Take a stand or stay silent?

turning the other cheek The now famous pregnant transman, Thomas Beatie, is approaching his due date. As we get closer to the birth of his daughter in July, I’ve been noticing an increase in “pregnant man” searches that are bringing people to this blog. Surfing through some of the other posts on the subject in the WordPress.com community, I recently came across a rather right-wing blog that had some ignorant comments that I found angering. I generally have a policy of turning the other cheek in these kinds of circumstances, since educating non-receptive people about transgenderism can be an extremely frustrating and painful exercise. In this case however, I broke with form and left a one line comment about compassion. It wasn’t received very well. I don’t think I was taken very seriously because I am trans—one of THEM. I withheld any desire to comment back since it was obvious that it wouldn’t be constructive.

This all got me thinking about “when is it appropriate to take a stand, and when is it a better idea to just stay silent?” As it turned out, the book I happened to have just picked up (a birthday gift from my mom) addressed this very subject, albeit from a Buddhist perspective.

Against the Stream Against the Stream by Noah Levine is a “manual for for spiritual revolutionaries.” It includes Basic Training, covering Sid and his ascension to Buddhahood and the Four Noble Truths; Boot Camp, detailing the fundamental Buddhist practices; The Field Guide, where practice is put into action, The Revolutionary Manifesto; and finally Meditative Trainings. It’s a short book at less than 200 easy-to-read pages, but an important guide for our times.

With regard to my original query about taking a stand or staying silent, I present below some quotes from the book that I found helpful. In the end, I think I will need to assess each situation I face to determine if taking a stand will be truthful and useful, or simply harmful, and make sure my decision about whether to act or not is based on right intention. Levine is clear about one thing though: we must respond to oppression and commit ourselves to initiating positive change.

What about you? The next time you’re face-to-face with trans-ignorance, will you choose to take a stand and educate, or will you stay silent? What will motivate your choice?

…the radical approach of the spiritual revolutionary [is to respond] with compassion, kindness and understanding. (33)

…[realize] the power of communication to cause harm or bring about positive change and happiness… Being wise and careful about what we say, write, and otherwise communicate will bring more well-being to ourselves and to all those with whom we come into contact. A good basic guideline for our speech is to reflect on whether what we are saying is both true and useful. (35)

Wise and careful action, from a foundation of sober awareness, is the way of the revolutionary. (37)

Spiritual revolutionaries must be committed not to what is easiest but to what is most beneficial to themselves and the world. Remember: we have set our intentions to go against the stream… it is perhaps the only way to achieve freedom and to bring about positive change. (39)

The path of the spiritual revolutionary is a long-term endeavor… The revolution is dependent on the rebel forces being present in mind as well as body. That is the only way to overthrow the oppression of greed, hatred, and delusion. (41)

Ultimately, all beings have to free themselves. (65)

…anger is fueled by fear. (67) *

The spiritual path of rebellion must include the appreciation of our interconnectedness with others. (69)

Positive change in society rarely takes place in one generation. (82)

The outer revolution will take place when the inner revolution has been won by several generations of anti establishment spiritual rebels. (83)

It may be terrifying to see the truth of constant change and nonstability… (109) **

The whole point of spiritual practice is to… utilize our life’s energy to bring about positive change in the world… bring the wisdom and compassion that develops in formal spiritual practice into our relationships with each other. (110)

The understanding and compassion that develop through meditation’s natural response result in wise action—action such as taking the practice to the streets, serving the needy, protecting the oppressed, and educating the masses in the universal truths of kindness, generosity, and forgiveness. (111)

…we must commit our life’s energy to creating positive change… bring freedom to this world by responding with care and compassion to the overwhelming ignorance and suffering we feel and see; by directly addressing, through nonviolent actions, the constant destruction of life; by responding with compassionate and generous acts of service to the fear and greed and hatred that pervade the human experience… use [your] life’s energy to not only free ourselves from confusion but to help others get free from confusion as well. (112)

Anger is a very understandable and natural reaction to oppression. But anger, which is motivated by fear, is also a source of suffering. (112)

The point of the spiritual revolution is… about how we can serve the truth of interconnected experience and defy the lies of selfishness and separateness. (115)

Defiance means standing up for what you know is right. The spiritual revolutionary defies both internal and external forces of oppression. (120)

The truth is that ignoring or denying the oppression and confusion in the world is part of the problem. The spiritual revolutionary is engaged with the world and responds to oppression with open eyes and a willingness to protect others and alleviate oppression. At times this response comes in the form of education; at other times, in the form of hands-on nonviolent action. (122)

* When I read something about transpeople that makes me angry, what am I actually afraid of?

** Change and nonstability are seen as part of the trans experience. This fear of the unknown in turn fuels anger and oppression.

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