We did a show recently about Rihanna’s statement about trans exploitation. It was taken out of context and reported that she would not hire transgender people as part of her cosmetic line’s marketing campaigns. She didn’t actually say that. But people in the trans community were quickly polarized by her comments. Some said her desire not to exploit trans people was spot on. Others, like the woman who wrote me personally about it, said Rihanna was a transphobic false ally like many other people in the world.
On IN YOUR FACE we talked about nuance of interpretation. How interpretation determines mind set and vice versa. Your perception of the world, in other words, is determined by your mindset. And, your mindset is ongoingly re-shaped by your perception. Since you can control your perceptions, you can consciously design your mindset.
However, most people live life unconsciously, focusing on nearly anything crossing their path, and allowing pretty much anything into their perceptions with little question as to whether those things are shaping the mindset they want to have or not. So, as one IN YOUR FACE audience member aptly put it: “Sometimes we focus on the negative out of habit”. So the question is, what is your habit?
There is no doubt in my mind transgender people are being exploited. The question is, is that exploitation harmful or not?
The woman who wrote me about Rihanna’s purported comments claimed I need to get better at “reading between the lines” so I could see what is really happening. What is really happening usually when people “read between the lines” is they are making up an interpretation of what they are perceiving, not actually reading between the lines. That interpretation is determining their mindset. So it should be no surprise that some people will see Rihanna as transphobic while other see her as an ally. Some people have trained themselves to see a mostly negative world, in which people are generally not very nice. Some see the opposite: a world where people are generally agreeable, happy and positive. And there are all kinds of shades in between. How you see the world is crucial, for it shapes your life experience.
Putting this in our language, the stories you tell yourself about life experience determines how you experience your reality. If you tell yourself the story that people are mostly transphobic, or that there are transphobic people in the world, then it’s easy to read a misleading story then conclude Rihanna is transphobic. Rather than, say, thinking critically about the article, doing some more research and thereby coming to an alternative interpretation. One that gives Rihanna more grace in the matter.
Same goes for how you see yourself. If you’ve been taught certain stories that make being trans-attracted a negative personality characteristic – one that is sinful, aberrant, gross, perverse, “gay” or whatever – those stories are going to shape your mindset of not only your world, but of you. So key to overcoming these stories is become aware of them, then create new ones that, over time, change the momentum of your self-perception and of the world. It’s not always easy…well it is…but it’s definitely worth doing. We talk about this in the show I referred to above as well. It’s really worth going back and watching if you haven’t.
There is no doubt in my mind transgender people are being exploited. The question is, is that exploitation harmful or not? I don’t think it is. In the end exploitation leads to more awareness and understanding that transgender people are human. Which by the way means they are capable of being exploited. Along with that realization comes something every human community can benefit from, particularly the trans community: compassion. Compassion for ourselves and compassion for others.
And maybe then, we in the trans community can extend a bit of compassion to those we think are transphobic. For even their transphobia promotes understanding and compassion for our transgender brothers, sisters, lovers and friends.