“You’re asking for the world to change way too quickly. You’re being unreasonable.”
Just about every activist or advocate for any marginalized community has fielded this complaint more than a few times. On a superficial level, it is antagonistic — a clear disregard for the daily struggles faced by members of marginalized communities simply because folks outside of those communities are often resistant to change. It is an assertion that marginalized folks need to wait to be treated equitably and with respect, and that we need to change our expectations to accommodate them. But when you look beneath the surface, you’ll see fear — a fear or questioning information or beliefs that they have long accepted as fact, a fear of making arduous adjustments to the way they behave, a fear of adjusting to accommodate a marginalized people then facing backlash from peers for doing this work.
A few months ago, I wrote a piece called ‘You Don’t Look Transgender,’ and other Micro-aggressions of Trans Existence, and the response from cisgender folks was mixed. Sure, there were allies who validated and affirmed what I had to say, but there were also those who insisted that the change I asked for was too drastic, too far from where we are now.
A part of me understands — change is scary. I get that. Change can be extremely difficult and it rarely happens all at once. Folks may have to adjust in ways that aren’t necessarily comfortable at first simply because they are different from the way they have been taught to behave their whole lives — I see that.
I understand that it’s easier to mentally assign someone a gender upon meeting them instead of asking for their pronouns. I understand that when you tell a transgender person, “You don’t look transgender,” you intend it as a compliment. I understand that society has taught many of us for years that these behaviors are acceptable and reasonable — but transgender people are now expressing that they can actually be quite hurtful. The micro-aggressions we speak about as transgender people are often phrases or statements that those around us only learned were harmful upon reading our stories — I see that.
Our culture is ever-changing, and we’re at a point where marginalized groups (and since 2013, specifically trans and gender non-confirming people) are finally becoming comfortable enough to speak out about these micro-aggressions and to let those around us know how they need to adjust in order for us to feel supported. Many of the behaviors we’re addressing have been affecting us for a long time, but we only now feel empowered to speak up — therefore, it may seem to cisgender folks that our demands are coming out of left field and that we’re asking for change to happen too quickly, but many of us have sat in silence and frustration for years just waiting to feel comfortable asking for these adjustments. Now that we do, it is the responsibility of those around us to listen to our concerns. As cisgender people learn about micro-aggressions that affect us, they become responsible for thinking about their engagement in these behaviors. In order for me to feel fully supported by cisgender folks, I need to see that they are actively working to listen to what members of our community are saying and making strides to accomodate for our concerns.
When you say that we are asking for too much too quickly, what we hear is that you don’t see the depth of pain that many marginalized people experience daily due to society’s reluctance to adapt. When you say we are asking for too much too quickly, what we hear is that your discomfort with change outweighs our right to have our identities respected. When you say we are asking for too much too quickly, we hear that maintaining the status quo is more important to you than using your privilege to compel those around you to grow.
I feel that our community has waited long enough to be understood, supported and seen — and now is the time for change. I refuse to sit idly by and allow my friends and colleagues to be misgendered even as they’ve continually reminded others of their pronouns. I’m tired of people saying “But you’re so beautiful!” when they find out that I’m transgender, as if it’s so surprising that they could perceive a transgender person as beautiful. I’m tired of people correlating the validity of our gender identities with how easily we are read as cis. To be honest, I am just tired. And I want to acknowledge my privilege here, because I don’t even experience the worst of it. I am rarely if ever misgendered. Though I am frequently catcalled, I am never harassed on the street for being transgender. I rarely fear that someone will attack me for my identity — partially because of where I live, and partially because strangers on the street rarely even realize that I’m trans. I have privilege in a million other ways — I have white privilege, I have a full-time job with a stable income, I live in a socially progressive area, I have stable housing, I can always afford groceries. Many transgender people live without such privlilege, and navigating the intersectionality of multiple marginalized identities can make life even more challenging.
Teaching cisgender people how to be better allies is a large part of the reason I’m speaking up about issues I face — to try to help others understand that there are things everyone can do to better support the transgender community, and to explain why these things matter. I am not trying to shame cis folks for having participated in these behaviors previously, assuming that they were not intended with malice. Instead, I am trying to enlighten cis folks about how their words and actions can affect the trans people around them and urge these folks to grow.
It is urgent that society adapt to better support marginalized communities. Each time a company neglects to install gender inclusive restrooms in their buildings, non-binary people in those spaces are forced to invalidate their own gender each time they choose which restroom to use. Each time someone addresses a group of people as either “ladies” or “gentlemen” without knowing the gender of those people, they risk misgendering anyone in that group. Each time a stranger assumes it’s okay to use the name and gender on another person’s legal identification, they risk reminding someone of a name and gender associated with immense personal trauma. And every time a trans person experiences micro-aggressions — which is often multiple times a day — the impact compounds that of each prior experience. The repetition of these can have a substantially harmful impact on the mental, physical, and emotional health of transgender people.
Sure, our community is pushing for our society to adjust in many ways, big and small. I recognize that many cisgender folks see our demands as unreasonable. But great change is only accomplished by dreaming bigger than you ever thought possible and by fighting every day until your dreams become reality. And what is so unreasonable about dreaming of being respected and validated by those around us? What is so unreasonable about telling others what we need, and being able to trust that they’ll make adjustments to accommodate us? Isn’t that what compassionate humans do — listen to how their actions affect those around them and learn how to improve their impact? Increased understanding and acceptance of marginalized folx may begin with the work of activists, but it most certainly ends with the work of allies — in order for transgender acceptance to advance, allies must listen to and learn about the transgender commmunity. As long as they do, we can work in tandem to create a more inclusive tomorrow.
To cisgender folx — I urge you to listen to the transgender people in your lives. We are not expecting you to adjust overnight to perfectly accomodate the transgender community. What we are asking is that you truly hear our concerns, take strides to better support our community, and pursue the information you need in order to better support trans people.
To transgender folks, in whatever capacity you feel empowered and safe — ask for what you need in order feel supported in your identity. Celebrate who you are, and in doing so help displace stigma and concerns about our community to make way for understanding and support. Keep living authentically, and never apologize for being you. You are not asking for too much too quickly — you are simply asking for what you need, and there is nothing wrong with that. More and more, the world around you will learn how to best support this beautiful community. You just need to keep speaking up.