Taking Up Too Much Space?

My fiancée and I had a very interesting discussion the other night. Mira and I were talking about the space we occupy, and despite both the knowledge and belief that we are entitled to that space, sometimes, there is some guilt in occupying our own space. As if fully occupying our space, filled with its happiness and love and good fortune, we are taking away from those who are struggling.

I wrote a while back about attending the Trans 100 and listening to Tiq Milan talk about taking up space.

We are all entitled to space in this world, and we are fully allowed to occupy that space.

We have a right to exist, and we have a right to been seen, to have our voices heard, and to move through this world as everyone else does.

When others try to occupy our space, or even part of our space, it’s oppression and discrimination. They are trying to tell us that we are not important enough for our space, or that they are so important they need our space as well. When someone tries to silence our voice or speak for us, they’re occupying our space.

But what happens when we don’t feel entitled to our space in this world? What happens when our narrative feels akin to boasting?

My life is good now. It didn’t used to be. Those of you who know me know the struggles I’ve overcome. But that was then. The space I occupy now is different, stronger, and more confident. The life I live is happy, loving, and stable. But at times, almost (rather, quite) like a survivor’s guilt, I wonder if my story is too good to tell. Mira and I both struggle with this. Rather than talk about the good things happening to us, rather than rightfully occupy our space, we remain silent.

After all, I’m no braggart, and as an activist and an ally, I firmly believe it is my responsibility to lift those who are struggling, so their voices may be heard. If I speak out of turn, or if I talk over the voices of those I ally myself with, what kind of support is that?

So instead, we stifle our story, tamping it down so as not to distract from those who struggle. We lend sympathetic ears, and allow these stories to be told. After all, our happiness may push them further into their sorrow, right? If I talk about all the good things happening to me right now, that’s boasting, isn’t it? That’s telling those who are struggling that my story is more important, right? It’s taking away their space, right?

Oh my God…am I being oppressive?

Well, that escalated quickly…

I feel that people struggle with the concept of occupying space in this world. There are those who try to occupy too much, stepping on the toes of others and trying to push them out of their space. And then there are those who either don’t realize they’re allowed to take up space, or they don’t feel the space they have is deserved. There are also those who who remain in their space, but somehow feel their space is more important than others and insist they are the defining example of those like them.

My life has much privilege now – the privilege, essentially, of being a white, heterosexual male. I have white privilege, I have socioeconomic privilege, I have male privilege, I have heterosexual privilege…

Does my space shrink with the more privilege I have? I think the perception, the wrong perception, is that the space you’re entitled to increases with privilege. I don’t feel that is right. While there are no obvious, visible lines limiting the space we have, I think 1) it is our job to maintain limits in the space we occupy and 2) just as there is finite room on this earth, the amount of space available is finite, even if it isn’t a tangible thing.

Maintaining the limits of the space I occupy doesn’t mean I silence my voice. What it does mean is that it is my responsibility to be aware of those around me and the space they occupy. It means that sometimes my voice should remain quiet – this doesn’t mean that my voice is any less important. It simply means that it’s not my place to talk, and any opinions or thoughts I choose to share, should be considered with regard to those around me, and the stories they are telling. It means that in conversations concerning race and gender equity, I should do far more listening than talking.

Maintaining the limits of the space I occupy means that I have a duty to call others out, and then in, when they are overstepping the limits of their space and encroaching on the space of others. It means understanding the privilege I have, and not using that privilege to oppress, but to raise up those individuals who are struggling.

It also means that I don’t have to be guilty about fully occupying my space. My happiness doesn’t take away from others. It doesn’t occupy their space or prevent their voice from being heard.

When I talk of a finite space, it’s not finite in the sense that those coming into the world don’t get a space or those leaving this world take their space with them. I mean it is finite in the sense that our space is just that, our space. It is finite in the sense that there is space specifically for every individual on this earth, and that our space is all the same. No one is entitled to a bigger space than someone else, regardless of success or struggle, and your space doesn’t change in size depending on how much or how little privilege you have.

My story is part of the space I occupy. My beliefs, experiences, ideas – these are all rightfully mine and are contained within my space. But should they stay there? Should I silence my voice out of guilt because someone else is struggling? Should I silence my voice because my voice is happy?

