On helping #Trans people

IT is somewhat fitting that after deciding early one day that I would write on this topic, since I haven’t done so in a while, that later that same day I came across this event reported on in Politico, of all places, shown in full because to me its worth the potential damage Politico could do:

Vice President Joe Biden, leaving an Obama campaign office in Sarasota, singled one woman out because she had beautiful eyes, the pool reporter noted:

She said something …at first inaudible to pool, to which VP responded was the “civil rights issue of our time”

Pool later asked the woman, Linda Carragher Bourne of Sarasota about the exchange. She said her daughter was Miss Trans New England and asked if he would help them.

“A lot of my friends are being killed, and they don’t have the civil rights yet. These guys are gonna make it happen,” she told the pool.

Biden has long been a vocal advocate for LGBT rights — most memorably getting out “a little bit over his skies,” as President Obama put it — when Biden endorsed same sex marriage before the president did earlier this year.

The vice president met with LGBT leaders at his Washington, D.C., home last month, including transgender advocates, according to the Easton Patch. The Obama-Biden administration was the first to send a representative to a trans-gender conference. — Politico, October 30th, 2012, reported by Donovan Slack

Check that: The Vice President of the United States says that the civil rights issue of our time is trans rights.

I’ll take that as a seriously useful piece of help. Makes meeting him for all of 45 seconds pretty fucking awesome and one for my personal notebook.

I should have shaken his hand.

So the title here is basically saying that I’m going to talk about helping Trans people. I’ve talked about this before, on several occasions (such as here, here, here, here, here, here, and here). Like many others, I am something of an expert on the subject — and more so in the area of what it means to help them on a day to day basis than what it means to draft legislation.

I meet those folks where it comes to policy, because the enactment of policy is what I deal with more often than not.

But all of the bigger stuff — the funding of organizations, the creation of programs, the paperwork and the middling details that can bog down and bury one, all of those things come second to the thing that matters first and foremost, above and beyond all other concerns.

Helping Trans people.

That’s actually pretty hard stuff to do.  I know a few people who understand that. Trans people are very hard to help — and not just because they need a lot of help.

First off, even though I hate the whole binary choice thing, there is a bit of a bianry choice here.  You can either seek to stop people from making mistakes, or you can help them to succeed.

You *can* do both of those things, but, in the end, if you do, you won’t get very far in either.  People make mistakes.  They grow from those mistakes, they emerge from the things they do that are foolish or stupid or silly and they can either grow and learn and move on from it, or they can curl up in a ball and let the sands take them.

People make mistakes all the time.  Think of it like this:  I can actually spell most things pretty well. I have a problem with words over twelve letters. I’m not the world’s greatest typist, at all. Hell, I’m not even a barely passable typist.  I suck at typing But I don’t typically spend the time to correct or proof my posts.

Because mistakes count. And people make a lot of them, and life doesn’t have pre-programmed do overs and lifecheckers. Take the habit I have of using And at the beginning of sentences.  Not a good thing., Bad form, blah blah.

And it has been my experience and the experience of many that I talk to, that your time and energy are better spent in helping people to succeed. Because if you put your time and energy into stopping people from making mistakes, two things will happen:

1 – they will do it anyway.

2 – you never have time to help them succeed, and you get stuck in a trap of always running after people.

This also limits the number of people you can effectively help. You are, after all, only one person, and while you can help several people, and over a long period of time you can help a lot of different ones, you also have to take the time to get to know their lives on a more intimate level, and that can suck you into things and slowly drain you love energy enough to do anything beyond just those people you help.

I have known many people who have run houses for trans people. One of the things that they often do is live there, themselves.  I don’t.  I don’t because then I would be too close to them to see the larger picture, to have the perspective that allows me to not spend my time and effort stopping them from making mistakes.

I do spend a lot of time putting out fires, and I do that because I let them make a mistake. No one is “stuck” at the residence I run.  There is a program, and it is not a simple one and yet, it is built on the principle of helping people to succeed, not stopping them from screwing up.

It also means that I trust them. Trust is not something the Trans community has in great supply — it is the price we pay for our resilience, perhaps. It is certainly the result of the animus, anxiety, and aversion we encounter in even the smallest situations.  To trust takes effort on the part of trans people, and while many of us can do it after a while, many others never quite get to a point where we can.

Because when you trust, you are vulnerable, and we tend to see vulnerability as a weakness still (see my post regarding Brene Browns’ work). We see many things as a weakness, culturally — mental illness (the very connotation of the phrase suggests a weakness, since all defects are considered such), disability, lack of ambition, etc.

We tend to create scars where we are hurt, and when the hurt is emotional, those scars are of a metaphorical sort, and that interferes with our ability to trust,.  It is why we so desperately crave safe spaces, and why all too often, those safe spaces are a place where only the well infomred and genuinely caring are allowed.

