“You want me to take over as the Director of the Safe Housing Project. Me.”
Jake Buchanan was sitting across a table at a local diner from Bishop as she made what he considered an outrageous suggestion. What could she possibly be thinking of?
“Just let it sink in a minute, Jake. You’ll see it makes a lot of sense.”
Bishop lifted her coffee cup to her lips to take another sip and Jake couldn’t help but notice her hands. She had transitioned nearly a decade ago, but he always felt her hands, about the same size as Jake’s, didn’t fit in with the rest of her appearance.
“Sense? You know me. I’m as conservative as they come. I’m almost sixty years old, white, male, cisgender, married to the same woman for thirty-five years, three kids, two grandkids and another on the way. My life’s practically a painting by Norman Rockwell.”
“You’ve also been involved in helping the homeless population in our community for fifteen years or more. You lead the grass-roots campaign to get the city to expand its first homeless shelter and then to approve two more.”
“I’m not finished. You and I have been friends for most of those fifteen years. As conservative as you are, you’ve always accepted me. You accepted me when I was Rudy and then when I transitioned to Ruby.”
“You want me to take over the Safe Housing Project for the transsexual and gender non-conforming community. Me. Old white guy of the year.”
“That’s exactly right.” Bishop reached out and briefly touched Jake’s forearm. Jake thought it was such a feminine mannerism and although he considered her one of his closest friends, in the back of his mind, he still remembered Rudy Bishop and the night they first met.
“Look at it this way, Jake. The cisgender community is still struggling to accept gender non-conforming people. The fact that you are a conservative and are heading the Project will send a message rippling through the entire county that transgender homelessness isn’t just a tragedy, it’s life-threatening.”
“I’m not arguing about the risks to the transgender homeless, but are you sure I’ve got that kind of influence? I’m just one man.”
“You’re the right person for the job because of your passion for this sort of work, but that’s not what’s bothering you, is it?”
Jake finished the now lukewarm coffee left in his cup. “Are you sure they’ll trust me?”
“You mean the transgender community. Probably not all of them. Probably not a lot of them. That’s where I come in.”
“You’ll vouch for me.”
“Something like that, Jake. I’m on the Board of the Project which is how I can offer you the job.”
“Integrity comes in all shapes, sizes, colors, orientations, and gender identities. People in our two worlds have been apart long enough. It’s time we come together to support a common purpose. Human dignity.”
“Well that part I can agree with, Bishop…Ruby.”
“You almost never call me by my first name. Why now?”
“I’m still trying to wrap my brain around gender non-conformity. It’s not how I was raised to think.”
“Jake, you’re living proof that a leopard can change its spots.”
“If you say so.”
“You saved my life nearly fifteen years ago. You know that.”
Jake remembered walking by an alley that night, hearing the sound of punches and cries of pain. Looking into the shadows to see three thugs beating on a small figure.
“If you hadn’t stopped them, I’d have been beaten to death, but that’s not what really saved me.”
“You got me to your car, took me to the ER, paid for my medical bills, and then found a safe place for me to stay.”
“It’s what any decent person would do.”
“Then you must be one of the few decent people on the planet. Anyone else would have walked away, not only then, but after they found out about Rudy and then Ruby. Through all of that, you watched over me, made sure I was taken care of. Now I take care of myself.”
“You said it yourself. Human dignity. It’s what we all have in common, or should have.”
“Jake, you talk about the way you were raised and the values you were taught as if they were barriers to heading the Project, when they’re the very qualities making you uniquely suited to accept this position.”
“Maybe so, but it’s not black and white. I’m not a perfect person. I’m not always as cool about you as I’d like to be.”
“I know and that’s the point. Even wrestling your own demons, you never stopped being my friend. You’re the one person that can bring us all together so that finally we stop being us vs. them. We just become us.”
“Mind if I talk it over with Jeannie first?”
“And if your wife says yes?”
“Then you’ve got yourself a deal, Ruby.”
In spite of my previous short story or maybe because of it, I wrote this current tale. Actually, it was inspired when I read ‘I Can’t Keep Living Like This’: How Homelessness Is Killing Trans People.
I’m not the heartless bigoted monster some more progressive people or some folks in the LGBTQ community might think I am if they read my political and social rants. I don’t actually desire anyone to be homeless, forced into sex work, or killed because of their gender identity (or anything else).
But it occurs to me that the biggest barrier to assisting homeless trans and non-gender conforming people isn’t the lack of legal protections, but the apparent inability for us to see each other as human beings with the right to be treated with dignity and compassion in common.