My story, while both happy and sad, triumphant and tragic, deserves to be heard as much as any other story. Comparing the importance of individual experiences is a very dangerous path to go down. It pits the marginalized against one another, as if bleeding at the hands of someone else is somehow worse (or better?) than bleeding because of my own hand.

No. My voice should never be silenced. The space I occupy has been created for me, and quite frankly, it is my duty to occupy that space. If I don’t occupy it, then I’m failing those who are struggling, in a sense. If I don’t occupy my space, all of it, then someone else will, and I don’t have the ability to choose who that individual will be.

It is my duty to occupy that space in that my story of struggle and success could help someone else realize that as much of a cliché “It gets better” is, there is truth in the phrase. My narrative is relatable. It is as relatable as the other narratives that exist.

My voice may give others the strength to speak. So then, is it fair for me to silence myself and crawl into a remote corner of the space I’m supposed to occupy because someone else will be struggling more? No, it’s no more fair than if I were to try to silence the voice of others so I may be better heard.

It’s just as important for someone to be able to relate in the struggles of someone else as it is to reinforce that hope for the future.

To those who wish to occupy my space – it is mine, I am entitled to it, and I refuse to let you silence me.

To those who feel they do not deserve the space they occupy – stand firm, stand strong; your space was made for you, occupy it with the knowledge that it is important because you are in it.

To those who wish to blanket your story over mine – understand that all voices must be heard, and my story is just as important, even if it is for different reasons.

Go out in the world. Take up the space you are entitled to. Help others to occupy their own space. And don’t feel shame or guilt in doing so.

 

 

 

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The Feminist Dude

This past weekend was one of my new favorite yearly events – V to Shining V. For those of you who don’t know, here’s a quick history:

In 2012, Michigan State House Representative Lisa Brown was speaking on the House floor about a bill that was attempting to put strict regulations on abortion providers and ban all abortions after 20 weeks. During the speech, she stated “And finally, Mr. Speaker, I’m flattered that you’re all so interested in my vagina, but ‘no’ means ‘no’.”

She was subsequently banned from speaking on the floor. Because she said vagina. The men on the floor, whom apparently are offended by the proper term for a woman’s genitals, suggested she use something less offensive, like “lady parts”.

The absurdity in this entire story grabbed the attention of Lizz Winstead, creator of The Daily LPJlogoShow, and others, and they came together to form Lady Parts Justice, to spread awareness and fight against those trying to regulate reproductive freedoms. Their yearly event, V to Shining V takes place to rally support for organizations under attack, like Planned Parenthood, and to educate people on the issues and get them out to vote and make their voices heard.

Last year was my first year attending, and was when I truly understood why I needed to be a feminist. This year was no different. Not only did the event further my resolve in feminism, but it added some new reasons.

I’m a transman, as you all know, and proud of who I am, and who I’m becoming. And part of who I’m becoming is a stronger feminist. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave a Tedx talk titled We Should All Be Feminists. And it’s true. All of it. Why wouldn’t I want to be a feminist? As a transman, one might agree that certain aspects of feminism, like intersectionality and marginalization and equity are ideals and knowledge applicable to my status as a transgender individual. And one would be right. But it goes beyond that. Far beyond that.

The biggest fight in feminism right now is over reproductive freedom. The fight against abortion has become even more intense as legislation is introduced to ban some types of abortions and put restrictions on clinics. Perhaps the biggest fight is the fight to defund Planned Parenthood.

I’ve been to a Planned Parenthood clinic before. I could get into all of the things that the clinics do that don’t involve abortions. I could tell you about the STD testing and the birth control they administer. I could tell you about the sex education, pregnancy testing, and ultrasounds they provide. I could tell you about all of these necessary services they provide to those low and no income women and men (yes, the STD testing is available to men, too. After all, the place is called Planned Parenthood.) to ensure they receive necessary health care. But the fact is, abortion remains legal. And what PP does is, and has always been, within the scope of the law.

And, I am a stakeholder in all of this.

And I’m calling all of my fellow transmen to the table on this. Because we ALL are stakeholders in this.

Let’s face it. We were born with parts that don’t belong to us. But we have them, and I’m fortunate in that I don’t cringe when I think about the fact that I have a vagina. And with that, I’ve got all the other parts too. Yes, I know not every trans guy has one, but if you do, you need to take care of it, which may mean uncomfortable visits to the gynecologist. Trans health is a big issue, and it’s necessary.

