This letter is a long time coming. I’ve been afraid to speak to you, mostly because, while I care deeply about you, I can’t bear to hear some of what I know you believe. I see it on your social media: the memes, the posts, the snide remarks. They all strike deeply into my heart. And now, I can’t sit idly by any longer.
The mainstream media, which most of you hate and where I’ve spent most of my adult career, tells me I should spend more time listening to your concerns, but I disagree. I’ve been silently listening to you all my life. I understand your concerns. I know them well. I agree with many of them, even if I disagree with you on the solutions.
And I don’t think you’ve ever taken the time to hear me, and people like me. You see us as some kind of caricature, a stereotype wildly distorted from the reality. Much like you say we see you. Remember, though: I know you. I grew up with you. I know who you really are. I love you. And, I hope, you love me too.
Let’s get a couple things out in the open right up front. First, if you didn’t already know, I am a big ole lesbian. That’s right. While it’s not the whole of who I am, it does color how I see the world. For example, here in Georgia, where I live, I can be fired from jobs, denied the right to live where I want, denied a hotel room, and several other things if the proprietors of those businesses choose to do so. That can make me feel somewhat … I don’t know … second class. Unworthy. If I choose to let it. I don’t, generally. I feel sad for people who would do such a thing, although the fact of my lesbianity can certainly mess with the ease with which I’d rather live my life. That can make me grumpy. Instead of sitting at home stewing, or feeling sorry for myself, though, I tend to write letters, make phone calls, and, if necessary, march in the streets for the right to be treated as a human being. I’ll bet you would too if it was officially OK for those things to happen to you because you’re heterosexual … oh, wait. It is OK for those things to happen, actually. The same laws that make it possible to discriminate against me also make it possible to discriminate against you, except that doesn’t happen. None of the gay business owners, hotel owners, restaurant owners or apartment owners I know would dream of doing that, and not just because you are the majority. Because it’s the right thing to do.
Now, let me be clear. I don’t care what you think about homosexuality. I really don’t. It makes me sad, but in general, unless you’re using your personal feeling about it to discriminate against us in some way, I don’t care. You don’t like homosexuality? Don’t be one. And unfriend me if you must, but I’ve got to tell you, that would be your loss. And it would be sad, because both of us would be missing the opportunity to learn from one another.
This brings me to the issue of trans folk. Look, I don’t wholly understand it either, but then I’ve never had any feeling inside that I am anything other than a woman. I’ve known, and still know, plenty of folk who do have different feelings about gender identity, though, and I’ve come to understand that regardless of our physical attributes, gender just isn’t an either/or thing. It’s kinda fluid. We use man/woman as a shorthand, but honestly, even physical attributes aren’t always clear. So it’s become obvious – to me anyway – that it really doesn’t matter in the long run, only if we decide we want to make it matter.
Let me tell you a little story. I’m sure you’ve heard about the “bathroom bills” – the ones that allow a person to use the restroom labeled for the binary gender they identify with. You’ve been told that that’s scary because predators can then disguise themselves and prey on innocent people. Really, think about that. Can you not see how ridiculous that is? If a predator wanted to do that, that predator can already do it. These “bathroom bills” don’t make it possible, and the truth is, it just doesn’t happen. It doesn’t, despite what you may have been told. These are scare tactics, aimed at making you fear something so you won’t accidentally do the right thing.
Anyway, here’s the story. Back last fall, I delayed a visit to my ancestral home in East Tennessee because of the backlash about these bills. If you know me, you know what I look like. I don’t wear makeup, put on dresses, or bat my false eyelashes at the boys. I’m perfectly happy with the way I look, and perfectly happy being a woman. But I have been mistaken for a man, despite my large breasts, many times, including in public restrooms. I realized last summer, while on an outing in north Georgia, that I was kinda scared to go into the women’s room, lest someone with a baseball bat be waiting outside when I was done. My drive to Tennessee includes a stint through North Carolina, where I normally stop on my way to see my dad and sister, and quite frankly, I couldn’t make myself get in the car and make that drive. I eventually did, but I no longer stop for a break on the route. I can’t do it. I don’t trust the people who, like you, have been warned about predators in women’s bathrooms, not to do me harm on sight. You can’t know what that feels like, but you know me. You know I mean no harm. And you know people around you who would do exactly what I fear. Don’t deny it. Can you really make that ok in your minds? Or is it possible you could just let people be who they are and not fear them?
