3 Steps to Being a Good Person in a Not-So-Good Time
I've read and listened to a lot of disturbing accounts of hatred since Trump's surprise (to most of us) win.
Whether you blame Trump directly for inciting this hatred or not, the fact exists these crimes are on the rise since the U.S. election.
And they're not just happening in America, my friends. There is a surge of bigotry around the world right now, including in my country of Canada, a place known worldwide for its tolerance and kindness.
I love my country very much. I'm proud of it; even more so today with our new progressive and open-minded government. But these hate crimes don't surprise me. As much as I feel generally safe here as a queer woman living quite publicly in a family with two trans people in it, I know intolerance is bubbling just under the surface. And when given a chance, like it has this week, it will spill out in toxic puddles everywhere.
The truth is, those of us in marginalized communities are not safe.
And some are less safe than others. I'm one of the lucky ones. Being white and cisgender (not trans), I have more safety in my everyday life than some of my friends and family do. You wouldn't know I was in a same-sex marriage unless I told you. You wouldn't know I have trans family members I advocate alongside unless you've seen some of the work I've done. This means I can pass under the radar more than many other people.
But with that safety comes responsibility. I feel passionately about this. And since I also feel passionately about every space being a safe space for every person, I have some simple rules I play by to try and make the world a little better.
This list is by no means complete. You will find some lists online on being a great ally that are far more comprehensive. Consider this my simple foundation. It's like when I just wear mascara to the grocery store because I can't be bothered to do eyeliner and stuff. It's just bagels, not a gala.
Three rules. Every day. Here they are.
1. If I see hatred in progress, I will intervene.
Today I read about a trans woman in Toronto who was assaulted and mocked while a group of people simply watched. Nobody helped her. Nobody stood up for her. And while she's been given a clean physical bill of health, the emotional scars will take much longer to heal.
As someone who was once bullied, beaten and even set on fire at one point, I can't stand to see another person being victimized. So I vow to stand up to the bullies. Stand with the victim. Deescalate the situation. Call for help. I will do whatever I can. But I will do something.
And yes, this includes the racist joke my friend makes, or the family member spouting homophobic rhetoric at Thanksgiving dinner (I don't have one of those, thankfully, but you know what I mean.) All of it matters.
2. I will not assume that just because it's not a problem for me, it's not a problem for others.
As it's been explained to me, privilege is all but invisible to those who have it. I see that now, because I've lost some of mine.
When I was a living a typical suburban existence - along with the person I thought was my husband and our "three boys" - I automatically related everything back to that type of existence. Hetero, nuclear, typical, acceptable.
And relating to the world through our own lens is a normal part of the human existence. It's nothing to be ashamed of. It's just how we're built.
But if we want to practice empathy and understanding, we need to think outside of ourselves. I had this conversation with a group of women recently who are all married to men. I brought up travel, and how we now need to be much more careful about where we vacation, as our very existence is barely tolerated in some areas and downright illegal in others. They had never considered that; they just book vacations. It's all about overall safety (crime rates) and affordability for them. They don't have to worry about being refused service at a restaurant or told they can't use the washroom. It's much more complicated with my family these days.
So I try to remember that some people navigate the world with more challenges than I do. I consider them when I vote, both with my ballot and with my wallet. Politicians who preach inclusiveness earn my support, as do companies who adopt inclusive policies and train their staff.
At the end of the day, it's going to be the more privileged among us who will make these changes happen by numbers alone.
3. I will strive to learn whatever I can about people I know little about.
I'm going to admit something here: I used to be a little, uh, afraid of trans people. Yep. There, I said it.
I know, right?!
Not on purpose, but as a result of ignorance. I just didn't know any trans people, and what society had taught me up until the time Alexis came out wasn't the full picture, and was pretty inaccurate. I never judged trans people, I just didn't understand them. And that lack of understanding made me uncomfortable and wary.
And then Alexis told me she was trans. Suddenly, one of the people I love to the moon and back needed my understanding, so I had to school myself - fast. It's a good thing I did, too, because finding out I had a wife 18 months later might not have gone over so well if I hadn't.
What I've learned through all this is impossible to put down in a single blog post, so I won't bother trying. But the short of it is, I realized knowledge brings us closer. The more we know about people who are different from us, the more we realize they're not so different. There are far more commonalities than anything, which leaves me feeling less afraid, less wary, less uncomfortable.
When people hate, it's often because they don't understand. And I'm not excusing that hate away by any means, because hating others is a decision we don't have to make. Ever. Buried beneath that hatred often lies fear and/or judgment stemming from a lack of knowledge. Just like a scared or confused person feeling their way through the dark could benefit from a light switch, people afraid or standing in judgment of other people could benefit from an education.
And so while I'm not a hateful person, I can sometimes be a wary one, and that's why I learn. I learn about different races, different faiths. I learn about mental health and invisible illnesses, about people with disabilities and about neurodiversity. When people offer up their knowledge, I eat it up like I'm at a buffet. The more I know, the less I fear and the closer I feel to all people - not just the people most like me.
Like I said before, this list is by no means complete. It's just the late-night ramblings of a woman who saw a little too much of the awful this week and wanted to put a little good out there.
Look, we're not going to solve the problems of the world overnight. But if each of stood up us more often, thought outside of ourselves more often and kept an open mind more often, we could create the type of world where a woman isn't pushed into wet cement and laughed at.
It's entirely possible, and it begins with us.