I am a marginalized person.
When I recently mentioned this to a friend, he was offended on my behalf—visibly disgusted—by my use of the term “marginalized” to describe myself.
“Why would you say that about yourself? Doesn’t that mean you are less than?”
My friend was seeing me, someone he loves, as using a word he perceived as derogatory to belittle myself. (People also do this when I call myself queer—for some, the word still has negative connotations, but to me it is home.) My friend didn’t like it. He wanted to take all negativity away from me. I could have assumed he was minimizing my feelings or that he just “didn’t get it.” I could have assumed he was allowing his discomfort to take away the validity of my life experiences. But that wasn’t it at all—it was just that he couldn’t fathom why anyone wouldn’t love and accept me the way he does.
I could have been really frustrated for having to remind him that people are assholes. He should know this, right? Maybe. Or maybe he is just a kind-hearted person who struggles to understand how people can be such dicks. My friend is one of the good guys. He isn’t perfect—who is?—but he is an ally. So instead of frustration, I gave him patience.
“It means many people see me as less than, yes,” I told him. “Am I less than? No. But I am a target for hate.”
I reminded him of the everyday micro and macroaggressions I face as a nonbinary queer person, and in the end, he understood.
The scenario with my friend was an easy one, but there are many times when it is really hard not to snap at people, roll my eyes, or huff away in exasperation. People ask inappropriate questions, use the wrong terminology, or just don’t understand LGBTQ issues and the struggles that keep us tired and hurting. My job is to educate them. Many would say that as a marginalized person busy fighting for my own rights, it isn’t my job to educate people. But my goal is to move the needle from intolerance and bigotry toward acceptance and inclusion, and my interactions with others have proven again and again that having patience can often be the thing that pushes that needle.
A parent at my kids’ elementary school found out that the book I Am Jazz was read in her child’s kindergarten classroom. The book was written for kids ages 3 and up and is about Jazz Jennings, a transgender woman who knew she was girl from a very early age despite having been assigned male at birth based on sexual anatomy. I am the one who read the book—my transgender daughter is a student in the classroom, and I am doing everything I can to smooth the way for her and ensure she is accepted and included and loved as every child deserves to be.
This parent posted in the school Facebook group wondering if it was appropriate for “these topics” to be discussed at school without the parents’ knowledge or permission. She wanted to have a “respectful” conversation, but felt that LGBTQ topics should be discussed at home first so that parents could decide what their child was ready to hear and so they could be the ones in charge of what was said.
I felt sick. The very act of posing the question invalidated transgender people. Invalidated my daughter. My family. She disregarded my daughter’s right to feel safe and comfortable in the classroom. She implied, not so subtly, that my daughter’s normal was actually not normal at all, and that she needed to prepare her child for that. By suggesting the school alert all parents of my presence and my daughter’s presence in the classroom, she denied my right as a queer parent to exist without censorship. And she assumed parents would talk to their kids about these topics in a positive light, if at all.
I was panicked. I was scared. I was so frustrated. A part of me wanted to lash out, but instead I allowed myself to be open-minded to her ignorance. I responded to her fears with facts, science, and personal stories. I asked her questions that made her reflect on her own family and what she would want for her own child. I used humor when I asked if I should be teaching my kids about straight, cisgender people because that is laughable, and I found a moment to make her laugh. I remained calm. I listened to her. I did not accuse or call names. I found the point at which she was most confused and helped her understand. It took me six minutes to change her mind.
In the end, she was embarrassed that she came off as looking intolerant. But I praised her ability to learn and to be uncomfortable. That is the ultimate goal: to be comfortable being uncomfortable, to give others the space to be vulnerable and make mistakes as they learn. Defensiveness gets us nowhere. It would not have helped me get my point across, and it would not have allowed her to listen. It’s one thing to hear someone; it’s a completely separate thing to listen to them.
I could be angry all the time, but when it comes to moving in the right direction, I need to be approachable. I need to be firm but kind. I need to give the benefit of the doubt before banning or “cancelling” people who say the wrong things. I compromise myself at times to do this work, and it is exhausting work, but I have seen the benefits.
My goal is measurable progress by changing people’s minds and hearts through education. In order to do this, I need to take a deep breath and check myself. Sometimes that means negotiating where I really want the person to be in terms of acceptance. Let me be clear: I leave no wiggle room for bigotry, nor will I tolerate intentional disrespect. But I do my best to provide grace and kindness before deciding whether someone is a jerk or simply looking for some guidance because they want to do the right thing.
The hardest people to talk to at times are not the ones on the far end of the spectrum of not understanding issues I stand for, specifically LGBTQ topics. Often the hardest people to educate are the passive allies or the people who are not sure they are allies or our own friends or family who just don’t quite get it yet. These indifferent or uneducated folks are the ones who need my help the most—who need your help too—but they can also be the most tiring. They say the wrong things, sometimes inadvertently blurting things that to us are obviously offensive. They ask what feel like ridiculous questions. They demand a lot of hand holding. And yet, if they are trying to learn, we need to give them permission to make and learn from their mistakes.
If we want to disarm ignorance we need to disarm ourselves. Sometimes we need to extend our ability to be patient when we don’t want to be. Sometimes we need to answer questions that we are shocked are even asked. And often, we need to explain topics in different ways to different people because everyone is at a different place in their education.
So it might not be my job to educate people, but I will do it anyway, and I will do it with as much grace and patience as I can muster. Because education leads to understanding, and understanding leads to acceptance. And I want to live in an accepting world.