Around 2007, while evaluating blogging platforms, I checked out Tumblr. I quickly realized that it wasn’t a blogging platform in the traditional sense. It more closely resembled a social network where you could follow the blogs of others with like interests and see the updates to the blogs in a newsfeed. I began following some Doctor Who blogs and didn’t think much else about it until some time later.
After I’d been there a while and had diversified the blogs I was following I started to see other types of posts show up in my newsfeed that were rather more personal. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I had stumbled on one of the few social networks where many of society’s outcasts felt able to bear their souls. Gays and lesbians, those who self-harm, the genderfluid, those who are asexual, and many others who felt that society didn’t understand them.
As time went by, reading their pleas for acceptance and their explanations about what it meant to be each of these things began to soften and then change my views on things. However, it wasn’t because I identified with any of these categories. It was because, due to my weight (even as a toddler I had to wear “husky” clothes) I grew up being betrayed by those I thought were my friends until I just stopped trying to make friends anymore. All throughout adolescence my feelings of social isolation and worthlessness grew both at school and at home. Though I may not have been threatened with physical harm or cyberbullying, I could understand and empathize with being an outcast as well as being ridiculed and mocked.
You would expect adults to have learned to accept others who were unlike themselves but, for people in many of these groups, the isolation, the guilt, and the threats never end. All they really want is to be accepted for who they are and to be treated as an equal with everyone else. What was often standing in their way was fear of the unknown and prejudice against those who are different.
I know I didn’t understand, and didn’t want to understand, people who conflicted with the morals I had accepted. In fact, I pushed away a good friend of mine because she came out as a lesbian. I tried as best I could at the time to understand but the ideas of morality handed down by an iron age god and the narrative I’d been taught by some of that god’s followers explained same sex attraction kept me from being able to accept her for who she was.
Eventually my thoughts and ideas did change. In fact, it was one of several reasons I eventually became an atheist. I couldn’t buy the goodness of a god who would condemn these people as morally bankrupt because of circumstances that were beyond their control.
Humanist ethics begin with empathy and so I’d like now to return the great gift I was given when I came to understand and accept these groups of people on their own terms by, hopefully, helping others come to empathize and understand them as well.
Because it’s been in the media so much recently with the stories about Caitlyn Jenner, I wanted to start with those who identify as transgender. I had just started to research where to find the most accurate information about this group when I came across the perfect resource. I listen to a dozen or more podcasts each week and one of them is the Gaytheist Manifesto. The podcast is hosted by Callie, who’s a trans woman, and she is both an activist and is trying to form a community for those who identify as both gay and atheist. It just so happened that, coincidentally, this week’s podcast was called Transgender 101. In this episode Callie invited on a new acquaintance who didn’t know much about what it meant to be trans to ask any questions he might have, no matter how personal or awkward, so that the episode could be shared with others who lack an understanding about what it means to be trans. And so I invite you to follow this link to this episode of the podcast and give it a listen. I learned several things from it and I’m sure that, especially if you’re unfamiliar with those who are trans, you will too.
Finally, as always, once you listen to this episode of the podcast, please feel free to engage in discussion about this with Callie directly through social media. You can also start a discussion below in the comments or on any other social media that I frequent.