Shame On Me

Fool me once, shame on you. 

Fool me again, shame on me.

That little ditty has been running through my head as I have learned — the hard way — the price of being authentic. Of expressing my opinion. Of trusting the universe will allow me to be without slapping me back down. Shame on me for thinking I can have all those things.

Just two people reached out to me this week, among the hundreds who read and responded to a recent opinion piece I wrote for The Advocate Magazine, offering to help me better understand a situation with which I am somewhat familiar, but not intimately nor with any personal experience; that of the detention of undocumented immigrants who are transgender.

That actually was not the subject I set out to write about, but for the central figure in the story and her supporters, it’s all that matters. What Jennicet Gutiérrez and her story represent is something that I have spent some time considering these last couple days. 4c72cc56a00532cd25647e0044b663569b27a672343c9dfd942c43ce6252b56c_thumb_medium

I did so, not because hundreds of mean people in their pajamas trash-talked me on Twitter, or because fringe “journalists” denounced my point of view as “privileged” and “classist.”

I did it because I enjoy learning things, especially when it’s something I don’t know well enough.

I took time to better acquaint myself with the views of people I respect, who were kind enough to constructively criticize my opinion without doing to me what I accused Gutiérrez of doing to the president.

What I wrote about was respect. I went so far as to call Gutiérrez rude. My point was to discuss civility, not activism or rape or race or the immigration status of any individual.

But no matter how many times I echoed the comments of others in praising Gutiérrez for achieving a policy change and for standing-up, no matter how I denounced those who booed her, all my detractors saw was me “shaming” or “shitting on” a trans Latina woman, and judging me “on the color of my skin,” and not “on the content of my character,” to quote Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.

One “friend” saw an opportunity to drag my name through the media mud once more: she misquoted me, mocked and dishonored the memory of my grandmother and aunt in suggesting they and all Irish immigrants were liars, and took me to the woodshed in a rival publication which someone I respect and admire once described as “one step below writing for al Qaeda.”

Well, friends and followers, I’m not going to flip-flop, or print a retraction, or apologize — my response tweet Wednesday basically said it wasn’t my intention to offend anyone, and I’m sorry that anyone took offense about anything I wrote — but, well, that’s the nature of opinion writing. Or as my grandfather said, “that’s why we have horse racing.” Because we all have opinions that lead us to think we’re right and the other guy is wrong.

But to those who blasted me for putting my preference for showing manners ahead of her cause, for spotlighting what Gutiérrez did in the context of civility, and for deploring the disrespect she showed the president — for putting those things ahead of the need for action and for change, I’ve got a message for you:

You’re right.

I’ve pondered, read, watched, listened and listened some more to trans, gay, bi, lesbian (LGBT), people of color (POC), white allies, and cis queer women, who instead of spitting at me online shared with me some of the experiences they and people they know have endured. I learned how bisexuals were once again the victims of erasure and shook my head in disgust at those who blasted Gutiérrez for being undocumented, as if that invalidated her opinion.

I even considered the position of someone who is a vicious bigot herself, giving grief to people who don’t match her standards, who demanded I unfriend her on Facebook because of my opinion piece (by the way, who does that? Why not just unfriend me? Oh, right; if you do that, then you lose influence over the people I connect you to in my vast media universe. Ah.).

Well, I must admit, she’s right when she says Jennicet Gutiérrez is brave. I’m sure Gutiérrez is also compassionate and I’ll agree she is beautiful. There is no doubt in my mind she is selfless and I trust those who know her who have told me she is a good person.

The only area where this woman on Facebook and I disagree (not counting this woman’s derogatory opinion of late transitioners) is that she said Gutiérrez “asked the president.”

C’mon now, let’s not pretend: she didn’t ask, Gutiérrez demanded.

She did what Sylvia Rivera and countless activists and civil rights leaders and everyday people have done when given an opportunity: she stepped up and challenged authority. She stood up for those who have no voice. She spoke truth to power. She grabbed the spotlight away from the president to shove it — not on herself — but toward those who only want two things: to become American citizens and live authentically without fear or retribution or danger.

