"There are plenty of people who want to burn bridges. There aren't nearly enough who want to build them," trans advocate Brynn Tannehill declared in her TransPride Pittsburgh keynote address this Saturday.
Her stirring 18-minute speech, entitled "I Am Real," spoke to how the well-being and future of the transgender community will be based on making positive, lasting impressions and ignoring temptations to lash out at detractors.
Tannehill, a Navy veteran, writer, mother, and Director of Advocacy at LGBT military organization SPART*A, spoke from her personal experiences coming out in her workplace. She explained how remaining visible and taking the lead on discussing her transgender identity with coworkers was difficult, but necessary to begin a dialogue that could lead to genuine understanding.
Pointing out that there are a vocal minority who are dead-set on disrespecting transgender people, she asked her audience to remember the silent majority of cisgender (non-trans) people who have undecided or open minds, but may only ever meet one out trans person in their lives. Though it may not be fair, many such people base their impressions of the entire transgender community on a single interaction — and Tannehill urges fellow trans people to make sure it's not an angry one, despite the many things trans people can feel rightfully hurt about.
"As long as we stay calm," Tanehill told her audience, "we retain our dignity." Her rousing speech went on to address the benefits of true acceptance rather than mere tolerance, the importance of continuing to tell one's story and remain visible, and the need for trans people to define themselves.
Since she delivered her speech Saturday, Tannehill says she's been flooded with messages of support from those who resonated with her message. "This was a culmination of years of self exploration and discovery," she tells The Advocate. "Of observing and interacting to reach an 'ah-ha' point of synthesis of ideas."
For more of Tannehill's wisdom, watch her keynote on Transperience TV below.