Without Ears

For me, the most important question at the regional Trans/Gender Non-Conforming town hall was why so few people showed up.   We had only four at the start time, only seven for most of the event, though a couple more showed up in the last half hour.

When I tried to raise this question with the local organizer, though, she didn’t want to engage my “negativity.”   She wanted to talk about why everyone should be here, what they should have read in the on-line notices, why it is so important that they be out.

In my experience, pronouncing that things “should” be different rarely creates a difference.  Instead, only putting yourself in the mindset of those you want to serve and attract can help you shape event which make them feel welcome, valued and heard.

I can’t count how many times this organizer explained that it wasn’t her responsibility to consider how other people think, how they respond to her choices.

“My grandfather told me when I was nine that it ain’t what they call you, it’s what you answer to, so if they have a problem with me, well, their problem,” was a line we heard over and over and over again.

While that may be valid path to a bold trans life, walking strong in your own skin, it doesn’t help you understand what other people need and how you can be more effective in drawing them in.

The pattern, though, happened over and over again, when someone would share their experience or tales from another only to be told that they were doing it wrong, taking too much on themselves, engaging what others called them.

This, of course, was the reason I had suggested that few people came to the event, because they didn’t want to hear others pontificate and tell them they were doing trans wrong, that their feelings were wrong and they should come with a political strength that claimed space in the world.

The state leader was well versed in corporate culture, so she did get notes up on the five different boards, the five different categories set up.

To end the evening, though, she snapped into trainer mode — her seat at the front of the room always marked her status — and lectured us on privilege.  She told us that we had to own our own story in a way that would be effective with legislators, 3-5 minute elevator speeches which were earnest and persuasive.

The intent of the leaders was good, creating a space where others could be heard, but at the farm, some animals are more equal than others.

How do we get transpeople who don’t want to have to have their life turned into a brick in the road towards change, politicized and consistent with the common narrative, back into the room?

To me, it’s the big question, and the big answer is simple: make them feel seen, heard and valued for their unique contribution to the group.

When the leaders have trouble hearing, though, encouraging even a pushy loud-mouthed language user like me to drop out of the conversation, well, it is doubtful that those still struggling will find much value in investing their time and energy into the meeting.

Like so very many trans events, the logistics were weak, everyone scrambling to pack up before closing, even if the intentions were good and kindly.

Learning to listen, to ask questions to evoke stories, is at the heart of my own personal understanding of the broader trans experience.  Even if I see someone making choices that I would not make for myself, having feelings that need healing, or offering rationalizations that I know wont serve in the long run, I know they need to feel heard before they can ever hear me.

Why aren’t transpeople coming together to support each other?

I just don’t believe telling them why they should will ever make much of a change in their behaviour.  If what you offer doesn’t seem valuable and empowering, well, then you have to change what you offer.

First, though, you have to actually understand what the punters do want, do need and will give up precious time, focus and resources for.

In my experience, that takes a real willingness to listen, not just to preach the old chestnuts, recite the current doctrine.

Listening and caring what others think and feel is essential to being a good marketer, and more importantly, to being a good mom.

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