Thursday, November 16, 2017

To be their keeper: thoughts on being an ally in observance of the Trans Day of Remembrance

Surrounded by university trans students,
Kelli shares her experiences as a trans woman at UVU's Trans Day of Remembrance.

I am in love with a woman, a human being, who is trans embodied. I am partner to a person who lives each day beneath a gaze that pathologizes her life experience and her existence. I stand beside her as witness to the endless barrage of judgment and criticism from a legion of privileged others. Some days it seems the world is unwilling to extend the reach of humanity far enough to ensure us both that she will be unharmed at day’s end.

These are the words of others—friends, family, and partners—about the trans persons they have loved who were lost to violence in 2017:

“She was a happy person who loved everyone and never met a stranger...He had a genuinely good heart...She was an honest, compassionate person who made an impact on those who met her...She was funny and entertaining, an inspiration. She helped others to learn to accept themselves...The sunshine of our family, a caring, passionate person who loved cooking and gardening...They were full of life and beloved by many...She was a light, always trying to make everyone around her happy. Assertive, charismatic and lovable, everything you would expect in a friend...A beautiful person who was charismatic and always joking around with her friends...An amazing girl who loved to make people laugh...She loved hard and just wanted to be loved and accepted...A playful spirit...A go-getter who enjoyed life...They were an incredible, inspirational member of our community and a constant fighter for human rights...One of the sweetest people you'll ever meet...She loved dancing and had a great outlook on life. She was very supportive of everyone.” 

These are the words of grieving allies. 

Becoming an ally is a voluntary act of brain revision. A surrendering. Our responsibility is to embrace first-person narratives and subjective realities that contradict enculturated expectations related to what may or may not be down there. At first we may believe this a simple gesture—the same comradery or compassion we would extend to anyone. But the role of ally also offers us keys to unlocking the prison gates of our own static, binary world view. In essence, the role is self-expanding. The more time we spend in an active ally’s capacity—offering emotional shelter and physical security to the spectrum of those persons residing outside our cis experience—the better we understand ourselves and our place on the planet.

This role, specifically, is the charge to demand safe space for trans bodies; to lend ear, support, and trust to trans experience. Allies must acknowledge the empowering importance in correct pronoun usage from ourselves and others. We must unfailingly accept the charge to offer affirming witness for trans identities when antagonists refuse to see or hear. We embrace the charge to educate the ignorant, and validate our trans loved ones.

Becoming the partner of a trans woman, at least in my experience, means the complete surrender of social comfort in exchange for empathic expansion and healing of my own unseen wounds. 

I canvass every room, peer through the glass even before we open doors, anticipate what’s coming, what’s waiting—who. Because they say, you never see it coming; that one time you let your guard down. And who knows why the hate seeps out. The problem is that it does. I confront trans antagonism and micro-aggressions everywhere we go. People who pass us in grocery stores, cashiers here at UVU, middle-aged married Mormon women at burger joints, waitresses at Indian restaurants we were dying to try, strangers speeding past us in trucks as we walk the Provo River Trail. These tensions do not focus around bathrooms. She perpetually absorbs disdain aimed at the center of her personal radius. And whether she notices or not, I have learned to quickly step beside her in that circle to meet the antagonist’s glare.

I want to speak to the weight of this oppressive gaze, especially in Utah Valley. We live in a community that boasts its own virtue; hails itself willing to comfort those in need of comfort, to mourn with those mourning. I grew up a part of this religious culture. I understand the principles by which one claims membership in the fold, and I am continually baffled by the intolerance and directed aggression toward transfolx in this area. The behavior I witness is incongruous with the tenets of the religion that produced the bedrock of my belief about how I am to proceed in a world filled with others. And we are all others. Charity is kind, it seeketh not its own. Love unfailing understands the precarious foothold of judgment. Communion is only complete when all are accounted for, found precious, cared for, succored in times of need. Regardless of the nature of our bodies, be it cis or transgender, all are necessary to move humanity in the direction of survival. We will not arrive if not together. We must be one.

And so, as our trans comrades put off the shackles assigned them at birth to thrive, to embrace lives of authenticity, we as allies must be ready and willing to arm themselves in their defense as if we were defending ourselves. We must see with changed eyes, hear with changed ears, speak with changed lips. To be human is to journey through embodied perceptions that carry us back to awareness of our lonely selves and the burning desire for belonging, rightness in our skin, rightness in our community. 

In the movie Cloud Atlas, (screenplay adapted by the sisters and trans women Lana and Lilli Wachowski), the character Sonmi-451 declares: To be is to be perceived. And so to know thyself is only possible through the eyes of the other. The nature of our immortal lives is in the consequences of our words and deeds that go on apportioning themselves throughout all time.

May we, as allies—friends, family, lovers—secure the safe road ahead for the transgender community as an integral part of the broader communal constituency. Let us remember those lost and in so doing, let us commit to live—to know ourselves and others through continual deeds of acceptance and love.

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