By: Lorelei Erisis*/TRT Columnist—
We live in scary times. But, I don’t need to tell you that. I’m sure you know.
We have, as trans and queer people, won some measure of progress over the last several years. During which we were helped by an administration, and a political atmosphere, that was more friendly to us than those of the past.
By the measure of how far we have to go, our progress has been fairly slight. And most of the best benefits of it have been inside of certain bubbles of progressiveness.
Compared to what we’ve had before though, it is leaps and bounds. And one thing is certain: Those leaps have landed us firmly inside the public spotlight, which is an incredibly dangerous place to be in right now.
The present administration, and the political atmosphere that brought it to power, is not nearly as friendly to us, or those who might be allies to us, than it was this time last year. And I’m sure any of you who own a TV or have access to the internet, already know what I’m talking about.
The slogan splashed across their social media profiles (the modern equivalent of an armband) is, “Make America Great Again!” Colloquially many folks refer to them as “MAGAs.” And “they” are the sitting President and his supporters.
But here’s what I want to talk to you all about. We cannot afford for this to become, “Us vs Them.” Most especially because, due to our position in the spotlight, we make for a very convenient “Them” ourselves.
Throughout history, every popular movement has needed an “Other” to galvanize its supporters around. It’s a sad statement, but generally true. For the Romans, it was the Barbarians. For the Chinese, it was the Mongols. For the French Revolutionaries, it was the Aristocracy. For the English, it was … well, the rest of the world. And for the Nazis, it was the Jews; also, the Gypsies (Romani), the Communists, and homosexuals.
For the MAGAs, it’s us. It’s also, black people, immigrants, and Muslims—fine company, if you ask me. But I digress.
It is incredibly convenient and useful to make us the scapegoat that explains, simply, all of the complex problems facing the world. We make a very nice “Other” to distract from the machinations and manipulations of those who stand truly to benefit from the current atmosphere. We as “They” make for a fine enemy with which to justify the worst exploitation and injustices committed, by a relative few, against the whole of the country, and the world.
And this is what’s important. That “whole” who are being exploited, is not just us, nor is it just people of color, Muslims, women, or immigrants, or even the poor and the starving of this world—though we may bear the worst of it. The small minority at the top seeks to control and exploit all of us, even many of the folks who proudly proclaim themselves “MAGAs.”
When we fight among ourselves, we do not fight the true exploiters.
And this is why I would urge you to stop thinking in terms of “Us vs Them.” Start thinking in terms of, “We.” The line that begins our Constitution does not read, “Us the People … ” It reads, “We the People … ” And that’s all of us. Every single person who draws breath, whose heart beats. Certainly I realize this is easier said than done. I know what I’m asking you to do is not easy. It is in fact terribly difficult.
The only way forward that does not end in bloodshed, terror and repression is, “We.” We cannot afford to fight among ourselves. Especially those with whom we may have more in common than not. We must support each other and stand up for each other. Gay people must fight for trans people. Trans people for people of color. People of color for Muslims. Muslims for women. Women for immigrants. We must all fight for each other, not against.
But also, we must not allow ourselves to be, “othered.” We cannot withdraw from the MAGAs and let them take space from us in which they may nurture their mistaken ideologies. As much as is possible, we need to participate; speak up when we are spoken against; be part of both our larger and local communities; join civic organizations; run for public office, even if it’s just the local library or school board. Go out. Be seen. The local bar is your bar too. The local park is for all of us as is the courthouse, the statehouse, and the White House. These are the People’s Houses, which means they are ours.
It’s not going to be easy, or even safe. You will almost certainly be made to feel unwelcome and unwanted in many of these spaces. Just remember, you belong there just as much as anyone else. Without you, there is no one to speak up, no one to oppose malicious ideologies and insidious untruths.
And if you make space and create visibility, then others will feel they might belong too. It takes one person to claim a foothold, so that we all might claim a space. It takes participation and inclusion to become a community. It takes “we” to make it strong.
And I have to believe that we can do this. Because the alternative is scary, indeed.
*Lorelei Erisis is an actor, activist, adventurer and pageant queen. Send your questions about trans issues, gender and sexuality to her at: [email protected].