If you've ever watched the old Warner Brothers cartoons, you'll recognize this image: every other episode or so, Road Runner would trick Wile E. Coyote into running off a cliff. And because of cartoon physics, gravity wouldn't kick in until a split second after he noticed he was no longer running on solid ground.
It's kind of an awful moment, and one we've all had in our own lives (metaphorically, of course - I don't expect anyone reading this will have fallen off a cliff). Every one of us has had a time when we've suddenly realized that we've done something with serious repercussions and that it's only a matter of time - seconds, hours, days, maybe years - until gravity kicks in and we finally fall to our doom.
That's how the past six months have felt for me. I knew I was running off a cliff but I did it anyway. Now I'm frantically pumping my legs, hoping to get to the other side before Mother Nature decides she's got it in for me after all and I plummet to the bottom of the canyon. I've been extraordinarily lucky so far, with an understanding workplace, accepting friends, and a supportive family. The air is still feeling mighty solid under my feet.
And yet there are a million ways it could go wrong. I could lose my job. I could get sick or get in an accident. My car could break down. Pretty much anything that keeps me from getting to the surgery I'm planning for the end of the year - surgery that will mark the end of the most dangerous segment of my transition - could derail my life and send me into a spiral of poverty and discrimination that I might never emerge from. For that matter, the surgery itself could be botched, though I shudder to even consider what that would mean.
All it would take would be for one thing to go wrong and gravity would kick in, full force.
I'm one of the lucky ones.
In the hands of an angry god
If you went to school in America, you've probably been exposed to the writing of the 18th Century Puritan theologian Jonathan Edwards. In his most famous sermon, he tells the congregation that the very ground beneath their feet which they believe to be solid is not; that the only thing preventing them from falling directly into the pit of Hell is the whim of the Almighty, and that that grace may be rescinded at any moment.
For a lot of LGBT people - especially trans people; especially youth; especially people of color - this is a more apt analogy than Looney Tunes. I knew I was walking off a cliff. For them, often, it's the ground beneath their feet that disappears - when a parent discovers they're queer; when a superior decides they're not worth accommodating (think of the bathrooms!); when they discover the safety net is missing or that it doesn't apply to them.
Of all the trans people I know, I am by far the most financially secure. Many of the rest are unemployed or living paycheck to paycheck. And these are all white, middle-class, college-educated people.
Young people have it even worse. According to this recent story at Rolling Stone (one I'm deeply grateful for being linked to), nearly half of homeless youth are queer (compared to only 3-5% of the general population). Of those, nearly half are homeless because they've been kicked out of their homes or cut off by their parents. (Go read the article - it's heartbreaking, but something we need to be aware of as a society.) Worse yet, the bill funding support for homeless youth has expired and even if it is re-authorized by Congress it does not protect LGBTQ youth from discrimination (many shelters being run by religious entities discriminate against or outright reject queer residents).
What do I do? What do we do?
First thing's first: I need to get to the other side of the canyon. If gravity reasserts itself I'll just have to deal with that then; I might have a pair of rocket boots or a parachute on me somewhere.
Second, we need to start acknowledging homelessness and poverty as a serious issue - perhaps the most serious issue - in the LGBTQ community, and not marriage. We can fight for both - and absolutely should fight for both; I still celebrate every law and court ruling that brings us closer to equality. But people are literally dying; six kids a day, according to the RS article. I'm planning on making this a big personal issue when I'm through the worst of my own situation. With luck I'll have time and money to contribute; I encourage you to do the same.
Third, we need to realize that while LGBTQ people, people of color, and young people are most vulnerable, we live in a society where there is still no real safety net for anyone. At the nadir of the Great Recession, during the height of the health care debate, people talked of a "roulette economy" - the idea that in America, everyone was just one mistake; one accident; one stroke of bad luck away from debt, poverty, even homelessness. We've taken some steps to start fixing it, but a lot more needs to be done, and people have to be vigilant that whatever we do in the interest of beefing up the safety net applies to everyone, not just white people in traditional family arrangements.
In other words, be aware, take political action when you can. As individuals, it's really all we can do.