I had a new experience recently. I met a trans woman, and heard her story. I have met many young people who are trans or gender-nonconforming, but never heard from someone of an older generation.
Before hearing her speak, I had preconceptions. I held my cisgender privilege close, speaking up for what is right but not feeling it in my heart. Perhaps this is part of my relationship to the queer community as a whole: I have never felt welcome, because I am gender-conforming and feminine. Perhaps it is because I often perceive a victim complex in the struggles of trans people, and so I roll my eyes and think, “Oh come on, it’s not THAT bad.” In this woman’s talk, however, I felt gender walls being broken down. We are not male and female and non-binary. We are all simply Homo sapiens, part of the human family.
This led me to think about the news recently, and to put together the pieces of the puzzle. In Orlando, FL, where 50 people were killed and at least as many were injured in an attack at a gay club. In the Netherlands, where new graduates chanted “Burn the Jews. They burn the best.” In the United States, where a racist, misogynistic, Islamophobic, anti-intellectual, U.S.-exceptionalist, white supremacist is a major party’s candidate for President. Across Europe, where similar figures are rising in their politics. In the Middle East, where religious extremists are using force to spread uniformity through subjugation. Everywhere, people trying to force everyone else to be like them.
It is a natural human instinct to fear those who are different. It is the product of millennia of evolutionary forces telling us that different is dangerous. Similarly, fear lends itself to hate, especially when fear stems from a perception of being threatened or oppressed. It is the basis of the “fight or flight” instinct.
Yet we are human, and we pride ourselves on being civilized. We claim to be above our evolutionary instincts. Why, then, do we still face hate from so many directions?
In order for us to truly claim to be a civilized society, we must act in a civil manner towards all citizens. I am not telling you to love everyone; heaven knows I dislike enough people. I am simply telling you to behave civilly – politely, respectfully – to those around you. Acknowledge that everyone has a right to exist, to be treated respectfully, and to move freely through our society without fear. So, too, should everyone be offered the opportunity to learn and to do better. Acknowledge your feelings. Confront them. Then go out and help build a better society.