Dehumanizing Reflection

“We didn’t understand how creating radical us vs them boundaries would dehumanize the other, leading to abuse and violence.”

When people who feel debased, marginalized and dehumanized decide that the remedy for the pain they feel is acting out against those they have identified as the enemy, as people not worth of respect or dignity, how can they be surprised when that leads some of their followers to try and destroy the enemy they feel is destroying them?

Emotionally, bullying others often feels like the best and most satisfying response to being bullied.   We want to give them a taste of their own medicine, want to remove their power by making ourselves powerful in a similar way.   We deserve to be able to fight back and make them feel the pain.   Our actions are justified, whatever we do.

It’s not easy to come back with an open, thoughtful, compassionate and gracious response to those you feel are out to destroy people like you.   Emotions run high, and those hot emotions are much more effective for motivating action than cool and considered reflection ever can be.

It’s hard to turn the other cheek, to be the one who breaks the cycle of attack, someone who cools off the situation to make substantive and lasting change.

That is precisely, though, what we want leaders to do, what we need them to do.

And it is what we need to do if we want to be leaders who create change rather than just fury and acting out.

I spoke about this almost twenty years ago.   I was rewarded by a black alderman for the city complimenting me on the piece, saying I got it.   We both knew the price of demanding equality is taking personal responsibility for being part of the solution, and we both knew, sadly, that is always a hard sell.


Upon recieving the Building Bridges Award
to the Transgenderist's Independence Club (TGIC), Albany NY
from Capital District Gay & Lesbian Community Council (CDG&LCC)

October 15, 1997

Callan Williams

Anyone who knows me knows you can't put me in front of a group of people on Sunday morning without having me preach! If you will indulge me a few minutes, I would like to ask. . .

What do all queer people share?

We all share the experience of being shamed and humiliated into hiding the contents of our heart. We are each pounded into hiding the joys and desires and the ecstasy that our creator placed in our heart.

We share the experience of being driven into the closet, into walling our heart off from the world to keep our integrity and to keep the world comfortable with their own rigidly binary view of what women should do, what men should do.

The secret to building bridges is simple, as any transgendered person who has built a bridge between the masculine and feminine part of themselves will tell you. It is not really building bridges, it is simply erasing the walls of separation that we have built around our hearts.

To come together, we must focus on what we share. The blocks to seeing what we share are the illusory walls of separation that we built between humans, trying to neatly divide the beautiful landscape of our continuous common humanity with boundaries that comfort us -- the same boundaries that limit and oppress us.

TGIC, for over 40 years, has been committed to supporting those who feel constrained by the rigid boundary between men and women.

We have taken many approaches to this challenge, including trying to build new boundaries that include us and exclude others, which frankly, was not a great idea. The best solution to date seems to be to work towards a world where everyone is free to follow their own heart without boundaries.

This thrust of transgendered people acting as the connective tissue between humans -- men and women, straight and gay, even black and white, poor and rich -- is not a new role for us. It is the role that transgendered shamans have always played. It is the way that queer people, who have had to claim their own unique hearts back from the pressures of socialization, have always served all of humanity.

To paraphrase M.R. Ritley, "Being queer is not an accident, it is a calling." We cross boundaries - of gender, for race, of class and more - to reveal the truth that all is connected.

Speaking for everyone who has been involved with TGIC, we are pleased that our lesbian sisters and our gay brothers who have also struggled against the expectations of what men should do, what women should do, choose to honor our role in building connection.

Thank you for this award. In receiving it, I would like to thank the transgendered people throughout history, including the butches and drags, the tomboys and sissies right here in the Capital District who have worked to remind us that walls between people are illusions. They remind us that we are each, in our heart, simply human.

It is my fondest hope that transgendered people here and now can continue the honored role of building bridges, of having a foot in each world. I know that they will continue making connections, proudly following the grand heritage of transgender.

To live in a world where all is connected by bridges, a world without walls, is to live where there is one world, one community, and where everyone is respected and is honored as an individual.

To live in a connected world is to face the challenges of being the best we can be, of operating with grace, and honesty, being our best self at all times.

These are the challenges that we take on, to know that, regardless of sex, gender, race, class, ethnicity, religion, body, or any other differences, we are each connected -- and each is loved and respected.

Today, you say that you want this world of connection by honoring us for Building Bridges. Let us walk out of here together and continue the work build bridges, to remove the walls around our hearts, and to remind everyone of the powerful symbiotic and beautiful connections of the entire world.

Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.