To Those Who Laughed

You know who you are. You tittered, guffawed, and otherwise found Ray Jessel's song on America's Got Talent about drawing the line at dating a transgender woman hilarious. You chortled because of the unspoken implication that "that one little flaw" is actually a huge problem. You went along with the notion that no normal person could really romantically love a transgender woman, no matter how what other attributes they have.

You never stopped to think about what it might be like to be that transgender person, rejected always for things we have no control over, because nothing in our culture actually teaches or encourages people to have empathy for us. We are ogres and untouchables, to be both be laughed at and feared. We are not supposed to have feelings, marry the prince (or princess), or have happily ever afters.

Except we do have feelings, we do need love, and we need hope for a better future, just like everyone else.

Over 400 years ago, it was observed in The Merchant of Venice, "If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?" It was meant as an observation that we are all human, with thoughts and feelings and biology like any other. But somehow that famous wisdom doesn't reach as far as transgender people today.

Laverne Cox rightly observed that loving a transgender person is a revolutionary act. Being transgender is seen as so vile that our partners, parents, and children reject us. We learn that love isn't unconditional, that in fact we cannot be loved by the people who mean the most to us. It means being told by the person who promised to love you no matter what that they can't love you through this.

This charming ditty reminds transgender people no one could love us as romantic partners, and if they do, there is something wrong with them. It also reinforces the validity of this narrative to everyone else. The message is both gratuitous and cruel, because it is already so omnipresent in our lives.

We are treated by pop culture as disgusting things and "its" for having the body we were born with. However, the culture you dominate makes it nearly impossible for most transgender people to obtain transition related medical care which might take care of "that one little problem." Even if we do want and somehow manage to obtain care, we are still labeled as less than real and therefor still unworthy of love and companionship. You label us, and then make it impossible to remove the label.

We cannot win. We cannot hope. We cannot be loved. But we can quit the game. And we do.

In droves.

When you poison us, we die. The toxic themes are absorbed from the environment you create: no one could love us, we are disgusting, we are freaks, we do not deserve love, we deserve to be alone, and that there is something fundamentally wrong with anyone who could love us. We die in poverty, loneliness, and despair: 41 percent of all transgender people have attempted suicide at least once, and those are just the ones who survived.

Or we die at the hands of those who might have loved us were we other than transgender. When people find out our biology or history, they murder us for it and claim they panicked. Accidental attraction to a transgender person is so horrific that it seen as a viable excuse for homicide.

So, if it isn't perfectly clear already; if you laughed, you were punching down.


When you laughed, it told every transgender person watching that we cannot be loved because the thought is just that disgusting. Laughing was the moral equivalent of mocking someone for their stutter. Or telling a gay kid that he should never find love because you find that kind of sex icky. Or cheering on the police as they take a homeless veteran's shopping cart away, because you just want them to disappear.

It. Was. Punching. Down.

Most people have just enough empathy to accept themselves. Extending your empathy beyond that requires effort. Maybe after reading this you'll be able to empathize with people who have been so systematically cut off from love, affection, family, and even human dignity that almost half choose to die rather than live without them. Maybe you'll be able to break away from what society says is an acceptable level of ridicule of a group of people who are already reviled, mocked, impoverished, beaten, and murdered.

Maybe you'll realize that when you laugh, we die a little more on the inside, until the outside finally follows.