First of all:
Transgender people in crisis should contact The Trevor Project’s 24/7 Lifeline at 866-4-U-TREVOR (866-488-7386), Trevor Chat, the Trevor Projects’ online messaging service, or The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
By now it seems like everybody has seen Marina High Homecoming Queen Cassidy Campbell’s video about haters tearing her down on her big night.
Obviously, I have a few things to say about this. First, haters gonna hate. Second, I think homecoming is stupid. Third, this girl has every right to be and do whoever the fuck she wants to be and do, and it doesn’t fucking matter what that is. It doesn’t matter what I think, it doesn’t matter what Internet douche-turds think, it only matters what she thinks, and that is none of any of our business.
As a rhetorical concept, Cassidy Campbell, America’s first ever transgender Homecoming Queen is a perfect storm of zeitgeist. She’s the intersection of the normalization of queer lives, the loss of personal privacy due to the Internet, the 24-hour news cycle, and the consequences of all three. Both negative (cyber-bullying) and positive (youth empowerment).
As a real girl, she’s a part of the national conversation whether we like it or not. I, personally, would prefer to keep children and young adults out of the news as much as we can possibly manage. But that’s not happening now, and it’s never going to happen in the future. We live in a world where kids are online, and trolling and bullying happens and will continue to happen. The kind of people who will seek out a girl on what should be a shining star in her high school memory book just to be cruel to her–for whatever reason–are not going to care that she is still a child. Some of the worst offenders may be children themselves.
We grown-ups know how cruel this world can be. (If you’re not a grown-up and you’re reading this, you need to send in your permission slip. Timothy, I’m looking at you.)
So how do we, as a society, balance putting this young woman on an international stage when we all know full well the kind of attention that was going to come down on her? And yet, we also know the power of visibility. How could we not signal boost this one small step for all the other girls like Cassidy for whom she may be a beacon of hope in an otherwise vast and unending darkness? Which in-turn leads me to another question: Has the quality of that darkness changed, possibly even been muted by the power of the Internet? Type “transgender” into YouTube and you’re going to find a lot of positive role models mere clicks away.
The Cassidy story is a tense geography. On one side we have the news organizations, desperate for a headline. I guarantee somebody’s editor used the phrase “freak factor” when they green lit the resources. Off in another direction, we have the community who just wants to have a happy ending and see a smiling girl in a pretty, shiny dress. Then there are the bigots whose vitriol is so despicable that they would turn it on a high schooler, opposite the trolls, who very well may be on Cassidy’s side in normal circumstances, but for whom being an Internet dickwad is a higher calling than friendship, politics, or anything else they may care about in public. Last, we have the subject herself, roiling in the middle of all this.
Are these just the breaks? If you’re special or exceptional in any way you better just hide the haterade and resolve to never read comments again? Is it right to ask a person to become a role model before they’re even legal to vote? Is it even our place or ability to ask, seeing as how she already had her own YouTube channel before the news came knocking at her door? I feel so strongly that we as adults have an obligation to protect this young woman, but from what, and to what extent? How much of this is just part of growing up in this day and age?
I used that quote as the title because I also feel that there are things in life that can’t be taught. Happiness, for example. We all must find our own path, and every person has had people–from strangers to lovers–tell us we weren’t good enough for our dreams, however ordinary they may be. It’s up to us to learn how to stand tall and tell those people to fuck right off into a jet engine. How this is accomplished, how those of us who learn this lesson are able to snatch confidence from the jaws of humiliation is a proprietary feature of being a grown-up. Some never learn it, some always knew. But most of us remember and forget a thousand different ways.
The video of Cassidy crying is terrible, but that’s the reality we live in. We all know this. So what’s to be done about it?