This past week a friend of mine Melanie, who happens to be transgendered, made me think. After an adventure where I visited a close friend in Union Square and saw a trans woman who I believe was working as a prostitute with her frightening looking pimp in the Dunkin Donuts. Since the element of people were getting shady my friend and I left. In between fright and awe I made a glib remark on facebook that I thought was funny.
I got a few likes and that’s when Melanie came down on the thread like white on rice in a snowstorm on a paper plate challenging my perceptions. I did not know for a fact the woman was going to work as a prostitute. Even if she was who was I to judge her? Unfortunately trans people don’t exist on paper. While the state of NYC is making it easier to change the birth certificates it is still a long drawn out process therefore these people are pushed into the sex trade often against their own will and are often the subject of violence because sometimes they have to conceal their true gender identity such as Venus Xtravanganza of Paris is Burning.
Then a fan letter from a trans woman I received came flooding back to me. A few months back I had a transman on my show at the inception of Confessions on YouNow.com. This transwoman wrote me afterward thanking me for giving people like her “a voice.” She told me because she was trans, male biologically but female identified, she has been subject to verbal and physical harassment as well as violence. This fan letter not only brought tears to my eyes because not only did this woman reach out to me in a beautiful way, but also because people have made her life a nightmare because she lives in a world that often tells her there is no place for her. While she tells me her life has gotten better I know it was a long, dark journey into the woods to get to the end of the rainbow.
Then I thought of my own buttons and own triggers. This past year I was blessed to be on TV quite a bit. While he was the subject of a comedy act that has never failed me, for the first time in a long time I spoke about the verbal and physical abuse I suffered at the hands of my ex fiancé. I spoke about how he wanted to rob me of my ventriloquism, my family and everything that made me happy so he could have me to himself. After we broke up he started stalking me. The stalking was so terrible I wore running shoes in case he would make an appearance wherever I was. My mother kept his name on the refrigerator in case I disappeared. That is just the tip of the iceberg.
As a result of me being on TV and speaking about this I received fan letters from young people who have been bullied and young women who escaped abusive relationships as well as those trying to get out. What broke my heart was when one woman claimed she deserved this. For years certain rap songs with the lyrics “Smack up my bitch” drove me up the wall as well as songs where men spoke about women as sexual objects cutting them down. Not to mention jokes with punchlines like, “The bitch has two black eyes because you told her twice” made me want to hit the person back. It’s not because I was a tightwad with no sense of humor, it’s because I knew what those jokes perpetuated and I knew how harmful that behavior could be to people just as Delaney and many trans folk know how certain jokes can be hurtful and encourage harmful behavior as well.
A few months back I was on a radio show where the hosts joked about a guy who broke up with a girl and went so far as to post her number online telling everyone she was giving away free sex and even put her address up. The male hosts baptized him “the best guy ever” and talked about “how he ruled” and how “this bitch must have deserved it.” Meanwhile my ex had done something similar, putting a photo of me up online that I sent him in a bikini and wrote “Easy Slut” over it. I did nothing to this man except break off an abusive relationship and beg him to get the help he needed. I tried to speak up but after a few minutes gave in to the straight, white male privileged agenda. However that bothered me so much that when they asked me to come back to the show I couldn’t do it. Part of it was that I would just make myself angry, but the other part of it was that I was ashamed for not sticking up for that young woman.
However I would soon get my chance to have plenty of teaching moments as far as the subject went. I am not only a show host on YouNow.com but a regular broadcaster with these folks. On the site I interface with a lot of people, young people, from all over the world. I have spoken several times about being a survivor of dating violence and how it isn’t just an issue for young straight people but people of any gender, orientation and nationality. To my pleasant surprise not only do these young people get it but have written to me with their experiences.
Sometimes though, we get a few young ones on YouNow who use the “f” word in reference to gay people and make other homophobic remarks about how gay people deserved to be bashed. After seeing this a few times I decided to speak up and told these young offenders why such language was not only wrong but harmful. I talked about a friend of mine who was jumped by four men in his neighborhood because he was gay and one had a knife. My buddy tried to fight back and got away but he had a scar of his cheek as a result of the knife fight. Although he always wore cover up the scar remained. Roger only told me the story once but never told it again. Bottom line, saying gays deserved to be punched lets some wayward soul lets some wayward soul believe the abhorrent behavior is okay. I knew sharing the story could get these kids to turn on me. Drenched in disgust I was okay with that.
To my pleasant surprise the majority of the young people verbally lambasted the hateful hater and his buddy in the chat. Many of the youthful broadcasters that evening got on camera not only to back up what I was saying but also to let this person know that everyone deserved to have rights no matter who they were and that physical and verbal assault on a person regardless of their sexual orientation was NOT OKAY! It was not only a welcome relief but lead me to believe that this past year I have been given the exposure and platforms I have not only to entertain but to educate and speak up.
This let me know that perhaps I had to speak up more. I now crack down on people for any sort of hate speech in the chat as well as during their broadcasts. This is hate speech directed at women, minorities or anyone telling people to “smack a bitch.” To my surprise these kids have listened to me. While I could get on a soapbox and toot my horn which I am in effect doing now it reminded me that it only takes one person to speak up and to change things making the world a safer place for others.
My poppyseeds, as I have nicknamed my young fans, have written to me on various occasions for advice whether on mundane dating problems or more severe issues facing young people. It is not only flattering that they reached out to me, but a blessing that they consider me a role model. I have also received countless letters this year from lots of young people and not only do I love hearing about my young fans but also like to know that I am helping people. Whether it’s letting someone know that even though they are being bullied for being different it gets better. Or letting that person know who was a victim of dating violence that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Or better yet, a trans person who saw my show and was thankful someone like myself gave someone like them a safe, welcoming place to show the world that they weren’t some freakish being but a person like everyone else. Bottom line, my job has become much bigger than telling a few jokes and entertaining.
Now I know I am doing the right thing by speaking up and letting people know what is and isn’t okay. Every once in a while I have to tell people even joking about dating violence isn’t okay and that it is an issue for anyone regardless of orientation, gender or race. I have to remind people words and slurs are hurtful and encourage not only harassment of marginalized groups. Will I lose friends? Perhaps. Along my travels I already lost a few but at the same time have gained many true supporters and fans. Then again, as I recall not everyone liked Nelson Mandella for speaking up. That’s why they threw him in jail.
If at the end of the day someone calls me a “militant feminist” because I come down on deadbeats who abuse women so be it. If someone calls me sensitive because I lambast someone for homophobia, transphobia, racism or any other form of hate speech so be it. It lets me know I am doing the right thing and am making the world a better place. If that makes me crazy to some people oh well. There is not a reward for doing the right thing only knowing that you did it.
Oh and watch my show Confessions this Sunday night from 8-10 pm EST on younow.com’s talk 2 channel. See you there xo April