”People need to realize how powerful their words are.”

Shawn. Call Shawn him or it, he won’t mind either of them. Shawn is a self-proclaimed lanky person who sometimes struggles with his height. Making moving around maybe a bit awkward from time to time, but with having the heart in the right place, who would mind? I mean, someone who loves to take care of animals and wants to make the world a better place wouldn’t be described as being ‘satanic’ or ‘gothic’, right? Wrong.
Not only has Shawn experienced many bias-based approaches, he also had people calling names and refusing to be of service like they would have been to any other person. Why? I don’t believe that Shawn is the reason, but he does like to dress a bit differently than the so-called ‘norm’ and that seems to be an incentive to some (read: many). He chooses to be bold and authentic when it comes to clothes, jewelry and hair. Shawn chooses to be Shawn and therefore has to deal with a bias based on appearance.

shawn

As mentioned before, Shawn deals with a bias based on looks but there’s another one. Shawn was actually born as a girl but is now transitioning to become a man, since that’s what he identifies with. And knowing our modern day society, the responses aren’t too kind. According to a report by the National Center For Transgender Equality and The Task Force 90% of transgender people report experiencing harassment, mistreatment or discrimination on the job. According to the same research report, Injustice at Every Turn (2011), 41% of the respondents attempted suicide, compared to a small 1,6% of the general population. These numbers are shockingly high and prove that being transgender is hard enough as it is. So why would we allow people to call him ‘gay’ or let people yell ‘get a room’ when he’s kissing his girlfriend – like any other person – when the effect is horrible and heartbreaking? Listening to and reading Shawn’s stories made it clear to me that life has taken him to hell and back. For example, the story in which Shawn was made out to be involved with satanic practices. While he was just sitting on a bench in the city, talking with a friend, a man walked towards them and started yelling things about Satanism and threw his coffee to him. Aiming for Shawn. And being in shock about this, he didn’t know how to react to the situation. But how is one supposed to react to someone calling you an unfair name? The man clearly had his judgement ready and was blinded by his biases. Thankfully Shawn has a set of honest to God good friends who stick up for him, even when people act like he isn’t human. And just to be clear, Shawn would never even consider being involved with something dark.

Another story took place in a store when Shawn was just wandering around and he asked one of the employees a question. The employee immediately started refusing and saying, amongst other hurtful things, that he wouldn’t help ‘people like him’. People like him, what does that even mean? Shawn didn’t know either and asked for an explanation to which the man replied and pointed out the fact that he was wearing black trousers with chains, a t-shirt with a skull and gloves. Combining all that with bright colored hair and piercings, it was too much for him to handle.  And Shawn, he felt deeply hurt and far from respected as a human being. Something that had happened many times before that as well.

So, who is Shawn if we take a look past all our initial perceptions? Shawn is a creative creature, bringing his fantasies to life when he paints them and gives characters a story. We probably couldn’t even imagine what’s going on in his mind, I know I can’t. This same person is also very strong and resilient, being able to cheer himself up when the world is making him feel bad. Probably also when he has those strong feelings wanting to improve something in our world, to give people a home where they’re loved and accepted, no matter who they are. Something Shawn himself missed when he was growing up and went through way more than shared in this post.

But what can we do? Well, we could for example as a respond to all the negativity, be like the kids who pull the chains he’s wearing and simply ask him why. Why do you dress like that? Why do you dye your hair in the colors of the rainbow? Why do you do the things you do? And then, instead of some bias based guessing, we can actually get to know the person within and discover the actual potential. This tiny act of kindness to prevent us from having to ask ourselves why we allow our brain to be dominated by irrelevant biases. I can tell you that Shawn would absolutely be willing to share his identity and stories with you.

 

 

Reference:

Grant, J.M., Mottet, L.A. & Tanis, J. (2011). Injustice at Every Turn. National Center for Transgender Equality and Lesbian Task Force. Retrieved from http://endtransdiscrimination.org/report.html

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