By: Deja Nicole Greenlaw*/TRT Columnist
I am a white trans woman who enjoys living a comfortable middle class life. I know trans people who are black, brown, etc. who also enjoy living a comfortable middle class life. I wonder, however, do they have the same advantages and the same level of enjoyment as I do? I would guess that they don’t. Even though they may have income that matches or surpasses mine, I can see them being “othered” that is, being seen as different. This is happening everywhere in America.
I’ve heard that it’s a natural thing for people to want to be with others who like-minded. I believe that might stem from a taught or picked up instinct that we all have. We all want to be safe, so any “outsider” or anyone who is different might make some uncomfortable. This concept may be strengthened for white folks like myself as we go through life and hear stories of how others are different in certain ways, yet alike in others. But, the mind tends to, sometimes, stick with the fear of the unknown. Even if we don’t believe the stories, the fact is that we have heard them and the stories lie in our memories.
Being a white person, I have enjoyed going to restaurants, shops, museums, etc. with little or no problem. I remember in the early 1970s taking a cross-country driving trip across the U.S. My travel companion was my white, cisgender girlfriend.
At one point we were in South Dakota seeing the great sights of the Black Hills, the Badlands, Custer State Park, and Mount Rushmore. That night we were tired and decided to have ice cream for dinner. We were in Rapid City, South Dakota, which has a significant First Nation population. I have a bit of First Nation myself in me (Penobscot) but you cannot tell. I look white. My girlfriend is white and looks white too. We found an ice cream place, parked our car, and headed into the establishment. When we got inside the front door we noticed the place was packed with First Nation folks and they all seemed to turn and look at us as we made our way up to the counter for our ice cream dinner. No one said a word but we felt as if we were “othered” too in this situation. We got our ice cream with no issues, however, and brought it back to eat in our car. As we ate we talked about how weird it felt to be the only white people in the place. That gave me a smidgen of an insight as to how non-white people might feel when they are in an all white places.
I have been involved with transgender support groups since 2001 and I noticed that it’s hard to get non-white trans people to our meetings. Oh, many non-white trans people have come to the meetings and said that they enjoyed the meeting and will come back, but many times, they don’t. I can’t say exactly why they don’t come back, but I do remember what it’s like to be in a room being the only white people. It wasn’t the same comfort level for us. Perhaps that is one reason why non-white people never returned.
So, what can we, as white trans folks, do to help support our non-white trans brothers, sisters, gender non-conforming, etc. folks? I can only say to welcome them, listen to them, and support them. They may have come out of their comfort zone to be in a predominately white space so please keep that in mind. Remember, they’re people, just like you and I.
Yes, we all have different experiences and too many times it has a lot to do with what the color of your skin, unfortunately. Please, to my white counterparts I say, “open your mind, open your heart, and open your silent listening skills to folks who you might think are different from you.” I think that you’ll find that they are not that much different. I know that this alone won’t solve any problems, but I do believe that it is a good start.
*Deja Nicole Greenlaw is retired from 3M and has 3 children and two grandchildren. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.