And I’m certain what Gutiérrez did provoked change that would not have happened otherwise. For that she deserves our praise and all the credit, and those who booed her should be ashamed of themselves, because in booing Jennicet they booed all trans people. I said as much in my Op Ed. I never called for Gutiérrez to be silent, nor silenced, but in focusing on the disrespect I believe now I did Gutiérrez an injustice, by not recognizing that for someone like her, there appeared to be no other opportunity. If you favor sports analogies, this was her shot, her one and only shot, and she took it. Or maybe that’s a sniper’s analogy, but either way, she took it.

And I will concede her doing so frankly makes me uncomfortable, because of my own history. That’s why what I wrote is my opinion, because it’s based on who I am. 

I was raised to mind my manners and to respect authority, to work within the system, to network among those with similar backgrounds and to use the proper channels for communication and in addressing authority figures and institutions. To my parents, protesters were “hippies,” radicals, undesirable.

Challenging authority in my house was met with a beltstrap, a spanking, a slap across the face. I was taught to turn the other cheek, and that to cry or to complain was to be weak.

I was raised to be obsequious, with white privilege and upper middle class privilege and male privilege.  I have been reminded of all this recently, very much so, to the point at which I am humbled to now say: I believe rude was right, in this circumstance.

Despite my habit of being snarky and having a smart mouth, I failed to rebel as a youth, and bring that perspective to my adult life. As a parent myself, I have distilled the strict disciplines of my birth family to become more forgiving in the family I raise, to be more loving, more considerate, more patient and more accepting of ways that are different. I have been an active participant in my unions and have used my skills as a journalist to bring truth to light and expose the excesses of power and corruption. I’ve been arrested, seen the inside of a jail cell, had my days in court, and I’ve endured misgendering.

And I’ve educated myself further over the past 48 hours, reading up, opening my eyes to better understand and appreciate and truly listen to those who are willing to take time to share experiences, without casting aspersions. So I can now say: my opinion on Jennicet Gutiérrez evolved.

I consider opinion and thought to be different things. To me, thought is a process, an evolution of ideas; opinion is the result of that process, but it is not an end product unto itself, because thought continues. And so opinion can evolve as well, given more information and perspective.

Thanks go out to my friends who are like-minded on the topic of civility, as well as to those whose opinions contrast with mine — who gave me the impetus to grow rather than denouncing me as a heretic, for having a contrary view.

I will not back down from my position — that it’s usually best to show respect and manners — and I don’t write this to win converts. I am still a believer in doing whatever your conscience tells you is the right thing, and I am one who tries to walk that line on the side of civility.

But I will concede I could have done a better job expressing there are always exceptions and extenuating circumstances.

I am a reasonable enough person to admit, as much as I wish she didn’t have to, Gutiérrez did the right thing in seizing what she saw as her only opportunity, no matter the cost to herself or to respectability. Making change is a dirty business, and it takes someone willing to get her hands dirty or her name sullied to make a difference. I am proud of Gutiérrez, and can say without exception that I support her actions that day.

With respect to those who won’t see my statement as anything other than eating crow, well, that’s your opinion. The difference between us is, I will respect yours.

I send you wishes of peace and solidarity for LGBT people everywhere — and for all kinds of people, everywhere — from the City of Brotherly and Sisterly Love.

XOXO

Rage, Rage

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Not for the first time somebody I deeply respect told me, forget Facebook.

Close it, shut it down, walk away.
Terminate your Twitter.
Filter-out your Instagram.
Block your blog.

I understand why. If I take away the low-hanging fruit that tabloid writers have feasted on for more than a year to ruin me and make me famous, infamous and notorious, perhaps the lack of attention will make me less appetizing.

I have become, in what is sure to be a buzzword if it’s not already, “RADIOACTIVE.”

The way my closest cisgender friends see it, I need to go Chernobyl: offline, abandoned, off limits. Or for our younger readers, put the f-u-k in Fukushima. If you enjoy movies, then you understand I should “Make like a tree… and get outta here, McFly!”

Of course, the only remedy for being radioactive is time and distance.

“Move along, nothing to see here!”

Stay out of sight while the media isotopes cool down. Pull my social media profile.

