Billys Values and Trans Inclusion
by Eric Nedervold and Dewey Schott
We (Dewey and Eric) would like to share some thoughts about making our Gatherings safer and more welcoming for our trans brothers. We’re talking now primarily to Billys who, like us, are not transgender. We certainly are not experts on the trans experience—we’re just two Billys who believe strongly that inclusion makes the Billys a stronger, better community.
Inclusivity is the glue that holds our community together. You can see it throughout our current Mission and Values Statement. The only things that Billys love more than inclusion is heart-centeredness and hugs! In a survey from the last Visioning Retreat, numerous respondents said that they wanted inclusion of trans men to be more explicit in the Billy Mission Statement. As sensitive queer folk, we all know the lasting pain and trauma of being excluded, feared, misunderstood, and discriminated against.
Although we want to be inclusive, we Billys don’t always live up to our values. Intentionally or not, some individuals in our community have not been welcoming to trans guys at gatherings—in ways that range from cold shoulders, to rude and ignorant comments, to outright abuse. In the last case, leadership intervened but the damage was already done. The reality is that trans guys roll the dice when they come to Billy Gatherings. We want that to change.
So why are we writing this now? Well, the Summer Gathering is quickly approaching and we have over 130 people registered, including some new Billys. The blazing summer heat at Saratoga Springs drives most of us to the pool—and many of us right out of our clothes—so bodies are on display, and trans bodies are unfamiliar to a lot of us cisgender men. For better or worse, this provides us an opportunity to embody Billy values or—alternatively—to screw things up.
Trans issues are new to some of us, so let’s define some key terms.
A cisgender (or cis) person is someone who is okay with the label given to them when they were born. If the doctor said, “It’s a boy!” when you were born and you do identify as a man, then you’re a cis man.
A transgender (or trans) person is someone who disagrees with the label first given to them. If the doctor said, “It’s a girl!” when you were born but later in life you say, “No, actually I’m a man” then you’re a trans man.
The process of beginning to live by your own idea of your gender instead of someone else’s is called transition. It often involves changing your name and the pronouns you use. It may involve medical procedures, but it doesn’t have to. There are many ways to be trans.
Calling someone “she” when they’re a “he” or “they” is misgendering and is rude.
We want to be welcoming and inclusive Billys. What would it look like for a cisgender Billy to be a good ally for trans Billys? Here are some suggestions to get you going.
Be cool about other people’s bodies. We all have bodies, they come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, and most of us are insecure about ours in one way or another. But ultimately it’s all good. You want to feel safe in your body; then be okay with other people’s bodies so they can feel safe, too.
Don’t buy into the lies about what makes a man a man. As kids we all were taught that men are masculine, and that men sleep with women, and that men have muscles and hairy chests and beards and deep voices and penises—except we all know that’s just not true. Some of us are nelly, many of us don’t sleep with women, some of us don’t have muscles, some of us have smooth cheeks and chests, some of us have high tenor voices, and some of us don’t have the standard-issue penis. Yet we’re all still men.
Call people what they want to be called. Many men joining the Billys choose new names—different from the names their parents gave them—and when they do, that’s what we call them. The exact same holds for pronouns: call people by their chosen pronouns.
Cultivate a sense of tact. Some things are just rude to ask someone you don’t know intimately. A trans man’s former name or his transition process or the state of their genitalia is none of your beeswax. Talk about more tactful topics like how the Gathering is going for them or how they got through the lockdown or how much your cabin mate snores or the latest from RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Do your own education. The world is chock full of information, so if there’s something you want to know about the trans experience or transition or whatever, great! But go look it up on your own time. Trans Billys come to Gatherings for the same reasons we do: to get away, to go to Heart Circle, and to find community. Don’t expect them to dedicate their Gathering time to educating you. (Here’s an article and a video to get you started).
Interrupt harm. If you’re present when someone is doing or saying something transphobic or just dumb, don’t be a passive bystander. Just as you’d like someone to come to your aid, you can do the same for others. You don’t have to lecture anyone; sometimes just saying “Ouch!” to a misgendering or a transphobic comment can be enough to stop it dead.
Know how to apologize gracefully. No one’s perfect and we all have internalized the transphobia of our culture. There’s a 99.44% chance we will screw up something sometime—just accept that as a given. Rather than stewing in embarrassment and shame after a faux pas, just say frankly, “I screwed up” and apologize. Do learn from your mistakes and move on.
Just be a Billy. This is easy. If you see someone you don’t know, reach out and introduce yourself. If they’re new, introduce them around to the people you’re with. If someone looks lost, offer a hand. Invite people to sit with you at Heart Circle, to join you at meals. Pass on the warm welcome that made you feel part of our community when you were new.
This is only the beginning and we’re sure you can come up with more ideas.
(A lot of these could also apply to how White Billys could be more welcoming to Billys of other races too. Just sayin’.)
We’d like to acknowledge that the work of inclusion is ongoing. We are all a work in progress! We come to the Billys to experience belonging and inclusion, which is the heart of community. Our Billy values are how we come together in community. Let’s live out these values fully and make the Billys a welcoming place for everyone.