The Fear of the “Other”

I recently had an interesting experience. One of my girlfriends mother’s friend saw her and I post a few things on Facebook and then she looked at my profile and found out I am Transgendered. I have never met this woman and she rarely sees my girlfriend and yet she called my girlfriend’s mother and told her she could not be friends on Facebook with her anymore because her daughter was dating a transgendered person and she didn’t want her grandchildren to be exposed to such things. Wow, of course I felt bad for my girlfriend’s mother, this was a long time friend.   Her mom and dad’s response was “well he is good man and my daughter is happy so if you feel that way then ‘fuck you'”. They were very supportive, yet it made me think a lot about where does this kind of discrimination come from? What makes people be that judgmental toward a person they have never even met. The only conclusion I could come to is the fear of the other. The fear of things we don’t understand and that are different then us. That fear is so great in many people that they are willing to give up a long friendship. Some people even believe this is what “God” would want them to do. 

The fear of the other, or something different then us,  causes separation and hurt in our world.  It amazes me how afraid people can be of something that they don’t understand.  Things that are different then us are not a threat;  they can color our world and make it much more interesting if we can only get over the fear.  Those of us that live out on the fringe or the edge, while being true to our inner selves, run the risk of causing said fear because we don’t fit into the “Norm”.   This fear sometimes manifests itself in discrimination.  Discrimination comes in many forms; the blatant in your face discrimination,  the more subtle discrimination, and the discrimination that is an undercurrent in our environment, our society and region, tribe and so on.  The undercurrent runs deep in our world. 

Here are some examples of those undercurrent messages our society and those who have power exhibit and which we all have to live with or overcome;

  • Heterosexual relationships are what’s expected and natural
  • White skinned people are smarter and safer and better
  • There are two distinct gender roles and you better fit into one
  • Women are second-class to men
  • If you don’t have or want to have children something is wrong with you
  • People who are overweight are lazy
  • If a woman is assertive she is a bitch
  • People of color are lazy and feel entitled
  • Women are fragile, men are tough
  • If women are sexual they are sluts; if men are sexual they are studs
  • All gay men have sex all the time with many different people
  • If you are not Christian you are not a real American
  • Girls cannot be physically strong (girl push ups & so on)
  • Lighter skinned people of color are better then the darker skinned ones
  • If you are a smart woman you are not desirable
  • Immigrants are ruining America, stealing our jobs and they should all come here speaking English
  • Academics and having a mainstream job, or buying into capitalism is more important then following ones heart
  • Men who cry or show emotion are either weak or gay

These messages affect us all even if we are not consciously aware of it.  When we realize that these messages are fed to us by society as a form of control through shame we can then choose to keep them or let go of them.  We can ask ourselves, do they serve us?  If so, how? If not, what affect has this message had on my life?  Do I want to be apart of passing this message on?  These messages are so ingrained in our society that people make judgements about people they don’t even know and never give people a chance to prove otherwise.  Every person is a beautiful soul with strengths and weaknesses and what their strengths and weaknesses are varies with each person”s perspective.  Regardless, we all have both strengths and weaknesses, this is why I think the great teacher Jesus said “you who is without fault cast the first stone.”  Therefore, even if you really believe who someone is or what they are doing in their life is morally wrong, as fellow humans our job is only to love them and be kind — not to judge.  ” All major religious traditions carry basically the same message, that is love, compassion and forgiveness the important thing is that they should be a part of our daily lives.” Dalai Lama  

 I always say there are only five things in life that I know for sure and those are;

  •  Life, the universe and we as people are all in a constant state of flux and change
  • Anyone who says they have it all figured out – makes my bullshit meter go off
  • There is always more then one path
  • It is never my place to judge another’s path
  • Loving each other, forgiving and being kind are the most important things we can do

I have learned that the old statement “the older you get the more you realize you don’t know” is so true.   Most things I thought I knew when I was younger I laugh at now. 

