By now we are all more than familiar with that picture. The tie color may change from photo op to photo op, but the sneer, the prideful arrogance, the personification of "absolute power corrupts absolutely" are contained in each one.
It is Trump signing yet another executive order, then turning it towards the cameras to show what a yuge "get er dun"er he is.
We are now only 1 month and three days into this constitutional nightmare of an administration. In 1 month and three days he has signed over two dozen EOs targeting everything from immigration to the Paula Abdulesque one dictating ONE step forward, TWO steps back in regards to regulations.
He leers at the camera, his cabinet sycophants surround him with frozen, bought out smiles on their faces, and his base of intellectually incurious citizens cheers.
Because nothing he has signed touches them. Yet.
While the word "privilege" has entered the vernacular with a new vengeance, most still do not understand what it means.
Wealth? Position? Power? Sure. Those are the definitions we have associated with the word for hundreds of years. But in 2017, the word is far more potent, important.
Privilege, in this day of gleefully targeting groups of people, means YOU can turn away from an issue because it simply does not affect your life.
Privilege allows Trump's base of mostly white, Christian people to laugh at and disparage Black Lives Matter, to roll their eyes at the overt anti-Semetism in their party, to cheer as illegal immigrant mothers are torn from their children in raids, to make vulgar remarks and cast woefully ignorant aspersions on those in the LGBTQIA community.
I have privilege. You have privilege. We all have it in some form or another. And a great many of us acknowledge it and strive to understand and aid those who do not share our particular brand. White people marching in BLM protests. Men carrying signs at the Women's March in January. Citizens born in the USA standing in airports supporting those being targeted by immigration. Straight people defending LGBT people in public places.
If your humanity is in working order, it is a natural impulse to help others, to do what you can, where you can, when you can. When you see someone being marginalized it hurts your stomach and moves you to some sort of action. When you read of yet another executive order targeting yet another group of people, your blood pressure goes up.
These are all the responses of a normal, decent, open minded, intellectually thirty human being.
But here is what I can tell you. What I now know from experience:
No matter how big is your heart, how much you strive to learn, how tall you believe you stand in solidarity with a particular group - you simply do not/cannot "get it" until you, too, belong to a targeted group.
Hear me out.
I have been an advocate, a champion of the underdog, a "bleeding heart liberal" for pretty much my entire life. I do not understand or tolerate prejudice. I think bullies are the lowest of the low. I believe love is love is love. I believe my skin color is simply an accident of birth, not some gift from the divine Crayola box.
I have been outraged as one black life after another is snuffed out without thought, regard, due process of law - simply because they are black. I know my friends of color are targeted when they enter stores. I know I am not. I know gay people simply want to express their love for one another in the same way Rudy and I do - through the exchanging of vows and rings.
I know all these things. But I do not, nor have I ever had any way of experiencing these things.
Until roughly two years ago when my child spoke his truth to me and we became part of a targeted group.
I suddenly got it, felt it, fully understood it. The anger, the fear - Jesus, the fear - the desperate desire to simply make others finally see how awful their thoughts and actions are.
I get it now. My son is transgender and there are entire swaths of people in this country who wish him harm, would do him harm, for simply being who he is. When we are out in public and he needs to use a bathroom, my blood runs cold with fear for him. And legislation targeting him keeps my blood pressure higher than it should be.
He is seen as a lesser-than, a freak, a monster, a threat.
Just like black people for hundreds of years. Just like brown people who come here to pick our fruit and try to make a better life for their families. Just like Muslims who wish only to practice their faith in peace and quiet. Just like Jewish people who wish to congregate together without fear of their synagogue being bombed or their cemetaries vandalized. And on and on and on. Insert any group with a target on their backs.
Yesterday, Trump continued the EO parade by signing another one - this time targeting transgender people, students in particular. Stripping away protections and leaving it "up to the states".
"Up to the states" - that is code for a particular group not being deemed worthy of all constitutional rights, benefits, protections. It allows the heartless legislators at the federal level to walk away from millions of constituents, consigning them to the mercy of the even-less-enlightened, glorified dog catchers at the state and local levels of governance.
The protections he has now stripped away were first granted by the Obama Administration, defending transgender students from discrimination in their schools, and asserting that denying transgender students access to the bathroom that conforms with their gender identity violate the prohibition on sex discrimination under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.
Of course, when President Obama took these steps conservative heads exploded. Those ignorant wretches immediately going to their oogy place and focusing on the genitals of the students in question. Because, of course, a person's genitals completely define who they are.
Soundbite and fury - yet another grandstanding EO signed by the reprobate who refers to himself as a "real friend" of the LGBT. Another violent swipe of his pen signaling to his base that he is caring only about them. Another chance for him to hold up that folder and add another picture of himself "doing something."
And in its wake real people suffer.
Transgender people ARE real people. They are not mentally ill. Sure, anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts/attempts, and panic attacks are rife throughout the trans community, but those are in response to living in a society in which their very lives are marginalized, made into punchlines, and threatened; in response to living in a body completely at odds with who they know themselves to be.
Still don't get it? Imagine you are abducted, knocked out, and when you come to your entire body has been modified. Men, you have very present breasts, and what's this? They turned your penis inside out and gave you a vagina? Your face has been softened through feminization surgery. Women - your breasts are gone, down below is a surgical facsimile of a penis, your jawline has been altered to be more chiseled.
