Empathy Politics

photograph of the San Francisco Women’s March, January 21, 2017, taken by the author

[This is the speech that I gave at the San Francisco Women’s March yesterday]

We represent the majority in this country. I am not necessarily referring to the fact that women comprise more than half of the U.S. population, or the fact that nearly three million more people voted for Hillary Clinton than for Donald Trump — although both of these things are true.

What I am saying is that we represent the majority of Americans who believe that white nationalists have no place in our government, and that their views should not in any way ever be tolerated.

We represent the majority who believe that a man who brags about committing sexual assault, has described Mexican immigrants as “rapists,” and has unapologetically mocked people with disabilities, is not fit to hold the highest office in this country.

We represent the majority of Americans who oppose Muslim registries, and the mass deportation of immigrants that Trump has proposed.

We represent the majority who believe that the government has no business policing what we do with our own bodies, or who we engage in consensual relationships with.

We represent the majority who oppose the criminalization of people with HIV, sex workers, and transgender people who use public restrooms.

We represent the majority who want to see an end to racial profiling and the unjust treatment of people of color and other minorities by police departments and the criminal justice system.

We represent the majority who believe that every adult should have the right to vote, and that any attempt to restrict or limit access to the polls is downright un-American.

We represent the majority who oppose the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which would devastate poor and working class communities, and people with disabilities.

All of these views are held by a majority of people in this nation. Despite this fact, many political pundits will dismiss these positions, and protests like today’s Women’s March, by labeling them as mere expressions of “identity politics.” They use this phrase — “identity politics” — as a pejorative to insinuate that our concerns are petty, narcissistic, and inwardly focused on our own personal pet issues rather than the greater good. But frankly, these pundits have it completely backwards.

I would absolutely love to live in a world where I didn’t have to constantly navigate the fact that I am a woman, or that I am bisexual, or that I am transgender. But I don’t have the privilege of not thinking about these aspects of my person, because I am often treated inferiorly and targeted for harassment because I am a woman. And there are tons of people out there who hate me and wish to silence me because I am bisexual and transgender.

Donald Trump ran a campaign that constantly stoked hatred against minority and marginalized groups. He selected one of the most anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-women’s reproductive rights politicians in the nation to be his Vice President. His entire platform and rhetoric were predicated on racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and other prejudices. And yet, these pundits have the gall to claim that we’re the ones who are making this about identity?

What we are engaged in here today is not “identity politics” — it is neither inwardly focused nor narcissistic. Rather, we are participating in an organized resistance against forces that are actively trying to disempower and disenfranchise us. This is about our collective outrage over all forms of prejudice and discrimination. This is about all of us collectively refusing to tolerate politicians who forward policies and positions designed to further marginalize women and minorities.

This is not “identity politics.” If anything, it is empathy politics. And I am not talking about the shallow empathy of those who only seem capable of identifying with people who they perceive to be their own kind. True empathy is the ability and willingness to put ourselves into other people’s shoes, especially those who are different from us — not in a presumptive way, but to sincerely listen to what they have to say, to understand their circumstances, concerns, frustrations, and fears.

Our empathy for one another may also be enhanced by our shared experiences dealing with discrimination. Every form of marginalization has a different history, and they are institutionalized in different ways. But at their core, they share the same nefarious goal: invalidating and dehumanizing people. You may not personally understand what it’s like to be transgender. But I’m sure that many of you could relate if I told you that being transgender means I am often stereotyped as inauthentic, sick, immoral, promiscuous, or dangerous. You could probably relate if I told you that, because I am trans, I am routinely ridiculed and defamed; that my body is often objectified and my life choices sensationalized; that other people presume that I must be mentally incompetent and incapable of making decisions for myself; that because of all these factors, I’m often at risk for discrimination in housing, employment, the healthcare system, legal settings, and so on.

I did not come here today to express my identity as a transgender person, or bisexual, or even as a woman. I am came here today as someone who has learned so much from other marginalized people from diverse backgrounds and perspectives. And our ability and willingness to empathize with one another, and to work together as a coalition — where your cause is my cause, and my cause is your cause — that is how we are going to resoundingly defeat Trumpism. He wants to “Make America the 1950s Again,” returning us to a time when the only people who mattered were straight white able-bodied Christian men, and everybody else was considered to be a second-class citizen. But we will not let that happen. Because if you add up all of the women, all the minorities, and all of the people who have been pushed to the margins of society, then together, we make up a clear-cut majority.

A live recording of me giving this speech at the Women’s March can be found on my Patreon site — if you appreciate my work, please consider supporting me there! You can learn more about my writings, performances, and activism at juliaserano.com.

*note: some of the language in this speech was borrowed from my previous Medium essay Prejudice, “Political Correctness,” and the Normalization of Donald Trump.