In Los Angeles at one point I was contracted to design and do a training on how to intervene and support those who identify as transgender. One of the first metaphors I used was that of switching the salt and the sugar. The first time someone uses the salt when they think its sugar they are likely to have a very strong negative reaction. They are not hurt, all that has happened is that they are used to one thing, and suddenly, something has shifted that they were not ready for. Surprise followed by anger is a common reaction (vs. say surprise followed by laughter). I would then go on to explain that if we left the sugar in the salt shaker and the salt in the sugar jar we would very quickly get used to this and it would no longer be surprising nor would it elicit a negative reaction. In regards to gender, while for the person who identifies as the other gender things are much more comprehensive, for the observer, essentially someone has changed the salt and sugar around. There is no reason to be upset, angry, etc…
I went on to explain that while sex is biological, gender is a social construct, there is no reason for a person who is male but identifies as female or vice versa not to take on the gender identification that is most natural to them.
One of my main points in the presentation actually came a bit later after a number of exercises which reinforce the negative impact of forced gender roles and identification and highlighting the many ways most people deviate from them. I talked about “Hate Judgments” and this is what feels most relevant here in the current post Trump elect environment.
I explained that a hate judgments are simply those thoughts that you carry about people. I asked people and I’ll ask you now – do you know at least one person that doesn’t like you? Can you take a moment to identify who you don’t like? The reality is that people know when you don’t like them. Often we think we are being clever and hiding our dislike, but the person in question observes our behavior – not just with them, but with others… and so it is clear that we dislike them. I the presentation I would talk about how for some people the moment I walked into the room a “hate judgment was formed” I was too short, bald, white, not dressed well enough, dressed too conservatively etc… and why on earth was a straight, white, male talking about how to support and intervene with people who identified themselves as transgender… what does he know? (by that time I had answered the lingering question people have when you do a presentation like that – is “he” transgender? However I would wait to answer that question until the workshop was about half way done and I had established credibility as an ally).
I talked about the small daily impact hate judgments have and how they escalate (those who identify as transgender tend to suffer the most brutal and horrific of attacks in regards to hate crime violence and at a greater proportion in the population). Specifically I talk about the importance of releasing the hate judgments they are currently carrying around. Van Jones recently released his meeting with a family of Trump supporters. There are moments as a liberal with years of education both taught and sought out regarding the oppression of others where it is tempting to dismiss what the family is saying – and yet Van Jones does a phenomenal job of ensuring the family is heard while assisting them in learning the other side. It is a true “walking to the center of the aisle and shaking hands” experience. It is tempting to say the other side is simply a bunch of “ignorant racists” – the truth is, as Van Jones helps us discover, messier. Yes there is an ignorance in play at moments – and yet I would state that ignorance is in play on both sides – in every situation it is that moment when we realize there is a story contributing to the current world view the other has – filled with their own challenges – that is the moment in which we can move forward to create solutions built on unified hopes and dreams based on the needs and wants of everyone in the situation – whether it is in a family, a work place, a community, or a nation.
Evaluation is important. It is important to know who carries hate judgments as an “active” part of their being and to “trust your instincts” in regards to who you can trust or not trust – and yet… especially in the current environment I would encourage people to yes, evaluate, but ultimately release the judgments for those you interact with on a daily basis. “Do not be upset by the doing or undoing of others”. Simply recognize with compassion what may be fueling the choices being made, take an active role in resolving what conflicts you can, and remember that all of us have judgments (I have a whole passel of them which have been shouting for my attention this week) however, those judgments do not have to determine the quality of our interactions with others. The other person may be salt in the sugar jar every day, accept that, there is plenty of sugar to go around, maybe you can offer them a spoonful of kindness and see what happens.
Link to Van Jones: http://www.cnn.com/2016/11/12/opinions/van-jones-messy-truth/