It would be very nice if we weren’t all beings that needed to experience something personal before it perhaps changes their mind about something. It’s not an uncommon occurrence for transpeople to be the first ones that someone knew who was trans (that they know of.)
A fellow podcaster, and someone quickly becoming a good friend of mine, Felicia from Utah Outcasts, was talking to me about how hard it may be to understand what it’s like. Even with her being an ally, supporter, and friend, she still struggles with the direct empathy, and our following conversation helped with that. I only named her because she specifically asked me to.
I decided to write about this because, for some reason, I’m usually able to put something in my head into a context that most people can accept, or at least understand. Maybe it’s all the years on camera, writing, and performing, or just something at which I’m naturally adept, but either way, I’m glad I can do this because it helps put a human face on this issue. For so many transpeople, they are demonized by people they’ve never met and have no idea what the personal experience is like (Fuck you, Milo.) It wasn’t until gay people were humanized for a majority of the population that the swift social change took place, taking us from re-electing GW because of catching the gay, and marriage equality becoming national law eleven years later.She was open, but thought she could never really “get” it.
I started off by asking her a question. In situations like this, it’s always important for an open-ended inquiry that gauges someone’s common experience so that the gap can be bridged. It’s far harder to do with someone hostile, but it still holds true. We are more easily accepting of similarities than differences as a species. Given her experience and position at which she arrived in podcasting, I basically asked if there had ever been anything she’d done where she knew it was the right thing and it was her decision to make, but people rejected her for it, to the point of believing they knew better than you, for religious or any other reason.
Felicia opened up about her divorce and how she was pretty much on her own handling it. She had family side with the other, and was told repeatedly how there is no divorce in the eyes of God. Marriage is forever. Divorce is a sin. She had a very difficult journey through people who are supposed to love her no matter what treating her that way.
Then I said, “Okay, now imagine you were born into that marriage, but you never wanted to be married in the first place, and you still got that reaction. Imagine everyone felt the right to tell you that you were born unhappilIy married and even though you’ll get divorced, you’re really still married. It’s a dismissal of your identity, of your personhood, of other people telling you that they have more of a right to define who you are than you do.
That’s the point where she brought up there being no divorce in the eyes of God, according to those accosting her. I related to that too, because I get told God doesn’t make mistakes which is why my gender identity can’t possibly be legitimate or valid.
I feel like the next part of the exchange can only be quoted instead of summarized, simply because I couldn’t possibly say it any better than it went down between the two of us.
FELICIA: For me it was like digging my way out from my own grave, and there were those who told me the grave was were I was supposed to be. Trying to push me out. And no matter how much they hurt me, or how much they said I was wrong, I’d seen the sky and I couldn’t go back in the grave.
MARISSA: Yes. That is what it was like the first time someone called me a girl, called me Marissa. I couldn’t pretend it wasn’t anymore.
FELICIA: And you had seen inside yourself and you liked what you saw there.
MARISSA: I knew it was right. Correct. Who I really was. No matter who said it wasn’t so.
FELICIA: And the overwhelming joy despite the pain of what others did meant I had to keep going.There’s wasn’t a choice anymore.
This. This. So much this. Maybe I shouldn’t have to do this, but this is why I make myself so open and available, because many transpeople are not in a place where they can or are able to do that themselves. But the only way it’s going to become more reasonable in society as a whole is if there is a human face on it beyond Caitlyn Jenner’s. Our sense of empathy is more strongly provoked by being able to know someone, see it for yourself, and understand that experience. I’ve been on the other side of that equation for many things, and hopefully we can progress beyond needing to do that someday.
For now, I just thought this was a pretty damn cool exchange, and I’m grateful that Felicia let me talk about it to all of you.