It’s Pride month and social media is full of rainbows, flags, and emojis. There’s a lot of people self congratulating themselves for being an ally as they bask in the pride of supporting Pride. Being an ally takes more then a Facebook emoji that everyone is trying to get their hands on.
In Washington state, a hate group just got a $50,000 donation in their efforts to reverse trans bathroom rights. A few days ago two transgender women were physically assaulted in Brooklyn. Worst of all, a family in Alabama is grieving the suicide of their 13 year old transgender son. These are just some of the news stories reported today. This is par for the course virtually every day.
Human rights denied, equality threatened, and death of children. I recently wrote an article about the importance of entertainment media to hire transgender people to tell their stories. It was based on an article written by a transgender teenager in TeenVogue Magazine. My prompting for the story was because of an ally who dismissed her thoughts too swiftly.
The argument that I heard from the ally and another person is that the best person for a role in a play, movie, or television show is the best actor for the role. Period. End of story. When I challenged the assertion, I was told by the ally that being trans is not the same as being a specific race or gender and the rules to include more transgender actors to play transgender roles need not apply. When I challenged further I was told that this person is an ally and I am wrong for criticizing him. No. I am not.
The issue is not if he agrees or disagrees with me, the issue is how swiftly he seemed to dismiss the teenage girl who wrote the original story, made blanket and inaccurate statements about her nuanced points, and then went to “I’m an ally and how dare you make assumptions about me” defense when further challenged.
Here is the problem. You don’t get to be an ally and not listen. What the young lady was writing about about is the vary same civil rights issue that has white people being cast in lead roles as first nation people in movies while the group portrayed is not being able to get cast themselves. It is the same issue that black people face when white people tell their stories in fiction and do so with misrepresentation of an entire group of people. This is far more than who is the best actor at the point of audition.
My son, his peers, and the transgender community do not need you to agree with every opinion, but we do need you to listen to them. I am going to quote my son:
Internet activism means nothing unless you actually make an attempt at change. It does not have to be big. Write a letter to or call your representatives. Attend a rally. Vote. You could even Google “How Can I Advocate For Transgender People?”
I would further ask you to learn the terminology, know the issues, and recognize their humanity. This comes from taking the time to read and to listen. This comes from a place of humility where you stop patting yourself on the back long enough to not be defensive when challenged by someone you claim to be an ally for.
The way things were and are is partly due to a broken society that needs to grow and to change. Using the way things are and were as a defense will never lead to the change that is needed. In 1963 we lived in a world where it was deemed acceptable to have Laurence Olivier in blackface to play Othello. Today we would never think of such a thing as acceptable. At some point we challenged the notion that the best audition was all that mattered for a specific role. We need more change. The change is in many other areas.
We need to change how we view bathrooms. There is a need to change how we see and define gender (which is a social construct). Being shocked that someone is transgender should no longer be a viable defense for murder. Transgender people should be able to walk home from a bar or run for elected office without facing threats, assault or murder. The list goes on, I promise you.
That teen that killed himself in Birmingham, Alabama? Not only was he not allowed to use the boys bathroom, but he was bullied. According to his mother, there were no community safe spaces with allies, advocates, and other transgender people to gather. They looked. Here is my question. How many people in Birmingham have Pride profiles and emojis? What could have been different if the advice of my son to take things further than social media activism had been taken? Could this young man have had equal rights, protection from bullying, and a safe space in the community to hang out?
I know I sound harsh. I am frustrated. But I will say this. The LGBTQIA community has always welcomed allies. When we all stand together, we celebrate the victories together. We also mourn the losses together. The invitation to join (not to lead) is there for all of us who are not LGBTQIA.
Being an ally is hard work. There is a learning curve and you will make mistakes. You will have to own those mistakes and endeavor to do better. I am not sorry that it takes more than a social media post or an emoji to claim the role of ally. Ally is earned and you don’t get to use it as a shield for being deaf or hurtful. There is too much at stake.