Sunday, November 20, 2016

Learning and Unlearning Reality

“I am not some misunderstood mutant from a comic book or a horror movie, although some have treated me as such. I am simply able to see any issue from both sides. Sometimes I flatter myself that this is a talent, and although it is admittedly one of a minor nature, it is perhaps also the sole talent that I possess.”

                                                                                -From “The Sympathizer” by Viet Than Nguyen

Do you guys like to think about space and time and parallel dimensions? I do. "A Wrinkle in Time" is my number one favourite book. And I mean, that's a kids book but I also read like, the first 5 pages of "A Brief History of Time" by Stephen Hawking and I definitely plan on reading the rest really soon*.

Even though my knowledge of the time-space continuum is limited to the children’s fiction level, the idea of parallel worlds fascinates me. And when I get to thinking about it, I realize that in a very real and non-fantastical, and not even impossible to understand scientific way, parallel dimensions absolutely exist and we’re interacting with them all the time.

There are 7 billion people on the planet, and each one of us is existing in our own personal reality that has been shaped by our environment, the things that have happened to us, the things that we have been told. There are no two people who perceive the world exactly the same. And each person’s reality is 100% real and true to them. We internalize our own reality, but we also project it back out onto the world. We’re all on one planet, and there’s over 7 billion realties all stacked on top of each other (and fucking each other up). 

One of the most personally influential books I have ever read is “How to be Compassionate” by the Dalai Lama. There are many pieces of wisdom within the book, but the one that has stuck with me the most is that “all beings want happiness and do not want suffering”. What that means to me is that every person is just doing what they believe they need to do to be happy and not to be hurting. This idea has helped me through many situations when I felt as though I was being wronged or hurt by someone else. It was never about me. It was just them doing what they felt like they needed to do to be happy.

Trying to be a better person, like the Dalai Lama, or like a dog

Lately I have been struggling to feel compassionate towards some people. When it comes to many forms of prejudice-sexism, racism, xenophobia, I have held fast to the belief that people are just acting according to their reality, to what they have been taught. They just don’t know any know any better, they need education. And once they know better they will act better! But lately I’ve been pretty discouraged.  Some people seem to be very attached to hate, no matter what you tell them. Sometimes I question if it’s even that helpful to be compassionate towards people who themselves show no compassion.

Compassionate or not, we ALL bring our prejudices, our preconceived notions, our ideas of how things are supposed to be around with us. We all project those things onto the world. We’re all looking at the world through whichever filter we’ve already put on our lens. That’s part of why I avoid labeling myself anything or associating with any group. I like making my own decisions about how I feel about things on a case by case basis. The only label I’ve felt was a strong part of my identity is…Bartender. Even though that’s no longer my full time job, and I’ve had lots of other roles in restaurants, when I say "I'm a bartender" it feels like yeah, that's what I am. Working at bars has taught me more about people than I’ve ever learned in any classroom, and has had a pretty huge role in shaping my character. I don’t care who you are. You walk into my bar, I’ll serve you a drink and talk to you. If you’re a dick, you gotta go. I think that’s a pretty good lens to be looking through. 

I’m not writing this because I have some powerful message. I don’t. I hate all these internet think pieces that seem to proclaim THIS IS THE ANSWER. I just have a lot going through my mind and I thought I'd try to capture some of my thoughts to share.  The past year I have made a very conscious effort to educate myself about race and gender issues, spirituality, war, politics, mental health…so many issues that are ubiquitous and highly contentious in the current public dialogue. I’m trying to figure out what the fuck is going on here. I’m trying to unlearn a whole bunch of stuff and learn a whole bunch of other stuff. I’m trying to look at everything in a million different ways. With every new book I read I ask myself, am I now just being influenced by what this author said? What’s even real? What is the truth? It feels impossible to know. 

I think the next thing I’m going to try to learn is how to teleport to Mars. Or how to get to a parallel universe that’s just me and thousands of dogs. Now that sounds like a perfect reality.

Thank you for reading.

*totally never finishing that book.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Difference Between Hate and Not Knowing

I always thought of myself as being pretty knowledgeable, and very very accepting when it came to transgender people. Ten years ago I read a book called “Gender Outlaw” by Kate Bornstein, who is a prominent writer and advocate in gender theory. Around the same time I read a novel by Chris Bohjailan “Trans-Sister Radio,” which detailed one person’s experience going through transition. I even(kind of) knew one trans person, and of course, I followed the stories of the two most recognizable figures in the trans movement, Caitlyn and Laverne. I totally knew what was up and I was all for it.

And then I met Layla. Layla is eighteen years old and one of the most well-spoken people I’ve ever met. Getting to know her, I realized that it was ridiculous to think that I “got” trans people, just because I knew a little bit about five trans or gender non-conforming people.  I stopped congratulating myself for being so compassionate and started actually listening. I did feel compassionate, which I think is a good start. But I had to a lot to learn.

Recently Layla and I sat down and recorded a conversation based on many we have had previously. We planned the interview well in advance, and Layla was involved at every stage of presenting the content below.

I’m constantly learning from Layla. Even in this interview. At one point Layla talks about the importance of saying “trans people”, rather than just saying “trans”. As I listened back to the recording, I caught myself saying the wrong thing a bunch. I was tempted to edit it as I was transcribing the audio. But I felt like I should be real about the fact that this is learning process for everyone, and not get back on my high horse about it.

