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.