“Your silence will not protect you.” -Audre Lorde
This is a button I hold very dear to my heart. This button is sandwiched between two others of equal importance. Above it, “You can’t expect change if you hide who you are” and below it a button simply stating “Tell Your Story”. These buttons are together for a reason, a very important reason. Silence enables. Silence oppresses. Silence kills.
I’ve written about the need for trans* narratives due to how diverse the trans* community is. I’ve written about how schools are unsafe for queer students, and I’ve written about how the media portrays trans* people inaccurately. However, there is a trend among all these things that I have not yet written about, and that is silence.
Proclaiming that silence kills is not far-fetched or dramatic. Many queer people do not report their rapes, attacks, or assaults for fear of being silenced or facing further antagonizing. They even fear being blamed for their assaults because they are queer and somehow antagonized or deserved it. Silence is used as a weapon against minorities. Silence is used to continue oppression and enable to majority to believe they are doing no wrong.
When people are silent, people are not drawn to an issue. The status quo continues and nothing is changed or even brought to light. Silence is even used by the oppressed themselves to help assimilate into the majority. The idea of misrepresentation, negative imagery, and ‘bad’ people in the community is used to silence others, usually those outspoken against the majority. There is no such idea as a bad person for an entire community. If someone stereotypes based on a few ‘bad apples’ then they were never supportive of the community in the first place.
This brings me to the idea of the ‘bad apple’ in the first place. Most of the people labeled with this brush are out-spoken individuals who are not afraid to call-out enablers of oppression both outside and inside the community. They are people who refuse to be silent and refuse to assimilate into the majority culture. Most of these people are trans women, or people with non-binary identities, told that they are setting the movement back by being out-spoken against issues faced by them. People, who are out, proud, and loud unabashedly about it, are told to be quiet and to be silent because they refuse to accept their oppression.
“I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.” -Audre Lorde
Obviously refusing to be silent comes at a price. People can take your words, use them out of context, twist them, and warp meaning. Words have power and they have meaning. Words are what we use to communicate at all levels. Words are one of the most powerful weapons. This is why silence is so widely used. People fear the power of words, especially from minorities in which the majority wishes to remain powerless and silent. The louder we yell, the harder they will fight back. Returning to silence must never be an option. For silence is death. Death on not only the physical sense, but the mental and identity sense as well. If people refuse to remain silent, our struggles cannot be overlooked. Our struggles will not go unnoticed and our words unheeded. For each fight we bring, we push forward. For every time we refuse to be silent, we win a little more.
I end on another Audre Lorde quote, for her words show that this is a struggle that transcends just trans* and queer and extends to all minorities and oppressed people:
“Once you start to speak, people will yell at you. They will interrupt you, put you down and suggest it’s personal. And the world won’t end.
And the speaking will get easier and easier. And you will find you have fallen in love with your own vision, which you may never have realized you had. And you will lose some friends and lovers, and realize you don’t miss them. And new ones will find you and cherish you….
And at last you’ll know with surpassing certainty that only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth. And that is not speaking.” – Audre Lorde