“Am I doing this work responsibly?”

The title of this post comes from a workshop I attended last year that aimed to analyze the intersections of racism, ableism, and classism. A fellow participant of the workshop asked one of the facilitators for some advice on how we can “check ourselves” to make sure we stay grounded in doing social justice work. His response of “Make sure you ask yourself frequently, ‘Am I doing this work responsibly?’” has stuck with me every single day. It’s one of many phrases I carry with me.

This past fall, I volunteered with the One Royal Oak campaign to talk with voters about the city’s Prop A ballot initiative. Prop A represented the city’s non-discrimination ordinance that included protections for gender identity and expression and for sexual orientation (what some of you think of as the LGBT umbrella). I knew that I would be sharing my story a lot to demonstrate to voters the impact discrimination has on transgender folks, but I don’t think I realized how often it would really happen. I came out as a trans man to hundreds of people in person, and then I did a few interviews for some of the media coverage. Through the hard work of a bunch of volunteers and amazing organizers, Prop A passed! No campaign is perfect, and I definitely saw a fair share of problems within how the campaign was structured. From there I decided that I needed to be more involved in transgender-specific volunteer work and activism, especially in being more intentional about how other identities affect the experience of being a transgender person.

Every once in a while, timing leans in my favor. Shortly after the November 5th election, several opportunities to get more involved in MICHUHCAN fell into my lap. I was asked to put together an LGBTIQ Taskforce (lesbian, gay, bi, transgender, intersex, queer or questioning) as a platform to develop health care related projects that aims to support the multitudes of needs for people in the community. There are so many avenues for creative collaboration and meaningful dialogue around transgender issues as those issues interact with other identities such as race, ethnicity, class, disability, immigration status, geographic location, and so on! Kimberly Crenshaw first published the term “intersectionality” to describe how all of an individual’s identities affect the other, and that it is not a genuine analysis to isolate identities in discussions about how experiences shape perspectives. The term “intersectionality” has been pretty commonplace in social justice circles since. Crenshaw particularly focused on the intersection of being African American and a woman as those identities relate to the experience of violence.

I’ve been influence by so many who have demonstrated how important it is for people who do activism to be intentional about supporting communities that face the most barriers. And “being intentional” means a lot of things, I’ve learned over the years. It can mean doing a lot of research, talking with a lot of people (but mostly listening), constantly analyzing your place in doing this work, and challenging others when you see decisions being made in ways that further disadvantage historically neglected communities. Means a lot more too.

When I think about about the ACA and Medicaid expansion, I know we must be moving forward thinking about those who are affecting most by having access to health insurance. I think about transgender people who have never had a good experience at a doctor, being terrified about telling their doctor that, well, they see their body different than perhaps other people see their body. I think about people who aren’t “disabled” enough according to Social Security to get SSI, but who still can’t get work to pay their rent otherwise. I think about dedicated moms that go to PTA meetings every month and who are also taking care of grandma at home, while trying to figure out how to get enough money together to fix the car.

There are so many ways the work that MICHUHCAN is doing to create access is affected by different movements. The ACA and Medicaid expansion provide a great opportunity for all of us to learn more about what these communities need.