I became a dues paying member to an organization my child would not be safe in. My continued presence there would hurt my child. There was only one clear choice. I made the right choice and I made a promise.
A few years ago, a former partner and I were enrolled in a program. We were gaining a better understanding of emotional intelligence. We were six months into a one year program when the bomb drop came, this is not a welcoming space to those who are transgender or beyond the binary. My ex fiancée is gender fluid, my child is transgender. This was my family. I was the only cis hetero member in it.
We had a conversation as to what to do. We decided to see if we could change it. I wanted my child to experience these lessons when they were 18. For weeks my partner and I spoke with the leadership and the head of the organization to institute policy changes that would allow all people to be welcomed. I had offered the vast resources and connections I had made over the years with Chicago based LGBTQ groups. Groups that could help them work past a hetero and cisgender atmosphere into one that was affirming for all. The efforts were unfruitful. As a couple, we left the group.
I have seen over the years the pain that they both endured with family members who did not accept their genders or orientation. They had to be silent on certain matters in front of younger family and alleged friends. These people in their lives would attend churches they could not attend and be affirmed as they were. These same family members and alleged friends voted for people with policies that expressly limited the rights of my family.
In the wake of this event, I made a promise. I will not willfully go into spaces where my family cannot go to. That has expanded to not going into spaces that all LGBTQ people, black people, latinx people, women, and other marginalized groups cannot go to and be fully equal and welcomed. This is not just places of business, clubs and churches. This includes the homes of people and other social spaces. Since this promise I have learned that there are a lot more of these unwelcoming spaces than cis hetero white people can imagine. We cannot imagine it because we walk into these spaces almost daily.
If there is an opportunity to be a good ally by going into these spaces to effect or affect change, then I am able to go. In discussion with my child, that was something they brought to my attention. This is part of the role of the ally. We do not lead the march, we support. One way to support is to go into those spaces on occasion and make the challenge and offer the education. I will not become a member of any of these groups, nor will I purchase their goods or services. But I will be happy to go into them, with permission, and speak to the concerns I have.
I have gone into some spaces with this intention. I’ve engaged with ministers, conservative politicians, journalists, entertainers, school boards, medical centers, places of business and homes. Many were not successful engagements, but some were sublime moments of change.
There are costs to me in some things. In comparison to someone living on the margins, they are a small price to pay.
The group where I was learning emotional intelligence from? They do it better than any group I have ever seen. That is a minor price.
I am a photographer. I no longer do weddings. I’ve not done a wedding since I made the promise. Why? If the wedding is held in a Catholic or Assemblies of God Church, I am not there to make a difference. I am there to make money. Weddings pay far more than the models testing gigs, portraits and local musicians.
I think the bakery that refused a gay wedding cake was wrong. If you operate in the public square, you should take paying customers.
I also do not want to be in a space where not only is my child not welcome, but I may appear to be endorsing the couple, the minister and their church by taking part in the affair for profit. So I do not do weddings.
The benefit is worth far more than any minor inconvenience I face. The benefit is I am a good father. I am a good ally. I am a person who addresses my privilege as honestly and imperfectly as I can
This last year I have blocked more people than I ever have on social media. I wish I could say it was Trump supporters. It has been more self professed allies and liberals than anyone else. By being my friend and including me in their conversations, I have been invited into their spaces. When they speak of a sensitive topic and then tell everyone to be polite, they often do not know what microaggressions are. When I challenge toxic statements of a sexist, racist or trans-phobic nature, I am told often why I should be understanding of the racist or transphobe or sexist. I, and often female, black, latinx and LGBTQ “friends” are told we are the problem. We are the uncivil. The racist phobic sexist person is placed in a bubble of protection. When that happen I have to leave your home. I have a promise to keep and a standard to live by.
I am forever beholden to Dr Maya Angelou. Her poetry and writings helped my child survive being in a closet in middle school and the horrific year of coming out trans as a freshman in high school. Dr Maya Angelou believes that words are things. These words get into our homes and our clothes and the very fabric of all we are. Words of hate, racism, trans-phobia, sexism and so forth she compares to poison. She once said, “If a thing is poison and it’s got the skull and bones on it, you can take that content and pour it into Bavarian Crystal. It’s still poison.”
More poison is served in Bavarian Crystal than in a cartoonist bottle with a skull and crossed bones. Will you drink it, or will you turn from the poison and the ones serving it?
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