“Tolerance” does not equal “acceptance”

Some of you have heard, or rather read, this story before, last July when I posted it under the title “I was asking for it.”  Time has passed since that traumatizing experience and I have had new insight about it since and what I have learned about the human brain related to memories,  new insight can often rewrite a memory.  This is one the major difficulties in relying on witness testimony in a criminal or civil trial because over time a witness recollection of past events can change to the degree that even polygraph results taken at both points in time will differ significantly, because in that lapse in time, it will appear from an outside observer that the witness changed their testimony and yet the two polygraphs will reveal that both versions are true to the witnesses “best “recollection, which can actually work in favor of a defendant if the first trial is declared a mistrial and a retrial is ordered. Both defense and prosecution attorneys are fully aware of this phenomenon so that prosecutors will do their best to avoid a mistrial while the defense will look for a way to cause a mistrial if their defense is “shaky.”

Getting back to my story, when I first came out to my spiritual community, because I was one to take people at their word and to always see the “good” in people rather than the “bad”, I was taking a leap of faith, as anyone who is faced with having to “come out” to be seen as they are and not the way they have been seen before, and I was betting on the belief that I held that people in the community were sincere in their claim to be able to “welcome people exactly as they are” which is a cornerstone for our philosophy which I’ll paraphrase in order for readability:  “to celebrate the splendor of God’s love, to cherish all life, to honor all paths, to rejoice in the sacred dance of “All That Is” and to live in the power of all-embracing love. We also don’t limit any definition of who or what God might mean to them.

It took me about six months after my “coming out” of equating silence with acceptance, when I discovered that people I had once called friends had never embraced or accepted me as Deanna, they simply tolerated me as long as I kept a low key and behaved myself. However, I never had any trouble before I transitioned by being open about my feelings because I took full responsibility for ownership of those feelings without blame or malice toward anyone else. I was, in fact, acknowledged at every turn for my candidness and openness but now I had crossed some invisible line of acceptability and intruded on their “comfort zone” of tolerance for me, and was suspect in their eyes now about my previous sincerity and vulnerability.

The sh*t really hit the fan in June of last year, after a tense meeting of the governing “Council” of the community, which was defined by the people who chose to be present at a particular meeting and whose only requirement for an equal “consensus” in the proceedings was that they attended at least one Sunday service, was convened to discuss and approve a new budget for the community for the next fiscal year.  Under our definition of a “member of Council” the membership could differ from meeting to meeting which meant that if in one meeting a single person blocked consensus by having a different viewpoint than the rest, at the next meeting, the absence of that person could allow consensus to be achieved.  That definition of membership has since been refined since that time to define a member who had full “concensus” powers to be a person who committed to attending Council meetings for the following six month period and to retain membership in the Council beyond that six month period, they would again have to commit to attending meetings for another six month period.  As this meeting concluded after several hours of some very emotional feelings being expressed, when most of us were exhausted, stressed out and vulnerable to our emotions, as I was leaving the meeting, the host, in whose house we met, and a man with whom I once worked as a fellow “facilitator” and who I regarded as a friend, functioning, in essence, as the “official” spokesperson for the community for the week, took me aside to inform me that some anonymous women in the community had expressed to him their discomfort about my using the women’s restroom after six months of using it without complaint from anyone. He added to their complaint that because I was upfront and vocal about my transition, while they were not, it was really my fault that I was treated in this manner and that I should have expected this would happen, and I should have known better to be so “naive” as to expect that all members of the community took our philosophy to heart, as I had done.  He insinuated that my therapist had not done her “job” to prepare me for this eventuality, and further added insult to injury by offering that I could still use the men’s room any time I wanted which suggested to me that he still believed I had a choice as to which restroom to use, which is a common misconception about transgender people by approximately 75% of Americans while 50% of those same Americans accept the notion that being Gay or Lesbian is not a choice but that a person is “born that way.”

