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.