper issue lies at the intersection of racism, sexism, and transphobia. Immediately clear, and again rightly pointed out in the article, we can no longer afford to address these issues separately. Where do we begin? By listening to the people already talking about it, and asking questions to gain a better understanding.

The push against traditional gender roles, against sexism and for Feminism, against transphobia and for equal rights and dignity, against continuing systemic racism, and many more problems, are here all wrapped up into one. Trans people have become the most at-risk group among the LGBTQ+ community, Trans women of colour especially. Their voices are not being heard loud enough. Their struggles are not being addressed to the proper extent. They are being decried as freaks, perverts, and liars by evangelical activists like Dr. Michael Brown (you can find him, and object to his misinformation, at askdrbrown.org, and ‘Ask Dr. Brown’ on Facebook). Most importantly, the realities they face are not understood. We have to correct that in 2016, before more lives are taken.

I don’t generally make New Year’s resolutions, preferring instead to make lifestyle changes when the time is right. This time, though, right now, is the right time for all of us to make a change toward asking, listening, empathizing, and acting to make things better. Countless LGB people died while we sat and passively argued against inequality. It was only when things reached a tipping point that the push got real and things started to change, and they still have a long way to go. That tipping point came too late for people who never should have suffered the way they did, people who could have been effective voices fighting for their own lives. Are we going to continue to repeat that history?

In every single state but California, “Trans Panic” is currently considered a valid legal defence. For those of you unfamiliar with what that is, “Trans Panic” is the argument that upon learning that the person they were involved with was Transgender, the murderer panicked, lashed out in an uncontrollable rage, and cannot be held responsible for their actions. Since Trans people are seen as such a shockingly disturbing bunch to an aging white cis-male legal establishment, “Trans Panic” can be used for nearly any situation – from brief social interactions to a romantic relationship. After all, who’s to say that panic and murder aren’t warranted when you buy someone a drink at a bar and find out they have unexpected genitalia, right? “Trans Panic” frees the guilty and blames the victim. It says the victim deserved to die, and this somehow makes sense to the legal establishment in every American state but one. This has to change in 2016.

The good news is that there are people already talking about this. What we have to do is start listening to them. It took a long time, but many people have come around and taken the time to understand what it means to be gay and/or lesbian. It was once thought that bisexuality wasn’t a real thing, but people know differently now; and bisexuality is better understood. Two-spirited people are beginning to be celebrated in some communities, Queer people are entering the discussion and we’re telling our stories, and asexuality is beginning to be talked about as well. The challenges and dangers facing these groups are still there, but things have improved greatly. Let’s make 2016 the year we give Trans issues the attention they deserve. Let’s make 2016 the year we force the discussion about the intersectionality of racism, sexism, and transphobia. Let’s make 2016 the year we tell our legal representatives that “Trans Panic” is a disgusting and dehumanizing argument that has to be thrown in the trash where it belongs.

2016, I must admit, is also going to see me asking more questions. I intend to ask about terms that confuse me – terms like “transage,” and “trans-species.” I want to learn more, to know if my inclination toward dismissing terms I find suspect is valid or the result of my own ignorance. Humanity is complex, we are all very unique and fascinating creatures. Before venturing an opinion or point-of-view, especially for a person who chooses to live as an outspoken ally, information has to be sought out and carefully taken in.

My plans for 2016 are many, but where my Trans advocacy is concerned, I intend to ask, learn, act, and aggressively fight for the equality, rights, dignity, and acceptance of the Trans community.

Have a safe and happy New Year!

 

“The Bible Doesn’t Say That”

Contrary to what one might assume from the title, I am not going to talk today about whether or not the Bible condemns homosexuality. I have made my thoughts on that clear from a scriptural perspective on my ‘Think’ page, and from a legal perspective in the article “2015 Talk Round-Up: Biblical Law.” Today, I offer some quick thoughts on the argument that the Bible does not tell believers to judge or condemn. You know, the whole “who am I to judge? The Bible tells us to love” thing.

Every time the accusation of self-righteous condemnation is levelled, I hear Christians responding in regard to whatever group is under scrutiny with “those aren’t real Christians. They are judging, and that’s against the Bible. The Bible doesn’t say that.” Every time I hear this, I have to wonder if those people saying it have ever actually read the Bible.

Here’s the thing. The Bible commands believers to “rebuke the sinner” (Matthew 18:15, Luke 17:3, 1 Timothy 5:20, and many more). Jesus commanded believers to “judge righteously” (John 7:24). IF you are a Christian who believes the Bible is the word of God, and IF you listen to what Christ said, and IF you look to God to determine your actions … then it IS your place to judge, it IS your place to condemn. The Bible DOES say that.

This is a pretty simplistic and brief argument of course, and it could be argued at great length from both sides. The point I am making is not that the Bible says one thing. The point is that Christians who condemn us for being LGBTQ+, or for whatever other reason, if they believe we are worthy of judgment, are just as much Christians as those who say otherwise. It is very misleading to say that the Bible tells believers only to love when that is very clearly not the case. It does say to love and have compassion, and it also says to judge and rebuke. Which part you choose to follow, if any, will be determined in large part by what kind of a person you are. Choosing to follow the love parts doesn’t make you any more of a Christian than choosing the judging parts. I’m not saying the Westboro Baptist Church is scripturally justified of course, the word “fag” is nowhere in the Bible, but the guy who told me that I am leading kids away from God, recruiting them into a life of sin, is. He believes what he said, and the Bible told him to do just what he did – judge and rebuke the sinner.

