I want to tell you about something I’ve been thinking about for a long time. It lurked out of the shadows when I read an article from a TakePart member at the University of Southern California introducing an interesting study by a couple of political scientists.
David Brookman, Assistant Professor of the Stanford Graduate School of Business and Joshua Kalla, a doctoral student at the University of California at Berkeley conducted a study in southern Florida concerning the effectiveness of political canvassing about trans rights. They used 56 experienced canvassers to take 10 minutes to talk to 501 contacts.1
Why would a couple of California go all the way to Florida to do this? They did so to compare historical results in the same area. Southern Florida gave America Anita Bryant who had employed canvassers against homosexuals back in the ‘70’s beginning in her own locale. Her campaign titled, “Save Our Children” stigmatized homosexuals as “untrustworthy”, “child molesters”, and “unstable”. The campaign succeeded for a time in promoting initiatives at the ballot box locally and elsewhere to oppose homosexuals.2
But today, gay rights has gained greater acceptance. Trans rights, on the other hand, have not. Transpeople experience the same stigma imposed upon homosexuals 4 decades ago.
The writer, Alex Reid, states the following concerning their results, referring to an article published in Science:
“The same canvassers who conducted the initial conversations revisited Florida voters after several weeks—or months, in some cases—and found that their conversations reflected a sustained decrease in bias against transgender individuals. The decrease in transphobia was found to be greater than that of homophobia in America between 1998 and 2012, according to the study. The voters also expressed increased support for antidiscriminatory laws that would protect transgender individuals.”3
This principle manifests in the newly organized drive, Transform California.4 The State of California may have passed the strongest trans-friendly laws on the planet. But just having laws in place doesn’t automatically change a population. Many hold to popular biases imposed upon minds through stereotypes taught by peers, by the Hollywood establishment, and from religious pulpits. Transform California puts the principle of the aforementioned Brookman-Kalla study to work, to change the prevailing anti-transgender climate throughout the state. Transform LA has launched recently.5 Transform OC remains in its embryonic stage. But we can expect to see canvassing in one of the most staunchly conservative areas of the United States in the future.
Of course, we need not restrict those 10-minute conversations to canvassing. They can open up whenever one engages in a conversation whether it be in the grocery line, a religious institution, or while hiking up a mountain trail. You never know when an opportunity opens up in which you can make a difference.
It comes down to perceptions, whether we present to another like the stereotypical Hollywood cross dresser Corporal Maxwell Klinger of M*A*S*H or Dr. Frankenfurter of Rocky Horror. The typical transperson doesn’t fit either stereotype, of course. We generally prefer to be like other people except we present in ways consistent with our gender identity or otherwise employ the gender expression we do.
But there’s more. The public perception persists that because we are transgender we must be sexually obsessed, that we’re all predators without any care about helping anyone but ourselves and our appetites.
It really doesn’t matter what we might have contributed to the world as professionals. Transpeople have contributed much including x-rays as a diagnostic tool for tuberculosis (Dr. Alan J. Hart),6 computer science systems (Lynn Conway), 7 electronic music (Wendy Carlos),8 even the original CPU on cell phones that people use every day (Sophie Wilson).9 All of these contributions serve to refute the idea that gender identity or gender expression translates to incompetence. But because those contributors didn’t do so ostensibly as transpeople people don’t notice.
But people do notice when volunteers engage in work to help others. We see this in service organizations like the Lions, Elks, Rotarians, and the like. At the very least the people visibly helped will be the people who will be open to that 10-minute conversation. Many avenues for service exist including:
- Academic tutoring
- Translation services
- Yard cleanup and domestic assistance for shut-ins
- Assistance for law enforcement
- Adopt-a-Highway (the name of a contributing organization gets posted through signage)
Service, if organized, need not stop there. A service organization can pool resources with other organizations for public projects. The Rotary Club does this to help communities and schools. But by reaching out to civic entities as well as individuals, a transgender service organization can go a long way toward fostering respect from community leaders and law enforcement. This kind of activity fosters what’s called “social innovation” by which new ideas to help others can be offered and tested.
The European Union has long encouraged volunteerism and made these observation concerning volunteer organizations and social innovation in WP3:
“Decentralised organisations provide ample opportunity for local groups to develop strategies and to come up with bottom-up innovations. Although volunteers are important in facilitating social innovation, most innovations are initiated by professionals.”10
While the lifeblood of a volunteer service organization is the individual volunteer, such an organization needs professional people to advise and to oversee implementation of ideas and tasks. Most people aren’t real leaders. Our professionals need to step up to the task, providing their vision and organizational skills to really make a service organization happen. This must not be overlooked because several factors determine the success of a service organization as proposed in WP3:
- Awareness of need. Nobody will engage in anything without that need being recognized in the first place.
- Solicitation. If resources need to be pooled, someone needs to solicit help. Someone also must solicit the availability of services to learn where needs exist as well.
- Costs and benefits. Some projects cost little more than time. Others may require funding. The leadership of any service organization must weigh whether the desired result was worth the investment.
