Response to Rev. Meg Riley’s Huffington Post Column, “After Transgender Remembrance Day, Giving Thanks for the Living”

Reverend Meg Riley, senior minister with the Church of the Larger Fellowship, said in a column at Huffington Post today regarding Trans Day of Remembrance, “First and foremost, transgender people model embodied courage to me. Their very bodies carry their commitment to themselves, to their own truth, costs be damned. They can’t board a plane, fill out most forms or go to the bathroom without diminishing their complexity.”

I appreciate her words but I really dislike statements like this. Yeah, I’m transgender, and yeah, it sucks when I am selected for a random pat down at the airport and it takes them a minute to figure out which TSA person to call over. But I am no more, no less, no better or worse, more or less courageous than my cisgender peers. I have a different life experience, but not one with value attached.

My body and my identity are just that – mine. If I outwardly express something, whether with words or deliberate actions, then you are free to comment on it. I am putting it out there, and saying “hey, society, over here! Talk about this, won’t you?” But when I am simply filling out a form, walking into a bathroom, getting on a plane, or any of the other mundane things I occupy my time with then I’m not being complex, courageous, or different. I am filling out a form, walking into a bathroom, or getting on a plane. Nothing more, nothing less.

When I want you to learn from me? When I have something to contribute or when I am hearing stuff that is wrong, hurtful, or just factually inaccurate? Then I will speak up and then you get to learn from me. But I am not being more authentic to my body than you are to your body. My living as outwardly and openly genderqueer is no different than you living outwardly and openly as a woman who was assigned that sex at birth.

I am speaking at the Trans Day of Remembrance in Bangor, Maine this weekend to a place that actually qualifies as a city. I will stand in front of a church, share my thoughts and feelings. I will represent my transgender community. I will speak, most likely, of the violence against transgender people because of their identity and their willingness to live openly and honestly. I will say something about past generations. I will say something about future generations. I will say something about myself. And I do hope that people learn from me. But what I want them to learn is that everyone, no matter their identity, should live openly and honestly and that society should accept who they are. I don’t want my take away message to be, “transgender people are great.”

I want my take home message to be “people are great.” or perhaps “authenticity is great.” or “Love is great.” A society that loves all the various components that build it up is a society that thrives. Loving all the components means that you don’t love or revere the gay couple raising a child any more or any less than the straight couple raising a child, providing both couples are doing a good job of it. Loving all means that you are grateful for the gay, gender-bending 14 year old in your 3rd period algebra class to the same extent that you are grateful for the straight cheerleader with a million friends.

Sometimes certain communities need everyone to rally around and say “enough!” to the violence, the hatred, the negative rhetoric. But when that happens what we need to remember that we are rallying for love and acceptance NOT for “special” rights or “special” treatment or “special” anything. I don’t want to be treated as some font of knowledge because I happen to like my hair short, my pants baggy, and my chest flat.

When you are planning your TDoR rallies and getting speakers don’t make the goal to have a trans woman, a trans man, a genderqueer somebody, an ally, a clergy, etc. Get speakers who want to be there, who want to speak on behalf of love and acceptance.

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10 Responses to “Response to Rev. Meg Riley’s Huffington Post Column, “After Transgender Remembrance Day, Giving Thanks for the Living””

  1. The following is the convesation that occurred via facebook when I posted this same blog there:

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    Deb: Hmmm… as usual, good stuff to nosh on. But… isn’t acknowledging / honoring a group’s common struggles to be (in this case) authentic teaching cis-folks about the impact of heterosexism? Noshing away…

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    Andy: I am speaking from my experience. I guess I look at it like this. I like to drink coffee. I am genderqueer. I am not making some statement about genderqueer people and coffee and there is nothing for you to learn from the fact that I walked into dunkin donuts and ordered a coffee with cream and sugar. Mostly I just go on with my day. I am not trying to teach with every move I make. I am not living authentically when I go buy a cup of coffee (aside from authentically wanting a cup of coffee)

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    Deb: Of course. (Althought I do drink Dyke Roast coffee.) What about what I wrote–does it detract from your point?

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    Andy: I just think that there is such a huge difference between “acknowledging struggles” and wanting to learn about those struggles by way of my coffee choice.

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    Deb: Point well made.

