Separating Allies From The All-Lies: When Angry Friends Weaponize Your Gender Status
“Good day to you, Sir.”
That was how the email ended.
It was from a friend, a gay man, who was very much aware of my Trans status and my basic pronouns. Beyond that, it was from someone I loved very much. You see, most Trans people keep a very small circle of friends. It’s as much about personal safety, emotional steeling and simplifying an otherwise incredibly chaotic life as personal preference. When you have everyone from lawmakers to evangelists throwing bricks at you from high windows, it hurts. So, naturally, it’s important to have stability in your relationships; people you can trust to remain in your corner as you dodge those missiles. Those people can be hard to find.
It’s easy for people, typically, to feign acceptance. To smile to your face, and feebly shake your hand before turning around and spewing venom, or using you for the comedic relief of their own friends. That’s why friendship is a cautionary tale if you’re a transgender or non-conforming individual.
So often, people accuse Trans* people of being stand-offish, aloof or disinterested. Many of us don’t actively integrate ourselves into publicly social spaces like LGBT bars or nightclubs, primarily because there’s always one… whether it be by a cold stare, pointed enough to make Zoolander jealous, or hushed remarks from shadowy corners, that makes you keenly aware that you’ve crossed some territorial boarder. Thus, we tend to stay in familiar places with people who allow us to feel comfortable.
We don’t casually build friendships. Ultimately, we can be a difficult shell to break. Unexpected circumstances usually bond us with others on a more intimate level. While I can count the number of friends that I have on one hand, I can also tell you how we found each other and that the relationship developed over a period of time- I am fortunate enough to say that, despite not having an abundance of friendships, the ones I have have lasted years, in some cases, decades. Over time you inadvertently demonstrate your loyalty to each other; You find yourself there in dark periods of their lives and vice versa, which strengthens the bond. You discover true friendship isn’t contingent on any one thing; It’s not reliant on the satisfaction of one party, nor does it mean constant maintenance and high levels of expectation. True friendship is you being you, and them being them; Finding the ability to laugh, cry, argue and show yourselves at your worst- and still getting a call a few days later asking if you watched the latest episode of your favorite show. You both apologize; sometimes cry with regret… the whole: “I’m sorry…” “No, I’m more sorry…” You move forward. It is events like this, when the terrain of friendship finds itself jagged, that each individual demonstrates true intent, the quality of their character and it bonds us further… or it tears us apart. Friendship shouldn’t be hard work. If it is, call it work, not friendship… and clock out.
It’s tragic when a friend; One who you’ve trusted, built a bond with and demonstrated your loyalty to time and time again suddenly goes rogue when they’re unhappy with you. When they find themselves dissatisfied by a choice you made or a miscommunication, and instantly, as if by their sheer nature, they start climbing the the walls with rest of the primates who already perceived themselves as superior, to join them in their brick hurling.
They leverage the first opportunity to weaponize your gender against you because they have mapped where to hurt you in the most destructive way. In my case, it was because I opted out of doing a project for a friend who became combative, and although I was happy to do what I could to make him happy, I realized that collaborating was toxic to our friendship. I valued the friendship over the work, despite it being his project primarily, and one I agreed to do in effort to benefit him. I found myself at a crossroads: Resent him in the end, or walk away now and preserve the integrity of our relationship.
I chose to walk away. I’m not sixteen anymore, and I’m past the part of my life where I’ll take it on the chin and then stick around to ask for another. I don’t like conflict. I have enough of it. We, as Trans and gender non-conforming people, all do. Just open any social media and get out the popcorn as you scour the volumes of Trans hate. The moment conflict in my real life presents itself, if it’s avoidable, I spin on one heel and make tracks. That’s not selfish. That’s self respect.
I will stand up and speak out for friends. I will lock arms and defend my friends. But, I won’t dispose of them over a dispute. There are two sides to every story. It doesn’t take work to see the other side, it takes simple things like compassion, kindness and a willingness to set your pride and ego aside to accept accountability… or to ask for it. Sometimes we find the latter is not possible.
When a one-time friends assumes privilege and begins taunting you with anti-trans rhetoric once you aren’t either advantageous, an emotional crutch, offering opportunities, or able to be exploited for their gain anymore, you have to acknowledge that was never a friendship to begin with. I had to accept that. I had mistakenly presumed I had become a fantastic judge of character and could see all the signs, certainly, with decades of experience behind me, yet, I was wrong.
When I read the email that came and reached the final words, “Good day to you, Sir,” I recognized that I harbored no anger. I should have seen that coming from miles away. I had seen him do the same thing to others and turned a blind eye thinking “Well, he’s a good friend to me…” and that’s the lie you tell yourself. Why I presumed I would be exempt from the scathing, retaliatory abuse he is notorious for is my own fault.
Regardless, I still cared about him. Even as my eyes lingered over the words, I couldn’t be mad. I had no right. It was there all along, only now in black and white, on my screen. Along with a plethora of “Never in my life…” comments that people use to gaslight you into thinking you’re just absolutely the worst person imaginable. Reading between the lines, there was a lot of truth that I benefited from, things I needed to hear from an outside source and take on board for self improvement. I had to be more honest with myself and others about my limitations, and even though the email was filled with misinformed hyperbole, I understood the source and respected it for it’s truth… until the signing off.
