As I left the doctor’s office, I saw my friend Katie sitting on a chair. I waved and almost walked by, until I sensed a sadness about her. I stopped, sat down next to her. Immediately I could tell she was very upset.
“What’s going on?”
“No one wants to listen to me. I have no friends. No one cares,” Katie said matter-of-factly. “Everyone just wants to fix me. I want them to listen.”
“Why is that?” I asked.
“It’s because I’m trans[gender] and I have piercings.
Just like that, my heart broke.
“Well, I’m here,” I responded. “I’m your friend and I’m listening. It doesn’t matter to me. I care about you and I’m not going away.”
She looked at me and I saw a glimmer of a smile. Just then the doctor called her into the office. The conversation was over, but I haven’t forgotten it.
This conversation haunts me almost daily, because I finally understand why the LGBTQ community is screaming so loudly for transgender rights. They see the truth more clearly than I do.
The LGBTQ community is screaming because no one is listening.
No one listens to how much discrimination is occurring against those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. No one understands the prejudice against transgender people. No one pays any attention to the hate felt by gay and lesbian people (until there’s a shooting, after which people will care for approximately 48 hours).
I was one of them. I’m a cisgender, heterosexual white woman. I thought, “What does all that have to do with me?”
And then I started listening.
I heard story after story of lesbian and bisexual women being fired from their jobs for no reason other than their sexuality. And I realized how quickly people jump to assumptions about perversion due to one’s sexuality. As my friend Al said after explaining the discrimination she found at her job working with youth, “I’m a lesbian, not a pervert!”
I understood how unjust our system is, which allows a newly married heterosexual couple Intensive Care Unit visitation rights, but denies that same right to my friend who has been in a committed lesbian relationship for 20 years. I heard, truly heard, the hate that many people experience and the way those in the LGBTQ community are judged and put in a box for their sexuality.
I finally realized how common it is for people to lose friends when coming out as well as the overwhelming isolation that goes hand in hand with being transfemme. Katie later said, “I am limited in my social interactions by nature of my trans status and the intersection of being trans with its accompanying poverty and social isolation, including not having a family or anything like a typical life.” How privileged I am! I have never even had to consider how my friendships might be influenced by my sexuality or gender.
LGBTQ issues never really mattered to me either way. I had a “live and let live” mentality. But sitting in that doctor’s office, staring my friend Katie in the eyes, I realized it could no longer be that way. I could no longer just sit back and let them fight their battles. I knew at that moment I would have to get involved with social LGBTQ activism because I am tired of the hurt and discrimination my friends are dealing with on a daily basis.
To be honest, I hadn’t even realized Katie is trans before that moment in the doctor’s office, and in that moment, I knew I didn’t care. She had simply been my friend Katie, and I wasn’t about to change her to “Trans Katie” in my head. Katie is my friend and I like her because she is an awesome person. I’m not going to change my perception of her because I found out she is transfemme.
That’s all there should be to each person. Katie is Katie. I am me. Each person is an individual. I don’t define myself primarily as cisgender or heterosexual and I choose not to define Katie solely as transgender or Al solely as a lesbian.
My friend Karen put it perfectly, “Everyone else has lots of defining factors of themselves, but I feel like society makes bisexuality the defining factor of me. There’s so much more to me than my sexuality.” There is so much more to her. There is so much more to each person in the LGBTQ community than which letter they identify as.
My friends in the LGBTQ community are my friends, period. What matters to them, matters to me.
As such, I can no longer say I care about my LGBTQ friends and not care about their issues. Instead I will look them in the eye and stand with them, not just by them. I’m not quite sure what that looks like yet, but I’m starting with simply listening, because everyone deserves to be heard regardless of their sexuality. And then, once I’ve listened, I will join my voice with theirs to seek equality.
Featured Image by Theodoranian via Wikimedia Commons