First of all, I need to define what these two terms mean to me.
Being an advocate means that you are able and willing to speak for a group or community to promote an idea or further the knowledge and understanding of the group.
Being an activist means you take actions to further the cause of a group.
Sometimes the two terms are used interchangeably.
It has been just over two years since I made the public announcement on FaceBook that I am a transgender woman. One paragraph in my announcement instantly made me an advocate of sorts.
“If you have any questions which don’t involve personal or medical information, please ask me. If you are unsure if your question is too personal or concerning a medical topic, please ask me. I will let you know If I feel uncomfortable in answering and explain as best I can why I don’t wish to answer.”
I offered to everyone who comes across my post that I would try to answer any questions people had. These are my personal views and opinions of what I am experiencing as a transgender person. In 2015, GLADD released a study showing that only 16% of Americans think they know a transgender person. Because I chose to answer questions I became a defacto source of information on the transgender community. I became the person people mean when they say my friend has a friend who is trans and they said this or that.
Being an advocate can both build up and tear down a trans person. Especially for those of us who are considered empaths. There are times when I get a great deal of satisfaction and fulfillment from educating others on how I view my gender. Providing this education can at times be extremely draining. One reason for this is that I am frequently justifying my existence and why I deserve my human rights. I want you to pause and reflect on that statement for a moment. Have you ever justified why you should exist or should be treated the same as anyone else? There are many who have to do this on a daily or near constant basis. They are forced into this situation by simply being who they are. The reasons are many including color, national origin, sexuality, and gender identity. Being forced to defend your very existence because of something you have no control over is exhausting.
Why then, do I advocate? The answer for me is simple. The sense of fulfillment and satisfaction I get from knowing that I helped another understand a little more about transgender people provides me with the energy and strength I need to survive most of the situations I face daily.
What drives an advocate to become an activist? I feel it has to do with what or how much is at stake if action is not taken. As a transgender person, my very life could be at stake if I don’t take action.
Things like using a restroom, playing a sport, obtaining health care, changing a name, and updating gender markers have thrust trans people and our rights into the spotlight. These are things most people take for granted. If you need to urinate you go into a restroom and do so. If you wish to play a sport you do so. A trans person is forced into evaluating many things before doing these things. Will I be raped, beaten, or killed? Will I be discovered as different? Will I be bullied and suffer emotional and psychological harm? Will I have to take out a newspaper ad and announce to people I don’t know that I am trans? Will I be allowed to see a doctor? If these were taken or even threatened to be taken away from you what would you do?
Why am I an activist? I take action because people like me are having these things taken from them. If I allow it to happen to them, it will set a precedent and potentially lead to these things being taken from me. I take action because just as being an advocate brings me energy and strength, being an active participant in my survival intensifies the amount of energy and strength I receive. I take action so others may have an easier path than I.
My answer to the article’s title question: I came out as transgender, do I have to be an advocate and activist too?
I can not answer for you, but for me, yes. I have to be both to ensure my survival. How much of each role I take is a balancing act involving survival, comfort, strength & energy.