But how does that apply to reproductive freedom? Well, I’m sure you’ve heard stories about women who needed emergency medical care and were denied that care because the Catholic church feels that bishops know much better than doctors. And if you haven’t heard these stories, you need to. See, the thing is, the care was denied in these cases because it would have involved procedures that are considered birth control – like hysterectomies. And if you’re a trans guy, you’re probably going to get one of these, if you haven’t already. And until you have a hysterectomy, access to proper care is necessary as well. Including exams and birth control to help regulate your cycle. And they offer these services on sliding scales so EVERYONE has access.

If we sit by and let the government and churches take away reproductive freedoms, there’s a very good chance we’ll be letting them take away some of our livelihood, too. Because it’s not outside the realm of possibilities that hysterectomies could be banned. Period. After all, if Indiana GOP Senate candidate Richard Mourdock can make the claim that women who are raped should be forced to carry the pregnancy to term because the baby was a ‘gift from God’, then it isn’t too far away from those same nut jobs telling us that we don’t get to choose what path we take because God doesn’t make mistakes.

Yeah, it’s a selfish reason. But sometimes in order to rally for a cause, you need a selfish reason to find that passion. It is of course, not my only reason, either.

I’m part of a marginalized community. I can be fired for being trans, despite the fact that has absolutely nothing to do with work performance. I can be kicked out of the bathroom, because I don’t “look” like I’m supposed to. I can face scrutiny whenever I need to show my ID because my gender marker doesn’t match my name or my appearance.

We need to band together and fight. I was at the Grand Rapids Feminist Film Festival on September 13th. And my fellow feminists there, they made space for the trans community. They showed movies about those inside and outside of the binary, and talked about how trans women are being murdered at alarming rates. They made space for us. They know marginalization and struggle and invisibility. And they help lift our voices. So why aren’t we doing the same for them?

Yeah, I know transmen are marginalized, and often our voices are silent. But are our voices silent because someone else is holding our mouth shut or because we’re doing it to ourselves? See, when we start transitioning, we gain privilege. We gain access to the lives of men. We are allowed in spaces we were always meant to be in, spaces where women’s voices aren’t heard. But what do we do when there’s a sexist joke? When someone makes a blonde joke or talks of a woman’s body like it’s property, or a trophy to be taken? Do we speak up and say it’s not right? Or do we just shift uncomfortably in our skin, and chuckle half-heartedly, because it’s easier than doing the right thing?

This is where our intersectionality is important. We have access to these areas, where our voices will be heard and our thoughts and ideas and opinions will be taken seriously. And we need to use our voices in those spaces to say not just that the joke or comment is inappropriate, but it’s wrong, and it’s unacceptable. We have the unique ability to be a part of these spaces, and to say the things we know need to be said to other men who will listen to us.

I’m calling on all of my fellow transmen to step up. You want to be a man? Then be a feminist. Vote for politicians who will protect a woman’s right to govern her own body. Don’t stand by when another man tries to use the word ‘pussy’ as a term for weakness. Because if you do, then you’re no better than those who stay quiet when you’re being discriminated against.

In fact, you should be offended. Politicians and clergy are working hard to tell women how incompetent they are in making decisions on their own bodies. They’re finding new ways to veil discrimination – through words like ‘protection’ and ‘religious freedom’. They’ve already tried those tactics on us, and it’s worked, in some areas. And they’ll keep trying these tactics unless we use another right that they’re working on taking away – the right to vote. If you don’t vote, if you keep your voice quiet, then you’re an accomplice, or worse, an oppressor.

So you really want to change the definition of manhood, and what it means for you to be a man? Then I dare you to not just say you support women’s rights, but to fight for them. I dare you to embrace the label of feminist, and to truly understand and accept your privilege as a man, and to use that privilege to further feminism.

I stand with Planned Parenthood. I am proud to be a feminist. And I’m not afraid to say vagina.

How about you?

Not All of Us

We’re erasing each other.

“Yeah, but not all men are rapists.”

“Not all white people are racist.”

“Not all Christians hate gays.”

