Now that racial tensions are good and high again as a result of the Zimmerman verdict, I thought now would be a good time to spit a mouthful of kerosene on that fun little fire. I was just reading an article on how people in general don’t seem to have a whole lot of “race empathy”. This isn’t so much empathizing with a particular racial demographic on a whole, but having the ability to put oneself in the position of someone of a different race, especially when controversy arises. My personal experience, however, is that trans people seem to be way better than average at this. Let’s talk about that today because let’s face it, we’ll grasp at any straws to feel a little better about ourselves.
I’ll get the inevitable disclaimer over quickly. Lord knows if I don’t, there will be comments about isolated trans people who are real dingleberries when it comes to bigotry. Every demographic has members we all kind of wish identified as something else, but ignorance and prejudice know no boundaries. I’m also going to throw in the disclaimer that “race” itself doesn’t even truly exist, but instead is dubious classification system based on superficial external characteristics with extremely fuzzy boundaries. Nevertheless, people created this system and insist on treating it as if it’s real, so it exists by common consensus, much like we all agree that Jennifer Aniston is good actress, even though she always plays ‘Rachel’.
In my time so far with both the local and global trans communities, I have not yet encountered any racial insensitivity. For the most part, race, religion, national origin, social status and education level do not seem to be factors by which people tend to differentiate themselves. While I have heard that the experience of being African-American and trans tends to be somewhat more difficult, the data generally supports this, so the discussion is simply about a real situation and not a point of divisiveness. Why is that?
My own theory, and you all knew I had one, is that when something so core as gender is under question in someone’s mind, the other ways in which we categorize ourselves seems pretty unimportant and fade into the background static. Living in Buffalo, I’ve come to notice that the large Italian population here has a habit of almost immediately working it into the conversation that they are Italian under the supposition that being named Rocco Scaloppini and wearing a ‘Viva Italia!’ tee shirt wasn’t enough. While there are trans people I have met who may be Italian, or even ethnic Tajik, which would be interesting because few outside central Asia have heard of them, no one has bothered to identify themselves as such. We have more important matters to discuss, like where someone else is having electrified needles shoved into their facial follicles and how much it hurts.
On the flip side of that, and reinforcing this concept, is that people who encounter us generally have no interest in our rich Tajik heritage. All they are interested in is what gender we are supposed to be and possibly some of the juicy details about what we are contemplating doing to ourselves down there. Like there aren’t enough YouTube videos on the subject. While we wish people would treat us ‘normally’, being asked ethnic, religious or other cultural based questions doesn’t seem to be high on our list of priorities. It seems like fluff and doesn’t seem to matter much.
I see it all as being a function of Maslow’s hierarchy pyramid, which is taught and immediately forgotten by everyone who took a social sciences class or was subjected to corporate management training. To sum it up, you have to take care of the big shit at the bottom first before really giving a flying canoodle about the stuff above until that is sorted out. In Maslow’s version, it’s your basic food, clothing, shelter, and iPhone, before moving up to ‘nice to have’s’ like love, friendship, more things that start with ‘i’, and spirituality, etc. On ours, gender is at the base and everything else is built on that, but seriously, who has the energy to really give a toss? Trying to put that foundation down is so onerous, many of us are comfortable living in a single level and think the view is just fine.
It would be interesting to know what the outcomes of racially charged trials like Zimmerman or OJ would have been had the chosen a color indifferent trans jury. We don’t care what your ethic/ cultural/ social/ religious identification is, unless it matters to you and you want to talk about it, and then we are happy to listen.
Now, just for fun, some comment themes I would imagine this would generate were this site regularly visited by trolls:
1. I’m inherently racist for even bringing this up because if I truly didn’t care, it would not have occurred to me.
2. I protesteth too loudly, covering for a malicious and hate filled heart.
3. Angry Italians, identifying themselves as such, who claim they never do that.
4. Ethnic Tajiks, just happy to finally get a shout out.
5. People attempting to convince that ethnicity does matter and why, falling back on the standard “everyone knows that [blank] really just want [something negative]”.
6. Something negative to balance out a bit of niceness regarding trans culture, such as our evil patriarchal conspiracy to subjugate women by volunteering to be treated like shit.
7. Advertisements for cheap, generic Viagra proving spammers really do have a sense of humor.