For the first time in years, I actually bought one of those magazines at the check-out counter at the grocery store. You know the ones – they jostle in their gaudy colors, their provocative titles distracting (and generally irritating) overwhelmed shoppers like me. Yet for the first time ever, one of those better-known, thankfully non-gaudy magazines features (provocatively) a transgender girl on its cover – absent any subtext of outrage, disgust, or rejection. A girl, right there on that cover, just being herself. Whew…what a relief, and what a blessing.
Thank you, National Geographic.
Some upbeat news at the end of a very hard year is indeed a welcome Christmas present. And there is no pretending that 2016 has been OK; it hasn’t. For me this year has been marked by vulnerability, stigmatization, worry, financial insecurity, and exclusion. It’s been a year of first-hand encounters with ageism and transphobia, again and again and again. It’s sadly telling that this will be the first time in decades that I’m not sending out Christmas cards – it’s been that kind of a year. So yes, I’m glad to see 2016 go away, even if I’ve very little reason to hope that the coming year (the coming four years, really) will be any better for many, many people who are facing not only various emboldened forms of exclusion and stigma, but also the possibility of losing their health insurance, seeing their civil rights eroded, watching our country engage in bellicose and ill-judged international engagements, and standing aghast as our environmental protections go down the drain.
Somehow though, I’m feeling ready. Bring it on. I’ve made it this far, and there’s no stopping me now. And I sense I am not alone in that determination…
That simple magazine cover (and its well-written contents) reminded me of something that I sorely needed to be reminded of. There are good people “out there”, open to learning about and boldly – intentionally – embracing a new world of diversity in which people like me are accepted and even valued (my friends have been saying that consistently, but you know how a funky mood in a bad election year can shut down even the love and wisdom of terrific friends). But being around loving family and friends does make a huge difference, as does finding some income-generating work (and I have just found some, at least for a while), and maybe those Christmas carols and the cards I’ve received have also shone their rejuvenating light into the darkness. Whatever…I’m feeling more upbeat now than I have all year.
That’s not to say that I’m being obtuse, irrational, or blind to the tidal wave of challenges inescapably roiling in my direction. I live in (the suburbs of) Washington, DC after all, and the coming Trump era holds up some very troubling – even profoundly threatening – possibilities ahead for people like me. Just since the election, I’ve been subjected to a very discernible uptick in the quantity of hate email directed at me, as the various transphobic trolls out there (and there are many) suddenly feel validated and emboldened. I’ve watched with deep misgivings as Trump has announced each of his cabinet choices, aware that I know much more than I’d like to know about their respective backgrounds. It’s a team blatantly arrogant in their extreme wealth, their bias, their anti-LGBTQ positions, and their openly sexist (even misogynist) attitudes. I look at the woman nominated to become Secretary of Education, recognizing from her long record of generous donations to groups like the Family Research Council that she’d like nothing better than to privatize public education so that all of America’s children can be placed into evangelical schools where they’ll be taught that folks like me are “abominations”. I look at the man chosen by Trump to become Secretary of Health and Human Services, cognizant that he views federal protections for transgender students to enable them to access appropriate public toilets as “absurd“. I consider the man Trump wants to be Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, fully aware that he has publicly described transgender people as “abnormal”. I look at the nominee to become the EPA Administrator, knowing that he is already involved in a lawsuit against the Department of Education to overturn the Obama Administration’s protections for transgender students. And I look at the man nominated to become Attorney General, and see in him an abject affront to the integrity and leadership of his predecessor in that role – a woman who has stood firm in her defense of the dignity of America’s transgender youth.
Make no mistake; my community and our allies have a world of woe to stand firm against, but stand firm we must. And we will, if I have anything to do about it. I am heartened by my knowledge of the strength, resilience, and courage of human rights defenders around the world whom I have been privileged to become friends of, and stand in solidarity with. I am heartened by my own faith community of Quakers, whose steely grit and proven commitment to peace, equality, environmental stewardship, simplicity, and integrity I have come to depend upon. And I am heartened by my very public assertions, made on that stage of the Howard Theater in Washington, D.C. back on October 25th as we campaigned for Secretary Clinton, that we are indeed stronger together.
Looking forward, we must be stronger – together.
So, I’ll end this year feeling stroppy and determined, even if resigned to hard times ahead. I know that the girl on the cover of the National Geographic promises a far better future, where people are not despised simply for being themselves, and where new openings in freedom of being and expression are in turn creating unimaginably wonderful opportunities to redefine and redirect our world. The confining and deleterious aspects of the gender binary are being firmly and unstoppably challenged (to the horror and disgust of many people, sadly many of my own generation), and something tells me that this wonderful transformation isn’t going away. No one is advocating that being a girl or a woman, or being a boy or a man, be denied to any of us – but there’s a new and shining openness to recognizing a universal human dignity that transcends traditional gender identities, roles, or limited binaries. The world is neither black nor white, boy or girl, gay or straight; the grey in the middle is beautifully colorful!
That’s a good thing. Shine on!