Speaking of fear, many of you have told me how the crime rate is so high these days. Except it isn’t. You keep hearing that from the news sources you choose to listen to, but it is not true. Check this: The FBI says that the number – not the percentage – the number of homicides in 2015 was 4,000 LOWER than it was in 1996, despite the population being up by 70 million. Now, it’s true that homicides were higher in 2015 than they were in 2014 – on the strength of a jump in four major cities – but it’s still significantly lower than it was. And this is true across the board.
Sticking with the fear thing, terrorism. Here’s a statistic: Your chance of being killed by a foreign-born terrorist in the US is about 3.6 billion to 1. Your chance of being struck by lightning is 750,000 to 1. Now that doesn’t mean much if you are the one. But we are making mountains out of tiny piles of dirt kicked up by a raindrop. We live our lives mitigating risk every day – being hit by a car, having a tree fall on our bedroom while we’re sleeping, a random robbery, anything … the fact is we cannot live risk free lives. We have to make decisions, though, about what risks are acceptable. And maybe 3.6 billion to 1 is unacceptable to you. It doesn’t worry me, especially not enough to denigrate an entire religion. Speaking of which, you never see in this country the millions of Muslims who demonstrate against their more radical brethren almost every day. I do, because, as most of you know, I’m a journalist. The truth is, it’s just not as scary a world out there as you have been led to believe. Seriously, I’m more frightened of a white Christian lunatic who thinks going to, say, a gay bar and setting off a bomb is a good thing than I am of an Islamist extremist. Or the one who went into a liberal church in Knoxville a couple years ago and started shooting. Those people are as much an anathema to you as Muslim extremists are to most Muslims. But you don’t hear about it. You just hear the scare tactics, and you believe them. I understand that.
And speaking of foreign-born, the last administration deported 2.5 million people, about a half million more than George W Bush, and that actually doesn’t include the last year of Obama’s administration. It earned him the nickname in some parts of “deporter in chief.” Illegal immigration, in fact, has been declining since 2007. You don’t hear that. You hear the opposite, and, sadly, you choose to believe it, I’m guessing because you’re seeing more immigrants in your areas than you had before. But it’s the truth. The real, unvarnished truth.
There are a million things I’d love to talk with you about – healthcare, the military, the environment, education, jobs … because I hear you talk about them and I know that a lot of what you believe just isn’t true. It’s not supported by anything, other than the false prophets you’ve been listening too. It hurts me, because I know that you are enabling the very worst of humanity when you do this. It hurts me for you.
I’m asking you now, please, despite your fears, open your hearts. Do you really think I would say this stuff because …. because what? What do you think when you actually hear someone saying these things? We’re lying? No, we’re not. Could you, please, take a moment, hear what I’m saying, consider it.
I know there are worrisome things going on in your lives. Industries are changing. Health care is difficult, sometimes impossible. That’s happening in my life too. We can, in the spirit of love, kindness, and cooperation, talk about these issues, find solutions to them together, not as some either/or, zero sum game, but as living human beings, maneuvering in this unwieldy and confusing thing called life. Being respectful of my life does not mean disrespect for yours. Being respectful of any other human being and the choices they make in their lives, or the facts of their births, does not mean disrespect for yours. Yes, there are some for whom that’s true, but I’m begging you, here and now, with all my heart, don’t be one of them. I pledge to you I won’t be.
Please, join me.