Sometimes I feel like I don’t express the gratitude that I feel others deserve enough. Overcompensation ends up becoming a big, and probably annoying, part of my personality, because I never want anyone to think that I’m taking them for granted.
The work that I do has afforded me opportunities that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. From traveling to Flint and standing with indigenous folk from Standing Rock to being given a platform on which to speak, and even better, for others to listen… The transformation was so quick that it still amazes me when I’m reminded that someone actually knows who I am. My brain hasn’t quite reconciled this yet.
Nearly every day, whether through Facebook, email, or other means, I receive messages and letters from people who ascribe such meaningful platitudes to things I’ve done or said, and I feel incredulous. I’ve looked into the eyes of people to whom I’m speaking and seen tears form because I know I’m reaching them.
I’ve also seen the hate in the eyes of people who consider me subhuman. I’ve seen the ire that the mere mention of the word “transgender” draws, across the spectrum from “kill them all” to “you’re not really women.” It’s easier to take some days than others. When I was speaking in Flint, I was interrupted by a guy who yelled at all of us about insulting the military, when none of our presentation had even mentioned it, and yet I stood calm and trying to understand him where I could’ve yelled and been righteous and nobody would’ve blamed me.
The point is, unless someone directly gets aggressive with me, I want to be open, calm, and understanding. I want to learn from others. I want to hear their stories. I want to see the passion opening up in their eyes as they talk about something they love. What I do has given me the chance to see that with so many people that I wouldn’t know if I didn’t travel to see them. The community farmer outside of Flint whose daughter dressed in pink My Little Pony tights with purple socks and a giant hat. The Standing Rock cast-offs who for some reason wanted to hear what I had to say. The trans kid in the closet who is only out to me. The parent of a queer kid who wants to learn but doesn’t quite understand it.
I don’t know why people listen to me. Many times, I don’t know why I’m speaking in these places. I feel like I should be the one listening to the stories from Flint, or from Atlanta, or from wherever it is I’ve gone. So many people feel unheard, uncared about, unworthy of love that it breaks my heart. People thank me for what I do, but I want them to know that how they feel matters, and their lives are not without value. What they care about and love matters. What makes them happy matters. Their passion, whether it’s growing vegetables or watching Doctor Who, it matters! I can have no clue what you’re talking about, but seeing the passion in your face and body language makes any subject worth it! Unless it’s white supremacy, why Jesus commands you to kill the gays, or something like that, but I think that goes without saying.
The point is, the last few months especially have had me traveling to every corner of this country, and I’m still not used to it. I’m not used to being recognized while walking around a city. I’m not used to strangers asking to take me to lunch or have a picture with me. I’m not used to someone I didn’t already know reading or listening to my bullshit. Even though in some capacity I’ve had that since 2011, The PC Lie, no doubt, brought a lot of eyes to my work that weren’t there before, and I can’t express enough gratitude for anyone who doesn’t have the previous bias of knowing me.
On July 14th, my fourth book since coming out will be published. Noah Lugeons, who contributed an essay to it, read his work on Patreon for his subscribers, and interviewed me for this week’s Scathing Atheist. On that same day, I talked to my cohost Molly about the validation of fears and anxiety, and was on Gaytheist Manifesto talking about self-harm, and hearing the other guest’s voice fall into silence for periods of time that were haunting. What have I done that makes me worthy of being in all these places with such immensely talented people? What have I done that when I travel to Flint, Michigan, which still doesn’t have clean drinking water, that they give me time to speak to them instead of the other way around? I don’t deserve it, and I feel ashamed. They shared two water bottles with me. I’m still having trouble reconciling all of these things, but I also know I need to keep working.
For all the people who aren’t being heard, I try to remind them that even though I’ve been given time to speak, I hear them. Every single email that isn’t filled with slurs and shittiness, it matters to me. I constantly get surprised reactions when I respond to them, and that breaks my heart that so many people out there are being reached out to, and can’t respond. I know how that feels, and I do my best to make sure it doesn’t happen. So many voices are crying out in what they feel is the darkness, an unheard void not being regarded by the rest of the world, but to me, the most powerful tool I can use is my attention. People often ask me how to be a better ally, and I try to take the same advice I always give: Listen.
Sometimes people just need to know that they’re being heard, if not even understood. To see the response of someone nodding or saying that they are valid, it’s so valuable. Even in the world of instant communication and social media, so many feel alone. Try not to take it for granted that someone in your life knows you love them. It’s better to remind them too often than not enough.
I love all of you. I hope none of you ever feel like you’re completely alone. If you’re reading these words, you’re not.