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    Alex: Good points…When I hear people talk about how “inspirational” and “courageous” all trans people are, what I hear is “You people are really different from me and all my normal friends.” Kind of a well-intentioned Othering. Sure, some trans… people are inspirational and courageous, and some are lazy and annoying, and others are every other characteristic that humans can be. If someone says I am “inspirational” and “brave”, etc, I want this judgment to be based on my actions and accomplishments, not merely on the vague implications of some identity label. You don’t have to be trans to advocate for trans acceptance and equality and doing THAT is what *I* find inspirational and courageous.

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    Andy: Thank you, Alex! Yes! That! Exactly! Find ME notable, not my identity.

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    Nicole: this sort of ties into something i used to think as a kid. the best example is with uuism, but it happened with other things as well. i would assume that if a person was uu that they were awesome and we had so much in common and would get on great and everything would be lovely and good because they were so amazing and stuff.

    it took me awhile that this isn’t so. you don’t have to like people or respect them extra just because they have identity points.

    ———————————

    Ginevra: I disagree. If I were just an ally, I’d find this pretty offensive, because it represents a sort of snobbish attitude that there is only one way to be a good supporter of the trans community which is to be a supporter of the person, like how a lot of Queer theorists have a very “right” way to be trans, which has permanently turned me away from that community.

    My point is, all the things that make me unique and make me who I am do not change whatever gender I live in, therefore the recognition of all my accomplishments and achievements will come, regardless. But I personally think that acknowledging the difficulty in transitioning is really an acknowledgement of something that, to me, is one of those life accomplishments; therefore, I want to be acknowledged as trans, because it is, like it or not, a part of who I am.

    Or, in other words, to me, being acknowledged as trans, and being “inspirational” and “brave” because of that means about the same as if I were labelled “inspirational” and “brave” if I ended up becoming a heavy metal drummer — both would mean a lot, and both, my trans-ness and my love of heavy metal and drumming, are big parts of me.

    When someone like Ms. Riley says “First and foremost, transgender people model embodied courage to me. Their very bodies carry their commitment to themselves, to their own truth, costs be damned. They can’t board a plane, fill out most forms or go to the bathroom without diminishing their complexity.” I hear someone who is trying to understand what makes us tick and expressing an appreciation for what we’ve done. Take away the term ‘transgender’ and replace it with ‘astronaut’ or ‘dancer’ or whatever, and I seriously doubt we’d be having this discussion.

    ———————————

    Alex: @Ginny: I haven’t seen Rev. Riley’s comments in their entirety, so this isn’t directed at HER specifically, but to me the “all trans people are so inspirational” sentiment is similar to the idea of the “supercrip”:

    “This stereotype is more… commonly referred to as “the super crip” pereception. When not pitied, persons with disabilities are sometimes seen as “heroes,” or in other words, outrageously admired for their “courage” and determination. This stems from the belief that life with a disability must necessarily be horrific and unsatisfying, and as such, we must admire persons with disabilities for being able to live “the way they do.” Much like portraying disability as a form of lesser self-worth (as is often the case with the “disability as pity” stereotype), placing persons with disabilities on a pedestal is another way to denote this social group as “other.” ” (Martiniello, 2009)

    Saying that I am “inspirational” just for being trans and happening to exist implies that trans identities are “less than” and just seems condescending. If a bunch of male scientists were constantly approaching a female scientist and gushing about how great it is that she knows how to use test tubes and do all this hard math stuff, even being a woman and all, rather than focusing on the substance of her work, is that really a compliment? How is it any different when it comes to being trans?

    ———————————

    Meg Riley
    I knew when I wrote this that it might offend some in just these ways, and I’m sorry. The last thing I want to do is cause anyone more pain.

    I am NOT saying “You people are so different from me and my normal friends,” though I realize it c…ould sound that way. I am saying, because I love trans people, I see every day how much courage it takes to stand up against the norms.

    Still, I am saddened by these responses. I wish I could have gotten it just right. I was motivated to write it because a genderqueer teen I love attempted suicide last year after TDOR. I wanted to say something positive. Clearly not a big success for some of you!

    ———————————

    Andy: Meg (can I call you Meg? I’m going to call you Meg), Thank you for writing what the column. Thank you. There are not enough people who are willing to speak up and say something. Allies are essential to the cause. That is why I sent you… a message; to say “look, I wrote this, I don’t want you to be sideswiped by somebody complaining about it.”