With each community demonizing the other, there is no cooperation and thus, no unified solution to anyone’s homelessness.
Admittedly, people like my fictional Jake Buchanan are exceptionally rare, but if they do exist and they are willing, maybe it takes a Jake as well as a Bishop to join forces and bring a lot of homeless and at risk people some stability.
I don’t have all the answers. Maybe I don’t have any. All I do have is a suggestion to people from my world that even if you don’t understand trans people, they are indeed people and a lot of them need help.
7 thoughts on “The Unlikely Alliance”
I’m fine with all people as people…but the minute they begin to shove their ideas down my throat as being the only correct ideas…no matter what they are, is when I revolt. The recognition for special status for any underdog minority group is an attempt at normalizing, even celebrating a minority group identity and behavior as a new norm…as if the remainder of the society must not just accept and tolerate the minority position, beliefs and behavior, but adopt and celebrate them. I find that to be unnecessary for normal societal relations, and think the less of the minority group for attempting to force their agenda on others when there is no need. Legal protections do need to be in place against discrimination, but it should not be required that minority positions be favored by the majority…only tolerated as the majority positions are tolerated, not mandated.
The idea of a group of any kind being the only homeless individuals being abused and neglected people that need help and understanding is catering to the specific minority, rather than the condition of homelessness that needs to be addressed for all the homeless individuals in our society. It makes for a vague story about people getting along with other, and avoiding persecution of a minority group, but it indirectly and unconsciously encourages a mindset that any minority group, homeless or not, has superior claims above other groups, minorities, or not. No one individual is better than another, or more deserving of assistance because of their minority or majority position or status, but because of their character, personal circumstances and resultant actions.
Your charactors above are tolerant, decent people who care about others, and wish to help them…but making it all about one group, as if homelessness was the sole result of persecution against a trangender group…which for your story might indeed be the case…is actually fostering the perception that any group is really homeless or in difficulties because of one characteristic. If you want your story to be about helping only the transgender homeless, it automatically makes other homeless persons to be less than deserving of help because they are not of the correct minority to receive help. That in itself is discriminatory. We should already be beyond group identities as a qualifier for assistance of any kind, and simply relate to the needs of the individual.
If you want to discuss trangender acceptance in the cisgender majority, you really need to focus on the acceptance of minority groups, and indeed, the need for accepting them as groups…if there is really such a need. After all, if the group is already a political force, as the LGBT group is, they generally are not in the helpless state of need as presented in your story. A story about an alliance between a cisgender person and a transgender person, to discuss the difficulties of the majority group in accepting the minority group, and indeed, of the personal ramifications that ensue, needs to be on the basis of joint concerns, or you risk sounding like a promoter of the minority group’s specific differences, and thus negate the message and theme of tolerance and mutual accord between equals, and turn what is a fictional story into a polemic, even if a gentle one.
I admire any story that has such diverse individuals joining ranks to solve a problem, going against their personal biases, feellings and idosyncrasies to forward a common cause, but to do so without making the cause equally important to the characters leaves an unfinished vagueness as to what the story is really about. The two diverse characters getting together to fight for the cause need to be the point, and the reasons they join together need to be the point of the story, rather than the general cause being the point, otherwise you risk the appearance of pushing the advancement of the cause specificied. A deep former friendship, broken for a time by the transgender change in Rudy/Ruby, a position of some power that Jake holds, and that Rudy/Ruby needs, and some hidden conflict in both Jake and Rudy/Ruby are needed, or you risk being politically correct and vague as to the real point of your story.
Even the use of politically correct labels such as cisgender and transgender keep us tiptoeing about each other, and never just getting to the root of the problem, which is societal dislike of radical change, particularly when forced on the majority by a minority not through gradual normalization of the minority, but due to their victim status, as if victimhood is sufficient reason for the normalization. The article you referenced above describe a pathetic few people that are trashed and abandoned by their families for non-conformance with the family group. That happens for every kind of non-conformance to a family group…it is not a specifically gender related point, though indeed those abused individuals have a lot of problems, and are pardonably aggreived over it. So the question comes down to whether an aggrieved individual has more pain, suffering or indignities thrown at them than other family shunned members, and if so, is that what the story is about, or is it about the two people working to change a minority individual’s circumstances, and why they feel compelled to do so.
First off Q, in the body of the story, Jake is credited with having a track record of helping homeless people in general, so it’s not like the story is exclusively about transgender homelessness.
I also disagree that focusing on one sub-group of homeless devalues all other homeless people. There are projects that focus on helping homeless military vets because they have unique issues. Relative to the general population, there is disproportionate number of homeless among the transgender population. Even though the percentage of transgender and gender non-conforming people world wide is something less than one percent, it doesn’t negate their needs. Also, traditional practices of helping the wider homeless population might not always be effective.
