One of the things that I liked about Thursday night’s panel discussion is that the organizers included two allies in the list of panelists. Listening to both women speak on behalf of the trans* people they support in very real ways was inspiring. All the time I listened, I could not help but think, “This is how allies are supposed to act.”
The first ally who spoke, a woman named Cassie, spent much of her time sharing an experience she had years ago while working in a psych center. The experience centered around her acting as an advocate for a transwoman who was admitted as an inpatient — and seemingly about the only advocate the woman had in a center full of healthcare professionals. Over the five days that the woman was there, the staff created all kinds of problems, from putting this woman in with the men to insisting that she wear stereotypical “male” clothing instead of the clothes she brought with her to even insisting on referring to her by her male birth name. Each time an issue came up, Cassie spoke out on the woman’s behalf, reasoning that the staff was there to help this woman through her troubled times (she was there for a substance abuse issue), but by not accepting her for who she was and accommodating her needs, they were actually making things more difficult for her. Sadly, Cassie lost the good fight, and the woman eventually checked out of the program against medical advice and disappeared.
What both amazed and inspired me about Cassie is that as she told this story, she told it with an incredible sense of compassion and passion. Even several years after these events took place, the ferocity in her voice as she told of how this transwoman was wronged was palpable. This woman mattered to Cassie and the injustice done to her still matters to Cassie, all these years later.
A lot of allies are justly criticized for coming across as being more interested in drawing attention to what a great ally they are rather than actually advocating for and drawing attention to those they are (allegedly) seeking to help. Cassie and the other ally who spoke Thursday night — another woman named Kelly — demonstrated that this does not have to be the case. They both focused to the plight of trans* people they knew and sought to help, communicating a deep desire to see the conditions of their lives greatly improved. Listening to them left me inspired to emulate them, to ask, “How can I help to? I mean, really help?”