What Constitutes Standing?

Subject: What Constitutes Standing?
Date: Thu 15 Oct 1998 - 13:56:49 BST

So what constiutes standing in the "trans-community?" What credentials should
we honor and which should we pass by?

Should we focus on

-- the amount of suffering someone has endured
-- the number of years since they changed their body
-- the victimization that they claim
-- the amount of failure and dysfunction in their life that they can blame on

or should we focus on

-- the content of someone's character
-- the gifts they bring to the group
-- the way they empower others
-- the quality of their choices, thoughts, ideas and offerings

In other words, should we value the amount of victimization that someone has
suffered or the amount of contribution that they are making? Should the
community honor the most damaged of us because they deserve some extra
benefits that they were denied by bullies, or should the community honor the
most gifted of us, the ones who give gifts of helping others most freely?

Should we say to young people that until they have suffered, had their life
destroyed, they will have no standing to speak and contribute to our

There is no doubt that those who suffer the most can also be those who
contribute a great deal. The question of how they contribute that, because of
their works or because of their suffering is a good one: are they the martyrs
we hold up, or the leaders who made change?

Dr. Martin Luther King, for example, made his name not for the amount of
suffering he accepted, but for the way he lead with quality thought and
committment. Because he was also martyred in a Memphis hotel, he became both,
but to me his real contribution was not his suffering and his death, but his
life and his empowering words that helped millions of people leave their
sufering behind and claim their own rights.

What credentials do we bring? Is a resume of abuse and suffering the highest
calling card we can play, or should we be accepted on on merits rather than
the damage we have suffered? Certainly, people who transcend their suffering
are often the people who can give powereful gifts, but I would agrue that its
the transcending that is the power, not the suffering behind it.

Valuing gifts is tricky thing. Every human has a gift -- some for one-on-one
caring, some for numbers, some for law, some for theology, some for cooking,
some for fixing cars. We each contribute in our own way. To claim that
somehow, our words are more credible, more worthy, because they are of one
form or another is arrogance, like saying that suffering makes the gifts of
one person more valid and valuable than another.

As for me, I know that I have many areas of weakness. I would never claim to
be an expert on the penal system, or on the challenges that transgendered
people face in hispanic cultures, because it's just out of my area of talents.
I'm lousy at numbers and can't stand routine work. I do know, however, that I
have done a lot of work in thinking about the implcations of transgender, in
thoughtful contemplation and active dialogue about the theoretical
underpinnings of empowerment in this culture. This has been my path to
transcending the pain and fear of my raising, and while I have a long way to
go, I know I have also come a long way.

I work hard to speak my own ideas, rather than simply saying the ideas of
another are wrong. That said, I will also work to identify what I see to be
challenges to the integrity of a space. In the same way I wouldn't sit still
when people tried to dismiss the suffering of others in a group therapy
session, I won't sit still when people try to use invective emotion and
silencing techniques in a theoretical discussion.

To me, the way to overcome condecention and patronizing attitudes is to stand
fast on one's own terms and one's own quality. Is it condecending and
patronizing for a plumber to point out the failings in someone eles plumbing?
For me, this is a place for the engaging of ideas, and as long as we do engage
the ideas presented and not the character or standing of the people who are
presenting them, we further the mission of coming together here.

It is easy, when people are saying things that we don't agree with, to try to
say that they don't have standing to say those things, to look for reasons to
dismiss and erase their words rather than actually engaging the ideas. We
don't discuss the things they are saying, rather we discuss how they have no
standing to say those things, and in that process we stop open discussion and
use techniques that we would not want used on us. When we apply for a job,
for example, we want to be considered on our merits and not dismissed on
reasons why those merits shouldn't even be considered.

When we say that "you don't have the standing to comment on my ideas, because
you don't know what I know, haven't endured what I endured," we ask for
special standing because of who we are, denying that standing to others we
don't feel measure up. I have been denied that standing by others too many
times to want to deny it to others.

For me, the fundamenal rule is the golden one: Do onto others as you would
have them do onto you. As tempting as it is to use the same techniques that
have been used to hold us down to silence and erase others, once we do that,
we give approval for those tehniques to be used against us. If our choices
towards others don't reflect the way that we would want others to treat us,
then we are as guilty as them.

For me, dividing people to blame them as a group and refusing to engage the
ideas of people who we consider unworthy are two things I don't want to happen
to me. That's why I speak up against divisions, even divisions between
victims and victmizers, and why I engage the ideas of people, not my belief of
their standing to say those ideas.



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