In my work as an advocate, I encourage parents, teachers and other adults to support transgender kids, kids with Aspergers and other kids who are different, isolated and alone. I firmly believe that a lot of broken-heartedness, depression and suicide is completely unnecessary…that many more adults Love and support these kids than the kids themselves know, and that people die thinking they are hated and alone when it’s not the case.
So I reach out to supportive adults and teach them what to do to help support these special kids because I think that sometimes they say and do things that they think are supportive but just aren’t. However, today I have something else on my mind. Today, I’d like to talk directly to the people out there who feel they need that support and aren’t getting it, especially the ones who feel like their parents or other important people are not supporting them in the right way or just “don’t get it.”
See, for a long time I didn’t understand why people said “they needed time to adjust.” It was blaringly obvious to me that I was a guy. Fighting the feeling just made me miserable, depressed and wishing I could surgically remove my maleness and become the woman I was “supposed” to be. So I thought, What is there to adjust to? I said I’m a guy, now just treat me as one.
But of course, it’s not that simple.
I’m coming to understand that parents and other people who want to be supportive have their own journey to go through just like I did/do. Once I came out as male, I seem to have forgotten all the agony and questioning and suffering and struggle it took for me to admit to myself that I was who I was, that this wasn’t just a persona or an imaginary person or a part of me I created to give me strength…that this was me and I was a guy and I needed to express myself out there in the world as a guy.
Well, so parents and teachers have to go through that too. I can’t fully understand it because, obviously, I’m not looking in on me from the outside and seeing this person who I thought I knew say they’re very different from what I thought in some major way. But form what I understand, people close to us have expectations of us…dreams for us, maybe, hopes for us, thoughts of us being a certain way…and when we share who we really are it’s as if we are, in some way, saying, “I’m sorry, but you know that future you envisioned for me? Never gonna happen cause that’s not who I am.” And this is true whether you’re telling someone that you’re transgender or gay or that you have a learning difference. All these things seem to be deeply held beliefs about us for some reason, and it’s as if the foundation of what people thought they knew about us is shaken when we reveal the truth.
So I’m not saying all that because I think we’re supposed to hide who we are to make life easier or because we don’t have the right to be ourselves at the expense of someone else’s dreams about who we will become. I just think that while we are hungering for understanding, sometimes we forget to understand. I know that was true of me. I have been so impatient with people in my life who are “supposed” to be supportive and not realised that they are as supportive as they know how to be. If everyone knew the perfect way to support trans people or people with autism or whatever, I’d have nothing to teach to anybody. More importantly, we’re all different, right? So the things that are supportive to me might be annoying to you–and parents and whoever else would have to magically know that and say the right things all the time. That’s just a little much to ask of anyone.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot because as I go through this journey with my own parents, I’m realising how much time I wasted in anger over the fact that they didn’t see me when I was making myself invisible. I just assumed that their inability to magically see me as the man I am meant they could not accept who I was. Somewhere along the line, I had gotten the idea that if I was “really” transgender, then everyone would see me as a man and say, “What took you so long? You are so naturally male that it’s impossible to think you ever were considered female.” However, it doesn’t work that way, and my identity has nothing to do with who sees me…it has to do with how I see myself. It’s taken a year of hard work in coaching and therapy to get to the point where I am beginning to understand that, so I thought I’d throw it out there for anyone else who is struggling with how they’re seen and what it means about who they really are.
The other reason I’ve felt led to write about compassion tonight is that I’ve been seeing a pattern I don’t like. I’ve mainly been seeing it in the Aspergers community, but I am sure a variation of it is floating around the trans* community too. The basic idea is that “only we (the marginalised group) suffer; the dominant group has it easy.” I’ve seen a list of neurotypical privileges that drives this point home by saying that privileges include not being picked last for gym class and not being required to show a teacher which crayon is orange before being allowed to play at recess.
I have no doubt that society is set up so that neurotypical people and cis-gender people, along with those who can “pass” as same, have some unfair advantages. I’ve experienced it. But it doesn’t really help anything to assume that no neurotypical or cis-gender person has ever experienced confusion, rejection, or other negative things that people in our groups do experience. That just paints us as victims–as people who cannot live normal lives because of who we are and must hope for compassion and pity–as well as driving the wedge between us and others in even more firmly.
Look, we are all human beings underneath. And yes there are things that are unfair and ways people are privileged sometimes, and that sucks and we need to deal with it. But nobody is served by accepting a status of victimhood, and it certainly doesn’t help us gain understanding to have an attitude that “you can’t understand because you’re not one of us.”
So please, let’s not just ask for compassion as if it were something that the privileged need to deign to give to the non-privileged. Let’s give compassion too. It’s possible to understand why some people have a hard time accepting who we are without giving up the desire for equality and acceptance. Whether you are neurotypical or autistic, cis-gender or transgender, I challenge you to stretch your empathy muscles this week and try to make a connection with someone who is on the opposite end of the spectrum from you.