Thursday, June 05, 2008

Living Lives of Principle

One of the most rewarding aspects of my work as editor of The Progressive Catholic Voice (PCV) is working with the growing cadre of gifted and inspiring writers that is coalescing around the mission of the PCV – to build and unify the progressive Catholic voice within the Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis and beyond.

The June issue of the PCV (scheduled to be posted online this weekend) features a great article by Vanessa Sheridan (pictured at right), a leading Twin Cities-based transgender educator and author. Vanessa will be the keynote speaker at CPCSM’s Annual Community Meeting (7:00-9:00 p.m., Monday, June 23 at St. Martin’s Table Bookstore and Restaurant in Minneapolis).

Vanessa’s June 23 talk will focus on “Living Lives of Principle,” and this is also the title of her commentary in the June issue of The Progressive Catholic Voice. She writes with insight and eloquence on this topic, noting at one point that:

When people are personally exposed to the truth about a topic, ignorance tends to dissipate. When people have positive individual or collective experiences in conjunction with the “other,” fear melts away. It’s hard to hate someone once you’ve heard and/or been a witness to their story. When the life of that “other” person is filled with ethical behavior and principled living, their story takes on a power that is inescapable. Truth, character and integrity are always the most potent counters to the lies of those who would deny us our rights.

Vanessa’s words remind me of the journey of the man of integrity highlighted on this weblog yesterday - and indeed the journeys of all who attempt to live lives of authenticity in the face of hostility, misunderstanding, and/or discrimination. For this reason I’ve decided to share Vanessa’s commentary in its entirety with readers of The Wild Reed. Enjoy!

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Living Lives of Principle
By Vanessa Sheridan

Transgender educator and author Vanessa Sheridan argues that
with centuries of cultural bigotry and prejudice to overcome,
LGBT people
are perpetually doomed to second-class status unless
they take the high road and demonstrate over the long haul
their integrity as human beings.


I’m convinced that living ethically is something most of us try to do as a matter of course. Most of us want to do the right thing by living lives of honor and truth. I truly believe that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people – like the vast majority of Americans, straight, gay or whatever – strive to be people of conscience who want to make a difference in the world through our actions and character.

However, and mostly by default, we have a more difficult and intense row to hoe than straight people. The reality is that LGBT persons will achieve the kind of life that everyone seeks – a life marked by acceptance, personal dignity, equality and genuine respect throughout society – in only one way: principled living over time.

Oh, there are other things we can do such as coming out to family, friends and coworkers, taking political action, educating the public about sexual and gender issues, striving to achieve visible and influential positions of leadership within the business, political, academic and religious communities, etc. Those are all good and worthy endeavors. But none of these efforts will generate a lasting impact if we don’t back them up by living lives of principle, demonstrating our integrity as human beings over extended periods of time. Nothing in the world influences other people more than witnessing someone else live a life of honor and quiet nobility every day.

As socially misunderstood minority group members, we have a responsibility to demonstrate the truth of our lives to those who don’t know or understand us. In this culture we are obligated to take the initiative and prove ourselves, for that is how we will gain the trust and respect of straight people. We can’t expect them to come to us or to know intuitively what it’s like to be “different.” Instead we have to show them that, while we may be “different,” we’re also quality human beings in our ethical approaches to life’s complex situations.

Admittedly, that’s not a fair situation. In a just world LGBT people shouldn’t have to be above reproach or concern ourselves with exhibiting exceptional ethical behavior at all times. We could simply live our lives and not worry too much about what straight society thinks one way or the other. But the world is not a fair or just place. Consequently, we have to make our own justice through influencing public opinion about us as human beings. And the only way to positively influence public opinion is to be magnificently uncompromising in terms of our demonstrated ethical behavior.

It’s a big load, one that isn’t easy to carry. Sometimes it can be downright infuriating and frustrating, as you undoubtedly know. I wish we weren’t forced into that unwarranted situation, but the reality is that we will be perpetually doomed to second-class status unless we take the high road in everything we do. Whether we like it or not, we have to continuously prove ourselves to society so we can achieve and maintain the equal rights and civil liberties that should automatically be ours.

We have centuries of cultural bigotry and prejudice to overcome. Even more, we have to overcome society’s fear of the unknown and the “different.” People are always afraid of what they don’t understand, which is why the radical right finds it so easy to use LGBT people as scapegoats for society’s fears. When people don’t see the truth of our lives for themselves, it’s a relatively simple thing to whip up fear and accompanying antagonism toward us. The far right has been doing that successfully for a long time.

So what’s the antidote to fear and ignorance about we who are perceived as “other?” Education and positive experience. When people are personally exposed to the truth about a topic, ignorance tends to dissipate. When people have positive individual or collective experiences in conjunction with the “other,” fear melts away. It’s hard to hate someone once you’ve heard and/or been a witness to their story. When the life of that “other” person is filled with ethical behavior and principled living, their story takes on a power that is inescapable. Truth, character and integrity are always the most potent counters to the lies of those who would deny us our rights.

Please understand: I’m not trying to moralize or tell anyone how to live or what to do. (Moralists are “shouldists.” They tell others that “You should do this” and “You shouldn’t do that.” I don’t operate that way, and I dislike those who do.) Instead, these are individual decisions that each of us must make for ourselves. All I hope to do here is encourage you to consider how, like it or not, your daily actions can and do automatically influence society’s opinions toward all GLBT persons.

Vanessa Sheridan



Recommended Off-site Links:
Vanessa Sheridan
National Center for Transgender Equality


See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Message to a Man of Integrity
Celebrating Our Sanctifying Truth
Truth-Telling: The Greatest of Sins in a Dysfunctional Church
Thoughts on Authority and Fidelity
To Whom the Future of the Catholic Church Belongs


5 comments:

Thom said...

But none of these efforts will generate a lasting impact if we don’t back them up by living lives of principle, demonstrating our integrity as human beings over extended periods of time. Nothing in the world influences other people more than witnessing someone else live a life of honor and quiet nobility every day.

That's something that everyone- lgbt or straight- needs to hear.

Mark Andrews said...

A side question: is transgender a form of transhumanism?

kevin57 said...

This reflection could have benefited from a more content-specific description of what "principles" the author is talking about.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Mark,

Thanks for stopping by.

I’m not sure what you mean by “transhumanism.” I’ve never heard of this term before.

The American Psychological Association has a useful page that answers a number of questions related to transgender individuals and gender identity. It can be found here.

Peace,

Michael

Mark Andrews said...

Hi, Michael. Transhumanism is worth a look, if only on Wikipedia. Not a very good place to start research, but its quick and easy.

I have not found *ANY* theological discussion of or reflection on the transhumanist movement, from any quarter. Doesn't mean there isn't any discussion, etc, only that I have not found any.

Its quite off-topic though.