I had the honor of marching with the transgender contingent in the San Diego Pride Parade on Saturday. This was my second time marching, the last time being 3 years ago. In 2008, some clients of mine were marching, and I knew others from the FTMI meetings I attended. This year, I didn’t know anyone marching ahead of time and I wasn’t sure what reception I would get when I introduced myself. Trying to find the group, I walked past the bold, bright floats of the other contingents; loud music, dancers, bubbles, and of course, a lot of rainbows. When I got to spot #119, I almost walked past it. There were about 6 people; 3 sitting on a curb, 3 standing up. I couldn’t believe it. I thought, “This is it?” I shouldn’t have worried about the reception I was going to get; when I introduced myself as an ally and said I was there to march, those in the group were welcoming. Most of them commented on and liked my sign: “Celebrating Trans Bravery”.
As the time to march grew closer, more people gathered. One trans man who was slated to march with Canvass For a Cause (a very trans-friendly employer, I hear!) opted to march with the transgender contingent. When his co-worker walked by and asked why he wasn’t marching with them, he said “the numbers were kind of low in this one so I’m going to march here instead.” I was impressed.
I felt honored to march with these people; heroes in my book. To march and be recognized as transgender is a brave thing to do, especially considering (at best) the lack of knowledge about this group and at worst, the stigma. Those who march are doing important work. As one sign said, they are sending the message: We Walk Among You. Without those daring to walk, the transgender community would be even more invisible than it already is.
One of my former clients jumped in near the beginning of the march and I felt a surge of pride walking beside him. It’s quite amazing to know his journey from pre- to post- transition and to see the man he has become.
At its highest, the number of people in our group numbered around 17. No music blaring, no bubbles blowing, no beads being thrown. Just 17 people with a banner, some signs, and some flags. Pretty amazing considering this parade is for the LGBT community; THOUSANDS of people marching to represent the letters LGB and 17 to represent the T?!
I’m sure there were plenty of transgender people marching with other contingents, for other causes. I just couldn’t help but think of how important it would be to have a large, vibrant group to represent this under-acknowledged part of the LGBT community.
Of course, I would love to do a “call to march”; enlist my clients to walk with the group next year, explain the importance, coerce if necessary! But I wouldn’t do that. I understand why most people opt not to march. It’s a private issue, and one that most people don’t care to broadcast. I understand when those who transition would rather move on than stay to be the poster children of the trans community. There is no judgment on this issue from me, and I respect each and every decision made about whether or not to march, or to be stealth. Those who have transitioned and are now stealth are also heroes to me; they have undergone a more challenging process that most will ever know.
Somehow we need to figure out how to get the numbers up; to make the transgender contingent better represented. Perhaps more friends, family members, and allies need to be stepping up to celebrate and normalize this group of heroes.
My client remarked to me that when he first started marching with the group several years ago, the group would get “crickets”. Why is that? Is it because even in their own community, they are misunderstood? Does the crowd not know where this group fits in? Or are they picking up on the energy of the group? The mood of the group when marching can admittedly be hesitant at times. This year, when those of us in the group marching would cheer, or wave, the reception was positive. Gone are the crickets! Later my client said he noticed an improvement in the response of the crowd each year he’s marched.
A big reason why I march is because I want to say to everyone who will listen: “It’s ok to be transgender.” In fact, not only is it ok, but transgender people deserve a lot of admiration and respect for the process they have to go through to be true to themselves. So, because I can’t sit down with each person in San Diego and explain this, I cheered, I held my sign as high as I could get it, I waved, I smiled, and I looked at as many people in the crowd as I could. I hope they heard my message.