Now it might not seem like the life of a civil rights leader like King would have much impact on a young middle class kid growing up in a lily-white small town in New England. And you’d be right. I don’t remember the speech... I was 2 at the time. But I do remember when King was assassinated. And the significance of his life and efforts have only grown on me as I’ve matured and learned a little more about the broader world around me.
Of course for most of my life I have been part of the more privileged class. Not that I was ever rich. But I went to nice schools, lived in a clean, crime-free, Norman Rockwell small town, and I went to college. Not every kid in the U.S. grows up like that. And percentage-wise... very few kids in the world grow up like that.
But now things have changed a bit. Or a lot. While I’m still a part of the most powerful voting block there is -- college-educated, heterosexual white males -- I now find myself a part of one of the most powerless groups... the transgender population. A population that is struggling for acceptance, respect, and legal rights. A population that is often ignored or neglected -- even in some LGBT groups.
|Strolling around Vegas, Amber DuBois photo. (2013)|
So the stories of freedom fighters -- once just names in the history books -- have become more significant to me. And there have been so many -- from our earliest days as a British colony revolting against the crown to the social revolutionaries of the late 1900’s... King, Chavez, Rosa Parks, the kids at Kent State, and the gay men, trans girls and drag queens at Stonewall who’d had enough and decided to take a stand.
I’m no historian but I’ve read up on their stories. And it’s hard not to be inspired -- even if you’re not a part of the particular group they happen to represent. The story of any human fighting for their rights is always compelling. Let me give you an example.
When Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for conspiracy to overthrow the government in South Africa, he and several of his fellow prisoners took comfort in the scribbled writings of a 13 year old girl who lived (and died) 20 years before in the Netherlands.
I doubt very much that Anne Frank considered herself a freedom fighter. She probably didn’t even consider herself an author. And I’m quite sure she never thought anyone would read her diary, let alone publish it. In fact, if she was like most teenagers, she would have been mortified to learn that someone had read her diary.
But now millions have.
Including a South African freedom fighter. “On Robben Island, some of us read Anne Frank's Diary,” Mandela once said. “We derived much encouragement from it. It kept our spirits high and reinforced our confidence in the invincibility of the cause of freedom and justice.”
Anne didn’t mean to inspire others. Or to “reinforce our confidence in the invincibility of the cause of freedom and justice.” But she did. Just by living her life... openly, honestly, and as a decent thoughtful human being.
And each of us can do the same.
Recently, a friend sent me a photo of myself walking through the bright lights of Vegas. I thought it was a pretty cool photo, so I posted it online. A young tgirl from another country commented on it. She found it inspiring. Homosexuality and trans life aren’t accepted in a lot of places overseas. In some countries, they’re actually illegal. And the more public and visible we become, the more the opposition will rise to confront us. (If you’ve heard the news reports coming out of Russia, you know what I’m talking about.) While acceptance in the U.S. seems to be slowly, gradually, begrudgingly, growing, other nations are taking intolerance to a whole other level.
Now this girl isn’t from Russia. But she does live in an area that is intolerant. So the sight of me walking around in public having a good time really moved her. And I in turn was struck by her reaction. Without even realizing it, I had inspired someone many years my junior and many thousands of miles away... not by marching or writing or protesting. But by barhopping.
That’s what I was doing when the photo was taken. I was barhopping. Hardly the dawn of a transgender revolution. (Then again, maybe it is.) I corresponded with the girl and I asked her about her life. (I’m being intentionally vague about her name and whereabouts). She said that she was afraid to go out to clubs or bars for fear of being beaten. When she wanted to hook up, she met people in the relative safety of an abandoned building.
And I wanted to cry. Beatings? Sex in abandoned buildings? I may not have the easiest life as a transperson in the U.S. But.. omg... how fortunate am I to live in the United States and in a fairly accepting area like Southern California? Within reason, I feel safe going out here. And not just in specific areas or to specific events. I’m always careful. I’m always on guard. I usually travel in groups of friends. But I do go out. And I do feel safe. I know that we still have a long way to go and that many of you reading this don’t feel as I do. Even here in the U.S. or Canada, many tgirls still feel as though it’s unsafe to go out... or come out... or to reveal anything of our trans nature.
And I understand that. But I still think it’s getting better. Being the eternal optimist that I am, I believe that even the turmoil in Russia will bring more attention to our cause. What can I say, I’m like Mandela... I believe in the “invincibility of the cause of freedom.” Like Anne Frank, I believe that... “in spite of everything, people are really good at heart.”
What can I say? I’m a dreamer. Which puts me in some pretty good company -- and brings me back to Martin Luther King. So what can you -- as a thoughtful, decent transperson or ally -- do to commemorate the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s historic speech? It’s really quite simple.
Dream something for yourself. Something for your friends. Something for your community. Or, if nothing else comes to mind, please dream of a better world for a young tgirl in far off land who avoids beatings by having sex in an abandoned building.
Take care out there.
Be safe. Be smart. Be sexy.