The Honor of Listening

Last night, I attended a trans* panel discussion facilitated by the Empire State Pride Agenda and hosted by the Gay Alliance of the Genesee Valley.  It was attended by approximately fifty people and the presenters were incredible people whose stories were well worth hearing.  What struck me is that those who planned the event took great care to choose presenters that demonstrated the great diversity of expression in the local trans* community.  Speakers included a transwoman, a transman, a crossdresser, and a genderqueer individual.  Each of them shared a brief glimpse — there’s only so much one can share in ten minutes — into their lives and their experiences embracing their gender identity and gender expression.  I wish more people had been there to hear these incredible people speak.

To me, it was an honor to listen as they shared a part of their lives that is rather intimate and personal.  I imagine that for them, it was an act of courageous vulnerability.  After the discussion, I approached the various panelists and thanked them for sharing their stories with me.  Each one of them responded with, “Thank you for coming and listening.”

“Thank you for listening.”  They didn’t thank me for filling out the provided postcard asking my state senator to support the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act currently before the New York assembly and senate — which I did do.  They thanked me for listening.  I think that’s because listening is important.

While listening is not sufficient by itself to be a good ally — a good ally is then motivated to act on what zie hears — listening is an essential first step.  Getting to know and understand the people a person wishes to support and be an ally for helps them understand how zie can best help them rather than doing well-intentioned, but unhelpful or even hurtful things out of ignorance.  Also, I think that learning to listen and engage with the stories of others — trans* people in this case — humanizes them, generates empathy for them, and hopefully builds a desire to support them and their fight for equality and justice.

Over the next couple days, I hope to talk more about trans* issues, including blogging about a video one of the allies from the panel discussion recommended I blog about to encourage further discussion.  But today, in my mind, I’m still listening.  I would invite you to listen as well.

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