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On Good Days and Bad

by Chris Paige


  

Visibility is a double-edged sword. It's been a really intense couple of weeks for transgender people in the news. I want to take this chance to remind us all how powerful a kind word can be.

It's important for transgender allies to understand that, while mainstream conversations about transgender experience are important opportunities for education and awareness, the vitriol that comes with mainstream media coverage can be traumatizing for many of us. I have at least one Facebook friend who simply signed off and has taken a break from social media altogether -- and good for her for figuring out how to stay safe!

Even in positive advances like the Governor of California signing a bill protecting transgender students, we experience an immediate psychological assault at the (often religious) backlash. (I'm avoiding links with ugly comment threads, but they are not hard to find)

With the Chelsea Manning story this week, many so-called progressive media outlets misgendered Manning, ignoring their own pronoun policies and showing themselves completely unprepared for a story that has been developing for nearly 2 years -- and that's just in reporting the facts. The conversation about health care, incarceration, and human rights gets much more ugly.

While the slaughter of Dominique Newburn in Los Angeles and Islan Nettles in New York during these same two weeks won't capture the national headlines like these other stories, the victim blaming that attends such reporting still hits us where it hurts.

In this midst of this mess, it's important to say a kind word. The Harvard Business Review reports optimal performance when praise outweighs criticism 5-to-1. They say, 

Only positive feedback can motivate people to continue doing what they're doing well, and do it with more vigor, determination, and creativity.

This goes for transgender people also. The more intense the firestorm, the more we need our friends and allies to remind us that we are not alone.

Some congregations, when they are considering declare themselves "welcoming" say, "Well, we love everybody. So why do we have to say 'transgender'?" 

The kind and specific words matter because so much of what we hear doesn't include love, doesn't include understanding, doesn't even affirm our humanity. On a CBS article about Islan Nettles death, the very first reader comment was "good riddance (sic)." 

If you love transgender people, don't just say it -- say it at least 5 times!

Marvin Ellison's recent statement "Transgender people are a blessing," in the Bangor Daily News is a wonderful example of a publicly affirming statement. Ellison begins,

Thank God for transgender persons and their families, who exemplify the amazing beauty of the divine creation in all its complexity and rich diversity.

Yes! Thank God for transgender people!

Sharon Groves also celebrates transgender experience in "What transgender people teach us about God, and our humanity," in the Washington Post. In her opening, Groves is just as unequivocal.

...there is no transgender question. The question is about how people of faith continue to grow in their understanding of our transgender brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, teachers and pastors.

Yes! We deserve to be understood! 

We need allies to interrupt all the ugliness -- the misgendering, religious bigotry, accusations of predatory intent, victim blaming, and all kinds of ridicule aimed at the very idea of being transgender. But let's also be clear about what is at stake -- that kind word and personal connection with someone who is feeling isolated and alone could save a life.

Social isolation is one of the big themes in our conversations about suicide prevention. For transgender people who have been abused by care-givers, rejected by family, refused housing and employment, and threated (or experienced) violence on the street, life can be an up-hill battle even on the good days. In the midst of such struggle, a word of encouragement can make a huge difference.

I really love Cecila's Chung's phrase about the need for "a cheerleader to stand by our side, reminding us hope is not lost and helping us discover new purposes that make each day worth waking up to." (see "On Authenticity and Hope in the Fight Against HIV and AIDS")

Will you make a commitment to be a cheerleader for someone who needs it? You don't have to write an editorial for the Washington Post. Just make sure you find ways to boldly express your love and appreciation for the transgender people in your life. Do it once, do it 5 times, do it every day.

  

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