I must admit to you that I had some difficulty writing this piece. In my daily life, I speak to people from all walks of life, of all colors, races, creeds, and who come from some amazing places both physically and spiritually. I have prayed with Bishops and Imams, discussed Buddhism and Zen with monks and other leaders in those communities, celebrated Sabbat in a pure cotton robe and had the Torah read and explained to me by a Rabbi. Daily, I speak to those wearing suits/outfits that cost more than I make in a month and to those whose worn clothing is all they have in the world. In short, I speak to people.
To be perfectly honest - this is not always easy. Often, I have beliefs about certain groups, and often, certain groups might have beliefs about me and the groups I identify with, and these can make communication more difficult. But there is a magic key that almost always seems to make it work. I will share this with you on one condition: you must pass it on to others who struggle with how to talk to ______ people (fill in the blank with a group you find difficult to interact with). The key is: communication with an open and willing heart.
“What is this?”, you grumble, “I should accept everything people around me believe? Preposterous!!!!” No, I reply, that is not what I said or meant at all. The first part, having an open heart, means simply being open to learning about new things without judgement and having a basic respect for others’ beliefs. It does not mean you have to agree with something or take it on as a part of your own life. It does mean that you respect other individuals’ beliefs and understand that they are just as important to them as your beliefs are to you.
The second part, having a willing heart, means being willing to learn about ideas, beliefs and lifestyles that are different from your own. Sometimes radically different from anything you have ever been exposed to before. The first time I went to a Buddhist Temple and meditated in front of a statue of Maitreya Buddha, I felt I had somehow entered the Twilight Zone. However, I tried it, and later, after talking with several of the monks, I felt I could understand them and their lifestyles just a bit better, as I had willingly walked a bit in their shoes.
So, in short, I know no perfect ways to talk to LGBTTQQIAAP individuals - and I identify with that group myself. I often struggle to use the “correct” terminology and forms of address for my transgender and transsexual brothers and sisters and others in my community. I didn’t even know what all those letters stood for and will admit was sometimes frustrated with the ever-increasing number of them. But then I remembered my magic key, and I started educating myself.
When I made a mistake, I apologized honestly and openly and learned to ask, “What should I say instead?”. I learned to simply ask a person how they wished to be addressed instead of assuming by their clothing or appearance. Sometimes I even got in trouble doing that, and I again just apologized honestly and asked how I could do better in the future. There is no one singular way to communicate effectively with every member of every group, including the LGBTQ+ community.
I truly believe it is about approaching every interaction with that open and willing heart and being willing to do some self-education.
On that note, I will recommend the following websites/pages.
- The first is the Movement Advancement Project (MAP) which has produced a series of guides on Talking About LGBT Issues.
- I highly recommend “An Ally’s Guide to Terminology: Talking About LGBT People & Equality” which includes information on transgender; in both print and downloadable format.