It was not so much the message from these “anonymous” women that tore my heart to pieces, it was the fact that he had both implied that I “had asked for it” by my vocal candidness, and then salted my wound with the offer to use the men’s room if I felt uncomfortable to use the women’s room because of his pronouncement of behalf of these “anonymous” women, as if it was really was a choice to use either bathroom where I felt most comfortable.  What I took away from the conversation was an arrogance on his part that he was the best person to have communicated this to me because, after all, I was still a man in drag and not a woman who felt violated as if these women had come into my stall while I was going about “my business” and looked up my skirt.  I felt so violated that for the next few days I was afraid to leave my house and was so in a state of shock that I couldn’t function normally.  I tried to call my therapist but could only leave a message to call me back and I decided to call the rape crisis center because I was so distraught and ashamed as if I had been a woman who was raped.  The voice I finally reached on the phone after several transfers asked me first if I was suicidal and then led me through a process to “ground” myself.   Since I was really in no physical danger of hurting myself she let me go and told me that if I needed further assistance that I could call another number at a later time. I felt so invalidated that I tried to go back to bed and try to forget that this ever happened.  Yet it was real terror, helplessness and hopelessness I felt deep inside and not some made up feeling to garner attention.

The point of this exposition is that while the community “preached” acceptance of all people “as they are”. members of the community didn’t live up to that ideal of “acceptance”,  because they equated “acceptance” with “tolerence.”  To explain the difference between the two, I will use examples.

While we “accept” the fact that we are mortal and will someday die, we “tolerate” a neighbor who decides to mow their lawn in the wee hours of the morning.  While we “accept” the notion that all people are created equal in the sight of God, we “tolerate” people of different races, creeds, or cultures.

I could give a few more examples but I think my point is clear that, just as “justice for all” doesn’t equal “equality for all,” neither does “tolerance” equal “acceptance.”

Deanna Joy


About Deanna Joy Hallmark

I am a post-op transgender woman who has now completed transition and living my life as the woman I was born to be. I have been writing my blog, now titled "A Spy in the Enemy Camp - A transgender woman’s perspective from having lived as a man among men" since December 2011. Originally a record of my process and feelings in transition, last summer in 2013 it took on observations from both sides of the gender binary and now will also be looking at my past life pretending to be the man I never was and how it finally brought me to where I am today, the beautiful intelligent woman I had always believed I should have been since I was little.
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3 Responses to “Tolerance” does not equal “acceptance”

  1. Hedda Gabler says:

    You do make a rather interesting point there about tolerance and acceptance. It’s something which is quite often overlooked in the transgender community. You can to a degree demand or even enforce tolerance, but acceptance is a different matter altogether. I think acceptance is ultimately very much a person-to-person thing and sometimes we just have to accept that some people just can’t accept us as we are. We can try to convince them, but we can’t force them to accept us.

    I think you are being a bit too harsh about the guy who was in the unenviable position to pass on the anonymous “message”. Can you imagine how uncomfortable he must’ve felt about the whole thing himself? He really had no chance (short of creating unisex facilities) resolving this without taking sides in an issue ultimately quite alien to him. I don’t think he would’ve imagined in his wildest dreams how hurtful it would be for you to be invited to use the men’s room and he probably really assumed that your candidness about your transition somehow implied that you would be pragmatic about things.

    I think what’s really despicable here is the way the anonymous person made life difficult both for you and the bearer of the “message” because of her prejudice. It becomes clear here that she doesn’t even really tolerate your existence, let alone comes even close to accepting you. But of curse one wouldn’t like to be seen as openly intolerant so one gets the message across in a sneaky and underhanded way…

    • I have since found out who the woman was and was able to discover what I had done, from her point of view, because she still saw me as a man in drag. As to the messenger, from the start, he denied being uncomfortable and maintained that he was the right person to have carried the message to me so I don’t think I was being harsh.
      In looking at it now, I can see now that my own shadow was one of arrogance and it was reflected right back at me by the messenger’s response.

  2. Pingback: Being Woman Enough: More Memories of Being that “Wounded Little Girl” | Observations from Crossing Over to the Other Side of the Fence

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