The way you view the world, your own unique bias is a product of your environment. Where you grew up, who you lived with, how you were treated and so on, all play a part in how you perceive the world. This is called a perceptual bias – the way in which you see things in your life. No one can get away from it, but each of us can learn to recognize when our bias is hurting another person and correct it.
We are all born into this world the same way, without bias. This is something that is taught to us beginning with our parents and family members. If your parents hate vegetables, you’ll likely grow up hating vegetables too. The trouble with bias is that we often don’t realize we are biased until someone or something brings it to our attention.
Last week I attended the International Transgender Day of Remembrance in Taylorsville, which is a day to memorialize the victims of hate crimes who have lost their lives because they chose to live outside what society has determined gender should look like.
I was really nervous about attending because, admittedly, I have lived a very sheltered life and didn’t know how to interact with a transgendered person.
My fear of offending someone, and just my fear of the unknown in general, almost prevented me from going. But, determined to learn and have an amazing experience, I went anyway. I’m very grateful that I went beyond my comfort zone.
It was a very emotional and moving experience. The names of the dead, their ages and the ways in which those individuals died were read. How anyone could sit through that and not be moved to tears, anger and rage for the innocent lives lost is beyond me.
Take for instance, 22 year-old Evon Young of Milwaukee, Wis. Young was tied up, beaten with fists and other objects, choked with a chain, suffocated with a bag over her head, shot three times, set on fire, and discarded into a dumpster. She died on Jan. 1, 2013.
Consider Eyricka Morgan of New Brunswick, N.J. She was only 26 when she was stabbed to death in her home on Sep. 24, 2013. Morgan attended Rutgers University and co-founded the African American Office of Gay Concerns, which advocates for gay men of color, transgender males and females, and people with HIV. Morgan was a respected member of her neighborhood and had accomplished much more than many of her peers at such a young age.
I believe that an individual should be able to choose the lifestyle he or she feels comfortable participating in, as long as it doesn’t hurt another human being or animal.
If that means he or she chooses to identify his or her self as another gender, who is that hurting? If they choose to cross dress, how does that affect my life? It doesn’t. But it does affect my life, and yours, when any member of the human family is made to suffer and even die because they choose to live their truth.
At the TDOR meeting I met individuals who I now call friends. One of these friends happens to be an adjunct instructor here at SLCC. Her name is Sara Woodhouse and she is by far one of the kindest individuals I’ve met. She graciously answered all of my awkward questions about how to interact with a transgender person.
“They are going to go to extreme lengths to present as the gender they’re trying to present as. So, it will be pretty obvious when you walk up,” says Woodhouse. “I think as long as you’re approaching the person with the proper pronouns in place, referring to them as he or she, hers, his – you’re okay with everything else, because as long as you approach them with the proper pronouns and with the attitude of, ‘I really want to understand, I really want to learn, I really want to know,’ then my personal opinion is, any question after that is fine.”
But how about all those people who aren’t enlightened about their biases? Worse yet, how about those who refuse to become enlightened because they are uncomfortable with the subject? How do you deal with that? I have a thought or two about that.
Fear is your worst enemy. It is the control of the dictator who would keep his subjects suppressed. Fear steals education and knowledge from a person, ultimately stealing freedom, because without knowledge or education there is no freedom. You are subject to whatever whims your government would inflict upon you. If you are unwilling, in any situation, to have uncomfortable conversations and look fear directly in the eyes, bias will always be in control.
I challenge you, as you look for things to be grateful for this week, look beyond yourself. Look beyond your own biases and have an uncomfortable conversation with someone. Risk losing your own illusions and try reaching out to an individual who maybe doesn’t look, act or dress the way you do. Reach out in an attitude of learning, of looking for a way to connect to that person as an individual. You might be pleasantly surprised.
“If you want to know me, look inside your heart.” – Lao Tse, Tao Te Ching.