Bullying and Transphobia – More than One Day a Year

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At the beginning of this week, I reposted something I wrote a few months ago about bullying – what it is by definition, my middle school experience and a more recent one. When I wrote that many months ago, I was angry at the thing that was going on; at the bullying being done against me. The bullying – without remorse, without shame, in fact quite the opposite with almost a smirking, cheerful triumph. I would have thought it was sad if I wasn’t so upset about it.

It was written in haste and fury and the tone probably got away from me. It was also written in the middle of the stress that triggered me all the way back to middle school.

That’s one of the ways triggers work. They lie hidden beneath the surface, in the unconscious until one day something happens that reminds the deep down and it affects you in a strong way with feelings rising that are at once familiar and unfamiliar and they are uncontrollable. Not uncontrollable in your reaction, although sometimes, but you can’t control being affected by it in whatever way you are.

On a conscious level, I didn’t go strawberry picking until my first son was old enough. I didn’t have any other opportunities really, growing up in suburbia, no strawberry patches where we lived, but if I thought about being on a school bus alone I was brought back to that day. When I thought about strawberry picking, even the day I went with my son, it came back to me. I wouldn’t call these triggers as much as memories associated with those very specific instances but it’s very similar to triggers that many (including me) feel much more strongly.

The bullying I experienced a few months ago was different. For one thing, I’m in my forties and my bully is well into his adulthood. For another thing, I forgot that not everyone works in the logical and open-minded section of the world. I was silly enough to think that if I spoke to this person rationally, he would realize how abusive and (verbally) violent he was being. I was wrong about that. For the third thing, this is the internet and people take their anonymity to cause more harm than good very seriously. Up until this point, I had been lucky enough to have experienced the latter folks – the compassionate, the kind, the helpful. This change was a surprise and fairly or not, I was still taken aback by the cruelty of it.

I’m sure this sounds naïve, especially for a forty-something mother of three, but I’ve always believed the best in people and this behavior was beyond my comprehension.

Having said that, I still believe that, but my eyes are opened a little wider and I parse my words a little more. I worry about offending people even though I can’t control how people will react to my words or my actions. I try not to let bullies affect me, but it’s hard not to. When it happens, I’m twelve again. I’m hurt, but I don’t want to rock the boat; I don’t want to make things worse for myself.

It’s fear, plain and simple.

And it’s wrong for other people to make us feel that way; to the point that we change who we are to avoid them.

I chose this week to talk about my bullying occurrences for a reason.  This has been Transgender Visibility/Awareness Week, culminating yesterday with the fifteenth Transgender Day of Remembrance, memorializing those transgender people who die violently each year.

If all we think of is the bullying, that’s bad enough, but coupled with the transphobia and violence especially against trans women of color, although trans men are not immune, it’s nearly epidemic.

It’s not a simple case of being bullied for who you are, for how you present yourself, but to fear for your life in a very literal way, knowing that if you meet a violent death it will probably be horrible. The bullying that comes for others after one of these murders must be terror inducing. I mean I get panic attacks thinking about my experiences and even with those, I’m not afraid of dying violently. There must be something alarming about hearing that someone like you deserved to die because of how they present themselves, how they identify.

For simply being themselves and living authentically like the rest of us try to do, they are given a death sentence, and for many this comes after a series of torture and abuse apart from the everyday kinds of side-eyes and bullying trans people face.

That’s why for me, it’s important to draw attention to every death, every torture that’s publicized in the news, every misgendering, every transphobic word that those of us not in the community don’t see as hurtful because we simply can’t understand how hurtful it is.

For every one that’s publicized there are inestimable numbers that are not reported to the authorities or the media.

Whether you know someone personally who’s been bullied for their gender identity or not, this is the responsibility for all of us to make everyone feel safe in their space, and in their skin on their own terms.

Be supportive, but be careful not to bully them into conforming to what you feel are your rights to information and take care not to put three dimensional people into a one dimensional box. Take care not to label those who choose not to use labels, and don’t assume you know better than the individual person. That probably should go for everyone you meet, not only trans people.

For those of us not in the trans community, it’s brought to us once a year as a day of remembrance, after the murders have already happened. For the trans community this is every day, and they can’t click the next link to avoid it.

Trans people are not a cause. Stopping the transphobic bullying and epidemic levels of murder in their community is a cause, and one that we need to focus on until there is no need for more days of remembrance.