    I guess where I am going with this is that *I* am not courageous. I have been called courageous more than once just for my identity. I do not feel that living my life as I *need* to is an exhibition of courage. It’s simply that I cannot feel “right” living as female (or, as a more recent epiphany has shown, as male). That’s not courage. Courage is knowing something is right but that it will be hard but choosing to do it anyway. It’s the active choice there that is the problem.

    I sat talking to my minister one time about living “in-between.” In-between genders, in-between races (on her part), in-between just everything. We weren’t stopping by “in-between” on our way to one side or the other, but rather we had set up houses with picket fences and solid foundations. we weren’t going anywhere and it wasn’t a choice. This was how we had to live to be happy, because other things weren’t authentic, weren’t real, and would have been harder to deal with.

    It would take far more courage for me to get out of bed everyday, put on “female” clothes, and introduce myself as my government name. *that* is what I cannot bring myself to do. Just living my life as I do, right now, is not any more or less courageous than anybody else living their life, right now.

    The last thing I wanted to do was offend you, upset you, sadden you, or discourage you from writing something similar in the future.

  2. Interesting. I gave up my fight against being called or thinking of myself as “courageous.” I realized that it DOES take courage to live openly as a transgender person. Especially because I could pass if I wanted to. It takes courage and commitment to live with integrity. Not just transfolk–anyone who lives that way. If you said, “Only transpeople are able to be courageous in this way” I’d feel like there was a distancing/othering happening.

    But I heard respect and affection for people who live out the complexity of their whole being–in this instance, transpeople. Maybe it’s because I know you that I knew what you meant. Maybe not.

    There is something in me that recognized that my resistance to being called “courageous” was more about me distancing myself from just how freaking dangerous it is to be me. I am so good at making my story cheerful, focusing on the gifts of being trans, presenting myself as “just like everyone else”–and that’s a kind of unconscious assimilationism.

    So yeah, it takes courage to live in my skin. It takes courage to face the TSA agent. It takes courage to be “out” in every moment, to know the costs and do it anyway. It takes courage NOT to internalize the messages that tell me constantly to let it go, to remain silent, to fit in, to not make waves. It takes courage to live and thrive in a culture that still kills people like me.

    I do think there is something to be learned, honored, and appreciated from transfolk just living their lives. After all, “We were never meant to survive.” (Audre Lorde)

  3. Should’ve explained that the former comment was originally written to Meg who shared your post on her FB wall. The “you” in my response is Meg–not Andy.

  4. I don’t think it is assimilation. I do not think I could live my life, happily or healthily, if I were to go around thinking of how gosh darn courageous I am cos living openly and honestly is so dangerous.

    My point was that trans people d…o some things that are courageous. Coming out is an act of courage, speaking out is an act of courage, etc. But all people do things that are courageous. My *life* is not courageous. There are courageous bits sprinkled here and there, but filling out paperwork is not courageous, and buying milk at the grocery store is not courageous and running to pick up my little sister from a club meeting I didn’t know she had isn’t courageous.

    I am like other people. I’m a human who has inherent worth and dignity like every other human. I am a person who wants to succeed and wants good things for this world and wants love and light and peace. That’s not assimilation. It’s not assimilation to want the same things as other people. It’s not courage, either, but it’s not assimilation.

