Don't let your schooling interfere with your education.
~ Pete Seeger

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Honoring Diversity

Following the posting of last month's Transgender Awareness Week display at work, a colleague told me that he thought the oft-used phrase, "Honor Diversity," conveys the wrong idea. He is a Christian who had written an articulate and compassionate protest about the use of the word "Celebrating" in the display title, and I actually found myself agreeing with his argument. When I asked for some clarification, he explained that "Hitler was diverse, and no way he could honor Hitler."

Well, I certainly concur with that sentiment. Not only is Hitler responsible for the slaughter of Jews, in the late 1930's, he also had the institute where Magnus Hirschfield did his pioneering work on the treatment of trans people destroyed. As a member of a minority group that was slaughtered by the Nazis along with Jews, gypsies, and homosexuals, Hitler's probably the last person on earth I'd want to honor. My colleague's statement, though, led me to question just what it means to honor something.

According to Dictionary.com, honor, when used as a verb, means (among other things):

13.

to hold in honor or high respect; revere: to honor one's parents.

14.

to treat with honor.

15.

to confer honor or distinction upon: The university honored him with its leadership award.

16.

to worship (the Supreme Being).

17.

to show a courteous regard for: to honor an invitation.


In the discussion on synonyms following the definitions, it says, "Honor suggests a combination of liking and respect."

It seems to me that definitions 13, 15, and 16 don't get at the meaning of "honoring diversity" at all. Used as a noun, as it is in #14, honor seems to mean "honesty, fairness, or integrity in one's beliefs and actions." That seems appropriate, but def. 17, "to show a courteous regard for," gets more to the intent, I think.

Then what does "diversity" mean?

Again, Dictionary.com:

1.

the state or fact of being diverse; difference; unlikeness.

2.

variety; multiformity.

3.

a point of difference.


So honoring diversity means to show a courteous regard for our differences, for those ways that we are unlike. In keeping with that, the Diversity and Equity Strategic Plan recently adopted by our city includes within it statements like the following: "Diversity and human rights should no longer be viewed as 'programs,' but as core values integrated into the very fiber of the organization."

To me, Hitler was the very antithesis of diversity, and his example provides the dark side of the impetus toward showing courteous regard for our differences. Hitler proclaimed the superiority of the Aryan people, and attempted to eliminate people who were different based on ethnic, racial, sexual orientation, ability, and gender differences through genocide. It would be impossible to honor both Hitler and diversity at the same time; if you honor one, you dishonor the other.

I don't think you need to approve of another's behavior in order to show a courteous regard for how one is different. So long as that behavior stays respectful of each other and our common humanity, there is no reason for disapproval. However, I believe that one of the best ways we can show courteous regard for those who are different is by learning how we are similar. This was a criticism of the Celebrating Transgender Lives display; that to some people, the display seemed to ignore the similarities we all share, and focus on the difference. Yet each profile of the display was intended to highlight those similarities, and cut through the stereotypes that so often limit the opportunities of trans people. Each profile displayed the unique character or accomplishments of one person – his or her humor, talent, courage, creativity, contribution to society, and so on.

And in fact, each one of us is unique; despite the similarities we all share, we are all different. It is that very difference, the uniqueness of each individual, that makes life so varied, interesting, and – well, diverse. We offer always to each other a learning opportunity, a chance to grow. We are all similar, and we are all diverse. Each one of us loves, laughs, cries, mourns, and struggles to be the best we can be. At the same time, each person's unique character and talent contributes value to the whole of who we are as a people, a society, and a species. That includes our unique or specific expression of gender, whether it fits in between the traditional gender binary or not.

That is worth celebrating – and honoring.

Friday, December 18, 2009

International Migrants' Day

Today is International Migrants' Day, commemorating the day in 1990 that the UN Assembly adopted the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (resolution 45/158). This article by Chandra Bhatnagar is worth reading for background, but suffice it to say that migrants face many human rights abuses right here in the original modern Bastion of Freedom known as the USA.

