advocacy

For Jamie 15, Who Committed Suicide After Bullying

Several days ago, a 15-year-old boy named Jamie Hubley from Ottawa, Canada committed suicide. A quote from his blog post: 

'I just want to feel special to someone'

Jamie's death is one of many LGBTQ suicides this year--most of which we will never even hear about either because they won't be reported (the family may fear further pubic harassment) or known about (if the family is estranged). Add multiple marginalized identities like race and physical ability and the numbers are even higher--and less publicized. Jamie's death is also especially poignant for me as I come out to more people as transgender.

I was almost named Jamie. My parents chose a different name. And it wasn't Dillan.

Yep. Newsflash. And you know what 9 out of 10 people say when I tell them that (if I do), "oh! What's your real name?" My name is Dillan. That's why I introduced myself as such and have it printed on my legal identification card. Asking me what my name used to be is something I have to deal with as someone who is transgender. Only if I share it, you see.

People get married. They change their names. Yet how many married people do you know who get asked the same question?

"My name is _______ Martin. This is my husband/partner, Tom.""Oh! What is your real name?"See? Doesn't happen.Welcome to the LGBTQ world. Where every day holds the potential to face discrimination, prejudice, intolerance, ignorance and bullying. Subtle little injuries like the one I shared above are the tip of the iceberg. I've shared some other examples in recent posts like Passing PrivilegeGay Soldiers Can Shoot Straight and Ding, Dong the Gays Can Wed! so take a moment to read them, if you haven't.

I am facing a whole new experience of coming out---when I thought I'd already endured the worst 11 years ago when I came out as dating women. I never understood my mother's feelings about my sexuality, but as I use the T word more and more--I am beginning to understand. She wants me to feel loved and supported, not ostracized and bullied. She fears I won't be cherished for the precious person I am. Even in 2011 and at my age, life is still a scary place to be me. You may read this and think it's matter of opinion. You may say, "well, I tolerate you, Dillan. I think you're great." And I am glad for that support but I need your awareness and advocacy, not your "tolerance". Because the reality is, there are more people than not who aren't ok with the LGBTQ. And it isn't so obvious---unlike the words and actions Jamie faced every day. Like subtle racism, sometimes transphobia or homophobia shows up as awkward behavior or conversation. It shows up as co-workers making assumptions and gossiping. It shows up as LGBTQ colleagues or friends calling my girlfriend a lesbian or bisexual because they "hate the word queer" despite the fact that she asks to be identified as such. It shows up as being othered and ostracized for being honest.It's that behavior--along with the blatant name-calling and physical abuse--that make young LGBTQ teens, youth, young adult and elders stay closeted.It's too late to save Jamie--and all the others who gave up because they felt hopeless and overwhelmed when they anticipated a life of all they had endured so far.But it's not too late for those in the LGBTQ community who NEED support and advocacy not only from each other but from heterosexual friends and family members. I had lunch with a friend yesterday, someone who was a really great listener and held the space for me to express some concerns and frustrations. She really "got it". I don't know how or why she understands the issues so well, but it was truly refreshing and comforting for her to understand what I was experiencing without me having to first explain why the word queer isn't a bad word in 2011. She had done her research and really was involved and invested in the LGBTQ community as a hetero ally, so she knew how to support me. I am very grateful for her presence in my life and for many others who spend time reading up and becoming aware of life outside their bubble of heterosexual privilege. As a white person, I prioritize this work surrounding the social construct of race and the impact of racism---so I really appreciate when hetero folks do it for sexual orientation and gender identity. I encourage you to express your support and concern for these issues and the people who live them while they are around to hear you. Jamie didn't feel supported or loved. Make sure people in your life, who you know are struggling, are aware of your support. It means so much.

If you want to be even more in the know and make a larger impact in the lives of LGBTQ people you know and love here are some books you can read:

Just Add Hormones by Matt Kailey

Nobody Passes: Rejecting the Rules of Gender and Conformity by Matt Berstein Sycamore

Gender Outlaw by Kate Bornstein

My Princess Boy by Cheryl Kilodavis

Sing You Home by Jodi Picoult (a freakin' amazing example of a hetero writer using her tremedous popularity and visibility to bring more light to issues facing a marginalized community. Heck yeah, Jodi.)

Please comment with additions to this list.

Passing Privilege

Ok, kids. Gather 'round. Time for Dillan to share a ditty with ya'. Today we're going to talk about PASSING.

Many of you will never have to deal with this in your lives because, regardless of your sexual orientation, you are gender conforming. What does that mean? Well, it means you dress, act and behave in ways that the larger society deems "normal and appropriate for the gender norms assigned to your sex".

Did I lose you?

OK, boys wear blue and they like trucks and sports. Girls wear pink, skirts, have long hair, like makeup and romantic comedies.

Check, check and check.

Those apply to you. You're good. You're "normal".

Not all apply? Oh, that's ok. Most of them apply to the outside observer, so you can pass. People won't suspect you might sport an "alternative lifestyle" (alternative to the "NORM", of course) so they will not target you on the street or in your daily life. They won't call you names or make comments about how your water bottle is the wrong color, or your hair is too short or the pronouns you prefer don't matter so they'll use whichever ones they want to anyway. They won't tell you that the sparkled shoes were the wrong choice because boys should wear sports jerseys or they won't call you a lady when you're wearing a men's tie when you're out to dinner with your girlfriend.

You pass, honey.

You can slide in and out of identifying however you want on any given day because most of the time, people will just assume you are straight.

You can choose where, when and how people know about your internal life--and you can control what experience you have as a result. This is a privilege.

This isn't about shaming or blaming (that's not how I roll)--but there is way too much oppression and power differentials in this country to not NAME the realities happening all-around us. To pretend otherwise is ignorant and perpetuates oppression, discrimination and intolerance.

Advocacy is the naming of privilege, power and difference in any and all communities where it is perceived--particularly by someone from a marginalized community or identity. Advocacy happens in good times and in bad. It happens when it needs to happen.

If you pass and benefit from privilege (be it white privilege, passing privilege, class privilege, etc.) you don't get to say when and where it's happening. You listen to the person naming it, and honor their experience. Confused? Go read Privilege, Power and Difference by Allan Johnson.

Know that there are many people every day who are affected by the norms in place in our society. For some, these norms create a sense of safety, a sense of their identity and "how to fit in" and they are hurting people who don't fit in and threaten their sense of identity. Our society is gradually moving away from these norms but it's not an easy road for the people who are paving the way to that change. If you are included in the norm, do your best to empathize with the people who are out in front, doing all they can to shift the paradigms to feel safer in their skin.

One final note about the passing piece; so I may illuminate a reality for many of my LGBTQ friends and community (we often refer to each other as "family").

Imagine being a woman, for instance, who is both gender conforming AND is attracted to women. She likes heels and makeup but doesn't like beard scruff against her face. In fact, this female-identified person is in a committed relationship to someone who identifies as a woman yet every day, someone asks her:

"So what's your boyfriend's name?" "When are we going to see a ring on that finger?" "Why don't you bring your boyfriend along? "So how long have you and your boyfriend been together?"

Hmm.

Every day she has to make a choice: come out every single damn day of her life to every single person who ASSUMES she's straight, or be silent and live a half-lived life, unable to express her joy and elation about the person she loves.

Not necessarily an easier existence just because she passes...

What's your experience? How can you SAVOR it and create the opportunity for others to do the same?