I am myself.

Jennifer Boylan is an author, an activist, and an educator. Her writing is about her life and experiences. At its core her work is about her identity. Jennifer is transgender, but her identity is more complex than just her gender identity. Jennifer was born James and began her transition in the early 2000s with the support of her wife and children.

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Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Jennifer’s book She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders explores her transition, not just the physical aspects of changing genders but also the transition in relationships, perceptions, experiences, and her relationship with herself. [1] As I was reading through it I found many experiences that resonated with me. It reminded me of why I consider myself an ally with the LGBT community.

Being an ally means being more than someone who is just aware that the LGBT community faces discrimination. It means being an activist, and an educator, and a support, and a friend. Ally training is very similar to sensitivity training in many ways, you talk about the various pronouns that people may prefer, you discuss how not everyone’s story is the same. Some people have good support when they come out as gay or transgender and some don’t. Some people prefer genderless pronouns such as ze and hir or they. It’s also about learning how to be intuitive in conversations, knowing what questions to ask and when, and when to end a conversation.

When I was beginning to learn more about how be involved with the LGBT community, which was very strong at my college, I found Boylan’s book on a list of recommended readings for allies. I wish I had picked it up then and read it. It’s very easy to read. She begins with a story about both wanting to be recognized for who she used to be but also wanting to continue passing as the woman she is seen as. A friend of mine who is currently in transition has talked about this same feeling of missing parts of who he used to be but enjoying the freedoms of passing.

Over the years I have had many formal and informal conversations about gender and sexual orientation but the biggest thing I have learned is that it is one part of a person’s identity. For some people their gender and orientation are a big part of their identity, for others is no bigger for then than the fact that they like chocolate ice cream instead of vanilla. Understanding that is one of the biggest learning curves an ally has in the beginning. Many of the people who run ally trainings are allies themselves or part of the LGBT community. These people are usually open and willing to answer very personal questions and they stress this fact with the trainees; they are open, others are not.

Right now queerness and rights of transgender children and adults is a big conversation with some states passing bills that are designed to prevent transgender men and women from using the restrooms that correspond with their genders. Other laws allow private establishments to refuse service to queer customers for religious reasons. As someone who has gone through ally training, has friends that are gay and transgender, and identifies as a straight woman I try to see both sides, people’s fear of those who are different from them and the LGBT communities desire for equal protection and rights. And it all comes down to identity.

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Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

What I want to stress, and what Boylan stress in her writing is that it comes down to personal identity, and the understanding that not every person is the same or wants the same things. Not everyone has experienced discrimination, and many others have, not everyone sees themselves as disadvantaged, but many do. I think this statement from a friend of mine sums up perfectly what Boylan expresses in her book; “I am myself”. Boylan tries to express that she is herself, made up of her experiences, her sexuality, her ideas, her friends, co-workers, associates, the books she loves to read, and the community she is a part of all make up parts of her identity and shape how she is seen. [2]

[1] Boylan, Jennifer. She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders, Broadway Books, 2003.

[2] Boylan, Jennifer. She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders, Broadway Books, 2003.

 

15 thoughts on “I am myself.

  1. I like how you bring out the differences between individual identity here, and reinforce the importance of not lumping a group into one category. I think this message also really comes out in the “Allies and Angels” reading–hearing a mother talk about her son’s personal preferences in gender pronouns and labels was a great way to look at things. Sort of a “I know other people say different things, but my son uses this word” approach.

  2. As a bi woman, I find your post problematic. While I agree with everything you’re saying, I think it’s inappropriate to insert yourself and your experience as an ally into this assignment. By focusing on ally issues instead of queer issues, you’re actually not being an ally because you’re not discussing issues related to the LGBT community – if that makes sense. I think there is a way to approach diversity issues and movements as a person of privilege without inserting yourself into it. What I love about this class is that it’s a safe space to explore how to be advocates for marginalized communities and diverse groups in appropriate ways. I hope this doesn’t come off as me attacking you or your post in any way! I just think it’s important to know that the best thing you can do as an ally is to keep the focus on the LGBT community and the issues they face instead of yourself.

  3. It’s interesting that you bring up contemporary issues, such as legislation, especially on the state level. Although I understand why you say it has to do with identity, I also think that it more importantly, comes down to human rights. I like that you point out that personal identity varies greatly between people, and it’s so important to not forget this. This is where I think narratives can be so important in helping people come together, despite their differences.

