Ask a Trans Woman: After the Election, Importance of Strangers Protecting Strangers

transgenderLorelei Erisis on inclusion of trans women and femininity, makeup, more.
Photo: David Meehan

After the Election Results, What We Can do for One Another

By: Lorelei Erisis*/TRT Columnist—

A few months ago, I wrote a column about being bashed while going to my car one night after work. Two months ago, I wrote about the importance of voting for Hillary Clinton because of my firm belief that Donald Trump absolutely could win. Last month, I wrote about the Transgender Day of Remembrance and I asked what you will do to help protect trans people.

Right now, as I write these words, my worst fears have come true. And all these columns suddenly feel as though they are one piece.

Donald Trump is now the president-elect of the United States of America. Believe me, I’d have been much happier to have been wrong in my prediction. Positively gleeful in fact—I love being wrong when it’s about terrible things.

But I wasn’t wrong. And it’s not just the looming reality of a Trump-controlled White House that has me scared. What is only now beginning to sink in for a lot of folks is that the Republican Party, who all in the end backed Trump, now have control of both houses of the federal legislature and will soon control the Supreme Court and much of the judiciary.

Well, almost all of them supported Trump. It is worth taking a moment to thank our own Governor Charlie Baker for standing up for his better values and taking a stand against supporting Donald Trump’s mockery of the Party of Abraham Lincoln.

So here we are. For many of us, the world outside our doors just got exponentially more frightening. I truly believe that pretty much anyone who isn’t a straight, cisgender, white man is in some larger degree of danger right now.

And some of us are in more danger than others. Muslims, trans people, immigrants, and people of color and queer people generally are all seriously threatened by the atmosphere of hatred and bigotry sweeping the country. There is already talk of a registry and even internment camps for Muslims. Trans people are scrambling to get their documents in order before all of President Obama’s executive orders protecting us are rescinded.

President-elect Trump has promised mass deportations of immigrants, specifically Mexicans with criminal records. Mind you, many of those immigrants have criminal records solely because illegal immigration is, by strict definition, a crime. It’s an ugly and unfairly recursive loop.

Don’t think these things can happen here? Oh so wrong, my friend. Even a brief study of American history reveals several relatively recent examples. Just to begin with and to our great shame, there were the thousands of Japanese Americans we sent to internment camps during World War II—a fact which is being used, alarmingly, as precedent to justify the possibility of interning Muslim people.

And mass deportation? Heck, President Obama deported record numbers of immigrants himself. What do we think is going to hold Trump back? I even discovered as I was doing research for this column that during the Great Depression, our country forcibly “repatriated” to Mexico anywhere from 500,000 to 2 million people of Mexican descent. I’m a pretty avid student of history and even I missed that one until now.

As for trans people, we only just got, after a long hard fight, the most basic of civil rights protections here in Massachusetts. The vast majority of states, however, have few or no protections for us. And many states, like North Carolina, have actively anti-trans laws on the books.

It wasn’t so long ago, during the lifetimes of many not-so-old trans people I know, that a person could be arrested for “crossdressing” in much of the country, including many major cities. Trans people, and gay and lesbian folks, knew that they would have to be wearing a specific number of “properly gendered” articles of clothing in order to not get in trouble with the law.

It takes just a blink of an eye for all the progress we’ve made, all our hard won protections, to be swept away. It’s easier than we realize.

So, yeah, I’m scared, and so are a lot of people I know. When I walk down the street I see the look of fear in other people’s eyes as we pass each other by, especially people of color and visibly queer or trans folks. Often accompanied by a small acknowledgement, a nod or a flick of the eyes. A gesture that says, we’re all in the same boat now.

Almost all of the conversations I’ve had over the last week have either been about how scared and angry we are or very consciously, and carefully, not talking about it.

One moment of revelation for me came while I was talking to my girlfriend about various ways we could be good allies. And I had a sudden flash of realization, “Oh my gods. It’s entirely likely that at some point in the next four years I will either be arrested or beaten.”

I mean, even during the relatively “safe” years of the Obama administration, as a very visible trans woman, I’ve been harassed by police and bashed by strangers. There’s even a local Southern Poverty Law Center-recognized hate group, MassResistance, that has pictures and video and articles about me (and a lot of my friends) plastered all over their website. So, I don’t think I’m being overly dramatic or reactionary in my assessment of my vastly reduced personal safety.

