Once, a long time ago, a friend felt caught between me and another person. They wished that we two could find common ground.
“OK, I’ll make you a deal,” I said. “I’ll write a piece from their point of view, so they can know that I understand where I am coming from, so they can feel heard and understood. Then they can write a piece from my point of view, and I can have the same understanding.”
“That won’t work!” my friend replied.
“Why? Don’t you think I can write from their point of view?” I asked
“Of course you can do it! But they can’t write in your voice!”
Until the people who speak publically for transgender can speak in the voice of others, honoring diversity rather than just spouting their own beliefs, we will never really have community builders.
I was at the first conference on Sex & Gender at Van Nuys and Sandra Cole came up to me in a panic. “One of my presenters isn’t here yet. Can you be a transvestite for an hour?”
She knew I could. I can speak in their voices, so much so that it’s one of the things that Steve on Trans-Theory remembered about me, that channeling that seemed magical to him. It’s my belief that until you can speak for someone in a way that they find affirming there is no way you actually can understand where they are coming from. There is a reason that high school debaters are asked to be able to argue either the negative or the affirmative at the drop of a hat, because that is the training that allows them to get smarter.
This isn’t the American position, though. Respectful debate seems like some wimpy intellectual exercise, not the basis of building community.
When someone, say the partner of a crossdresser, claims to be building community, but they can’t really enter the point of view of others, community building is then closed to diversity. The walls are built and the agenda is set, and those who come from a fairly different place have to just walk away.
In the old days, one of my roles on the trans-theory list used to be essays that took all the points of view and found the commonalities between them. I stopped doing that because I came to understand that these would stop conversation without changing minds. People wanted to posture and preen, and the hard work of integrating many points of view and common ground is just not worth it.
The transgender community has always had the problem that the most vocal among us are transitioning people, who are visible anyway and need to speak and act out to find their own new equilibrium. These aren’t mature people who want to find common ground, these are adolescents who want to trie on big positions and defend their own choices. And the ones who stay out and vocal, well, they usually aren’t out because they want to be connective leaders, but rather because they want to keep announcing their own views.
I have learned who I am by entering the minds and hearts of others and seeing though their eyes for a bit. Those visions have changed me and shaped me.
This isn’t easy to explain to those who assume that if I dissagree with them I must not understand them. I have understood, and I have understood other points of view and come to a different conclusion. Sometimes I can show them I understand, but often, understanding where I am is too great a leap, as it was for the person with whom my friend wanted me to have a rapprochment.
Harville Hendrix says that no one will listen to what we have to say until they feel that they have been heard by us. We have to mirror, validate and demonstrate empathy before communication comes two ways.
I have spent my life listening to many voices, which has given me the challenge of seeing though many eyes. And I know that is the only way to grow.
But how are we growing people who are ready to face the challenge of really respecting diversity rather than just defending if we don’t teach them how to speak for others than just themselves?
And while I know that as we get older we have to do more listening & empowering than speaking, how come I seem to always have had to listen to so many people who don’t yet seem ready to listen to me?