As the month of June – Pride Month – comes to a close, I feel compelled to pause and reflect for a few moments on where the transgender community finds itself at this moment in its history. The setting for this missive is the beach at Asbury Park, New Jersey where I am taking a break from the blur of activities, events and speaking engagements that come along for the ride when the calendar turns to June. The warm sun and comfortable breeze make for a delightful afternoon where I can be alone with my thoughts. I am a part of a diverse mix of beachgoers on this day: gay, straight, families, young, and old peacefully coexist in a swirl of laughter, animated conversations, Frisbee and volleyball. That’s why I love coming here. I feel like I am part of a family of sorts. The new season, my favorite – summer, has arrived and everything in the world is in perfect alignment.
Ah, if it were only that simple! Depending on your particular point of view, you might agree with that perspective, or vehemently disagree with it. Put in the context of the equal rights of transgender and gender non-conforming individuals, the world seems anything but perfect. While I will acknowledge with deep appreciation the recent strides the community has made: the pending executive order that provides protections for transgender workers with regard to contractors doing business with the federal government, Medicare providing coverage for transition-related healthcare and the Time magazine cover that featured the image of Laverne Cox along with the title “The Transgender Tipping Point – America’s next civil rights frontier.” Well, I’d say that we are making quite a splash – and good for us!
While I am genuinely thrilled by these developments – and how can one not feel just a bit giddy about the “air cover” that the Time coverage provides, I must cop to a more than mild sense of concern about what still must happen for transgender and gender non-conforming people to have a level playing field from which to live their lives. Vast differences remain between my community and the rest of society when it comes to housing, employment and healthcare. You may have seen the numbers, they are frightening, frankly, but what’s more frightening is there are many outside of our community that do not know. You can argue the point that they do not know because they choose not to hear. I have a different perspective: they do not know because they have yet to be reached by us.
That is why I do what I do. It begins with a very simple premise: Education. During this Pride Month I have seen first-hand what the power of education and simply telling your story can have on an audience. It’s about connecting with people on a very human level. It’s about changing hearts and changing minds. What I don’t know is what preconceived notions existed within each person as they enter the room to hear me speak. What I do know is that they left the auditorium with a much different view of what a transgender person is all about. About how human we are, and that we are, in so many respects, no different than they are. Yes, we have our own set of unique challenges, but we are no less human because of them.
How do I know this? Did I suddenly become telepathic? Not at all. I know this because they told me. They told me with their voices when they came to speak with me after I finished my program, and for others they told me with their eyes, their expressions and their smiles as I spoke. Education. It forms a foundation of Understanding. That, in turn, sows the seeds of Acceptance.
It’s about time a wider and brighter national spotlight has been cast on our community. For us to have our voices heard we must step out of the shadows and share our stories. They are so amazingly powerful. But before that can happen we must “own” who we are – individually and collectively. As I was once told by someone a long time ago, “you cannot expect others to accept you, without first accepting yourself.” The conversation must be broadened. The narrative must expand. Tipping point? I’ll buy that, but in my humble opinion it is up to the transgender and gender non-conforming communities to up our game and continue to advocate for what we intrinsically know are ours: our civil – and human – rights. We control our own destiny, we can shape our future, we possess the power to tip the scales in our favor by the power of our Authenticity.