It’s become so important for us to distance ourselves from those groups who these statements are about that we’re missing the point. Of course not all men are rapists. I’m a transguy, and I’m not a rapist, but I also don’t need to tell people that.

“Hi, I’m Teri. I like cats, I like to write…oh, and I’m not a rapist.” No, that’s stupid. If you have to state that you are the exception to the rule, and not the standard, something is terribly wrong.

There’s been a movement, where Christians show up at gay pride festivals across the country and apologize for the pain and suffering inflicted by the religion. They hug LGBT people and say “I’m Sorry” and wear t-shirts with the phrase emblazoned on the front. There’s other movements too, where white people have shown up to protest alongside blacks in their neighborhoods, protesting police brutality.

It’s not enough. Saying you’re a good Christian, and you’re sorry doesn’t do anything for me. Why? Because it doesn’t close the gap between the two communities. You’re sorry on behalf of those who wish to take away my rights, and in some instances, wish me dead. They’re not sorry. They most likely never will be sorry. So unfortunately, your apology, as well intentioned as it may be, is empty. At least to me. If five people at a pride event say they’re sorry, then I go home and there’s 20 people talking about how it’s the LGBT community’s fault that Nebraska had an earthquake, or a reporter is telling the story of a trans life taken much too soon…it just simply isn’t enough.

We talk of privilege. Privilege of skin, privilege of money, of education, of sexual orientation and gender identity. But what do we do with it? I’m sure there are black people who appreciate the white people standing beside them in solidarity, but that doesn’t stop black youth from dying.

A Christian telling me they’re sorry doesn’t change the fear I have using a public restroom or keep me from being fired because I’m trans.

So you’re sorry. That’s great. But don’t come to me to assuage your guilt for being Christian. Don’t tell a woman who has been raped that not all men are rapists, because clearly it doesn’t do her a damn bit of good. If you want to help, if you truly want to make a difference, get out there and change things. Engage in conversations with other Christians, tell them you know gay people, that you know transgender people, and surprise! We’re not bad or evil. Use your white privilege to change people’s attitudes. Call others out when they’re racist. Go to community meetings and stand up and tell people that police brutality is not only unacceptable, but that it needs to stop and things MUST change. When other men are being misogynist, call them out. Let them know that it’s not right.

Be that change. Don’t hug me and tell me that you’re sorry. I appreciate it, but it doesn’t help me move forward towards equality.

Yes, all lives matter, and yes, not all of us are [pick your poison]. But stop erasing the struggle because you need to clear your conscience. I know you’re a good person, but simply being a good person doesn’t create the change that’s needed to make this place safe for all of us. Stop telling me you’re a good Christian and go find out why the bad Christians feel the way they do about us.

Stop being the exception. Become the standard.

An open letter to the LGBT community:

We’ve been in the news a lot lately, especially regarding DieselTec and business owner Brian Klawiter. Now, I’m not necessarily inclined to believe the ‘death threats’ and graffiti weren’t self-organized in an attempt to keep their name in the news and to keep the publicity rolling in.

But, that is irrelevant. What is relevant is our further actions with him and any other businesses that engage in this extreme form of discrimination.

I implore you, as members of the LGBT community in West Michigan, to stop engaging this business, this man, in any and all forms of communication. Clearly nothing we say or do will change his mind into supporting us and our fight for equality. He is a lost cause. And frankly, he offers a very specialized service that most of us will never use.

As I said, I don’t believe the death threats are real, and I’m seriously inclined to believe the graffiti was self-inflicted. However, if it wasn’t, and if the death threats are real, and did indeed come from our community – please, stop. Stooping to his level and destroying property does nothing more than provide fuel for these people to further spew their hatred. Acting in this way not only gives us a bad reputation, but can make it harder to get city officials and members of the community to back us and give us the equal rights we deserve.

We can’t bully people into accepting us. I understand the frustration and anger that fills you when someone says such hate-filled things. Trust me, I understand that desire to lash out and show these people that we will not run in fear, and that we will not back down. But reacting with threats and vandalism isn’t the way to do this.

I understand the want to react in kind when someone calls us evil, or says we’re sinning, or says we’re below them. Stand up for yourselves, stand up for our community, but don’t drop to the level of behavior of our detractors. That is not the path to equality.

