Monday, November 8, 2010

What is activism?

Matt Kailey is a transman living in Denver, Colorado, and an author, public speaker, and trainer on transgender issues. He blogs at Tranifesto. In his ideal world, no one would be equal to anyone else – everyone would just be equal.

Renee's Friday Question last week - “Is blogging activism?” - caught my eye. And as a blogger and an activist, I wanted to respond. But as a very verbose blogger and activist, I wanted to respond in a post, with an excerpt from a keynote speech, “Small Victories: Everyday Activism for Ordinary People,” that I made at Transcending Boundaries, a trans-focused conference in Worcester, Mass., in 2006: 
Sometimes the word “activist” can be more than a little scary and overwhelming. Sometimes we come to a conference like this and we see people up at the podium speaking, or we see people giving workshops and we read their bios and see all the things they've done, and we look at all the various leaders in each of our communities, and we think, “I can't possibly do what they're doing. I wouldn't even know where or how to start. I don't have the time, the energy, the resources, the skills, or even the desire.” 

Or we think, “I can't be out where I live or where I work. There's no way I can speak out or be visible like that.” Or, as an ally, we think, “I'm not a member of that community. Will they resent me or see me as an outsider? And how can I represent a community that I really don't belong to?” 

And then we just give up. 

But we don't have to give up. We all have a part to play, and it doesn't have to involve traveling around the globe giving speeches, or writing books, or being on TV, or holding a political office, or sitting on boards of directors, or running organizations. Those are all very worthy and much-needed activities, and the people who do those things are absolutely essential for our community. But the truth is that we are all absolutely essential for our community. And we are all activists - every single one of you here today is an activist. 

The simple act of coming to this conference makes you an activist. Why? Because you've come here for change. You've come here to learn so that you can make yourself better and, in the process, make the world better. You've come here in spite of a world out there that says that conferences like this one shouldn't exist and that the people in this room shouldn't exist - at least not the way they are now. But you believe differently or you wouldn't be here. And that makes you an activist.

If you are GLBTIQ or go by a different label but identify as a member of that community, you are an activist every morning when you get out of bed, whether you want to be or not, just by living your life. Every time you come out to someone, you are an activist - and you get double bonus points if you are out in your life, all or part of the time. 

If you're trans or have a “non-standard body,” every time you use a public restroom labeled “Male” or “Female,” you are an activist. If you're gay or lesbian or bi or queer, every time you go on a date or kiss your partner, you are an activist. 

If you're an ally, every time you use the correct pronoun when referring to a trans person, you are an activist. Every time you correct someone who uses the wrong pronoun or who makes an inappropriate comment about a member of the GLBTIQ community, you are an activist. 

Activism doesn't have to be big and bold and visible to everyone. Activism takes many forms and can be as simple as treating someone else with the respect that they are due. It can be as simple as welcoming a same-sex couple into your neighborhood or treating a transsexual store clerk like you would treat any other store clerk that you were dealing with - no better and no worse. When you make the decision, every day of your life, to treat everyone who you encounter in your life as a “normal” person, a deserving person, and an equal person - you are an activist.

It's that simple. Anyone can be an activist. 

When asked how to create a legacy, Ethel Percy Andrus, the founder of AARP, the American Association of Retired Persons, said, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are today.” 

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are today.” 

And that's how each one of us can create a legacy of activism that absolutely shakes the foundations of our two-dimensional, either/or, binary society.

You start where you are. And you measure your success in increments, by small victories. I've considered myself a trans activist for the last nine years, and I measure my own success by increments, by small victories, by the little inroads that I'm able to make and by the minds here and there that I'm able to change. 

Start giving yourself credit for all the small things that you do - and keep doing them. Pat yourself on the back for all the “small victories” that you have - and keep having them. Acknowledge all the incremental changes that you are making in the world every day - and keep making them. 

What you're doing now may be as far as you'll ever go, and that's fine. You're already making a difference. But once you start paying attention to what you're already doing, and once you start adding something here and there when you see the need for it, you might just find yourself wanting to do more. You might find yourself saying, “If I can do this, then I can do that, too.” And you might end up moving beyond what you ever thought possible.

That was just a small part of my speech. But if you're not convinced that blogging is activism, take a look at Nerdy Apple Bottom's blog post, “My Son is Gay.” 
That post went viral - and that's activism. Any time we can bring attention to a wrong and any time we can fight for what is right, that's activism. 

So my answer to Renee's Friday Question is: Yes. Blogging is activism. The world is watching, reading, and listening. And if you can change people's minds, or even make them think about another possibility, or realize that another point of view exists, then as a blogger activist, you have done your job.