“Acceptance is not love. You love a person because he or she has lovable traits, but you accept everybody just because they’re alive and human.” -Albert Ellis
In my experience as a human being, I’ve seen far too often what evils can come from judging people who are different from you and the groups you identify with. We’re all unique creatures, and we all will face many of the same challenges and fears in our lives, as Natalie Merchant reminds us in her rendition of the folk classic,
I don’t have the right to speak for anyone other than myself, of course, but I have not only the right but also the responsibility to speak up for others, particularly if they can’t (or aren’t there to) speak up for themselves. I’m a weird guy in a lot of ways, but no one has the right to treat me like I’m less of a person because of those things. There’s a rich and wide variety of traits to be found among humanity, and we spend too much useless energy worrying if we’re normal, and being judged for not conforming to what we’re expected to be.
But we’re all worthy of love, and we all deserve the same rights and respect just for being human. “Normal” is a wide range of things, and just because we don’t fall into the most common group or groups doesn’t mean that we aren’t also normal! It’s been a while since it happened, but I’d like to share a story with you from my past. I was at work, and from across the way, I heard laughter. Loud, intense laughter, like someone who’d just discovered Louis C.K. for the first time.
But he hadn’t discovered Louie or any other comedian; he had been filling out a web form, and came to the section for gender. And the options on the form were “Male”, “Female”, and “Other”. And that’s what his laughter was about. That someone’s gender might be “other” instead of male or female.
A rush of memories flooded my head. The time I was at the Jacksonville airport, and an openly gay man was accosted by a passerby for no reason. Reading a physics poster at a conference and having the author — a trans woman — converse with me about their work. When a friend of mine confessed their bisexuality to me, asking me to keep it a secret because of fear of judgment. The girl I knew who was born intersex and had surgery performed on her as an infant to assign her a gender, but never felt like a girl on the inside. The young women I knew with hirsutism, who struggled with body issues and acceptance. And the former students I’ve lost track of who’ve thanked me for creating an environment where they felt comfortable being themselves.
While those thoughts coursed through me, I heard the snickers of others close to him as he went on laughing about “other”. And I realized very quickly, if I didn’t say something to him — if I didn’t challenge his understanding of what “other” meant specifically in reference to gender and of what “normal” meant in general — no one would.
So I did. I asked him why “other” was so funny in the context of gender. I asked him what we should do with people whose gender identities don’t match the body parts they were born with. I asked him about (and had to convince him of the existence of) people born intersex, and whether they deserved to be treated differently from men or women by society, and by the law. I asked him about his own children, and what if his daughter someday came out and told him that she felt like she was in the body of the wrong gender?
It was a difficult, uncomfortable conversation for the both of us. At the end, I wasn’t sure that I had changed his mind on anything at all, but I was sure that he would think twice before expressing such a bigoted opinion publicly. (He never did in that workplace again, for whatever that’s worth.)
I have no right to speak for the trans community, and that’s not what this is about. This is about the fact that we all have a responsibility to speak up and tell this basic truth: that all people — regardless of their race, sex, sexual orientation, and any other physical trait — deserve to be treated with respect by society and our laws, are worthy of love, and should be free to figure out and be exactly who they are.
As our society struggles its way towards acceptance of gays and lesbians, remember that there are still plenty of human beings out there who are denied basic rights (including the right to go to the bathroom) for simply being true to themselves. No one should have to go through life worrying that they’ll face discrimination (or worse) simply for being who they are. There may be a whole bunch of things that I wish I’d done better in my life, but this is one that I know I’ve gotten right, and the more of you who stand up against bigoted behavior in all its forms will hasten the coming of a world where everyone can be exactly who they are.
And that’s something each and every one of us can do to take a small step towards increasing acceptance in this world.