Let this story die. Let this man flounder his way in his hate-filled life. His business is either going to go away or it’s going to continue forward. But don’t let him define our progress or our actions.

If you want to fight back, get involved in the community at large. Volunteer, announce your pride and show the community we are not unlike them and we are claiming our space in the world. Get involved in local politics – show up at city hall meetings, talk to the lawmakers in your community. Protesting outside of a business will not get us equal rights. Laws and city ordinances will. Make our voices heard in the most productive way.

And remember the more space we give this man and others like him, the less space we have for ourselves.

The Measure of an Activist

The internet has been abuzz as of late about Indiana’s RFRA, specifically, about a little pizzeria called Memories Pizza. (By the way, the business didn’t bother to purchase their domain name.)

They closed shortly after coming out on the news talking about their opposition to serving the LGBT community, specifically stating they wouldn’t cater a same-sex wedding. The owners claimed they received death threats and because of this, felt they needed to close their business for their safety.

Yet none of these alleged threats have been discovered. None of the articles posted go into any sort of detail regarding the threats. To me, a threat of death is far more serious than a threat to boycott a restaurant.

This post, however, isn’t about the validity of the threats, or why RFRA is wrong, or how obvious it’s been that Memories Pizza was chosen to be a martyr for the “Gays are Evil” movement. This post is about activism and advocacy, and how important these things are.

I comment on a post about exactly that, how these people are martyrs for the cause. Someone responded with a comment that didn’t set well with me. They said that yes, the LGBT community and their allies had shut the business down, but that we didn’t change the minds of the business owners, so essentially, nothing had changed.

I beg to differ. Shutting down a business because they have bigoted, discriminatory views does change things. Recently Mira received the honor of being a member of the Trans100 2015. One of the keynote speakers, Tiq Milan, talked about his mother teaching him about taking up space, and how he has a right to take up space, and a responsibility to take up space.

By shutting this business down, the LGBT community has shown them that we deserve to be here, and we will take up our rightful space, whether others feel we deserve that space or not. And it’s our responsibility to continue to take up our rightful space, no matter what the opposition says or does.

How do we gauge the success of our efforts? If it’s solely by the number of minds changed, then are any other efforts moot? The Woolworth sit-ins in Greensboro most likely didn’t change the minds of the shop owner or many of the other white people sitting in the diner. Because they didn’t change the minds of those people, does that discount the fact those four students sparked an interest that ultimately resulted in 1000 people protesting the segregation? Certainly not.

Those four students had enough. They took up their rightful space at that counter. And the LGBT community needs to do the same. We need to continue to take up space and show our opposers that we are not backing down. Of course I’d love to change minds in the process, but that obviously isn’t always going to happen.

To poo-poo the efforts of the LGBT community and their allies to get businesses to close their doors because of discrimination is hurtful and extremely dangerous. If enough people felt the way this commenter did, the likelihood of any kind of movement for social change wouldn’t occur, because ‘we couldn’t change their minds’.

Change doesn’t occur overnight, either. Stonewall was the catalyst for the LGBT movement. But their efforts didn’t change the hearts and minds of all people. Clearly that fight still continues. The results of their actions, however, gave others the inspiration to no longer sit back and be trampled on.

Yes. We came out in force against this business. Yes, we may have helped in shutting the business down. And yes, we didn’t change the way they feel about the LGBT community. But things have changed. And they continue to change.

We may not change everyone’s minds. But it is our job to continue to fight, to take each step forward as a victory, as fuel to continue down the path to equality. As Tiq Milan said, success is measured in the space we occupy. It’s measured in the quantity of people out fighting for a cause. It’s measured by the quality of life those fighting for rights have. Each victory, no matter how small, counts.

This is a victory. It shows other businesses that we will not back down. It shows others within the LGBT community that we do matter, and that we can make a difference.

SIDENOTE: I understand that the owners of the pizzeria became puppets of the religious right. I also understand that they were most likely approached and told if they closed their doors, they would be repaid for it. I understand they became martyrs and targeted to be martyrs. This however, to me, is still a victory. Our voices were heard.

Oppressor or Activist? Turns out, I’ve been both…and more.

I am an oppressor. I am an accomplice. I am an ally. I am an activist.

