Brent Dorian Carpenter: Combatting Transphobia
Let me be the first to admit it took me a long time to be comfortable in the presence of transgender individuals. When I was a kid in the 1970s, there was this person who lived in my neighborhood. She was obviously a he and, having no point of reference whatsoever, I considered her to be some kind of freak of nature. Little did I realize that one day soon thereafter, many heterosexuals would look upon me in the same manner.
Later, after being gay for a few years, I was introduced to a few of the "girls," Diva, D'Angela Shannon and others, by my lover Albert. I got to spend time in their presence and, like any other bigot, learned the lesson that most discrimination derives from fear and ignorance of the unknown. Turns out they were just regular, average, cool folks with a somewhat alternate view of things. Still, whether by chance or design, I kept a certain distance.
In the last year and a half, as I have made a transition from perpetual homebody to outgoing advocate, I have become increasingly aware of the larger gay social movement and the more pointed transgender struggle as well. And so it was when I was producing my Triple Threat Show last February, trying to achieve some female balance in the talent array, a conscious effort was made to put some "T" in our LGBT line-up. It was time to stop paying mere lip service to this too often maligned, misunderstood and ignored population, and put the demons of ignorance behind me once and for all. And that's how I met the Divine One, that wonderful force of nature, Demetrius Dennis Taylor, a.k.a. Samantha Stephens-Divinity. Suffice to say, "Meetch" stole the show several times with his over- the-top gender illusions and readings from my novel. I could not be more pleased to call him friend.
When this story gets interesting is a few months ago. I was at Affirmations presenting a workshop about gay teen suicide and got into a brief conversation with a white transsexual woman named Kelly. Toward the end, she said there was something she wanted to say to me and hoped I would not take offense. She confessed that she had seen my column in BTL but never read it because my headshot photo made me look like "angry black man," and thus my message was not directed toward her. I was very surprised to hear this. I thought I was trying to look cute and seductive. (Time for a vote?)
Kelly went on to say that after speaking to me for just a few minutes and hearing how articulate I was, many stereotypes she had of me and black people in general had begun to crumble. I confessed that even I am sometimes thrown off by the images of angry black men, particularly those found in many rap videos. I find it ludicrous to see these pissed off gangsta thugs railing against the system that has put million$ in their pockets from record sales. I told Kelly of my own internalized prejudices against transgender people and how I appreciated her being so frank with me. In a transforming moment, we shared a few laughs and, hopefully, built a new bridge of understanding.
I invited Kelly to attend a meeting of a group I participate in called Race Matters. RM is an extraordinary forum that brings together black, white, Asian and Latino gays and lesbians to discuss in frank and open terms issues of race and how it impacts on our sexuality and gender and vice versa. It is a place where a small number of people conclave once a month in a safe, non-judgmental environment to find mutual areas of reconciliation with those whom they might not otherwise meet socially. Meetings are potluck and rotate to different volunteer host's homes. I explained that the group engages in the very type of dialogue that she and I had just experienced. As RM had only one other transgender member, I thought it fitting to invite Kelly to bring her unique perspective to the group that we might all benefit from the expansion of diversity.
Race Matters was formed two years ago when four friends, a black gay, a Jewish gay, a black lesbian and a white lesbian, attended a fundraiser hosted by a well-known Detroit advocacy organization at the Detroit Science Center and were outraged to note that the entire board of the organization was white as were all of its award winners- right in the heart of one of the blackest cities in America!
My partner Thomas and I have been with Race Matters for nine months now and it has truly been a wonderfully sobering, eye-opening experience. Racism, sexism, homophobia and, yes, transphobia, continue to be prevalent within the gay community. I would strongly encourage anyone who has yearned to affect change to reach deep inside and start a similar group. The rewards can be truly remarkable.
Brent Dorian Carpenter is the author of the religious/sci-fi thriller "Man Of The Cloth". He will be signing books and presenting workshops at Hotter Than July and the NBLGLF Conference July 22-28.