So, a few years back I was wearing my Shirt That Changed The World. My particular version was, of course, the very best version. The logo read, “Transsexual Menace” like all the others, but being from Oregon, the tagline below read, “The Beaver State”. Really, there’s no other Transsexual Menace chapter that could possibly compete, unless there’s a chapter at a university somewhere that uses “Fighting Cocks” as its mascot (no, USC does not count, though being “game” is worth something, sure).
On the particular night I’m discussing, I was walking through Washington D.C. after a hard day’s fighting against violence and for civil rights at a national conference. I can’t even remember which one for certain – and anti-DV conference? An LGBT conference? Let’s let it go. In any case, I walked past the White House & had just crossed 17th, at which point Pennsylvania Avenue politely angled itself to point my ass to the building Trump now occupies. Right there, not two full blocks from the most elite bit of housing in the country, there were maybe twenty people camped out with sleeping bags on the sidewalk. One using a propane stove to heat up a beverage or maybe some soup looked up and upon seeing my t-shirt exclaimed,
That dude’s transsexual!
To which a next-door neighbor replied,
So what? It don’t matter. Just leave it be.*1
Whereupon the first, concerned about being misinterpreted, added,
Yeah, I know, but that dude comes out and says it! *2
In addition to being a pleasant statement on the state of cissexism in at least some communities in the US capital and a validation of Dallas Denny’s thesis that the Transsexual Menace t-shirts were a major turning point in trans/cis interactions, it struck me how such a simple statement of my perspective on the world could have the power to shock, even when absent the statement my perspective would still have been obvious.
That moment came back to me today as I read something Trump said to one of his rallies today:
Just remember, what you are seeing and what you are reading is not what’s happening
Yes, I know: Trump has never hid the fact that he disbelieves reality. Yes, I know that the famous line from Duck Soup has already been used to paraphrase Trump in the past. And yet, there was power to shock in reading that he’d said exactly these words.
Of course, he won’t lose supporters over them. He probably read his audience accurately when he decided that this line would be received positively by the Veterans of Foreign Wars crowd to whom he spoke. Even so, we shouldn’t use the commitment of his followers as an excuse to let the words stand. If one can convince a majority of people that what they see for themselves isn’t true, then that person has constructed an honest-to-goodness, no hyperbole Orwellian state. We aren’t there yet, but the size and intransigence of Trump’s base, even if still a minority today, should galvanize us to fight tooth and nail.
*1: From tone of voice and context, I always interpreted this as a respectful plea to leave the issue of my transsexuality. Neither in the moment nor later did it come across as using the pronoun “it” to describe me in a dehumanizing way. As for the use of the word “dude” to describe me throughout, in that first moment I disliked it, and was about to say something. But after the second person spoke up, I decided that the best thing I could do was simply allow time and space for the first to process the sight of my shirt without any interference from me.
*2: And yes, I do remember all this perfectly verbatim. The moment was quite significant for me as I’d recently been bashed and was startled by the first statement. I paid very close attention to what followed as a way of assessing any potential danger. Fortunately, none existed. Though obviously that’s primarily down to the non-violence and respect of the people I met on that sidewalk, I credit Jessica Xavier with some small part of that: she played a huge leadership role in pro-trans* activism and education in DC in the years leading up to and following my experience.