Wade: Inherited hatred and how to stop it

When I grew up in the early 2000’s, I didn’t know what being transgender meant. I grew up in a time when people cross-dressing on TV shows were laughed at, humiliated, and labeled insane. Characters would accuse each other of being gay and it was a terrible insult that they’d try to deny as much as they could. In a crime show I watched as a kid, a trans person was portrayed as someone with split personalities of different genders where one identity tries to kill the other. All I knew were caricatures.

Alice Wade
Alice Wade

Children the same age as me would watch these shows and internalize that being gay, being trans, or being different was wrong. On the playground in kindergarten, I still remember the kids at my school saying that I was gay for playing with girls. They hurled around the word like a slur when most of us didn’t even know what it meant other than “something to be avoided.”

I was in a Boy Scout troop in middle school (ironic looking back on it now, but I digress), and during campouts we would play a game that was nicknamed “Spear the Queer”. One person was designated “the queer” while everyone else tried to run them down and tackle them. None of the adults stepped in to tell the kids that they shouldn’t call it that. They played the game right alongside us without a second thought.

When an identity is shunned for being weird, different, strange, or unusual, people are given the moral authority to exclude them. Those who are different from you are frightening after all, you don’t understand their worldview and that makes them a very effective target for fear-mongering. This goes for all types of identities: gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, neurodiversity, or immigration status for example.

No child is born to hate or fear these groups. Biases like those are passed down by adults, perpetuated by stereotypes in media, and exploited by politicians to give you a villain to blame for all of the world’s problems.

I do acknowledge how lucky I am to live in a time where I can openly admit that I’m trans, that my family accepts me, and I don’t have to fear getting fired. Not that many years ago I wouldn’t have been legally allowed to transition or marry the person I love. But there’s no guarantee that I’ll be able to continue living happily as I am forever.

Yet, the New Hampshire legislature is considering bills to restrict my access to life-saving healthcare, my ability to use public restrooms, and make my very existence a taboo topic in schools. It legitimizes the notion that transphobia is okay.

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This media, these memories, these hate-filled laws, they linger.

So how do we as a society fix this? How do we avoid the next generation of kids from growing up hating people who are different from them? Exposure.

Authentic representation in media helps somewhat, but the most effective exposure is personally knowing someone who is gay or trans. You learn to understand them and see that they’re people too. They’re your family, friends, and coworkers. They have dreams, struggles, and stories just like everyone else.

For years I thought I was an awful person for feeling like I didn’t belong in my own skin, for feeling different. If only I had known sooner that I wasn’t alone, that there was a name for what I was going through and a solution. I would’ve been able to give myself the opportunity to live happily throughout high school, but I never got the chance.

Learning about what it is to be part of the LGBTQ+ community at a young age isn’t just beneficial for kids who are gay or trans. It also helps straight and cisgender kids learn that it’s not something to make fun of, and they grow up to be more accepting adults.

That is why the attempt to ban gender and sexuality from being discussed in schools like some New Hampshire politicians are trying to do is so harmful. It’s an attempt to stop kids from learning to be accepting under the guise that the topic itself is inherently immoral.

Generation by generation trends towards more acceptance. Interracial and gay marriage used to be minority views, but over time they become more widely established. This isn’t to say we can sit idly by and expect society to trend upward, but to stay hopeful for the future where people won’t fear discrimination for coming out of the closet.

If you’d like to help New Hampshire take steps towards that better future, please call your Representatives, Senators, and Governor Sununu and tell them to vote against these discriminatory anti-trans bills. Tell them that hate has no home here in the Granite State.

Alice Wade lives in Dover, NH.

This article originally appeared on Portsmouth Herald: Wade: Inherited hatred and how to stop it