Sadly, in my 30 years of writing about people who vanish and then resurface, they seldom re-emerge without taint. They go from “controversial ” to “formerly controversial.” Now, some do surprise us with their lessons learned. As my dear friend and much wiser social media user Maia Monet told me, while the public enjoys seeing someone big taken down a notch, nothing compares to the joy of watching the great American comeback.

The question is, can there be a comeback for someone like me?

Here are the facts: I’m a pariah to some trans people who saw my honest but wrong declaration of not being trans last summer, after suffering amnesia, as a betrayal that hurt everyone in transition. Others have told me I inspired them to step forward and transition, and called me brave. And there are some who tell me what I have endured convinced them they could not possibly transition and survive, that I am living their worst nightmare (mine, too, incidentally). One called me her “anti-role model.”

To cisgender folks who know only one transgender person (ME), I am what one friend called a “high profile champion of transgender rights.” Really? It’s all a matter of perspective, I guess. Just so you understand, “cisgender” is a word used to define someone who is not transgender. The closest equivalent would be “non-transgender people,” or as someone I know said, unkindly: “you mean, ‘normal’ people.”

Yeah, thanks for that.

To the larger transgender community, I’m still pretty much nobody, although my name is frequently recognized from all the media attention. I have indeed shared articles in social media to draw attention to issues of discrimination, and to attempt to help spread understanding of what if means to be trans, and in support of this issue of civil rights. But those posts are merely a blip, compared to the megaphone held by true activists and heroes of mine like Janet Mock, Laverne Cox, Brynn Tannehill, Parker Marie Malloy, Kristen Beck, Cristen Williams, Masen Davis, Landon Wilson, Jennifer Louise Lopez, Lexie Cannes, Ashley Love and so many more. I don’t seek to be their equal on the world stage; I only wish to see all of us be treated equally with all of you.

To most members of my extended family, I am an embarrassment. Some will accept me privately but have faced real retaliation from ignorant people just for being related to me. Others have made excuses for refusing to publicly associate with me and consider it justified. Would it be just as okay to deny knowing me if I were a Jew, or homeless, or gay? (Not that I’d be ashamed to be any of those, but I’m not; I hope you get my point).

And I am saddened beyond words that close relatives I love can turn their backs on me and feel no shame or regret. I never could imagine a situation where I would turn to any member of my family who I felt had done something wrong in my eyes, and as a result, tell them I no longer loved them. Love forgives, strives to accept, and when necessary, keeps its distance — I can accept that — but the bond that is love, for me, is unbreakable.

That bond today helped me realize my true place in the universe: yes, I am trans, but first I am responsible for the lives of four people, in addition to myself: she who married me, and our three children. They have depended on me longer than I’ve known I was trans. I have a responsibility to find work that will sustain all of us, and so far I have failed at this. The majority opinion is that my social media presence has made that task even harder.

I’d cut off my own left arm (I’m partial to my right one) if it meant I could then support my family , so cutting myself off from social media is an easy sacrifice. And so I have taken that step.

What took me so long? I am all alone, separated from my loved ones and desperate for human contact. Social media provides both the illusion of connectedness as well as genuine interaction and friendships with real people who have similar interests and problems. I was hesitant to give up that lifeline that has supported me when no one else would.

But I realize people got by long before Facebook; they were able to make it through the day before a tweet was anything other than the sound a bird makes; they survived back when sharing a photo was sitting in Uncle Bill’s darkened living room watching his slides from his trip to Denver… all 300 of them.

And I will survive this, too. But I also decided today, I will not vanish. Even after my blog goes dark, I cannot imagine muting my voice now that I have found it.

The cause (Vice President Joe Biden once called it “the civil rights issue of our time”) is too important to surrender now. I will find a way to anonymously advocate for change without jeopardizing my family or what remains of my career. I will seek a way to have my say secretly, without putting an employer in the position of having to comment.

I believe I can do this by covertly supporting the cause in a way that will not take precedence over my primary mission of being a provider. I pray it will allow me to fulfill what I see as a calling, second only to my responsibility to support those I love.

I am going away, my friends. But I will not be silent. I will rage on, in secret if necessary, until my dying day.

Do not go gentle into that good night
by Dylan Thomas

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.