Ask A Trans Woman: “Barstool Activism” & the Importance of Trans Visibility

social justiceLorelei Erisis on inclusion of trans women and femininity, makeup, more.
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By: Lorelei Erisis*/TRT Columnist—

It’s been a pretty intense few weeks for me. Most recently, I was asked to appear on the WGBH TV show, “Greater Boston” to “debate” public accommodations protections for transgender people. Actually, I got the message asking me the night before the program, while I was in the midst of writing the first draft of this very column.

Shortly before that, in a compact span of less than 48 hours, I participated (as a private citizen, unaffiliated with this paper) in an action to protest Governor Baker’s glaring lack of commitment to any sort of a stance on the public accommodations bill stuck in the Massachusetts legislature. You may have heard about it. News of the event made it into national and even international media outlets.

The very next afternoon, by sheer coincidence, I had been asked to appear as a guest on Boston Public Radio to talk about the public accommodations bill. It was completely unsurprising to me when they also asked me about Governor Baker’s speech the night before. I’d have been shocked if they did not.

Later that same day, I was also asked, by another fairly random bit of strange timing, to be one of the scheduled speakers at a fundraiser for the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition. My task was to be the one who actually asked the crowd to give their money over to the good cause of supporting trans rights. Also, hopefully, to tell a few jokes.

All of those were very public appearances, in which I was dramatically visible. At Governor Baker’s speech, I stood proudly, front and center in a bright green dress, in the midst of a large crowd of proud trans people and our allies also wearing green. I was flanked on both sides by two of the most amazing and inspirational trans activists I know, Nancy Nangeroni and Grace Sterling Stowell. We were patient, polite and relatively respectful. At least we were until Governor Baker pushed our patience beyond the already limited tolerance of the waiting crowd.

I can only imagine how the scene must have appeared to Governor Baker as he looked out over that sea of green. It frankly mystifies me that he could seem so very unaffected by that image before him, by all the trans folks, both young and old, holding signs, and the parents of trans people, and members of the business community standing with us.

I found it strange for a career politician to be so uninfluenced by the people standing mere feet from his podium.

And, perhaps I was wrong about how unaffected Governor Baker truly was. Based on very recent events, it would seem he has been listening. Our visibility made an impact. I hope that he will, indeed, stand with us on the right side of history.

And what an incredible difference it makes when we are visible! It changes folks when they meet a trans person in the flesh, right before them. We become more than just an idea to them. We become flesh and blood human beings, who have thoughts and opinions and feelings.

When I was on Boston Public Radio, the host asked me, and I’m paraphrasing, if I thought that maybe the problem was that trans people just weren’t visible enough. People simply don’t know enough of us.

I told them it was an excellent observation and, yes, that may have indeed been the case in the past. But things are changing, fast. We are coming out into the public eye in ever-increasing numbers.

I went on tell her that despite the speeches and marching and interviews I do, the most effective “activism” I do is something I call, “barstool activism.” I go outside of LGBTQ spaces, to the local bar, the supermarket, the beach, wherever, and I meet all the “regular folks” out there and talk to them and get to know them and let them get to know me a little.

Even as I write this now, I’m sitting at the bar at a random suburban Chili’s. The Bruins are playing on the TVs, cheesy 80s pop is playing in the background.

And while trying to write this column, I’ve been chatting with the other folks sitting here. A man a few feet away strikes up a conversation about my MacBook. We talk about comedy and Saturday Night Live and Adam Sandler. The man’s wife and some other folks jump in and out of the conversation.

Eventually he asks me about trans stuff. We talk about Caitlyn Jenner. I’m honest. It’s interesting. Then we have a very intelligent back and forth about public accommodations protections, called “bathroom bills” by our opposition. He holds some positions on the subject with which I strongly disagree. But we stay polite and friendly and find some common ground and understanding and really just talk, like people at neighborhood bars have talked about the things that concern them for centuries.

And now, all these people at the bar, the man and his wife, as well as all the people sitting around drinking and watching the game; these people know a trans woman. They’ve heard my concern over the potential for violence when I can’t use the facilities that match my gender. They know a little about the finer details of my life too—things that have nothing to do with being trans.

I am real to them now. And that is so very powerful.

It is activism that any of us can do, in our own ways, in our own communities. While being careful to be as safe as possible in a still-hostile world, there is no special training needed—just a willingness to be open and honest and a little patient.

It is the very smallness of it that makes such a huge difference.

Slainte!

*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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1 Comment on "Ask A Trans Woman: “Barstool Activism” & the Importance of Trans Visibility"

  1. This is wonderfully on point and well presented. I gave up trying to “pass” in any way other than true self a few years ago. During the course of meeting someone new who wasn’t expecting a trans* person, I have found that it’s about six minutes between the time of “OMG Gender Panic” to “ok, she’s human like me”. Our everyday visibility is vital to our success – it’s the small informal engagements that make all of the difference in our collective worlds – and success within it. Thank you for reminding me of that fact.

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