Earlier this year, addressing a National Gay and Lesbian Task Force conference, Laverne Cox (of Orange is the New Black) brought the audience to its feet when she claimed that “loving trans people is a revolutionary act.”
And it’s true, speaking of gender and revolution, that there’s finally a palpable wide-ranging redefining of realness going on. Maybe some justice, too: It’s getting easier to obtain jobs, parental rights, ID cards, healthcare and major network television roles.
Nonetheless, I lost a fair amount of sleep this spring, tossing and turning Cox’s words over in my mind. I can sit with the idea that loving me is a revolution only to the extent that I can believe that loving anyone is a revolution. That is, perhaps all love is revolutionary. Love calls for empathy. It asks us to get beyond our ideas about something or someone and to open ourselves to what is in front of us.
But even if we accept the idea that all love is revolutionary — and I’m not sure I do — I don’t think Cox was talking about love in general. She was talking about trans people loving trans people, about people loving trans women, about people loving trans people and about trans people loving ourselves. She incanted these categories specifically, and her speech was promoted hundredfold in my circles. It was called “galvanizing.”
Believe me, I want to be galvanized.
But what does it mean, that loving me is a revolutionary act? Is it so difficult for someone to love me? Does my transness make me so untouchable that I can only hope for the mercy — and the favor — that someone might bestow upon me with their warmth? Is my self-esteem so far diminished that I can believe that someone’s love for me must be a special category of love, that it’s somehow more difficult, more important, more intentional, than other kinds of love? And that, somehow, I would want, and not be exhausted by, this fraught and special love?
My fundamentalist Christian mother prays daily for me to be broken on my knees before the Father so that He can reveal to me my inner self-hatred and begin healing my heart. My mom calls, and I tell her — after I take an Ativan and call her back in 20 minutes — that I don’t hate myself, that I actually kind of like myself, that I’m grateful God has made me how I am. She absolutely cannot believe it. She thinks that, with prayer, God will take off the blinders so I can see how much I really don’t like myself. This recognition, in her view, would be the first sign of healing.
But I just can’t find it. I really don’t see how I’m especially unlikeable, to myself or to anyone else. And that’s how I feel when I hear Laverne Cox’s speech. I feel as though I need first to access my unlovability to appreciate how powerful it would be — how revolutionary — if people started loving me despite their disgust at some abject innate part of me.
I allow that I may be in denial. That I may be protecting myself on some level from people’s beliefs about me that I can’t bear to deal with. But for now, as far as I can see it, the Trans Love Revolution is not about me. Maybe it’s about my mother, about Laverne Cox, maybe it’s about you. Maybe, just maybe, it’s about stroking cis ally ego: stand up for a trans friend, claim your revolution badge.
Maybe it’s time to own that the idea of a Trans Love Revolution says much more about cis people than about trans people. Trans people and trans movements have made it through some lean years. Sure, we need justice. We need civil rights. We need health care. We need physical safety. But love? If you’re not ready to love us, that seems like your problem, not ours.
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