The Bible is a big book, and there is a lot of complexity to it. As frustrated as I and the knowledgeable Christians I argue with get with one another, we at least have a scriptural understanding in common. I find increasingly that pop culture rhetoric on this topic reveals both a lack of understanding of what is actually in there, and an eagerness to use it in social issue debates. The Bible doesn’t just say what we want it to. I would love to tell that guy that he is going against his own holy book when he ignorantly judges me, but he isn’t. It says what it says.

I don’t take the Bible as a moral authority, or as a book with any moral lessons that can’t be found in many other books (I can go to much older texts to find the same lessons). I study it because I grew up trying to follow it. I use my experience, and my knowledge, to help others. In addition to that, the Bible has a tremendous amount of cultural ‘pull,’ and whether or not we use it in any meaningful spiritual way is a choice those of us raised with it have to make. As a Queer person, I have Christians who love and accept me, and Christians who loath and condemn me. All of them are justified by scripture. So the next time you want to say “the Bible doesn’t say that,” think twice. There’s a good chance it does.

 

Today We Remember

Today, November 20, finds us observing Transgender Day Of Remembrance once again. This is a day to honour and remember those we have lost due to fear – fear of people who don’t fit archaic understandings of gender, fear of what Transgender people are percieved to be by an ignorant culture. This is a day to think about the thousands of Trans people killed, the thousands who have taken their own lives, the thousands who are still on the streets, kicked out by families whose “unconditional love” has conditions. Today, we are reminded to ensure that those lives were not lost in vain, and that the lives living homeless deserve better. Today, we strengthen our resolve to keep fighting.

Trans people are beautiful, they are unique, and there is wonderful diversity within the Trans community. Gender variance is fascinating, and “Trans” … a prefix denoting movement, fluidity … is a wonderful representation of that diversity. This is not understood by many, of course, and it’s true that the people we remember today were/are mostly people whose gender identity is either opposite their physical sex, or who don’t fit the male/female gender binary at all. But Trans people come in many forms, and today we and our allies remember.

I encourage all of you today to go to your favourite search engines and look for their stories. Look for the stories of Trans people we have lost. Read about them, about how they lived, how they struggled, and why they died. Read about those still with us, about the heart-wrenching stories of teens kicked out of their homes for no reason other than being someone their parents cannot accept. Think about what can be done to change the hearts and minds of those responsible for this hatred, about how we can make this world a better place.

Today we remember, and we are reminded that hatred must not go unchecked any longer. Let this day of remembrance act as a call for love.

 

Isn’t It Time For Some Of You To Grow Up?

This article is addressed to the many many people who insist on continuing their crusade against the LGBTQ+ community for religious reasons. The time for kind appeals to reason, I fear, is fast coming to an end; so today I’m just going to say it. The lack of maturity you display, as you consistently seek to deny rights based on your belief in a misinterpretation of an ancient holy book, is nauseating. It’s embarrassing to see full grown adults misrepresenting homosexuality as an “act,” conflating sexual orientation with gender identity, condemning people out of fear, making threats of violence, trying to make these views a matter of public policy, and seeking to protect hatred under the guise of religious freedom.

Our children are watching. Your children are watching. Grow up. Are you so childish, so petty, that you must continue with this ridiculous campaign? Are you so miserable in your own life that you have to hinder the happiness of people who are different from you? Must you use words like “cocksucker,” “faggot,” “homo,” etc? Isn’t it time that you stopped preaching love, and instead started to practice it?

When I approach this topic, I usually hear appeals to the well-being of our next generation. The truth is, our children ARE watching; and where I see them being impacted by the spiteful actions and attitudes of their parents, some of the parents I speak with see them being impacted by the harmful “gay agenda.” The difference between my perspective and theirs, is that one of us is appealing to reality, the other to perception. The reality is that children are heavily influenced by their parents. Among the many influences in our lives, the guidance of authority figures throughout our childhood have, arguably, the greatest impact on us. For the majority of us, the most present of those authority figures is a parent or parents. The perception that there is a “gay agenda” designed to make our children gay, trans, etc is NOT reality. It is a ploy designed to do exactly what it does – create fear. Our next generation is suffering much more from the bigotry of the adults in their lives than from a non-existent agenda. What you are really fighting against is a movement to recognize the dignity of every human being. You are arguing against a legal system that recognizes diversity, and protects the rights and dignities of all people. You are fighting against social equality … against the teaching of “love thy neighbour” you claim to believe.

So how about exercising the maturity most of you are capable of? Two-year-olds have more acceptance in their hearts than you do, but by the time they are six, you’ve ruined them. Get a grip, and stop being so miserable. And please, stop meddling in our affairs. If two men get married, and your kids don’t see a problem with it, who cares? It shows that your kids are more mature than you are, and it’s none of your business anyway. My gender identity doesn’t make a single bit of difference in your life, so try staying out of it. Stop teaching our children how to be bad people. Isn’t it time for some of you to grow up?