Angel Flores, Olympic weightlifting coach and trans rights activist, challenges us to share kindness with someone today.
By Angel Flores, Photo courtesy of Angel Flores
When was the last time you sat in a park and studied a leaf? Picked it up off the ground or a tree, held it in your hands, felt its miniscule weight in your palm, the differing textures on your fingers? When was the last time you traced the edges of a sunray shining through the canopy, or sat by a lake with your toes in the water and a breeze in your ears? When was the last time you were able to take a day or two to explore Austin, feeling comfortable and safe moving around the city?
It’s been over a year since I was whisked away from my friends and family to film Queer Eye season six, and eight months since millions of people learned the name Angel Joy Flores. It’s a strange feeling to be extremely visible, especially as somebody who takes a risk every day she steps out the door. We’ve been proven right time and time again, that some see our stories as dangerous and will openly show us that.
To my trans siblings, when was the last time you had enough physical and mental space to do something as mundane as sit in a park and study a leaf? When was the last time your brain wasn’t going a million miles a minute, analyzing everything around you and within you? It’s a feeling I’m extremely familiar with; I can’t go to H-E-B without looking over my shoulder and triple checking my clothing. Will I stand out to everyone around me; am I passing enough to hide from people who would discriminate against me? Or in my case, if somebody recognizes me, will their reaction out me to those that would do me harm?
I wish I could just shut it off, get out and enjoy the world in whatever form I take. This is Austin, after all, a city that never ceases to amaze me with its beauty. I moved here in 2017, and I distinctly remember crossing the I-35 bridge to visit the University of Texas. I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face, I was so enraptured, and the years since have only proven that initial feeling right. However, upon coming out and transitioning, my experience with this city changed completely. All of a sudden, a run around Lady Bird Lake was stressful, and a meditation or picnic at Zilker brought about more than just a second thought.
I love paddle boarding on the lake, and I believe that a quick freeze in Barton Springs is mandatory for anyone who visits. However, have we even looked at how accessible and safe these experiences are for the transgender community, for people like me? We know how people react to our bodies. We get stares; we get whispers; we get comments, and swimming is something the vast majority of us consider high risk.
When we discuss self-care, or meditation, or even spirituality, we often don’t think about accessibility. Yes, taking a moment to sit and watch the sun peek through the trees is important for your mental health, but can trans people fully experience a beautiful, bright city such as Austin? Many of us have to find secluded spots and private moments, safe spaces for us to inhabit. Has anyone ever actually considered that those safe spaces don’t exist how they should? This city has an amazing queer nightlife, but is the rest of the experience accessible to the average member of the trans and gender diverse community?
That’s not to discount the valuable space that Austin queer nightlife brings to the community. My challenge is to push past nightlife, because why shouldn’t we feel safe doing exactly what everyone else is doing?
Transgender and nonbinary people have a right to a safe experience of this city on our own terms. That means that we shouldn’t feel the need to adjust our lives, plans or bodies for the sake of satisfying someone else’s thoughts on our own person. If our goal is the reduction of suicide and mental concerns amongst the trans and nonbinary population, the solution isn’t just therapy and consultations with medical professionals. The solution is building positive habits and traditions within existing spaces, while making effort to create new ones.
We have to challenge all people to remember our big rule: We do not need to pass as anything to be treated as anything. I am just as much a woman regardless of the form I take, regardless of what I’m wearing or how I’m talking. That means that when others look at me, they have no right to express their thoughts on my body, clothes or expression, just as much as I have no right to express thoughts on someone else’s body, clothes or expression. Past that, remind others that kindness and compassion should come first. Love others as you would love yourself.
We should all be aiming to make the universal experience of this wonderful city as positive and uplifting as possible. So I challenge you, be kind to someone today. Consider the human being in front of you and channel your energy into making that person smile. This city is a huge shared space, and with every person who feels safe and accepted, another person will want to feel the same way. Be the person who gives that to them today.