Tayari Jones and the myth of the moral middle

Dear President Trump,

Happy Transgender Awareness Month! All VA employees got an email about it last week, which to me signals that you can try to erase transgender people, but it’s not going to work. It’s not going to work at the VA and it’s not going to work at the coffee shop down the street or anywhere else. Yes, you will succeed in emboldening insecure angry people to engage in more hate crimes and discrimination and you will likely succeed in scaring a lot of gender non-conforming people. But you are not going to succeed in stuffing people back into their closet prisons and you are not going to poison all the millions of us who are their allies.

And there’s no middle ground on this. You are wrong and those of us who agree that yours is an immoral, cruel stance are not going to meet you halfway or beg for crumbs. We are not going to say, ‘hey, ok you can discriminate against transgender people just so long as you don’t legislate them out of existence.’ No – it doesn’t work that way. You are just f*cking wrong.

I love this way of framing such fundamental issues of morality and credit for this framing goes to my new hero, Tayari Jones who has an incredible article in the online Time magazine. Ms. Jones recounts how as a very young child she learned about apartheid in South Africa and how Gulf Oil helped to finance it. When a friend invited her to the zoo and the friend’s mom stopped at a Gulf Oil station for gas, young Tayari explained to her that Gulf supported apartheid and would she please not buy gas there. The mom persisted, citing the cheap gas price so Tayari got out of the car crying and refused to go with them. Her dad came to pick her up and instructed her to thank them for the invitation, but didn’t insist on an apology. Instead, he told Tayari he was proud of her. Ms. Jones has articulated in adult-language what her five-year-old self knew instinctively – that there are no half measures when it comes to the gulf between immoral and moral. The middle is not sort of moral; it remains immoral and it’s not valid to come to some contrived, make-nice position. Of course people on the conservative right insist that there can be no half measures regarding their take on what is and isn’t moral too, so I get the temptation to try to persuade both sides to split the difference. But clearly that won’t satisfy conservatives and the rest of us need to not wring our hands and pander to the almighty middle.

May we keep all people safe in their own skins and ways of being.
May we be happy to celebrate differences.
May we be healthy and secure enough in ourselves to be ok with people we don’t (yet) understand.
May we strive for peace but not at the expense of anyone’s humanity.

Tracy Simpson

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