Men, how do you feel? Your body can be altered but there is no way to alter your inner truth. You FEEL you are still a man. You KNOW you are still a man. Same for you women who now have every outward sign of a male. You KNOW you are a woman. But all society can see is how you present. What YOU know matters not.
How trapped would you feel? How constantly conflicted? Depressed? Bereft? Suicidal even? How desperate would you be to match your outsides with your insides?
Toby is transgender. That is one small facet of who he is. It is not the defining characteristic of my child. Cut him, he bleeds just like any cis person. Hit him and he bruises just like any cis person. And several times a day he needs to relieve himself, just like any cis person.
Here is what you need to understand about those bathroom visits: a transgender person wants only to go in, close the stall door, do their business in private, and get on with their day. They do not go in to leer at you in the mirror. They do not go in molest you. Quite frankly, they do not even want to be noticed. A transgender person's biggest goal is to someday simply blend into the paint of society.
Toby has used the men's room on many occasions. When he felt it safe enough. Many other times, we go out of our way to find unisex bathrooms - when traveling, a Starbucks sign is like a peecon beacon in the night. And other times, when he may not have on his binder or feel safe enough, he stays close to me and goes in the women's restroom, head down, into a stall as quickly as possible.
Toby will never stand at a urinal in a men's room. His gaze will be on the back of the locked stall door.
To put it simply, all Toby wants out of a bathroom visit is peace and safety. Coincidentally, the same things he wants out of life.
Across the country, there are tens of thousands of transgender students, younger than Toby, fully supported by their parents, who are transitioning in appearance, name change, perhaps on blockers to hold off puberty. They ARE the gender they tell you they are. They struggle enough as it is with bullies, ignorant adults, and society without compounding risks to their safety and emotional health by now making them enter a bathroom that does not match their gender identity.
This is cruel. And it accomplishes nothing except more soundbites and photo ops for Trump, and more reinforced fury for his base.
To anyone who thinks that a transgender person has some ulterior motive, some sinister agenda - you are profoundly ignorant, profoundly wrong. No one would choose this struggle. No one would sign up to be targeted, threatened, murdered. No young person looks at the 41% suicide attempt rate of transgender youth and thinks, "Hey, cool! I want in on that!"
No human being comes out as transgender to do anything but try to live authentically, to feel whole, to breathe.
That's it. That's all.
And for daring to do that, they get demeaned, demoralized, deadnamed by cruel and unsupportive family members, misgendered, clocked in public, and now targeted by their own government.
News for Trump and his ignorant coven - WE THE PEOPLE includes ALL THE PEOPLE. There is no asterisk in the preamble leading to a footnote at the bottom that reads: except persons of color, anyone not Christian, and those who give us the oogies.
In one month, despite this heinous EO, Gavin Grimm, a transgender student from Virginia, will take his case before the Supreme Court of the United States of America. He has fought for years from the local level, through the U.S. Circuit Courts, and now to SCOTUS for the rights of a transgender student to use the bathroom of their gender identity.
At a rally outside the White House last night, Gavin said, “In one month, I will do what few teenagers have the chance to do: stand before the U.S. Supreme court because my lawyers from the ACLU will be asking the court to decide whether transgender students like me have the right to be treated just like our peers at school."
Gavin is brave. He has willingly allowed the public target to be placed on his back in order to lead this fight for protections and against discrimination.
All transgender people are brave. Hell, anyone who sits anywhere on the spectrum besides hetero - gay, bi, trans, non binary, agender, and on and on - is brave. Living authentically, not hypocritically, takes bravery. I see this every single day in my child.
And I feel this every night in the cost of it to my heart as I try to will myself away from fear and towards rest so I may help him face another day tomorrow.
Yes, despite our inclusion in this group, I still acknowledge all my other privilege. Just as Toby acknowledges his - we are white - SCORE! We are comfortable. BOOM! We can afford binders, hormones, surgery - GOOOOAAAAL!
But we get it in a way we never, as mere advocates, got it before he came out. We live it.
I ask you, while you may not be in a targeted group, imagine for a moment that you are. Imagine heartstopping fear for your child's safety. Imagine having to pee and worrying about getting in and out without personal attack. Imagine going to visit your parent's grave and finding the headstone defaced and pushed over. Imagine getting pulled over and your heart racing because your skin color may well condemn you to death. And the next time you see another article about yet another executive order and want to just move past because - ugh, again? - do not move on.
In that moment when you are weary from yet another Facebook article link, discussion, or news piece - STOP. Catch yourself, check the privilege that is allowing you to scroll past, and engage.
That is our only hope in this. Allies and advocates have to engage on our behalf. We need you to stand with us at rallies, to call out ignorance and hate, to defend the rights of others to simply exist.
He signs these orders because they do not touch him or his family. They are embraced by those they do not touch. My son is not real to them. But this train is only picking up speed and the targeted groups are only going to grow in number.
Because Trump is not going to stop. His rabid base is only growing more emboldened with each EO signed and eventually they will not want metaphoric blood, they will demand the real thing to quench the thirst that comes from constant fury and faux indignation.
This is so far beyond a difference in politics. This is a difference in humanity.