Layla is someone I care a lot about. This is a collaborative effort between her and me, with most of the credit going to her.

Here is part of our recent conversation.
Thank you, Layla


Me: So I don’t think I’ve asked you…how was prom?
L: Prom was really good…My friends had a professional photographer come in, so we got a lot of nice photos. Those went up on like my Facebook and stuff. And then the actual dance was kinda lame. The DJ sucked. But I kinda walked in anticipating that it wouldn’t be that great. So I didn’t get let down. But then I went…like the after prom was pretty cool.

 Me:(We both laugh) The after party is always better. That’s cool. I liked what you wore. Who did your makeup?
L: I went to Voila. It’s downtown

Layla, dressed for prom

 Me: Ok so I guess we’ll just get into the main stuff. You have been open as trans for how long now?
L: Since November, so like a while.

Me: And I guess we’ve talked about this a lot. But since you’ve come out as trans, you’ve[expressed that you have] been in a really positive place.
L: Yeah like I’m definitely happier now. A little more at peace with myself.

Me:You kind of described it to me the other day, just how being trans isn’t the whole of your personality, but being able to be open about that one aspect has made a lot of other parts of your life better.
L: Yeah exactly. I do things I like to do more comfortably.

Me: What do you like to do?
L: I used to run a lot.  I play guitar, I cook. That’s it. I play video games too. Other than that I’m always working

Me: Pretty normal stuff.
L: A few hobbies and school and work.

Me: And how has [your coming out] been received?
L: At school it’s been really cool. All my friends, super cool. I didn’t lose anybody. Because I know that is a thing that happens with some trans people, they lose people along the way. That didn’t happen for me. Teachers, all good on them. They’re all super supportive. Um, I know the school administration knows, they got told just in case any bullying came up. None of that happened. No one…I was kind of surprised because there’s those kids who you kind of expect to receive some shit from. But I didn’t get anything from them. If anything they were super cool.

Me: That’s awesome. I think like, we’ve talked about how people your age have been exposed to this kind of this more than maybe people my age. 

L: Yeah, people get to choose what they see. Rather than before there was less access to things. Like, sure you could go and read about stuff, but it was always people who were like, chosen to [represent their community], rather than now, anyone who wants to have a voice can have a voice.

Me: Do you feel that coming out as trans, there’s some level of responsibility on you to be an activist?
L: Well yeah, or at least a good role model. For a lot of people that I know, I’m the first, or one of the few trans people they know. And I want them to have a good[impression]. Any type of movement, you always have to do peaceful protests. Because as soon as one person lashes out, people will latch on to that, oh violence! It happened with every single movement. Whenever somebody would be violent, they wouldn’t be taken seriously. People would say, these people are animals. Which they already thought. So you want to break stereotypes.

Me: You’ve talked about educating people?
L: Yeah well, people they ask me questions, and they’re always hesitant. They’ll say something along the lines of, oh, I don’t want to offend you. But I don’t really get offended. Because if I know they’re coming from a place of like...hatefulness is one thing, but just not knowing how to phrase something is another, and I can’t get mad at them for that. Because if they don’t know how, whether it’s because they’ve never had to do it before, I’m not going to get mad them[…]I’ll answer their question and I’ll maybe be like, next time, I’m cool, but somebody else may not be. I’ll correct them and say “say this instead.”

Me: How do you feel about trans visibility in the media?
L: It’s getting better. Like I know there was a magazine that got put on display in my school, and the majority of it was talking about trans issues, and activism. Time magazine has done a lot of articles…the girl from Orange is the New Black was on it…Laverne Cox. Then they did one when Caitlin Jenner came out, which was cool I guess. I don’t like her, I don’t have to like her…

Me: And I think that even if you do like Caitlin Jenner, or Laverne Cox, they choose to present themselves in a way that is more extremely feminine. And I think that’s almost like another misconception. That’s how all trans people want to look.
L: Yeah, there’s definitely girls that want to dress like tomboys, or just in between. They have their days just like any girl, some days you can see that they’re trying a little harder and sometimes it’s whatever[...]Trans people are people. And not all people are the same. That’s why I think I don’t like the term, like before people would refer to “the transgenders”. No. they are transgender people. Trans people. Right? When you remove the “people", whether you are trying to or not, you’re dehumanizing us.

Me: It can be hard not get angry when you see hatred in the world.
Layla: Yeah like, no matter what it is. I’m really lucky for my situation. Because everyone has been accepting. Where I live I don’t have to worry about like, getting harassed or beaten. Or killed. Which is a very big issue for some people. [Violence towards trans people] can happen, and it has happened. It happens a lot. It’s not good.
Me: No, it’s very sad that anyone would think that another human deserves that.

The interview ends on a sad note. It's important to acknowledge, and act against violence towards trans people. But getting to know Layla, and seeing and hearing that lots of different kinds of people can be accepting and chill has been really cool and uplifting. I don't want to add much more, because really, it's not my place to speak on what a trans person experience. I don't know what it's like. And maybe that's part of the point-it's not 'like' anything, it's different for each individual. Like Layla said, trans people are people, and people aren't all the same. But as far as people go, Layla's a pretty fucking great one.

Thank you for reading.