Is Your Occupation the “Gender Police?”

stop acting like the gender police

I sat in the University of Utah Union Ballroom anxiously waiting for the keynote address, “Ain’t I A Woman: My Journey to Womanhood” from Laverne Cox. I had never heard Laverne address a crowd in this capacity, I only knew her as Sophia Burset from Orange Is the New Black, and although I assumed her speech would be fierce, I had no idea what she had in store for us.

First things first: Laverne Cox is hilarious.

I’m talking, slap your knees, look to your friends, and howl with delight, kind of funny.

Second: She knows her shit. All of it.

She dropped names like Foucault, Butler, and hooks, but she did it in a way that was accessible. She shared sobering facts about the trans* community’s staggering suicide and incarceration rates, and she did it all while interrogating race, class, and gender. She called for an end to patriarchy, citing it as the root of transphobia and homophobia. It makes me want to clap just thinking about it.

I learned so much about Laverne (her life, her projects, and her “shame gremlins”). I learned even more about the issues facing some of the most marginalized folks in our communities, trans* women of color.

One of the simplest, but most profound things she asked from each of us is to stop acting like the gender police.

It is not your job to tell someone how to present themselves in this world. Stop acting like anyone else’s hair, makeup, or clothes affect you. Quit telling little boys to put down dolls, and telling little girls to pick up makeup. Quit trying to shove your pronouns and labels onto the backs of others, because it’s not your place to decide someone’s gender. You think the person you saw walking down the street in a dress is “a man?” That’s none of your business, and what good does it do for you to point that out and call it into question in public?

Your gender policing might be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back for someone who is fighting to stay alive. Your occupation, my occupation, and your neighbor’s occupation is not as a member of the Gender Police.

As Laverne said, just try. Give it a shot for one hour, one day, one month, and maybe you will realize that there’s nothing so upsetting about letting people live their lives. Maybe you can stop worrying and let beautiful, funny, smart, and talented people like Laverne Cox be fabulous in peace.


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