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Hurting Unit Cohesion with Charlotte Clymer

This week, Ana (@anamariecox) sat down with Charlotte Clymer (@cmclymer), the  Press Secretary for Rapid Response at the Human Rights Campaign. 

Ana wanted to have Charlotte on to talk about the ban on transgender military personnel, in the hopes that people would remember it is happening at the same time as the administration is doing loads of other terrible things.

 

They then went into a brief discussion of what transgender and cisgender actually mean, and Ana asked Charlotte to explain to the well-meaning cisgender people that listen to the show exactly why the Trump Administration’s policy is so ridiculous and so damaging. One of the arguments put forth by Trump is that paying for surgery for transgender military members is too expensive. However, as Charlotte pointed out, the cost is relatively low compared to other military spending, and is in fact roughly equal to the price tag for the President’s proposed military parade.

 

Charlotte is in a unique position to talk about this, as a veteran and a transgender woman. Ana asked her perspective on the argument made by General Mattis against trans people serving: that it hurts unit cohesion. However, as Charlotte pointed out, when the four active service chiefs testified recently before Congress, “All four said they had no evidence unit cohesion would be a problem.” Additionally, she and Ana acknowledged that the “unit cohesion” argument is the same one levied against integrating the armed forces and allowing gay people and women to serve.

 

When Charlotte served, she had yet to transition. However, as her time in the service came to a close, she started to see fellow servicemembers transition, and felt no negative impact on “unit cohesion.” She started to tell a story about a friend from the service who transitioned, and misgendered the friend. She and Ana then talked about the act of misgendering someone, and Charlotte shared her own view on it. When dealing with friends and family members, “you’re trying, and that’s what matters to me. I’m not going to get angry with you if you accidentally misgender me. I don’t speak for all transgender people on that, but as long as a person approaches it in good faith, that’s what matters to me.”

 

The conversation then turned to the power of representation, because that same friend had shown Charlotte the possibility of transitioning. He played a profound role in her own transition, and provided constant support. “It allowed me to navigate whatever challenges and contingencies I could see on the horizon,” she said.

 

Charlotte then talked about her own remarkable coming out journey. That process took her from an abusive childhood to living as a genderqueer, male-presenting adult who could not place what about her life did not feel right. Eventually, she got to a space where she could transition, and that lived experience combined with the platform she now has drives her to use her platform to help other trans people.

 

Part of that includes serving as an ally for trans people of color, and disabled trans people. Although being an ally inherently involves making mistakes, as she put it: “being willing to make mistakes and reflect on them is really important.” In the spirit of actively lifting other voices up, Ana and Charlotte spoke about other people that listeners should be paying attention.

 

One of Charlotte’s favorite activists is Ruby Corado, a transgender woman who is the founder and executive director of Casa Ruby (@CasaRubyDC), a bilingual, multicultural community and resource center for LGBTQ people and immigrants in Washington, DC. “She is all about opening up her doors to transgender, genderqueer, gender nonconforming people, in addition to the wider LGBTQ community. She’s been really essential in just providing this community with resources for LGBTQ folks in the DC area,” Charlotte said.

At the end of the show, Charlotte and Ana answered a listener question from a white, cis, heterosexual woman teaching in an overwhelmingly white, conservative, rural place who wants to help her students feel safe and respected. Charlotte talked about how important it is for teachers to respect pronouns and explain why that’s important to other students, as well listen to students and offer to help them by advising student groups or advocating with school administrators while letting students take the lead. She shared what would have helped her most as a student.

 

“I wish more than anything that I had had someone that I could have talked to when I was a kid about all of this. When I think of my favorite teachers, there’s no way in hell I would have talked to them about gender identity and feeling like I was really a girl and wanting to explore that and know more about it. I think the baseline is providing an open ear, and letting your students know that you’re someone they can talk about these issues is huge. It’s enormous,” Charlotte said.

 

Ana added that one thing a teacher can do is tell students not to make assumptions about people’s genders, and refrain from using he/him/his as default pronouns. Despite the way some people scoff at that and dismiss it as virtue signaling, Ana and Charlotte both talked about how important it can be to hear that. Ana also pointed out that something like that can mean even more in a conservative environment than in a progressive one, and there’s nothing wrong with being a social justice warrior.

 

In the same vein, they talked about how important it is now, more than ever, for people with privilege to put their privilege on the line in the fight for justice.

 

Get in touch with us on Twitter at @crooked_friends, and email us at withfriendslikepod@gmail.com

 

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