“There you are.” I said to myself. “There it is.”
At that point, I wasn’t going to fire back another rage fueled email, but instead, thanked them for telling me things I needed to hear. In friendship, we benefit from people willing to hold us responsible, to speak to us from an outside perspective and give us the opportunity to grow. In leveraged relationships, that is usually inhibited or delivered with painful, unnecessary blows that demonstrate no intelligent or conscious action. I don’t imagine his intent was to deliver me home truths, but instead, attack my self-image; Personally degrade me. However, the truths cannot be discounted, and it would be negligent to have ignored the contents just because of the damaged box in which they were presented.
I ended it with “I love you.” Because it was true. However, there was no point in arguing facts, disputing their claimed victimhood or explaining extenuating circumstances, because I knew it wasn’t a friendship I cared to nurture anymore.
That’s when the dissolution of a friendship is a parting gift.
You can beat yourself up for not recognizing an ally from an opportunist or a liar. That’s how we thicken our skin and commit to making better choices regarding who we let through the gates of our life. Then, give yourself a break. You’re not perfect. The social conditions in which we, as gender diverse people, are thriving under are not normal. Hate and bigotry is not normal. It is not a typical life experience for most, to walk around dodging those figurative bricks slung by people from their windows. However, it is our reality and occasionally, one of those bricks will hit harder than most- especially when you look up and see it coming from someone you know and cared about.
But you will keep walking.
In a recent, highly public dispute between pop culture icon TS Madison and singer-songwriter, Khia, the very same thing happened. The two had, since this past year, collaborated on a social media show called The Queen’s Court. TS Madison is a brilliant businesswoman who, as a Transgender woman, used the opportunity of a viral vine video to launch herself into the stratosphere of celebrity. Through her touring, over the years, she met Khia and the two developed a friendship and then struck gold with their series, garnering offers from Hollywood executives and even a musical legend, Nicki Minaj to take their platform to larger audiences via other mediums. It was an unusual pairing for sure, given Madison was a rising star and an out Trans woman, and Khia has a disastrous track record with the LGBT community. One might say, all the signs were there for it’s inevitable implosion.
On the fateful night of February 5th, the show, which was to feature Oscar winning actress Mo’Nique as a guest, was beset by technical difficulties. As audiences watched the events unfold live, Khia stormed off the set, angry that Madison didn’t have things under control.
What would follow is a scenario all to familiar. Khia, in the days afterward, took to her own social media and dubbed Madison “MAN-die Manwhore” and said to her audience of Madison, “She smells like balls and testosterone.”
She launched an attack so vile that it created a divide between the bigots and the trans allies who once sat in the same stadium cheering them on. Khia has leveraged the one-sided feud and attempted to maintain relevance by starting her own web based show, Gag Order, in which she slams the LGBT community that had been previously championing her alongside Madison. She attempts to generate laughs and giggles through hate-speech.
Claiming that she owed her fans an explanation for teaming up with a Trans woman, she said;
“Cause a lot of my thugs — and like I said a lot of my ‘conscious brothers’ was like, ‘Why are you fucking with these people? They not right. They not conscious. They not living. You know, they taking in the ass; they ass is connected to the spine; the spine is connected to the brain; they all brainwashed. They doing this, they doing that. You know the queen, why-why-why?’”
And then she admitted to using Madison, and the platform that she created “…For the money, it was work.”
She has persisted in referring by TS Madison by her male name, and incorrect pronouns. Madison, however, has not bitten back. She has taken the high road, rather than getting down in the mud and trade insults, saying only, “I want her to win… I loved Khia like a sister.”
But, she also also expressed her disappointment and heartbreak over the friendship stating…
“I thought I knew her. I thought I knew Khia, who she is now, that person going on saying those hateful things; I don’t know that person. She never showed that to me about herself until now.” -TS Madison
But, she had. Just not to Madison, or toward Madison. In 2016, with their collaboration in full swing, Khia was disinvited from appearing at Rupaul’s Dragcon after referring to the LGBT community as “Sissies and Punks and Women with D*cks.” She retaliated on Instagram.
… and then on a youtube show… where she used slurs like “F*ggots,” among many other things, reference to LGBT people.
But, Madison’s desire to unearth the good in someone who she knew had a penchant for homo/trans-phobic abuse backfired. And, like myself, she doesn’t have the luxury of claiming ignorance to it. Sometimes, we deliberately reject people's true colors, no matter how boldly and unapologetically they present them, with the naive belief… that’s not really who they are.
And that’s where we fail ourselves. We must believe people who show us their truth, especially if that’s what we ask of others. We might be disappointed, shocked, or hurt, but it’s more valuable to us in knowing, rather than shielding ourselves from the reality.
We must stop attempting to change minds and instead improve our lives by limiting their access to us and those in our orbit. Your job is not to change the opinions or world views of others, or to change yourself to accommodate them.
Your job is to live a life of quality, enjoy friendships of quality; To find and exceed your own potential and expectations; To share this journey with the people who contribute to that goal, and who allow your contribution to theirs.
If someone is discreetly holding your gender above your head and laying in wait to use it to provoke you or damage you, acknowledge that their words are a reflection of who they are, not who you are, nor do they define who you can be in spite of them.