Editor's Note: Guest blogger Brynn Tannehill, a Naval Academy graduate, earned her Naval Aviator wings in 1999 and flew SH-60B helicopters and P-3C maritime patrol aircraft during three deployments between 2000 and 2004; she also served as a campaign analyst while deployed to 5th Fleet Headquarters in Bahrain from 2005 to 2006. She earned an M.S. in Operations Research from the Air Force Institute of Technology, transferred to the Naval Reserves, and began working as a senior defense research scientist in private industry before leaving the drilling reserves and beginning transition in 2010. Since then she has written for OutServe Magazine, The New Civil Rights Movement, and Queer Mental Health as a blogger and featured columnist. Brynn and her wife Janis currently live in Xenia, Ohio, with their three children.
The recent back-and-forth between Piers Morgan and Janet Mock has been very well documented in the media. So was Katie Couric's faux pas with Carmen Carrera and Laverne Cox. Piers Morgan has been part of the media for decades, and had to know about what happened with Couric, yet somehow he managed to make the same sorts of mistakes that she did just two weeks earlier.
Unfortunately, conversations about transgender issues often are a no-win scenario. People who regard themselves as allies unconsciously have bought into all sorts of negative cultural narratives without realizing it.
Seeing transgender women as deceitful or as "traps" is one example. Another example is that people don't tend to see transgender individuals as being their target gender without having had "the surgery". Piers Morgan bought into both subconsciously, and it showed.
When Mr. Morgan made these mistakes he was met with a flurry of angry tweets. Having come from a place (probably) of good intentions, he was taken aback, and defensive. His feelings of, "Don't you people know I'm trying to help you?" were palpable. The transgender community was far from mollified by this position, though.
It isn't as if we haven't seen this sort of thing before. At the beginning of the war in Iraq, we sent our troops there without sufficient cultural training or competency. As a result, we came across to the locals as rude, boorish, insensitive, ill-mannered, and most of all, unwelcome. When the Iraqis responded angrily, all too often we took the defensive stance of, "Don't you people know I'm trying to help you?"
The backlash from elements within the transgender community is also understandable in another sense. We have been the American untouchables for so long and suffered so much violence that for many of us being angry and radicalized is unavoidable. While modern discussions of civil rights may focus on Martin Luther King, Malcolm X reflected the righteous anger of a people brutally oppressed for far too long.
There is also a base behind them which has been left raw by every indignity, stereotype, and hurt inflicted on them. We wield that pain like a scourge, because it is the only way we know how to fight back against constant de-humanization.