Question Seven: Where do cis people fit into the fight for trans equality?
March 29, 2013 § 4 Comments
As an ally, and as someone who wants to marry a trans woman (if she will have me) how much of the fight for trans equality is “my” fight and how much is it that I actually am part of a group with a parallel struggle? Erm…you did ask!
Roz: It both is and isn’t your fight, or rather you are made an ally by circumstances. Hang out with other partners, be supportive.
Maeve: I think this is a fascinating question, and something that I have wondered a lot myself. I am very wary of appropriation, and even with my partner being an activist, I’ve been cautious about how much I should ‘do’ by myself. We’ve spoken quite a lot about this, and his general feeling is that more support and more people working together is a good thing (caveat that this is just his opinion, just as all my responses are only my opinion).
I also think it is vital that, in so many struggles of equality and human rights, real lasting change only really happens when the people who are not oppressed join with those who are, that’s how the tide of public opinion is turned. Trans people are vastly outnumbered by cis people, so for that reason alone I think we should lend our voices.
During the media storm of January 2013, Dan Solomon wrote a really wonderful piece entitled Why A Straight Man Like Me Cares About Transgender Rights which ended with the quote “I can speak up when things like that Observer editorial go out into the world. That way, someone who’s exhausted from having to constantly assert that they have a right to exist can relax for a minute when they see that there are other people who have their backs, and go do whatever else it is that they want to do. That’s the world I want to live in.”
That quote is the key thing for me. I never cease to be inspired and proud when watching my partner stand up for his and other trans peoples’ rights, but I wouldn’t be comfortable sitting to one side and watching him, without getting involved myself. Apart from anything else, everyone needs a break now and then!
But the key thing that all allies need to remember is that it is not our fight and we do not set the parameters. I may believe a certain societal change would make my partner’s life easier/better, but if he tells me otherwise, I shut up and listen. Likewise if I say something in public or online that I know my partner agrees with, and another trans person tells me that actually I’ve offended or upset them somehow, I take note, and try to revel in the beauty of diversity!
Naith: It’s certainly your fight to an extent. Anything that would improve the quality of life of someone you love is “your fight”. However, part of being a good ally is learning when it’s your fight and when it isn’t. Learning when to lend your support and when to back off is really important. It’s something your girlfriend will probably be able to help you with.
Natacha: IMO all fights are everybody’s fights when it comes to liberation struggles, and I believe that no-one can truly love another without wanting them also to be free from discrimination; my partner is a member of an ethnic minority in the UK and as such I am constantly fighting against racism. However that struggle should be led by trans people (and up to a point their parents) rather than cisgender people. However you are welcome as an ally.
CN: I suspect that my answer might not be the majority view, so I would take it with a pinch of salt. Personally, if someone loves me, then I need to know that my fight is their fight. To be honest, being open about loving a trans person (whether platonically, romantically, or as a family member) is something too few cis people are willing to do – the cost can be pretty high. So when someone takes on that burden of prejudice and discrimination because they love me, and wants to fight my corner because they don’t want me to suffer, then I’m happy to say that it’s their fight too. I’m thinking of that quote from The West Wing about the actions of a true friend. I think my view has been highly coloured by the collective way my family and I have dealt with awful experiences – the idea that we should all try to be allies to one another as a general principle, but that those closest to you are members of your team – and that that closeness means that your pain is shared, your outrage is shared, your struggles are shared – and all the joy too.
That being said, I still think it’s important that we don’t presume to talk over each other, or pretend to have experiences in areas where we don’t – sharing and working together shouldn’t be the same thing as appropriation. My mother does a huge amount for LGBTI issues, and I couldn’t do so much without her – but she doesn’t have all of the same experiences as I do (and vice versa) – and it would be foolish to pretend otherwise.