On July 19, 2016, politician and former presidential candidate Ben Carson referred to transgender people as the “height of absurdity” (see video clip). His disparaging remarks were met by the audience with laughter and applause. On August 7, 2016, I addressed Mr. Carson’s poor behavior during an event called “Breaking Bread, Building Bridges“.
Mr. Carson said, “For thousands of years, mankind has known what a man is and what a woman is. And now, all of a sudden we don’t know anymore.” He went on to compare being transgender to someone waking up and deciding they’re Afghanistan after watching a movie about the region. “This is how absurd we’ve become!”, he concluded. Well, he got one thing right: society has indeed become very absurd, but not for the absurd reasons he posited.
Transgender people have existed since the dawn of humanity. There’s nothing “sudden” about that reality, and certainly nothing sudden about one’s self realization as transgender. Most of us knew well before the age of 10, although many felt compelled to keep it a carefully guarded secret, fearing terrible social consequences.
What we have “known” for thousands of years
At the event, I spoke about how we’ve “known” for thousands of years that the world is flat. Several hundred years ago, new information disproved that. Humanity learned and grew. We used to dunk witches or burn them at the stake, if they survived the dunking (by using their evil witchcraft). This wasn’t real either, even though society collectively believed it. Perhaps Mr. Carson also longs for a good, old fashioned witch burning?
How absurd we’ve become
It’s insane that people, “leaders”, still choose to ignore reality and insight discourse, create drama; friction; hardship for human beings – members of our communities; family, friends, loved ones. The “height of absurdity” is that society collectively accepts people “playing politics” that divides communities, disparages people, perpetuates misunderstanding, and promotes the poor treatment of human beings.
Community building is about coming together, learning about one another, helping each other, being empathetic and supporting one another, NOT about fabricating a “common enemy” by creating logical sounding, but completely false and manipulative arguments against people – especially those who are already struggling for acceptance, respect, social equality and rights that most take for granted.
The power of sharing
The group of people I spoke with at the event did not agree with this human-disparaging approach. Many of them had little or no understanding of transgender people beforehand. I lost track of how many of them thanked me for “opening their eyes” afterward, several with tears in their eyes.
All I did was put things in perspective and share my personal experiences as a transgender woman living in a world that doesn’t understand the incredibly rich diversity of humanity. There is so much power in sharing – letting people get to know who you are. Knowledge is power and I’m all about empowering people so they can make their own conclusions about “the height of absurdity” and what is acceptable behavior toward humanity and what is not.
The first half of the event was about talking to the attendees as a group. During the second half, myself and the two other speakers sat with and literally broke bread with people. We moved from table to table and engaged in personal conversations before the event concluded. There were some great questions, excellent conversation and I’m happy to say that no one looked at, or treated me as the “height of absurdity”. I was treated with dignity, respect and felt very welcome. We shared plenty of laughs during these more intimate conversations, but none at the expense of others. This gathering was about community building, not social policing, fear mongering or picking on anyone.
Photo credit: Amy Blum
It’s really very easy to bring people together and strengthen a community by talking, sharing and learning. People often fear what they don’t understand and attack what they fear. Once you take the time to learn about the people in your community, there’s nothing left to fear and nothing left to get in the way of making new friends, supporting one another, and creating a healthy, strong community where communication and collaboration are the norm.
Question the motives of people who seek positions of power and authority and use their influence to create otherness, promote picking on/bullying people, insight drama, cause hardship and have communities standing in judgement of one another, expending time, energy and resources battling it out. Good leaders build people up, not tear them down. Good leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders. If you’re wondering who to look up to and follow, start with the beautiful person looking back at you in the mirror.
I believe in humanity. Those who behave poorly tend get the most attention, but I think they’re also just a loud and manipulative minority. I believe that most people have the capacity to learn, grow and change for the better. Looking back at just how much I’ve learned, grown and changed over the years is always a good reminder of that.
I’m grateful beyond words for the opportunity to break bread and build bridges with the beautiful, open minded people who offered me some of their time and attention on Sunday. I’m grateful beyond words for everyone who also took the time to speak with me one on one afterward and share a little about their own lives.
What do you think?
How do you feel about the comments of Ben Carson and the many others who have made similar attacks against transgender people and other “unpopular” minority groups? Do you think they’ll change, or are these people just going to keep playing the same game as it suits their agendas? Or a little of both? What do you feel is the best way to build strong, inclusive communities? Are you involved in any outreach work yourself? What works for you?
Disagree with anything I’ve shared? All opinions are welcome so long as they’re presented respectfully. We may not agree on things (and that’s ok), but there is always learning to be gained by sharing. Please jump in and let’s have a conversation. If you’d like to share but would rather your comments remain private, please contact me directly: contact page.