Tuesday, April 15, 2008
How We See Each Other
by Jerry Large
Seattle Times staff columnist
Monday, April 14, 2008 - Page updated at 12:00 AM
from the Seattle Times
Seems like everyone belongs to a group with a cause.
And whether they recognize it or not, many causes share a common desire to be accepted.If they'd start by accepting each other, we might get somewhere.
I thought about that Thursday, when I had the chance to hear three people talk about life from a transgender perspective. The three transgender, black people were on a panel put on by the Central District Forum for Arts and Ideas.
What they had to say was more interesting than their physical details.
The panel was the forum's second discussion of gender identity in the African-American community.
One of the panelists, Dean Jackson, a Seattle native who does organizing work on gender issues in communities of color, said he once thought changing genders was something only white people did.
He learned otherwise, and has made his own transition from woman to man. Along the way, he discovered that "it wasn't so much that my body didn't fit." It was more that he didn't fit into a binary system of gender classification.
Why should people have to choose blue or red, when they might feel purple or violet?
Another panelist, Vanessa Grandberry, said the physical change dominated her early experience.
At the end of the day, "I was so tired from posing, making sure my hands were held the right way. ... "
She wouldn't go out without proper makeup and a wig, but that changed.
Now, "if someone says 'sir,' I go with that." she said. "However you see me has nothing to do with how I see myself."
But it's how others see transgender people that can hurt. Grandberry's own mother rejected her when she came out.
The quest for transgender acceptance transcends individual encounters. And it's about more than gender. It's about whether we all can recognize that there is more than one way of being an OK person. That gender, race, class, weight, etc., shouldn't be all we see of anyone.
The third panelist, Imani Henry, an activist from New York, said, "I identify as a social-justice activist who happens to be a trans person."
Progressive movements are full of people who are gay, lesbian or transgender, he said. His message: Working toward a more just society should trump anyone's particular identity.
That's not always easy.
Grandberry said that if she goes to a mostly white support group in Seattle, "It's all right for me to talk about my trans issues, but don't bring up race."
There are challenges with other black people, who sometimes practice the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy.
Americans are hooked on either-or's: black or white, right or wrong. But approaching each person as an individual requires more thinking than most people want to do.
Of course, none of us wants to be the one being pigeonholed.
Seems like a good reason to argue less and cooperate more.
We'd all benefit from nurturing a culture in which we put more latitude — and less judgment — into how we see each other.
Jerry Large's column appears Monday and Thursday. Reach him at 206-464-3346 or email@example.com.
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