Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Bearing the Weight of One's Allies (Part 1)

This post got started when, once again, a homosexual person said something transphobic and a trans person somewhere on the Internet, once again, responded by saying that this is why trans people should disassociate themselves from the queer community.  In short, take the T out of LGBT.

My first response to that was, "And are you going to stop associating with the straight community because straight people can also be transphobic?"  Transphobia is a sad fact of life.  But if we refused to associate with all cis people we wouldn't get very far.  (I admit that I'm biased on the subject of LGBT.  I knew I was queer long before I knew I was trans, so for me the two things naturally go together.  That is my community.  I can't just leave.)

Anyway, I was all set to write a preachy little post on the importance of working with one's allies: which means both holding them accountable and making allowances for their ignorance and ingrained social prejudices.  I used to believe all the bad things that society said about trans people.  I know what it's like to be ignorant.  I can't judge other people for that.  Moreover, allies, by definition, are people who don't get it.  Allies, by definition, are people who don't share your experience.  But if they are true allies then they want to learn.  They can't ever really live it or understand it the way that you do.  But they can make room in their souls for people who are different from them.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Bullying in Schools

Here's an article about a trans girl who, with the support of her parents, started attending school as a female in fifth grade.  There's a lot of good stuff in the article, but I was especially struck by this description of how bullying gets started:
When fifth grade started, Wyatt was gone. Nicole showed up for school, sometimes wearing a dress and sporting shoulder-length hair. She began using the girls’ bathroom. Nikki’s friends didn’t have a problem with the transformation; there were playdates and sleepovers.

“They said, ‘It was about time!’ ’’ Nicole says. She was elected vice president of her class and excelled academically.

But one day a boy called her a “faggot,’’ objected to her using the girls’ bathroom, and reported the matter to his grandfather, who is his legal guardian. The grandfather complained to the Orono School Committee, with the Christian Civic League of Maine backing him. The superintendent of schools then decided Nicole should use a staff bathroom.

“It was like a switch had been turned on, saying it is now OK to question Nicole’s choice to be transgender and it was OK to pursue behavior that was not OK before,’’ [her father] says. “Every day she was reminded that she was different, and the other kids picked up on it.’’

According to a 2009 study by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, 90 percent of transgender youth report being verbally harassed and more than half physically harassed. Two-thirds of them said they felt unsafe in school.

To protect her from bullying at school, Nicole was assigned an adult to watch her at all times between classes, following her to the cafeteria, to the bathroom. She found it intrusive and stressful. It made her feel like even more of an outsider.

“Separate but equal does not work,’’ she says.

It was a burden that [her brother] Jonas shouldered as well. The same boy who in fifth grade objected to her using the girls bathroom made the mistake of saying to Jonas in sixth grade that “freaking gay people’’ shouldn’t be allowed in the school. Jonas jumped on him and a scuffle ensued.
 I also want to point out that the school did try to help Nicole (although unfortunately the family ended up having to move to another town, where no one knew she was trans.)  I've been involved in some discussions lately about whether or not it's possible for schools to prevent bullying, and what their options are.  Too often they don't try to protect LGBT students at all.