As the article I linked to points out, transgender people are often rejected and victimized in the traditional homeless shelter system, so it might take a special project to provide them with safe housing.
I wanted to write a story about two very different people, Jake and Bishop, who by rights should have little or nothing in common, and illustrate that through mutual cooperation and recognizing that all human beings have the right to dignity, even really different people can come together and do some good.
Granted, I’m hardly a perfect writer, so maybe there was a better way to get my point across, but at the end of the day, we need to find a better way to serve the needs of all Americans. While I agree that “tolerance” doesn’t mean “total and blind acceptance” and embracing all people no matter what, it does mean that we don’t have to condone an injustice to a particular people group just because we have issues with them or they don’t conform to our standards of what is “normal.”
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I was attempting to get you to narrow your focus on the characters, and not the groups of homeless…this is why I feel your story was coming across as somewhat bland for you…as if you were bending over backwards to not offend the group in the story. We have to treat homeless people as homeless people…the reason for their homelessness is a factor, certainly…they do not fit in the broader society, and are being penalized for doing so…perhaps some more than others, but since they are all ending up homeless, with little opportunity to work or improve their circumstances, the reason why shouldn’t be the focal point of why anyone helps them. Even discrimination from one homeless shelter should not be so screamingly biased againsed helping a transgender person that they would refuse to help them. Yes, perhaps they only feel truly safe with one another, but it seems to me that the burden to mix in society is on the individual, not the group. Not all of them will succeed, or even want to, and that is true of Veterans, or housewives. And all individuals have to conform to some degree to the general society.
Certainly it would be a reason for Rudy/Ruby to want Jake, who has a history of helping the homeless, and helping Rudy/Ruby in his/her unusual cercumstances, but what is Jake’s rational? Just to head up a particular group…to oblige Rudy/Ruby? Why? What is he doing now? Is he retired…in need of a job? Is he a passionate advocate for the homeless, or is this his ministry, or just part of what he does as a nice, orlder, accomplished citizen with a Norman Rockwell life because he feels he needs to volunteer a certain amount each week? Is Rudy/Ruby doing Jake a favor as well? That is what I am getting at. Not all people worry about Veteran homelessness, which is partly due to PTSD; and then their are other mental and social problems that chase people into the streets…lack of education plus bad luck or bad choices…the reasons are legion. But even for a focused project, the reason Jake would help is not really being addressed…and their relationship is not described as deep enough for such a favor from Jake to Rudy/Ruby (I use both names because no transgender person is free from his past identity gender). Consequently, I wanted you to see why you might wish to develop the relationship history/conflicts in order to add vigor to the story…not because I disagree with the underlying reason for the story. It is a good story, but there is a lack of depth you could address, and add punch to the characters.
Jake’s motivations are complex. As you picked up from the story, he’s passionate about helping the homeless. He may be retired or near retirement or he may have the means to devote to his advocation at this stage of his life, I never really developed his backstory that far.
Jake is a social and fiscal conservative and maybe a little bit of my alter ego. Probably before meeting Rudy (now Ruby) he wouldn’t have had positive thoughts and feelings about the LGBTQ community, but in getting to know Ruby (as she’s now called), he realized that those people who are very different from him are also human beings, and realizing that, he knows they are entitled to being treated with respect, just like all other human beings.
Jake, as I tried to express in the story, still has issues with transgender and gender non-conforming people. So do I. I really can’t wrap my brain around this, especially if I’m asked to consider it a “normal” variant in human gender identity. But even if I or Jake can’t understand it or can’t accept such a state as normative in human beings, in the end, I and Jake still must oppose the death of human beings by suicide and murder or them being homeless and hopeless. In real life, I have no idea what to do about all this or whether I could or should do anything at all.
I wrote this story from a position of compassion. It is not right to only feel compassion for people like ourselves. I think John Donne’s famous poem No Man is an Island speaks to this point very well.
In the old, middle, whatever time English, would the bell be announcing capital punishment?
As I understand the historical terminology, the church bell in the community would be rung at the death of any person. If you heard the bell, you might try to find out if it was someone you knew. Donne was saying that it doesn’t matter if you know the person or not, you should care anyway. Every person’s life is important because they are a part of humanity.
The Capital Punishment within Prisons Bill of 1868 abolished public hangings in Britain, and required that executions take place within the prison.
I haven’t found quite what I was asking, but it seems possible (as one reason for a church bell).