A follow-up to “If you walked two inches in my shoes…”

I am really happy with the response I got to my blog post about my experience with a petitioner from the Massachusetts “Family” Institute.   I heard from many friends who were very supportive and the support has been wonderful for our family.  It is heartening to know how many of you would go to bat on behalf of transgender kids everywhere.

That said, I’d like to address something that I have observed from many of your reactions.  Many of you praised me on how I kept my composure and that you were not sure that you could do the same.  Believe me, I never thought I’d actually run into one of these individuals.  I have railed against this petition and had some very strong words about it and the organization behind it.  Really, I actually tried to avoid the lady because I thought she was going to ask me to take a survey or something.  When she said the words “petition” and “bathroom bill,” it was like a sucker punch – I had no idea it was coming.

Believe me, I was tempted to scream at her.  I think it might have had an impact.  Unfortunately, it would have had an impact much like the impact Bill O’Reilly has on many of his guests.  As I said, I am not a small guy: I am about six feet tall and I weigh, er…, more than 200 lbs.  I previously noted that the petitioner was a “small lady” on purpose: there was a large physical disparity between us.  I could have easily intimidated her.

And if I had intimidated her with my size and sound volume, what would that have proven?

My point is, when we engage with an opponent in public, we are presented with an opportunity: to show our opponents that we are real human beings who care about our children and communities.  And that we have very good reasons – reasons they likely have not thought of due to lack of experience, prejudice, etc. – for fighting for equality for our kids.  Even in the bathrooms.

And I refuse to have an opponent tell her peers that we use intimidation tactics because we are on the wrong side.

So during those 20-30 seconds I took to figure out how I was going to engage this opponent, I became intensely aware of my physical environment, including my size.  I wanted to let her know that she was wrong, not in my opinion, but objectively wrong for being there seeking signatures for that petition, but not because she was scared of me.  So I stepped back a little and leaned away from her.  I slumped a bit.  And I monitored the volume, pace, and tone of my speech.  I kept it collegial, or so I tried.  (Remember also, we were at the entrance to a very very busy supermarket, so I may have had witnesses for all I knew.)

Look, we shouldn’t be looking to make friends here.  But even our opponents are human beings who feel strongly about what they are doing and feel right about it.  Screaming at them will only cause them to think they are even more right.  Let them be the jerks here – as they have done plenty of times.  (I still seethe at the way someone used physical intimidation against a transgender woman at the State House last Oct.)  Let them say idiotic things – as they inevitably must if they are going to stick with their positions.  (Believe me, I am still dumbstruck that she actually said that the new law will hurt my transgender child and that she was there because she supports “the transgender.”)

So if you have the awful luck of running into one of these petitioners, tell them no, nice and calmly.  Engage them as parents.  Just keep it calm – because after all, you are in the right.

“If you walked two inches in my shoes, you wouldn’t be standing here.”

It happened.  It actually freaking happened.  I ran into one of those people.  The ones who are working to undo everything we have worked for to make our son whole.

In the wake of the recent passing of the Transgender Public Accommodations bill into law here in Massachusetts, there was always going to be those unhappy with the result.  The Massachusetts “Family” Institute has organized a petition against the so-called “Bathroom Bill” and are actively gathering signatures for a 2018 ballot initiative to have the Public Accommodations law withdrawn.

And I ran into one of them.  Right here at the Wegman’s in Northborough.

The encounter left me infuriated.  Fortunately I kept my composure throughout and I don’t think I harmed our cause.

As I was leaving Wegman’s earlier today, a small woman came up to me with the petition and asked me to sign it.  She must have thought I had a mental problem because I took so long to respond.  Of course I knew what she was asking me.  However, I needed to weigh my response.  Should I explode in anger, right here in public for the world to see?  Should I ignore her and just say no?  Of course not.  I was going to explain to her, as calmly as I could, that what she was doing was wrong.

So, I gave the woman my answer: Absolutely No.  I told the lady that I went to the State House and spoke with the Governor and several lawmakers in support of the Public Accommodations bill.  I identified myself as the parent of a transgender child.

Then I laid in.  “Do you know anyone who is transgender?  Do you know anyone with a transgender child?”  The response was evasive: she told me she knows about transgender people.  “No!  I asked you if you personally know any transgender people!  I take it that is a no.”  I was correct.

I told her our story.  To her credit, she at least seemed to listen politely.  I told her how Eli had been horribly unhappy and had suicidal ideations.  I told her that he came out to us and we made the decision to support him because that was the lifesaving decision to make.  The only decision to make, in fact.

I asked her if she had children.  (She looked like a 40-ish lady, and I doubt 40-ish childless ladies are going to be spending a Saturday afternoon of a long summer weekend standing with a petition at a supermarket.)  Yes, she had kids.  OK, then…”I guarantee you, I absolutely guarantee you, if one of your kids came up to you in trouble like mine, if you had to walk even two inches in my shoes, then you wouldn’t be standing here with that petition.”

That deserved a response from her.  Unfortunately, an intelligible one never came.  Instead, I got a bunch of horse-poop taken right from the M”F”I playbook.  She understands that being transgender is hard.  She supports kids going through this.  She just thinks she has a right to privacy in the bathroom.  Don’t I think, she asks me, that people will abuse the bill?  “Oh, you mean a dude like me, six feet tall, weighing 200+ lbs and hairy, dressed in a little skirt and espadrilles…” (this got her laughing) “…ready to molest little girls in the women’s room because he feels like being a woman today?”  The lady nodded.  “Well, that would make him a pervert, and we have laws against that.  The PUBLIC ACCOMMODATIONS law does not change that.”

(I also had to remind her that the language she is using in her petition is designed to scare people like her and does not reflect what the bill is really about.)

Then…she decided to piss me off royally.  She told me that she so cares about transgender people, but the bill harms kids like mine because of the backlash it is supposedly generating.  That is, my kid is now in danger because someone is going to yell at them now that the world is forced to be nice to them.  WHAT?!?!?!?!?!?  “So, you’re telling me that the reason you are here on this very beautiful Labor Day Weekend Saturday, standing with this clipboard in front of this supermarket instead of enjoying the very beautiful day, is that you feel so strongly concerned about the safety of transgender people??? Do you think I was born yesterday?”  (Clearly, there’s some M”F”I script she’s following, but at this point not very well.)  “Lady, you don’t know any transgender people.  No way on earth you have any concern for them.  You are here because you are put off by them.  You think the bill means that you will be sharing a bathroom with men.  You are wrong.”

She admitted that she was there because she worried about privacy in the bathroom. “Not to be rude, but do you look at anyone in the bathroom?  I just go.  My son, he just keeps to himself, closes the stall door, does his business, and just leaves.  That what transgender people do.  That’s what most people do.”  She responded that now that things are out in the open, it is so much worse for transgender people.  “That’s on people like you,” I responded.

After about a half-hour of banter, I was done.  (My frozen stuff was melting.)   I told her she was wrong to be here with that petition.  That was my opinion, she responded, and hers was different.  “No, not my opinion.  You are objectively wrong.  Because, as I said, if you walked two inches in my shoes, you wouldn’t be standing here.”

And at that I left.

Please, if you run into someone like this woman with this petition, tell her the petition is wrong.  Do not sign.  This bill, which is law next month, is life to my son and other transgender kids.