- Psychological costs and benefits. Volunteerism requires individual effort spent. That can take a toll on someone not accustomed to providing services. Do the anticipated results make it worthwhile for an individual? A leader must understand this aspect with each person or he can’t hope to keep him as a volunteer.
- Altruism. Volunteers need to have a love of people. They need to put others first. Not everyone can do this.
- Reputation. This one factor may be the great limiter for a transgender service organization to happen. Volunteers would put their face in public as a transperson. Many of us live in stealth. Many transpeople live on the edge of trans society and don’t want any association with those engaged in sex work or entertainment. But in recent years we have seen a shift in this. More transpeople are realizing that visibility matters in securing and maintaining civil rights.
- Values. Volunteers not only need to love people, they need to value their well being. Volunteerism isn’t for the self-absorbed. Narcissism will hinder the capacity to serve. It also demands attention to ethics because sociopaths, those whose actions demonstrate a lack of conscience, could never be trusted to help anyone as a volunteer.
- Efficacy. Does it work? Consider the case of tutoring in literacy. If a student doesn’t want to learn a tutor won’t want to continue offering tutoring services very long. On the other hand, if results give a volunteer a real sense of accomplishment, happiness abounds. To use the tutoring example, no greater joy can be realized by a teacher than when his student exceeds him.11
Consider a case that’s developing right now. Michelle-Lael Norsworthy, a California transsexual recently released from prison, had a vision for an institution providing shelter and help to transpeople. She looked for ways to implement her vision, solicited help from local professionals, and now Joan’s House is emerging as a non-profit organization. People might think that after a lengthy prison term one would be washed up. But Michelle got busy and used what tools she had to advance a good idea in social innovation. She didn’t have the professional skills so she solicited those who did. This is a project to watch and to which anyone can contribute through her attorney at Bend Law Group. Contributions can be received through this link . If you contribute, be sure to mark any contribution for this cause specifically for Joan’s House because the office may handle trust funds for any number of causes.12
But why stop with sheltering homeless transpeople? Why not benefit larger communities? Many other transpeople have ideas. If you go to your local support group and someone has an idea for service, do others take an interest? Or does such a person get met with looks of pain like someone has been forced to listen to a prating fool? Let’s not discourage such ideas but recommend to sympathetic professionals who can hear and recommend for development.
So far our transgender support groups have offered recommendations for treatment: therapists, electrologists, endocrinologists, surgeons, coaches, fashion designers, and the like. Why should we stop there? Why not include recommendations for social workers, teachers, attorneys, managers, and other professionals not directly connected with the treatment of transpeople?
It’s something to consider because transgender support organizations that had been strong in the 1990’s have often dwindled in size. My old support group, Transgender San Francisco boasted over 400 members. My contacts in the Bay Area have told me that it’s a shadow of what it once was. After all, most of the trans community now connects on Internet more than personal contact. Needs for connectiveness have shifted even though nothing can truly replace the benefit of physical interaction. Support groups can also become think tanks for social innovation.
Service can become the very thing that can redefine and rejuvenate the traditional transgender support group. By helping others we also help ourselves by finding ourselves in the world. We have no need to accept social isolation. We can break out of it through looking for people to help. We can do this.
- Reid, Alex. How a 10-Minute Conversation Can Significantly Reduce Transphobia (April 9, 2016) Web: com: http://www.takepart.com/article/2016/04/09/one-conversation-can-reduce-anti-trans-prejudice. Retrieved October 10, 2016.
- (n.a.) Transform California (n.d.) Web: http://www.transformcalifornia.com/. Retrieved October 10, 2016.
- Mejia, Ari. Alan J. Hart (n.d.) Web: OutHistory: http://outhistory.org/exhibits/show/tgi-bios/alan-l-hart. Retrieved October 12, 2016.
- (n.a.) Lynn Conway (n.d.) Web: http://ai.eecs.umich.edu/people/conway/conway.html. Retrieved October 12, 2016.
- MacDonald-Dupuis, Natasha. Meet Wendy Carlos, The Trans Godmother of Electronic Music (August 11, 2015) Web: Thum: https://thump.vice.com/en_us/article/meet-wendy-carlos-the-trans-godmother-of-electronic-music. Retrieved October 12, 2016.
- Wimberly, James. Lives of the Great LGBT Engineers (May 13, 2012) Web: com; http://www.samefacts.com/2012/05/everything-else/lives-of-the-great-lgbt-engineers/. Retrieved October 12, 2016.
- (n.a.) The impact of volunteering on volunteers and on society at large (WP3) (n.d.) Web: http://itssoin.eu/the-project/the-impact-of-volunteering-on-volunteers-and-on-society-at-large-wp3. Retrieved October 10, 2016.
- Some of her story can be found in many articles including this local one: Egelko, Bob. Transgender Pioneer Out of Prison, On a New Path (March 19, 2016) Web: San Francisco Chronicle: http://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/Transgender-pioneer-out-of-prison-on-a-new-path-6923958.php. Retrieved October 13, 2016. Michelle-Lael Norsworthy has been personally in contact with me and Bend Law Group is where I have been making contributions. Web: https://secure.lawpay.com/pages/bendlawgrouppc/trust.