Something outstanding happened to me this past week: I realized not everyone thinks like I do and I realized that I’m not really allowed to have an opinion on certain topics.
This is a bit of sarcasm and I’m exaggerating, of course, but then again… not really.
I had a FaceBook argument (aren’t those the best kind of adult arguments these days?) with someone who, although I haven’t spoken to in person in years, I had considered a friend. He posted something, a video from an outside source, that I considered bigoted and one-sided, lacking any kind of open-mindedness, to which I commented and gave my opinion. Yes, it was the wrong move in today’s FaceBook world, but I wanted to speak out on behalf of a group that is heavily discriminated against, the transgender community, and perhaps use the opportunity to educate, even if it was just one person reading my comment that was able to digest my point of view. I kept it factual as possible, not using any personal experiences, although I have some possible experience on this specific subject.
The friend then took that opportunity to attack me personally, and not just a certain part of me but every part of me because he attacked my parenting skills. He not only attacked my parenting but heavily insinuated that many, many others do, too. Others that I’ve considered friends. Ouch.
I won’t lie, I cried for a couple of hours. And by hours, I mean most of the day. It was shocking to me that people can judge something so harshly that they know very little about, if anything at all.
I believe that when we gravitate towards people, we assume that these people are a lot like us in most ways, that we compliment each other in the ways that we’re different. That’s the hope, anyway, right? But, overall that our personalities are similar, our views are similar, our beliefs, our values, our ethics, all similar. Not the same, but similar.
This obviously evolves through life because when we’re young, we gravitate towards friends on a surface level: they’re other little humans that like to play. In our teen years it becomes a bit more complicated: they’re slightly bigger humans that have similar interests as we do, which starts to segregate the masses a bit. In college years, it becomes even more complicated: they’re humans trying to find themselves and party and learn and figure this adulthood thing out. In adult years, especially with children, it not only becomes even more complicated but it can be downright confusing when those you thought you share so much likeness with can have a difference of opinion on a topic so big that it changes every dynamic you ever shared together.
Lightbulb moment: people aren’t as accepting as they should be.
When I wrote on the subject of my daughter’s gender identity struggle, I knew I was putting myself out there, opening myself up for judgement. I expected it but my naivety truly thought that judgement would mostly come from strangers on the internet, not from those who know me and more importantly, have known my daughter. I was so very wrong. The judgement is coming from many of those close to me and I can feel it. It’s now tangible. And it feels awful.
What I grapple with understanding is why did a post about me supporting my daughter’s independent way of thinking cause so much judgement? Why is it that people feel like there’s room to judge so harshly when they haven’t walked a mile in my shoes, when they haven’t lived it? Why is everyone so afraid of differences? What is everyone so afraid of? Why does everyone want my daughter to fit into a pretty little box that society has labeled as acceptable? Why is it that being dismissive and pretending it isn’t there make everyone so comfortable?
And that’s when it hit me- this is what discrimination looks like. This is what racism looks and feels like. This is what I’ve never tried to understand.
Listen, I confess that I, too, once thought that being transgender was odd and I too didn’t care to try to understand it in my former life, pre-child. I’m not saying I’m not judgmental. We all are. It’s in our DNA. But I will say, I always, always, felt…to each their own.
And there lies the problem: I never tried to understand any of it. I never tried to understand many groups that have historically been discriminated against…until it affected me. It’s sad to say but I never had to try to understand differences on a deeper, broad level. I’ve always considered myself liberal, open-minded, and supportive of those different than me, of course. But I never worked or strived towards understanding those differences, and I now know that’s everything in breaking down the walls of racism and discrimination. Understanding is everything. Truly putting work in to try to understand is the only answer.
Even further than that, I realized that sure, I can have an opinion on certain topics, like the #BlackLivesMatter movement but at the end of the day, I’m not black and no, I don’t know what it feels like to actually feel racism. To say it doesn’t exist is dismissive and ignorant, just as ignorant as saying that transgender individuals are weird or crazy. Discrimination exists far more than we all want to acknowledge because that acknowledgment makes us all uncomfortable. And that discomfort would force us into being responsible for our part in it.
My personal take away from this is that yes, discrimination is alive and well and what I can do is simply try. I can try to understand and empathize with what this feels like. I can try to work towards a solution by opening my mind and saying, “Hey, you know what? There might be a different way of thinking on this subject”, and I want to listen to the other side of things. I want to hear it, even if it makes me uncomfortable.
And after all of this listening and hearing and trying, it might be that my opinion stays the same but I also know and need to acknowledge that it can be very real for someone else, someone that has lived it. It can be their reality and that’s OK. It is their reality and I will never know their reality…and they will never know mine.
But I can try. I can try to be a better human by not thinking my opinion is the right opinion on something that I know nothing about.