The Exclusive Nature of an “Inclusive” Community
I was told that the GSA at my high school would be a safe haven for me during my freshman year. The group was small, maybe ten people at most, and it felt intimate. I attended nearly every meeting on a weekly basis for the entirety of my freshman year, but although I made a few acquaintances, it would be a stretch to call any of them a friend. Despite its intention, I did feel quite isolated. Although there was only about a dozen or so of us, I was the only boy, and a trans boy at that. Every single other person was a cis bi/gay girl. Usually, that would not be such a problem beyond my own internalized issues of isolation in not finding anyone else like me, but as time went on, it gradually twisted into something quite different. They often isolated me, through the matter of identity and false understanding.
They promoted the group as a “safe place in which you can discuss and vent any of your troubles.” This, of course, was horrifically inaccurate for me. All the others could talk about whatever they pleased, but for me, it was quite the contrary. I tried to talk about my problems plaguing me at the time, but I quickly realized what a mistake speaking at all was. My attempt consisted of talking about how my gender dysphoria affected my mental health and caused my preexisting depression and anxiety to heighten. At the time, it was particularly bad as it led to me having suicidal thoughts. Although I was pouring my heart out to them, exposing myself in my most vulnerable state in order to feel just a little less alone in my troubles, I was met with nothing but blank stares. Now, I was on the verge of tears; my emotions had gone haywire. Silence filled the room as I ceased talking; all of them looked bored out of their minds. The teacher supervisor was the first to speak up. “Why are you depressed?” she asked, nonchalantly with a hint of annoyance. “You can get on hormones, you can get surgery. Why be depressed? You have an easily fixable problem.” I sat gawking at her. What kind of question was that?
I was astonished that she thought my problem: this fact of life that will follow me forever and continuously torment me until the day I die, was easily fixable. As if the moment I get hormone therapy and surgery I will be “cured.” That I will feel no torment over my scars, or my short height, or the fact that I will never truly have a body that I can love since I was not born with a penis. As if all of this torment, all this sadness and self-hatred could be “cured” with a shot of testosterone and a surgery date.
I am not enough of a fool to think that a cis person would have even the slightest idea of my plight or their privilege, but this was outstanding — a new low regarding my expectations for an “ally.” This teacher claimed to be there to support me, and in a moment of need, she showed her true colors. Unfortunately, my fellow peers were not on my side, murmuring in agreement with the teacher. Although their voices were low in volume, their message rang loud and clear to me.
My attempts to respond were tainted by pure shock. I knew they could never truly understand, but this level of absolute density towards my situation? I tried to explain myself and my situation; of course, it was a fruitless effort, as they only stared at me with annoyance, leading me to shut my mouth to avoid further judgement.
I was the only non-cis person there, and damn did they work hard to make that abundantly clear. I never spoke about my problems to them ever again; at that point I would only be asking for myself to get hurt. The GSA prided themselves with diversity, but if you were not a cis bi/gay girl, you were not welcome. It was truly hypocritical. For example, one of the bi girls discussed her problems dating other girls due to how elitist some lesbians are. This is, of course, a huge problem that bi/pan people face. But if she can acknowledge this exclusion as harmful to others, why turn around and do the same to me? I learned that transphobia was not exclusive to straight cis people, but to cis people in general. The only way for me to truly get support was to find others like me. However, I was the only trans kid at my school that I knew of, as nobody was out and I cannot blame them. Living in Springfield, Oregon surrounded by rednecks and white supremacists was not the best environment for anyone that was not white, male, straight, cis, able-bodied, etc. The exclusion from the GSA meant I had no one to turn to in terms of groups. I was lied to and betrayed by a group who swore to protect and care for me.
After this experience, I started to notice similar instances in different areas of the community: bi/pan people are excluded by gay people, aces and aros are excluded by every facet of the community, trans people are excluded by cis people, and non-binary people are excluded by trans men and women. Misogyny is also rampant among men of this community and racism can be seen from every corner. Noticing this has led me to a conclusion: most people only care about themselves. How can this even be called a community anymore when hatred for “the other” is found everywhere? When and how can this division be stopped?
The short answer is: it can’t. At least, not anytime soon. The problems run throughout the community and are rooted in much larger systemic issues: white supremacy, patriarchy, heteronormativity, transphobia, etc. These larger problems are on their way to being healed, but the amount of work that still needs to be done is astronomical. So then, what can be done? What can the individual do? The roots of these evils are not something that can easily be broken. The longevity of historical values and practices will continue to influence our everyday beliefs and actions. Thus, we must scrape off the surface to weaken the whole. To stop individuals from being discriminated against from small groups, like a high school GSA. To stop a young teenager from feeling that he cannot speak in the face of people that claim to accept him but continue to silence him.