With that in mind, I call on all US agencies and employers to treat migrants with the humanity and respect that they deserve, simply by being our brothers and sisters born to the same divine Father-Mother as created us. I call on President Obama to direct his agencies to enforce all aspects of national and international law that protect these people from abuse, and to take immediate steps to rectify the situation in Villas-del-Sol, Puerto Rico, including provision of electricity, water, health care, and humanitarian aid as needed (see the article). And I extend my own prayers for all migrant workers in the US, and everywhere.

It is a disgrace for a nation of our proud heritage to continue to allow this kind of abuse, especially in the aftermath of the Hurricane Katrina travesty. If we cannot extend mercy, compassion, and basic human rights to people on our own soil, how can we ever expect to support it as far away as Afghanistan?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Biblical Surprise

I love the 139th Psalm, verses 1-18, with its lyrical assurance of God's everpresent Love. Sometimes I turn to it for comfort, for a reminder that I can never, not for one second, anywhere, be separated from the love of God. But this morning, as I turned the tattered pages of my Bible in search of it, something from the 142nd caught my eye. I stopped to read it.

Then I read it again.

I read it a third time.

I never expected a three thousand year old man hiding in a cave to write my own prayer – the prayer of a trans woman. Because that's what it was. What it is. A mirror of the desperation that drove me to transition, of the faith that, though not couched in any religion, led me to take that irrevocable step across gender lines.

~*~

Psalm 142
Maschil of David; A Prayer when he was in the cave

I cried unto the Lord with my voice; with my voice unto the Lord did I make my supplication. I poured out my complaint before him; I shewed before him my trouble. When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, then thou knewest my path. In the way wherein I walked have they privily laid a snare for me. I looked on my right hand, and beheld, but there was no man that would know me: refuge failed me; no man cared for my soul. I cried unto thee, O Lord: I said, Thou art my refuge and my portion in the land of the living. Attend unto my cry; for I am brought very low: deliver me from my persecutors; for they are stronger than I. Bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise thy name: the righteous shall compass me about; for thou shalt deal bountifully with me.

~*~

But wait, you say, your family loved you! They cared deeply for you.

No. They did not know me. They cared deeply for the man they thought I was. But I was lying to them; my soul was deep in prison, and they cared not for me, because they could not know me. I lived then in a cave of my own making, a prison that seemed to have no door. But when the desolation of loneliness overwhelmed me, I cried out to the Universe; the door opened, and my path was shown; can I say that it was shown by other than divine Love? I had tried all others; religion, therapy, the Marine Corps, marriage, drunkenness, fantasy, adventure. Nothing opened the door until I surrendered to the one path that could bring my soul out of that prison.

And I am compassed with loving, open arms – friends, family, neighbors, co-workers and colleagues. The Lord has dealt bountifully with me.

He will deliver me from my persecutors; for if they are stronger than I, they are certainly not stronger than Him.

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.
~Helen Keller

Reading List for Information about Transpeople

  • Becoming a Visible Man, by Jamison Green
  • Conundrum, by Jan Morris
  • Gender Outlaw, by Kate Bornstein
  • My Husband Betty, by Helen Boyd
  • Right Side Out, by Annah Moore
  • She's Not There, by Jennifer Boylan
  • The Riddle of Gender, by Deborah Rudacille
  • Trans Liberation, by Leslie Feinberg
  • Transgender Emergence, by Arlene Istar Lev
  • Transgender Warriors, by Leslie Feinberg
  • Transition and Beyond, by Reid Vanderburgh
  • True Selves, by Mildred Brown
  • What Becomes You, by Aaron Link Raz and Hilda Raz
  • Whipping Girl, by Julia Serano
I have come into this world to see this:
the sword drop from men's hands even at the height
of their arc of anger
because we have finally realized there is just one flesh to wound
and it is His - the Christ's, our
Beloved's.
~Hafiz