Trans Sandwiched
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Trans Sandwiched

End the Trans Wars: Compassion Builds Bridges

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Today, I want to continue to reflect on my own experience of living for more than a decade as a trans person in society. This time, I want to talk about the need to build bridges between trans people and the rest of society, and the important role of compassion in this process.

One thing I often say is that, in culture and politics, we must always avoid tribalism. In recent years, I have become concerned that the discourse around trans issues has become similar to the wider political environment, with increasing tribalism, black-and-white thinking, and echo chambers. The main reason why I have started speaking up about trans issues again after not talking about them for a decade is because I want to counter this trend. I want to build bridges between the trans community and different parts of the wider society, to increase mutual understanding, so that our views of each other aren’t dominated by stereotypes and biased perceptions. I believe this is the key to building trans acceptance, because it is what I have found in my own life experience. Most people don’t have a problem with trans people, but they might not understand us very well. This can lead to difficulties when we ask for accommodations to be made. But the thing to remember is that, most people aren’t actually against us. Rather, it’s a problem of understanding.

When I say I want to break the echo chambers and build bridges, I mean that I want to do so on both sides of the divide, i.e. the trans community as well as society at large. In recent years, trans representation in mainstream media has improved, and most people out there probably have at least a rudimentary understanding of trans people. This stands in contrast to when I first came out in 2006, where the first reaction from people sometimes ranged from an awkward curiosity to not knowing how to respond at all. However, the kind of trans representation out there is often stereotypical in one way or another, and does not reflect the diversity of trans people out there. This must change, and I am hopefully helping to change it. On the other hand, the trans community increasingly has its own echo chamber, and it too must be challenged. For example, it is common for trans activists to paint an overly negative picture of various people or groups out there who might not always understand or support us, and this overly negative attitude often goes unchallenged in the trans echo chamber. The problem with this is, if you start out by deciding that some people are the enemy and their attitude is not changeable, it creates a self-fulfilling prophecy, and the trans community will never gain any more allies than we currently have.

Bridge building is not always an easy exercise, especially when there are already a load of stereotypes, emotions and historical grievances built up on both sides. I believe the key ingredient for successful bridge building is compassion. The ability to see the other side as human, and the ability to stand in their shoes. This, of course, must go both ways. To increase compassion, we must challenge the stereotypes and tribalist attitudes that stand in the way of recognizing each other as human. This, again, is a core part of my mission, in the work I am doing.

Trans people often have difficult lives, and bear the psychological scars of struggles related to both innate gender dysphoria and social discrimination. In particular, many trans people feel like they are constantly worried about potentially losing civil rights, and recent events in several places have shown that this fear is not unfounded either. I hope that wider society can see the trans community’s tendency to overreact to certain things in light of this context, and be more forgiving and less judgemental.

On the other hand, many people out there still have a lot of gaps in terms of understanding trans lives, our experiences and our needs. Making demands of others and expecting that they be accepted by everyone almost overnight is unrealistic. We need to understand where other people are coming from, and allow them the time to go through the process of understanding on their own terms.

TaraElla is a singer-songwriter and author, who recently published her autobiography The TaraElla Story, in which she described the events that inspired her writing.

She is also the author of The Trans Case Against Queer Theory.

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