I have kept silent while others have made jokes about someone’s weight. I’ve felt my blood boil as someone made a racist remark, or said something derogatory about the trans community, but I kept my mouth shut.

Why? The reasons are endless – maybe some part of me thought it was true, or I didn’t feel like getting into an argument that day, or I knew if I spoke up, it wouldn’t do any good. The reasons don’t matter, though.resist_oppression_communism_will_prevail_india_revolution_operation_green_hunt_cpimaoist

Sometimes someone will make a comment about the weight of someone we both know, making a joke or some off-handed remark, I laugh along with them, while I should have, could have, said something, not in defense of their object of fun, but in response to the inappropriateness of the comment. Instead, I commented as well, not wanting to seem “weird” or “awkward” by going against the norm.

I am an oppressor.

black-tape-mouth-shut-no-speaking-700x45_660If I’m at work, where the majority of my co-workers are heterosexual and all of them, save me, are cisgender, I keep my mouth shut about many things. I haven’t officially come out at work, and so when I talk about being trans, or the trans community, I speak in hushed tones, not making eye contact, keeping my head down, as if the words I’m saying are something I should be ashamed of. When people use the word ‘tranny’, I cringe internally, but respond with “Yeah, I don’t see the big deal…” My silence is as dangerous as the loud voices of the bigots and discriminators.

I am an accomplice.

I am not proud of these situations. Because I should have stepped in and said it was wrong. I should have made it abundantly clear that their attitudes and opinions were their own to have, and solely their own to have. I didn’t. And I regret that.tumblr_m5ixrhNjhD1rpy84ao1_500

I went with Mira to a Lady Parts Justice rally. I was there to support her, but now because of the inspiring acts of the women that spoke and performed, I’ve been inspired, and I really want to speak at the next rally, to the importance of allies in the fight against the patriarchy telling women what they can and cannot do with their bodies.  Because if we do not stand alongside women, if we do not stop the regulation over their bodies by men who claim to know what’s best but essentially just want to dominate and put women “in their place”, then we all are subject to the repercussions of such a loss.

I am an ally.

During the last lame duck session in Michigan, there was a movement to change the Elliot Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA for short), to include sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. There was another splinter group that thought it best to only include sexual orientation, and come back to revise the law later to encompass gender identity and expression. Years ago, I would have totally been all for the ‘half a pizza’ argument.

activistNot anymore, and not just because I’m now a part of the LGBT that has historically ended up without any slice of pizza, but because it’s simply wrong. And because of this, I went to a few ELCRA rallies, I went to TDOR (Transgender Day of Remembrance), and I want to speak out against the injustices faced by the trans community, a community I am a part of, and one that I fully embrace.

I am an activist.

I play all of these roles at varying times. When I identified as a lesbian and I fought for equality – I was an activist for the L and G, and an oppressor to the T. The B wasn’t even a concern, because in my head, they were simply confused. That has all obviously changed, for the better. I don’t want to ever play the role of the oppressor, and I think it’s even worse to play the role of the accomplice. Having the knowledge I do from my brilliant and insightful girlfriend, Mira, and my other activist friends, I’m learning when to recognize oppressive behaviors and attitudes in which I act as an accomplice.

Self awareness is just as important as self confidence. Being aware of my actions and words is just as important as saying them in the first place. I’m still going to screw up. But I will be aware of my missteps, and I will not silence my voice. If I am not empowering, I am oppressing, and I am contributing to the reason why equality has not yet been achieved.

If I don’t use the power I have from the privileges I have to raise up both the marginalized groups I belong to and those I do not belong to, then I am failing not only as an ally, but as an activist.

Everyone has some kind of privilege. It may not be obvious at first, but you know that saying – “There’s always someone worse off than you” – it’s true, and those who are “worse off” are most likely part of a marginalized group you do not belong to. If you have a place to live – then you can be an ally for the homeless, and use your privilege of stability of a roof over your head to help advocate for housing the homeless and providing them with an opportunity to achieve the same level of safety and stability you have.

If you are cisgender, you can ally yourself with the trans community, and use the power of being cisgender (and yes, you do have power, because you have privilege) in circles to support the trans community when the trans community is not represented.

I’m working on being an ally. I want to be a better ally. I feel I have the tools and the knowledge and the support to be a better ally.

Because it’s not always about my story.

How about you?

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