Thursday, August 25, 2011

Who's the freak?

I love to read.  It's probably what I love to do more than anything else.  Presently, I'm reading The Help.  The TV advertisements for the motion picture are a bit misleading.  They make it look like a hilarious comedy; I'm halfway through the book and jocularity is not the word that comes to mind while reading it.  Tension, however, is.

I won't give the details away, but it takes place during the 1960's during the Civil Rights movement, in Mississippi, particularly.  The "help" decide to share their story with a budding journalist who happens to live on the white, rich and bigoted side of the tracks.  But they must do it in secrecy because the stakes are so high that most of us who are not considered the margins of society would not even begin to understand. Their truth was that if they dared to question the norm, if they had the audacity to whisper thoughts of changing the status quo, they could lose their jobs, their homes, their freedom....literally, their lives.

The book explores, to a certain degree, the roles each member of high society plays in maintaining the status quo.  And it's frightening because it's familiar.  Our methodology is subtle but insidious.  It starts with gossip: simple but ugly talk that is spoken with a degree of authority.  The listener must either agree and be accepted, or disagree and risk shunning.  The speaker often acts as if what he/she is saying is a joke, but anyone within hearing distance can distinguish the underlying humorlessness in what is being said, regardless of how it is said.  And this is where most of us fail miserably.  Ask yourself, are you the spineless speaker or the listless listener?  Because the listener who does not speak up is just as guilty as the ignorant speaker.  When we listen to ignorance and make no attempt to rebuff it, we speak the same ignorance by omission.

Our area experienced a fairly significant earthquake this week.  Many of us were called in to work since we are considered essential personnel in emergency situations.  I listened as one of my coworkers joked that it would be a riot if the Washington Monument fell on the Martin Luther King, Jr. monument that is to be unveiled next week.  Seems harmless but we all know what sentiment was lying under the joke.  Yes, I spoke up, but in a half-hearted way.  Shame on me.  I should know better.

Why?  Because my previous life was filled with abuse.  I know first hand what it is to risk change and to literally put my safety in danger.  And why else?  Because our family has a beloved member who belongs to an extremely marginalized and misunderstood group-the transgender community.  

Misunderstanding about transgender people runs rampant.  Ignorance about and ridicule of these folks is society's "normal."  Think about movies or books that depict these individuals-transgender, or transsexuals, are portrayed as sick and twisted.  They're pathetic at best and psychopathic at worst.  But if, in fact, any of these folks are twisted, I am convinced they become that way because they are ignored, harassed, hunted down, mocked, ridiculed, humiliated, shunned or simply avoided.  Why?  Because we must preserve the pecking order.  We see it on the playground, and we partake of the same dynamic as adults.

As long as I can point my finger to someone who is more (seemingly) maladjusted than me, I am, for the time being, safe from ridicule.  When you're being pursued by an attacker and you're part of a herd, you don't need to run faster than your pursuer, just faster than some other member of the herd.  We don't want to see the truth because then it's as if our frontal lobes were a waste of our Creator's efforts; the reality is when we act like a pack of wolves, we are only marginally separated from, well, the actual wolves.

Many of us defend our ignorance by finding some obscure line in the Bible to support our allegation.  But more frequently, we believe someone else who says their rationale is in the Bible.  So, we not only accept someone else's interpretation, we often willingly follow the basest interpretation just so that we can be faster than the wildebeest who is stampeding right beside us,  in terror, from the pursuer.  And the best part of all this is that oftentimes these folks profess to be a follower of a Jewish born savior born over 2000 years ago who spent the majority of his time breaking bread with the freaks or the marginalized of his day:  the lepers, the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the possessed, the crazy, the sick, the women and the children.

I used to think I was a trail blazer in standing up for the underdog.  My daughter coming out has taught me I've got plenty of room to grow in that department.  In society's eyes, she's the freak but she's got more understanding, empathy and bravery in her big toe poking out of her peep-toe glitter stilettos than most of us have in our whole bodies.  Maybe we're the freaks.