    1. I agree Emily, I think narratives really help showcase the diversity within the LGBT community. I like how this post talks about how everyone is different and makes the point to say that although we may identify as being part of a certain community, we can also identify in different ways from that same community.

      1. Yes! It’s so important to remember the individual and their personal preferences and views when talking about communities. Even though people may share certain experiences, they all have different stories and have lived different lives. Assuming that everyone in a community is the same does them a great disservice.

  4. One thing I continue to observe, in broader media and society, is the appropriation of individuals to represent a community, or to represent a label it is determined they fall under. As you emphasize, the necessary thing is to understand the identity of the individual, and to understand the innumerable ways people have their identity, in terms of expressing it, making choices surrounding it, etc. It involves many different things, but it is the individual’s choice to determine this, and to determine whether they are part of or represent a larger group. To the extent I keep seeing people marked as one thing, and to speak for another, it bears repeating that identity is to a large degree of and about the individual. Certainly not exclusively, but without question significantly.

    1. Andrew, I have also been thinking about labels of individuals and communities. My initial reaction is to immediately dismiss these labels as they cannot fully define one person or a group of people in a single term. But, I am reminded after this week’s readings, how important communities are for guidance, support, etc. Today’s media is a powerful tool in representation, and labels and identifiers must be used with the utmost care as to not look to one individual as representation of a larger community and vice versa.

  5. Interesting post, Anna. It is so sad to see, as you mentioned,this war of legislation. Just recently, the supreme court ruled in favor of marriage for same-sex couples. However, so many states are trying to combat this ruling with discriminatory legislation. Perhaps hearing some of these powerful narratives would help in ending these discriminatory practices.

  6. I like how you brought in the current issues with this post. Transgender issues have been in the news lately, with a horrifying amount of vitriol even in mainstream venues. Voices like Boylan’s are needed now more than ever.

  7. All I kept thinking about during your post was another reading from this week, Angel and Allies. The importance of having a supportive and safe place to learn and become comfortable with one’s identity seem crucial. I don’t consider myself an expert or even an amateur when it comes to knowing about the LGBT community, but having allies on your side seems like an asset to me! Thanks for the info, Anna.

  8. Keeping the complexity of LGBT+ identity in mind is super important, as Jennifer Boylan so eloquently writes. My brother is bisexual, and although I’m used to being able to talk to him about pretty much anything, I have to be be aware that not everyone is ok with these conversations and may be sensitive of particular topics that I freely discuss with him, or prefer different terminology (as is so well put in “Allies and Angels”). It can be hard to hold back from bringing up these topics when the current issues affect loved ones or are just plain infuriating. However, taking a step back, remembering that one does not speak for all, and listening first to those in the LGBT+ community express their diverse array of reactions is imperative, both in one on one situations, and when taking part in larger social discourse.

  9. I previously hadn’t been introduced to the Ally community and I want to thank you for helping me learn about this important organization. I wish we lived in a world where who a person identifies as is not an issue, but unfortunately that is not the case. All of the recent legislation restricting transgender bathroom laws is heartbreaking. What is encouraging to see is how the larger community is fighting this discrimination. Bruce Springsteen recently canceled his concert in North Carolina because of a discrimination bill that was passed and when Disney and Coke threatened to no longer work in Georgia the governor vetoed a discriminatory bathroom law. While it is disheartening to see all of the negativity and fear in the world, it is important to remember the allies.

  10. I think your post does a good job pointing out, what I believe, to be flaws in our rigid gender system. As you say, even communities are made up of individuals who express themselves differently. It can be problematic to try to lump so many people into so few categories whether that be gender and/or sexual orientation, or even the pronouns that we use to describe these identities. I hope that as time goes on people will become more in tune to the fluidity inherent in these issues and will work for greater inclusion both legislatively, but also personally.

  11. Your post does hit on some of the issues that face the LGBT community. By bringing the current problems with legislation, I feel you brought out the big ideas of the reading. The important thing to realize however placing personal experiences and feelings into an argument with a difficult topic. Since the LGBT community is extraordinary diverse, it is hard to see every view point. What is important is to focus on the individual and remember each one has the basic human right to be who they are and feel comfortable with allies.

  12. Such a great post. You hit on so many great issues her. Identity is such a big factor in the LGBT community and movement. Not every LGBT individual has the same experience. Not every trans person has the same experience. I also really liked your focus on what it means to be an ally and to actively be a part of understanding each person’s preferences and identity because that is what it all comes down to: respecting them and their identity.

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