It is why we have such a hard time dealing with allies who make mistakes; all allies make mistakes, and all allies are ultimately in it for themselves in some way — usually just to make themselves feel better about things.

Nor am I an exception there.  My own ability to trust is deeply compartmentalized — I have layers and stages and ways of trusting people that are always predicated on something else, and the closer you get to me the more areas I trust you in. And getting close enough in most cases is very difficult because I am unwilling to be that exposed.

(unrelated: Cloud Atlas snuck up on me that way.  It has me crying (good way) as recently as this morning.  That’s powerful stuff.)

So in the process of dealing with trans people, the first thing you have to start with is that they don’t trust you.

And they probably won’t.

The trans community itself is filled with a tremendous amount of interpersonal conflict. Some of it is real, some of it is perceived, and it has an impact on the ways in which we interact.  Most of the issues lie in the lack of traust for other people, typically manifested in the areas of strategy.

There are exceptions to this — notable one.  In my own case, for example, if you were to place a sense of animosity twixt myself and those who have an approach to this that does not fully deal with the whole trans community *and* uses portions of the trans community to justify their actions in a negative light, then you are probably not going too far.

I’ll admit it — I’m not in this for a few of the trans people. I’m in it for all of them — including the ones above. But when the work I’m doing is being undermined by others, I tend to get a little pissy about it.

But look at the reasons for those separations — it inevitably comes back to the way that the wider community around us sees trans people, and so it is, when one has the perspective I’ve spoken of, that you see it as inevitable that some are going to go down that path since it allows them as individuals to at least gain some personal sense of acceptance and ability to operate in a world that is otherwise often hostile.

So to truly help trans people — as opposed to helping “most” trans people or “some” trans people or “many” trans people, you even have to help those who are opposed to you.

Which is why I made suggestions to the most well known of my opponents the last time we ran into each other. Not negative ones, either, and there was no snark or sarcasm involved.

Because when you are helping trans people, humor is helpful, but sarcasm, snark, and negative criticism are not very helpful.

When you are helping trans people, you don’t get to criticize the way they dress unless they invite you to do so.  There are butch trans people, femme trans people, and trans people who are both of those things or neither of those things. And this is also important because when you are helping trans people, you have to remember that they haven’t  had a gazillion days of people telling them how they should dress or what they should wear or what outfit goes well with what or any of the rest.  And often, they do want to have someone help them and guide them.  But you cannot simply do it.

That’ll just trigger the trust thing.

So what you have to do is help them by offering it, pleasantly, and if they say no, then don’t push it.

Because the other big rule about helping trans people is the same as it is for helping anyone. Cis or trans, gay or straight, bi or mono.

You can only help people who are ready for help. Who want help.

And the only time people are typically in that mode is when they are feeling like trusting someone.  Because this is all about trust.  Hell, I’ve known trans people who don’t even trust themselves.

And another thing about the clothing and such deal: if you are ever tempted to say “don’t wear that, it’s just asking for trouble“, stop right there.

Be tempted all you want — but trans people don’t ask for trouble. Trouble finds them without being asked. That’s like saying don’t wear that, you’ll get raped. Assholes will be violent or harmful no matter what they wear.

Yes, they will use really bad clothing decisions as an excuse, but that’s still all it is: an excuse.  It gives them cover to feel like they can do so with justification.

And that’s wrong.

In the rules for TIH, which anyone can read at the TIH website, one does agree to let me do this stuff.  But I do it with a light hand, and I do it with letting them know that.  It is a holistic approach, after all.  We try to deal with many things, all together, as parts of a whole, so into that go things like developing a personal style and finding things that one prefers and growing into one’s presence as a person.

I would do more of it if I could.  Once the Annual Campaign is done, then I’ll be able to do more of it.  We have a closet of donated clothing that people are welcome to dig through.  We don’t’ get enough donations, but make no mistake: that closet is a big deal.

The next thing to help trans people is to remember that we have a strong tendency in community to focus on the negative stuff, The hard stuff.  And when you have been in support areas for a long time, either you develop a kind of gallows humor, or you look outside the community for positive experiences.

So the next big deal is to provide those.  Do not underestimate the power of a party for trans people, and do not underestimate the power of that experience on allies.

A dance, a costume party, a kegger for all it matters (though never ask me if I actually wrote that).  Just something fun — BBQ events, picnics in the park, and so forth.  If all that trans people ever see is “let’s go do this!” and the this is a march or a protest or a fight, then they aren’t going to want to do it unless there is also something to balance it out.

And when you do these things, don’t be surprised if they don’t take off, right away.  Or even if they do. Because there are going to be high points and low points — times when you may be the only person sitting there.

(There are times when I wonder if I am ever going to get through this post.  I’ve been working on it as time permits for three days now, and this is as far as I’ve gotten.  SO I’m going to post it as it is, and come back to the topic again, in my efforts to write one post a month this November — Trans Awareness Month…)

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