Last night I watched the HBO production of The Normal Heart. Mark Ruffalo is one helluva great actor, as is the entire cast. I well remember those early days when the fear of AIDS ran through this country, and I couldn't help but think of the ugliness which began to surface during this year's Ebola scare.
As a society we give lip service to the phrase E pluribus Unum (out of many, one.), and it is easy to do so when all is well and calm and peaceful. Our 'oneness' is only challenged during times of danger. We were 'one' after 9/11, but not during the AIDS crisis or the Ebola scare. But our 'oneness' seems to be as fragile as a piece of crystal in a hurricane when the issue at hand only faces a not-so-popular portion of our society. We forget sometimes that our 'oneness' is made up of three hundred million pieces and when we abandon even one piece, the rest of us are weaker for it.
Nearly fifteen years ago, I began this journey in the search for peace in my soul and after almost fifty years of my life had passed, I finally found it. Back in those early days I mistakenly thought that the people in my life who had watched me self destruct over and over would be happy to know that I finally was able to achieve that thing which had eluded me for all of my life. Few did. Many walked away and excised me from their lives, chalking up my coming out announcement as yet another of my 'crazy moments', another wild orbit around the planet Sanity.
I knew that I wasn't crazy, perhaps for the first time in my life. To discover the cause of a lifetime of pain was an epiphany for me. From the second I was able to say out loud, "I am transgendered. I am a woman. I was born this way", my whole sense of self was changed. A light grew in my heart where only darkness had resided. I was whole and at peace for the first time in my life. Unfortunately, most the 'pluribus' didn't understand or even care to try.
In those early years, I lived in the shadows, and always in abject fear. Every time I went into a public place, I did so with extreme caution. I made sure not to be too friendly if a man flirted with me. When I used the ladies rest room, I always waited until I was fairly certain it was empty. As a sixth grade teacher I dreaded on a daily basis that moment of being outed and the consequences of such an event. Every time I heard people laugh behind me, I just naturally assumed it was aimed at me. And from that justified paranoia, I listened carefully for the footsteps I was sure were coming up from behind to beat me and possibly kill me. Most of my friends and family left, often accompanied with verbal tirades which bordered on vicious. In the media, stereotypes abounded. We were always portrayed as promiscuous flamboyant freaks and psychopathic killers. E pluribus, none.
There was very little information back then on being transgendered. The baby Internet was still finding it's legs. The chat rooms which purported to be safe places where trans folk could commiserate and share information usually turned out to be havens for pervs and haters.
To be transgendered in
back then was a scary,
lonely place. In many ways it still is . America
I don't mean to equate having AIDS with being transgendered here. Being trans is not a disease. But there are similarities in the way the Pluribus view us.
A 2011 survey by The National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force entitled, Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey I (available at http://transequality.org/PDFs/NTDS_Report.pdf), shows an inordinately high and alarming rate of violence, job discrimination, and police harassment against trans folks. Our suicide attempt rate still hovers around the 40% mark, compared to the 1/10 of 1% found in the rest of the population. No, being transgendered is not a disease, but it often leads to death. Consider the frightening statistics laid out by The Trans Violence Tracking Portal in its preliminary report. According to them, every 32 hours a transwoman is reported murdered.
As a community, trans people have long been marginalized and we have been indoctrinated to believe that we are 'less than' or 'other', even by the Lesbian and Gay communities. But that is changing. More and more of us are banding together and speaking out. Heroes of our tribe such as Laverne Cox, Janet Mock, and Ian Harvie, to name a few, are finding their way into the public spotlight through the performing arts. We are claiming our place in society just as the LGB community did in the 1970s. We are normal hearts, normal people with normal desires. We are Pluribus and we are growing in numbers and in strength.
The day is coming when being transgendered is as normal as being straight or gay and I hope that I live to see it. But right now we are at the "Stonewall" stage of our movement, that time when we have realized that we can't wait for society to catch up to us because too many of us are dying either by our own hand or the hands of others who hate us. We need to push our way in and pull them out of their own safe world and into ours. Because whether the rest of the world knows it or not the trans community is already E Pluribus Unum and we're not taking it anymore.
You can always find me on www.juliascotti.com