Now, in many ways, I consider myself to be incredibly lucky. For one thing, I have a lot of privileges that many other trans folks don’t. I also am well-known and quite loved by a lot of wonderful folks. Over the past week or so, as I have alternated between strong sentiments of solidarity and encouraging advice with honest fear and tear-stained status updates, I have received a great outpouring of love and support; co-workers and business associates offering to walk me to my car, fans and followers telling me that if anything bad happens, they have my back, and friends saying that all I need to do is call on them and they’ll be there to protect me.

But here’s the thing, despite all their best intentions and genuine desire to be there for me. When trouble comes, they simply won’t be.

I don’t say that because I don’t believe them. I’m sure some these fine folks would truly f**k someone up if they caught a person trying to attack or harass me. I have some delightfully scary friends and I hang out with a lot of punks and tattooed freaks!

But, I know from hard experience that trouble never comes conveniently. The bad things never happen when we’re expecting them. See my column on being trans bashed that I mentioned earlier for a perfect example.

Put quite simply though, life happens. I could ask someone to walk me home every night. But sooner or later, I’m going to be tired and not want to wait. Maybe I just need to run to the store for milk, or there just won’t be anyone around, or whatever.

Continuous vigilance is both exhausting and simply unrealistic to maintain.

So these friends? I love them and their support means the world to me, but when the bad stuff goes down, they’re not going to be there for me.

Then what do we do? How do we stay safe and protect those we love?

We protect strangers, that’s what. We watch out for each other, whether we have been previously acquainted or not. We take the Christian parable of the Good Samaritan to heart.

Last night a queer trans friend and I went to my neighborhood gay bar. It’s a gay bar of the very old school variety. And it was just the tonic we needed for all the fear we had been soaking in. When we got there, it was still pretty early and quite empty. The only other people in the bar were the bartender and a cute young man there to try out as a go-go dancer for the very first time. Interestingly, my friend and I, and the newbie go-go dancer, who turned out to also be a government employee, ended up having one of the most intelligent and well-informed discussions about the current political situation that I’ve had this week.

But, it was the bartender who really made me smile. He was the sort of gay man I think of as pretty “classically” gay. The kind that makes anyone’s gaydar go whoop-whoop-whooping proudly gay!

Anyway, he told us how he had been in the Boston Common just days before and as a woman in the park nearby put her mat down to pray, a man approached her and started saying all sorts of terribly bigoted things to her. Yelling at her to stop her praying and leave.

Well, this bartender, this very proudly gay bartender, was having none of this. He lit into the man harassing this woman and told him in no uncertain terms that she had as much right as anyone to be in the Common, and praying, and he should leave her alone immediately. And while this lovely Gay Samaritan was haranguing the man, he also made it clear to the praying woman that she should keep on doing what she was doing. It was her right to be there, and he would defend that quite vehemently.

Of course, I’m presenting this a whole lot more politely than it was presented to me and with _much_ less colorful language. I mean, if you can, imagine a gay man, who also performs as a drag queen, and who was born and raised in the Boston area, and then insert dialogue you might imagine coming from such a person, and you’ll be right there.

Anyway, I was delighted to hear this story, because it was exactly what I’ve been thinking and talking with people about. If we care about our friends and family, then we need to start watching out for absolute strangers. It’s not enough anymore to simply stand by and watch. Maybe file a report later or videotape incidents with our phones.

Well, really, it was never enough to simply stand by. But we did. And all these things are still good. Watch out, file reports, and record everything. But it’s more important than ever that we also intervene. Directly. We need to put ourselves between danger and those who are threatened by it.

If you are white, put yourself between black people and the police.

If you are a man, make it clear you will not tolerate misogynistic abuse towards women on the internet, and step in when you see it.

If you are Irish American, remember it wasn’t that long ago that we were the demonized immigrant du jour, and get out there and yell and march for immigrant rights.

If you are Christian, do more than simply practice tolerance: Make sure it’s safe for Muslims to pray and practice their faith in peace, and intervene wherever you see them threatened. After all, did Christ not teach us to help our neighbor?

If you are cisgender, and you see a trans person being harassed or worse, or if you hear your friends or business associates telling ignorant jokes about us, I beg you to help. Stand with us. Literally. Block the punches and kicks and words being thrown at us. Let the ignorant know their jokes are not funny; their comments, cruel.

Stand up. Step in.

This is how we protect our loved ones. We spread this culture of strangers helping strangers. Standing up for each other. Stepping in when it can help.

And if we can do this, this one thing, then maybe, just maybe, when the people we love and care for most directly and intimately find themselves in danger, there will be a stranger there to protect them in our stead.

There will be someone there to protect me.

Slainte Chugat!!!

_*Lorelei Erisis is an actor, activist, adventurer, and pageant queen. Send your questions about trans issues, gender, and sexuality to her at: askatranswoman@gmail.com._

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