I believe in trans people.
Not because we are magically insightful. Not because we are full of arcane shapechanger wisdom. Not because we are more or less great or holy than anyone, in our way. We have among us wonderful people and people who do and say terrible things. We have our crooks and our hypocrites and our abusers and our traitors, same as anyone, right alongside our heroes and champions and grand examples of high character. We are a mixed bag, you and me and you and you and you. We don’t have any more or fewer secret Mysteries in our blood, wherever it bleeds from. We’re people, with our tiny daily mistakes and triumphs, our hopes and our hopes for forgiveness.
I believe in trans people.
Not because we have suffered, though so many of us have suffered. We have hurt in ways that have transformed us as individuals and communities, and we’ve talked about that. I’ve talked about that plenty. We all know the numbers and the statistics and the terrible stories, these days. We pass them around as something that’s a little bit heartbroken hagiography and a little bit campfire scare gossip. We know who has sneered at us, and who has shut the doors. We know all of this. You certainly know this about me, by now, where I’ve left blood to sink into the dirt, where I’ve looked into same dark you’ve looked into, where I’ve gotten lost, where we’ve all felt alone.
The thing is, we’ve defined ourselves in those terms. Justified ourselves in those terms. Believe we are here, we say, showing our scars and fresh cuts. Believe we are real. Believe we matter. Believe that we are people because what we have been through, people do not deserve, and I hope you see we didn’t deserve it. We have aligned ourselves, symbolically and narratively, with our suffering: our dysphoria and abandonment and grief and martyrdom. And all of those things are true, and they will stay true, at least until we change this society and go to the grave with it, ceding the field to happier generations. But I want to propose an alternative–and not the alternative that has been offered before, either, the carnival-glam alternative that presents us as the glitter-crusted disco-ball jesters of a new postmodernism. That’s true for some of us, too, and I won’t deny that. I just want to suggest something simpler.
I want to suggest that we believe in us because we, as a people, are marked above all by our integrity.
There is not much you can say that describes all trans people. We are a broad and heterogeneous bunch. But you can say this: contrary to what the cheap punchlines and propagandists, the frat boys and the Womyn’s Landers, the sketch comedians and the murder defendants would have you believe, we are not united in a grand campaign of deceit. We may not be magical, or magically virtuous, but we are, as a people, astonishingly honest.
You look at those numbers we’ve let outline us–the grief and the blood and the hurt, writ vast and cruel–and that is a truth. But I believe the greater truth is us: we looked at that world–that heartless world that tears us up and turns us away from every hearth-fire–and we looked at the option of deceiving it into letting us in, the option of pretending to be something we weren’t in order to survive, and we said, to a person: no. No, we will not lie, even in the face of starvation, of isolation, of loss, of torture, of death. No, even to escape the risk of a world that will never treat us right, we will not lie. We will not pretend. Not today. Not again. At some point, if you are here, and reading this, and calling yourself a trans person or something like, no matter how many compromises and illusions you had to throw up in front of you to make it to today alive, you eventually said “no more.” You refused to lie, even if only to yourself.
I believe in trans people because, above all, we know something about the great and terrible worth of the truth. Not because we have paid that price–it has hit some of us harder, and some of us have come through nearly unscathed. Not because whatever we have suffered has made us more special than any other person. Because each of us is a person who looked out at a very dangerous, risky landscape and chose, eventually, to travel through it because the truth mattered most. We know something about the truth. We know what it is worth. And we, as a people, surrounded by those who do not believe us and want us to pretend for them that they are right, chose that truth knowing it might cost us everything.
Even if it didn’t. Even if it never does. Today, here and now, we as a people are a people of astonishing integrity. Integrity! How many times have you heard that word and trans people in a sentence? How many times have you heard us defined not by our dysphoria, not by our danger, but by our integrity? I believe that is what this boils down to, though. Our integrity. We are people who have chosen, in the silence of our hearts or shouting from the rooftops, to cultivate integrity no matter the cost. We are people who insist that our internal worlds must be married to our external worlds. That we will be true to ourselves even if we are the only ones who know it is the truth. It’s not that we’re somehow inherently virtuous or upright beyond anyone else’s gifts. It’s that we made choices. Good choices. Brave choices.
They say character–integrity–is who you are in the dark. Well, I have been in the dark for a long time. Many of us have. And we have discovered, in the end, not our weakness, not our vileness, not our artificial dishonest infection-on-the-world failure to be real people, but the quality of our character. And we have made choices since then. Some of us are cruel and dangerous people who take from others and reproduce pain. Some of us are paragons of kindness and hope. Most of us, like me, are somewhere in the middle, some of the same mix of choices and mistakes and wicked joy as anyone else on the street, scattered and various as the birds of the air. But all of us, mean and glorious, made that choice, once, that choice of radical integrity, that choice to love the truth and commit to it, dark or bright, hell or high water. That cannot be taken from us. Any of us, the killers and healers and thieves and parents alike. It is more than our losses and more than our gains. It is more than the families we do or don’t have, the ideas we espouse, the places we stand. Somewhere, deep inside, we will always know that one day we chose the truth knowing that that truth might not be kind to us, and we held tight to that truth while it burned on and on.
I believe in trans people. I believe in us because we have been honest, at least once, in a way few people on earth have been asked to be. I believe that is what makes us so frightening. That integrity is written all over us. You can see it in the dark. There is no avoiding seeing in us that choice to hold onto the truth even if no-one else would stand with us and do the same. That is enormously threatening. It is no wonder that so many people and communities claim that admitting us among their number might destroy the foundations of everything they know.
Integrity is contagious, see. It is hard to look at the way we know the truth and not be tempted to look at your own truth, and that truth’s consequences. It is hard to pretend, with us in the room. It is hard to make excuses for your own lies and compromises and little self-betrayals. So people try very hard to make us the liars. To make us the fakes. To push us out of the room so we don’t hold mirrors up.
It’s not that we’re special. It’s just that, every one of us, whatever we did before or since, we made a choice. We believed. We committed. We moved. With everything mobilized to erase us and keep us from truth-telling, we had the strength of spirit to choose truth anyway.
I believe in trans people. I will believe in trans people until there is no more believing to do.