I believe it is our responsibility as adults to examine what we have been fed by our families, our churches or synagogues, society, school, and friends and decide for ourselves if these are the best messages to serve us now.  Are those messages what we want to aid us in living the way we choose, not the way someone else thinks we should, or said we should.  Our path is our own and the path of our parents, families, church, or society may not be suited for our own journey.  I am certainly not saying that we cannot learn good things from all of those people and places, my point is that I don’t find it’s best to just blindly follow. I examine what message I as an individual want to put out to others?  How do I want to treat others and be treated?  When I feel a judgement come forward I ask myself, where does this come from and does it serve me or my life?

“Be Kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” Dalai Lama

It is our responsiblity to create a more loving, accepting world.  One way we can start doing that is simply to be kind to people even when we don’t understand them or they are different from us.  What an amazing change there would be in the world if everyone just did this one thing.  My wish is that one day having an open mind and open heart will be a societal norm.

I am curious what your thoughts are on these two questions;

Do I think the world needs more judgement or less?  Is there any love represented in judgement?

 Buddha said “Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or ill.”

5 thoughts on “The Fear of the “Other””

  1. Thanks for this Mac. Fear of other may be ignorant, but it’s hardwired into our low-brain. ‘Other’ takes more time to process we’re more likely to make mistakes. This is let us survive when a trivial difference let us evaluate life or death as primitive gathers. We need a reason to override the emotional discomfort caused by the initial response from our amygdala. The authoritarian power structures created over the centuries are empowered by such bigotry, so it needs to come from the masses.

    Regarding your question, it’s slightly off-base. We need different judgement. We are social animals, and respond to social queues. “You’re too assertive and smart for a girl” is judgmental and sends a horrible message to young women. Replying to that with “Your animosity harms your peers” is still judgmental, but in a different vector.

    The good news is we’re starting to see more and more of it. Last year we saw ‘gay approval’ surpass 50% in the USA – mostly with gains in the 50+ male demographic. The likelihood of being chastised for publicly voicing archaic values is rising. We’re actually starting to see MSM cover trans-rights stories sympathetically. It’s still a long fight, but humanity has a long – if checkered – history of increasing human rights, freedoms & dignity.

  2. I think it is important to include too that “other” is perceived within the LGBTQ. For example, Cathy Brennan and her cohorts are probably the most toxically anti-transgender contingent that I’ve encountered. Indeed, as a gay transgender woman, the animosity I anticipate most is not from straight men or women (depending on socio-economic / educational backgrounds, etc.), but rather from within small but vocal contingents in the lesbian community.

    Further, I struggle with my own feelings of “other” about heterosexuals. From the time I was very little (like 4), it made absolutely no sense to my brain why a woman would ever willingly be with a male. That seems absurd until you think about the science. A gay woman’s brain reacts to pheromones very differently than a straight woman. We are wired to not find men attractive or nearly as attractive as women. And, likewise the converse is even more dramatically true for gay men who share almost identical brain structures with straight women. So yes, it really didn’t make sense to my young brain.

    It is important to state that current science does suggest we as transgender people are born with the brain structures and endocrine systems of the sex we understand ourselves to be as well as often anatomical consistencies. (For example, not only do I feel profound peace with my hormones are stabilized to female levels but I have pretty distinct “birthing” hips for someone born a “male”). Continuing, we may be born with gay, straight, bisexual, queer brains of that gender. I think transgender people’s sense of other may, in some, be compounded even over any other group. Again, that would make sense scientifically. To take a limit example, if based solely on biology, my woman’s gay transgender brain would be least intuitive to a gay male. Yet, gay men are my dearest and closest friends. Why?

    Of all the demographics inside and outside of the LGBTQ, I think the gay male community has evolved much more than any other group. My gay male friends may likewise feel a bit baffled as to why a male might want to be with a woman, but they are almost always have a “live and let live” mentality, or “you go gurl / girl” if that works for you.

    My point with this is all of these differences are very, very real and have basis in our biology. However, judgements about what we thing of those who differ, as you so well articulated, those are our culture and our willingness to have fear toward those we do not understand.

    I know, I still have work to do. To this day, if you give me the choice of sharing space with women (straight or gay), gay men, or any place with straight men, my instinct still is to choose anything but the latter.

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