Since about a year before coming out again 3.5 years ago, I intellectually understood trans issues. I supported my trans brothers and sisters and opposed their oppression. I could and can argue for their full equality and rights, yet there has been one huge component missing, my heart … empathy.
Intellectual Understanding Is Ok, But Not Enough
For me it is easy to agree with Trans issues on a policy and intellectual level, it just makes sense for a free and equal society. But on a personal level, the empathy was simply not there, and I knew it. This genuinely caused inner turmoil. There’s empathy for everyone else in the LGBT+ community… why have Trans issues been a struggle for me?
When I was in the stained glass closet, and even out the first time in the ’80’s, I never intentionally tried to understand Trans issues. I have a sweet trans/queer friend named Ash. Ze is amazing. I have learned so much but I have always been very reluctant to “go there” with what I knew to be ignorant questions. And, really, starting about early last year while I was initially developing Thrive LGBT+, I knew I needed to get my act together and get over whatever it was I needed to get over. That this underlying angst needs to be dealt with in a genuine manner and soon.
I knew that supporting the Trans community without empathy is short-lived and oftentimes shallow. It’s better than nothing, but not by much. It’s not enough to intellectually “support” our trans siblings, we must empathize with, embrace as equals, and uplift with love. If you are not “there” yet, you can be. Thanks to a personal epiphany during a show called Pose, I got there and have begun the exciting journey of learning more.
Category IS: Education, Empathy, Breaking Down Walls!
When I first started watching Pose, I didn’t realize it was a trans-centric show. I thought it was essentially about ’80’s gay bar life which I know a thing or three about. Then as the major themes started revealing themselves, I got very excited and literally said, “please please please let this be a good show!”
Story-telling is powerful, and let me tell you, the stories in Pose are earth-shaking. It took a couple of episodes for me to really feel the characters and by the time the fifth one was done, I was in. ALLLL in. Then episode six liberated my trans-confused heart. Here’s how it happened.
Pose includes subplots dealing with cis-gender gay men treating trans women very badly. I remember witnessing that in the ’80’s and when it came to indifference not confronting that then and up until a few years ago, I am personally guilty. The show portrayed LGBT+ people having to wait two weeks for AIDS test results, I remember having to wait for six. I remember hearing stories of doctors and nurses refusing to help dying AIDS patients, tv preachers using God to justify their bigotry and the anger that birthed in me back then. I remember feeling like we were all going to die from this monstrous disease. The fear in Pray Tell’s eyes, I know and lived that exact fear. The hurt and despair of losing loved ones, over and over… and over, I lived it.
With Blanca singing at Pray Tell’s side in episode 6, they brought it all home for me. When they sang like angels to their powerful songs, during their Cabaret for the AIDS ward patients, it was like an experience in time-traveling. I remembered vividly standing in a bar called The Warehouse back in the day. We were at an AIDS fundraiser where Broadway actors from “CATS” were in town singing about love, life, and our community.
When the powerful story-telling of Pose cut straight through the confusion and connected the dots, I haven’t cried that hard in a good long while.
We Are All Family
Empathy flooded my spirit/heart as somehow the trans experienced revealed itself as no different than my own. The trans experience is my experience. My experience is their experience. We have a shared history and therefore a shared story. As a homeless gay 19-year-old, the Blanca in Pose did exactly what Mella (a drag queen) did for me by feeding and providing shelter in the midst of despair. The parallels flooded in and transformed me for the better.
I realized my transphobia came from a fear of the unknown. Where I need to ask for forgiveness is in not being intentional to overcome this easy to overcome ignorance. I also realize that this is a new place for me in my journey; there is still a lot of education to receive. As a white male cis-gendered gay man, I also understand that there are quite a few issues I have no direct experience with. While I won’t minimize my history, I must not forget the privilege I have benefitted unfairly from. That said, because of my Trans friends and Pose, there is not a single “difference” big enough to short-circuit empathy in my heart; not anymore.
In this life, it is Trans brothers and sisters, along with the L’s G’s B’s Q’s and +’s in our community that has brought us from a very dark past to a very hope-filled future. We have come a long way together and together is how it MUST remain or we all suffer. I want to thank my Trans siblings and the cast and characters of Pose for making an important life-giving difference in the hearts of today and our shared history.