By Quentin Lucas
I once penned a blog entry titled About My Prejudice against the Transgendered. “Transgendered,” by the way, is an offensive term because, I’ve since learned, it turns a descriptive adjective into a constrictive label (“against transgender people” would’ve been better). It is the equivalent of saying that I’ve been “maled,” as if being a boy with a boy’s body was some type of affliction which occurred in my past. Looking back, it feels like I composed that heading with the hopes of earning some clicks. At the time, however, the title felt more honest than controversial, partially because of what I discussed in the piece: My desire to have a relationship with at least one transgender person so I could begin to understand what my prejudices were against that community, because I was fairly certain that my prejudices existed.
And why not?
I’ve had prejudices my entire life. Certainly against black women, in part because of an abrasive relationship between myself and my mother—her trying to raise me in America while fearful for me, and my being planted in a masculinity which detested fear. And unquestionably against black men because of the tragic irony: We feared each other. So, ultimately, even prejudices against myself became inevitable.
To my memory, there were two leading purposes behind that dated blog entry:
- The importance of trying to understand someone and
- The limitations of understanding someone.
I eventually came to a place where I recalled my childhood sexual abuse and what that had done to me and my life, affecting both the way I see myself and the world—essentially, making me different. I then closed out that entry with a few scribblings about being able to appreciate differences even while not understanding, to my personal nerdy satisfaction, the origin of those differences. I don’t think I used the quote in that old entry, but, while writing this current piece, an Oscar Wilde musing has been echoing in my thoughts:
“The moment you think you understand a great work of art, it’s dead for you.”
It is with some embarrassment that I admit that though I tend to think of human beings as being awful, I also look at us as something of works of art, consistently outperforming our limited capacity for understanding. With humans, the more one learns, the more new things there are to learn.
For example, there is our unrelenting desire for life. Apparently, even the people we have sex with has something to do with our DNA’s desire to endure, seducing us toward partners whose genes would, ideally, pair well with ours in creating offspring with a high chance of surviving sicknesses and providing healthy hosts for our genetic material to prosper in. Though our bodies turn to dust, science suggests that our memories live on through or genes, shaping the behavior of descendants via our lived experiences splashing about in their blood.
Recently, I found myself pondering the mysteries of epigenetics — the occurrence of outside influences mutating the cellular structure of a human in a way that is heritable (for example: A man’s discomfort around blood inherited from his great-grandmother’s bloody experiences during slavery) — after reading comments by author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie about transgender women:
“I think if you’ve lived in the world as a man with the privileges that the world accords to men and then sort of change gender, it’s difficult for me to accept that then we can equate your experience [as a trans woman] with the experience of a [cis] woman who has lived from the beginning as a woman and who has not been accorded those privileges that men are.”
The merits, or lack of merit, embedded within Adichie’s views have been discussed by people far more qualified than myself to do so. The response of Laverne Cox being the first to come to mind, as she outlined, in a litany of tweets, the difficulties — and lack of male privilege — that were innate to her childhood as a young girl presenting a masculine body to the world. But Adichie’s comments also piqued my curiosity about how far the human body is willing to go for the sake of survival, particularly when faced with external forces threatening annihilation.
I became nagged by the possibility of transgender people existing, at least to some extent, because of humanity’s inherent desire to survive. The thought, certainly random and feeling too dangerous for me to take seriously as I’m not a scientist, stuck with me for two reasons:
- Toxic masculinity kills. It certainly does so literally, as it did with Maren Sanchez, Tiarah Poyau, and Mary Spears, a teenager, twentysomething, and thirtysomething all murdered for refusing a man’s advances. Additionally, in light of those examples, it doesn’t feel like a stretch to say that toxic masculinity also kills the souls of men.
- I struggle to separate the word survival from the transgender community, the two clinging to each other in my head like heat and the sun—this is especially my mindset in light of that group’s wildly outsized likelihoods of enduring rape, murder, police violence, discrimination, and poverty, especially those of color.
As one who feels fit for little more than watching the transgender community from the sidelines and hoping for the best, I’m struck by its ability to survive the cruelties of the world. It is a type of courage which rests far beyond my understanding. And maybe this is why that courage is so alive for me, running around my skull and producing bizarre ideas like perhaps, down to the cellular level, humanity has grown so battered and bruised by the vagrancies of sexism that our DNA has tried to protect both men and women from it by hiding them inside each other’s bodies.
Although, I’d be remiss if I didn’t confess that one of the reasons this idea feels flawed is that it relies on a binary, on the idea that a human can’t legitimately dwell somewhere in between, or completely outside, the constructs of man or woman. For centuries, some Native American tribes have accepted at least four genders as fact: feminine woman, masculine woman, feminine man, masculine man.
Ultimately, it was just a thought. One that likely bloomed after reading another story about another murdered transgender woman and feeling a weighty sadness, both threatening to be completely useless if I let it while challenging my worldview.
I’ve never been one for calls to action in my writing. This is a quirky hypocrisy as, since I’m both black and a sexual abuse survivor, calls to action have probably helped save my life numerous times. Although, I suspect that this is, in part, because when I think about what I might say if someone asked me what they can do to alleviate my challenges vis-a-vis being black in America, the answers in my head tend to fall along the line of “Leave me alone. Go away. Try not being a terrible human being.”
This is likely because other people’s ignorance is other people’s problem, and I don’t have a great inclination to help people with their prejudices while patching up the wounds those prejudices inflict. But, since I hate the wounds that my own prejudices inflict and know that I’m not alone with this, I will say, in regard to that old blog entry, that the world is both a smaller and larger place now, courtesy of the internet. Smaller because connecting with a transgender person’s experiences is the labor of just a few keystrokes, with articles I personally found helpful resting here, here, and here. And yet larger because the more one learns, the more there is to learn.
Even an excellent piece of writing is just a two-dimensional walk through a three-dimensional soul. My most educational moments have almost always come from closing my mouth, and feeling grateful to listen to someone else’s story face-to-face. But, even then, I’ve never fully understood because these aren’t my experiences. Although, complete understanding isn’t necessary. All I ultimately need is to see a piece of my humanity living in someone else’s.
And sometimes that viewed humanity is as basic as a shared desire to live in a world free of cruelties borne from ignorance. This is a small but significant connection. And, also, I suppose, a decent start down a road of human discovery, where the questions never end. And perhaps that’s why, one day, after hearing someone say something about transgender people which I didn’t agree with, and being reminded of the burdens that that community endures, sadness along with a new question came to me:
What if every time I see a transgender person I am, both on a societal and genetic level, witnessing how far humanity will stretch, even beyond our capacity of understanding, to simply exist?
Quentin Lucas is a self-described “Army brat” — originally born in Frankfurt, Germany — who believes the trickiest part of writing comes after realizing the work is about more than the words, or even the idea. Writing is about the communication, or the “telepathy” as Stephen King would put it — taking an idea out of his head and successfully putting it in yours in a way that matters, and somehow adds value to your life. Along with working as a copywriter and professional blogger, he also runs a weekly a column at The Good Men Project which you can read here, has won the occasional poetry slam, and has also been published multiple times in both Elephant Journal and The Huffington Post. You can find a broad collection of his work, including his novel The Magnificent Adventures of QLuke, at his site www.qluke.com.