  5. Andrew, very profound. Keep on sharing!

  6. I identify as a lesbian woman of color & cannot speak for trans folks, but when I read an ally (of any marginalized people) speaking of “courage”, I hear them acknowledging (and perhaps struggling with) their own privilege & I really appreciate that because most people do not. Yes, it is not a choice to be made to be differently gendered from the binary “norm”, it’s who a person was born to be. But, to live authentically and openly IS a conscious choice and does involve risk. It may seem like the choice is between misery or death and living authentically, but it nonetheless takes courage. It takes the courage to reject all of the crap that we are taught about the way that we should be and say, “NO! That’s not me! I know that those are lies & I will live my truth!” Many cannot ever come to this place. Again, this is not me speaking for trans folks, but rather empathizing because that is my experience as a lesbian (I do understand it’s not the same experience). I would have been miserable living as a straight woman, I would also be able to walk through life not risking the judgment, violence, discrimination, etc. that I risk as an out lesbian. I muster that courage every day & it’s my choice to take those risks to live authentically. I imagine that there are many closeted folks out there and many closeted trans folks as well, that make the other decision each day. BOTH decisions are tough ones and involve risk, just as it is risky for an ally to publicly (and privately) wrestle with understanding. This, what we’re doing here- struggling in community, through loving dialogue, to understand one another, rather than create distance and apathy or hatred- takes courage also. But, I fear that when any of us say “I am not courageous,” we sell ourselves short. No one person’s a superhero, but to risk creating a world built on acceptance and authenticity, each in our own small, at times mundane ways, we are courageously changing the world. ( I think of the possibilities of something as small as a trans person buying a cup of coffee. The person making the cup of coffee or another patron may be struggling to live in their full authenticity and their world may be fully changed by seeing that a trans person can casually buy coffee. May sound stupid, but then I can remember every detail about the first time I saw a young lesbian couple sitting together as a straight couple would at a coffee shop. They had no idea what their grabbing a cup of coffee together did for my teenage self! They weren’t out to teach anyone anything, they were just being. But, not only did they change my world, but my co-worker at that coffee shop, a Mexican immigrant, asked me about them the next time they were in. I explained in Spanish that they were “girlfriends” & having had no exposure to out lesbians, kept giggling & smiling & repeating, “That’s impossible, Mari!” A couple of years ago, I went back to that coffee shop with my girlfriend and came out to my ex-coworker & she gave me a big hug, saying that she was happy for me! )

  7. mielno Wspaniałe nadbałtyckie kurorty mamy okazję odwiedzić także w naszym kraju. Zaliczają się do nich między innymi Mielno, Międzyzdroje oraz również Jastrzębia Góra. Mielno to piękna miejscowość położona nad urodziwym Morzem Bałtyckim. Niezmiernie dużo osób w czasie lata wyjeżdża właśnie w ten region z powodu pięknych widoków. Do Mielna przybywają podróżnicy nie tylko z naszego kraju, jednakże z całej Europy, ponieważ to jeden z najatrakcyjniejszych Polskich kurortów. Ten kurorty nadaje się znakomicie na każdego typu podróże. Nie ma różnicy czy to wypad z rodziną lub na kolonie. Noclegi Mielno odnajdziemy już w cenie od 60 złotych z wyżywieniem, dlatego na prawdę powinno się tu przybyć. Wszyscy Polacy z utęsknieniem oczekują lata przez wszystkie pozostałe miesiące. Doskonała zabawa piątej nad ranem, a również relaks nad morzem to jest to czego nade wszystko oczekujemy od letniego odpoczynku w Polskim kurorcie. Setki klubów z gorącą muzyką, setki pubów, a także restauracji to jedynie część tego co może nam zaoferować najpopularniejszy kurort nad Morzem Bałtyckim. Noclegi Mielno, jakie można zalecić wszystkim to pola namiotowe położone bardzo blisko plaży. Jest to nadzwyczaj dobra oferta dla ludzi z mniejszą ilością pieniędzy, więc dla studentów. Co roku w czasie wakacji nad Morze Bałtyckie wyjeżdża liczba 10 milionów podróżników z naszego kraju, a także z zagranicy.

  8. I’m Emily, 26, and although I am not trans (I’m a cis-female mostly-lesbian… goodness, that sounds complicated: let’s stick with “Emily”) I hate being looked up to as a “supercrip”. I use a forearm crutch and have multiple chronic, disabling illnesses. All I want is to blend in seamlessly when I walk down the street. People say I’m inspirational, brave, so strong… and I got tired of that a long time ago. I do not exist to teach people lessons. If I have a lesson to teach, I will do so, but I hate the “supercrip” mentality. I can definitely understand where you are coming from, Andy, and how there is a need to just live out our lives and not be some minority martyr. When I get my coffee, I just want the coffee– not special treatment. I understand people are trying to be sensitive by applying the “supercrip” or “supertrans” concept… but it is most definitely not a concept I want attached to myself, and it is heartwarming to read that I am not the only one. We’re all people, first and foremost.

    By the way, I love your glasses. I am way past due for getting my eye exam, and will most likely need a new pair… my current ones are stretched out quite a bit.

    Emily

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