SPEAKER: Good afternoon. Buenos dias. I have the incredible honor and privilege of introducing this afternoon's speaker, Luca Mauer, someone who I call friend, colleague, and mentor. Luca is the Founding Director of the Center for LGBT Education, Outreach, and Services at Ithaca College. I first met Luca in the summer of 2018 when he was part of the committee that interviewed me for my position at IC.
I had heard of Luca's work as a co-editor of the landmark book, The Teaching Transgender Toolkit: A Facilitator's Guide to Increasing Knowledge, Decreasing Prejudice, and Building Skills. And I confess that I was a bit star struck when I first met him. That fall when tensions on campus around LGBT inclusion and religious faith boiled over, I asked Luca to co-facilitate a public conversation for students with me. And even though I did not know him well, I trusted him because students trusted him. Students will tell me how easy it was to talk to Luca, how they respected him. Working alongside Luca, I have witnessed the liberating impact his attentive presence has on others. When I see Luca on campus, I know that I can be myself.
Last year when the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life hosted photojournalist John Knowlton, Luca accepted the invitation to sit for a portrait and respond to the question, what is your responsibility to create community? Almost every day, I walk by Luca's face and profile hanging in Muller Chapel bearing his words. "My responsibility is to honor those on whose shoulders we stand, use my privilege to dismantle oppression, and live authentically so that others can see themselves and be themselves."
Today, we will hear more about the people on whose shoulders Luca stands and about the unexpected and generous human connections upon which his unlikely survival is built. In this time, I expect he will challenge and encourage us to lift up one another in communities of love, compassion, and radical hope. Here in this place, we will receive bread for our spirits and bread to share with others.
Recently, Luca shared with me these words from Howard Zinn, "To live now as we think human beings should live in defiance of all that is bad around us is itself a marvelous victory." Luca, thank you. Thank you for modeling that marvelous victory at Ithaca College and in our community. It is a gift and privilege to live into authentic community alongside you. I look forward to hearing from you as you share with us today.
LUCA MAUER: Thank you. The first mishap has already happened. Good afternoon.
AUDIENCE: Good afternoon.
LUCA MAUER: OK. Hello. Thank you, year old. You represent the very best of IC. And thank you to the Soup and Hope Committee and to everyone for coming out today, and to my partner who is here with us today, and all of my IC peeps who've joined us here today. I am truly appreciative.
The truth is complicated and sometimes hope is, too. Today, I'll share some examples from my own life about connectedness, and belonging, and survival. But first, let me let you in on something. I didn't really have a plan for talking with you here today, because I didn't really think I'd be around today, or this year, or-- OK, in truth I've been winging it for a really long time, because my unlikely survival has been built upon unlikely and unexpected connection The future wasn't on my radar at all because the present told me that I had no future. And being with you here today in this beautiful place, younger me would never have believed any of this.
The truth is I got to have a bunch of do-overs in my life. Each one brought me closer to myself, closer to others, and closer to understanding the amazing transformative power of hope. First, I had to unlearn masculinity to be a man. That's right. I had to unlearn society's traditional expectations of masculinity to be the man I am today-- vulnerability, asking for help, confronting fear and uncertainty, and what loomed largest, wrestling with the truth and the conflict of being part of an oppressing and an oppressive group.
I'm a transgender man, a man with a female history. That's kind of a major doover. There's not really a roadmap for that. It's more of a compass kind of a thing. Endless statistics? I have lived them. Threats of conversion therapy, homelessness, addiction, run ins with the criminal justice system, isolation, violence, not because of who I am but because of discrimination and stigma shame and silence.
Part of my childhood was spent in New York City, the rest in the middle of nowhere in upstate New York. The constants during my childhood were being surrounded by music, having an alcoholic and abusive father, and an unshakable knowledge that I was not who other people believed me to be. Because of that last part, that my gender wasn't what other people expected, I spent long parts of my adolescence utterly terrified.
My father repeatedly threatened that he would lock me away in a nearby mental institution to force me to change. He said they'll drug you until you don't even know who you are and force you to wear makeup and a dress. Terrifying. Not a great model of what it means to be a man.
That same guy, my father, took me to my first Broadway musical, taught me about the Civil Rights Movement, and what it means to act in solidarity, patiently walked miles and miles along roadways all over the northeast with me because of my incredible childhood capacity for car sickness, and taught me to be grateful, mindful, and present during everyday activities like the simple availability of clean running water and indoor plumbing that he himself had not grown up with. Which one was my father? Both.
There are two realities and both are true. So I had a head start on embracing complexity, accepting flaws in ourselves and each other, and grappling with incompatible ideas. And with hope, I had a head start on all of these because of my father.
Although, I had a sense from the time I was very young that I was most certainly different, there were extraordinary moments in my life in which suddenly, resoundingly, everything changed. What these moments all had in common was that element of connection. Growing up, I thought I was the only person like me who had ever lived. There were no signs to tell me otherwise, no out students or teachers, no community center or bar, no role models.
An English teacher in high school, who somehow truly saw me in all of my glorious, unexpected difference, leaned over one day and said quietly in my ear, save yourself. Flee this town. Though, I didn't fully understand what he was saying in this moment of connection, I gathered that although I didn't belong there, that there was hope that I might belong somewhere. The public library was another place where I saw a glimmer of hope. The teen section had a couple of books with brief gay subplots. And I read them while standing in the stacks, because I was too afraid to check them out.
Hope also happened in the middle of a blinding snowstorm on Thanksgiving eve in a Chinese restaurant in the 1980s. My parents had invited me home for Thanksgiving a while after I had moved out of town for good. And at their front door, I took a deep breath and I knocked. My father answered, pressed a $20 bill in my hand and said take your brother out for dinner tonight. He really missed you. And handing out cash was not really something that was typical for my father. But my brother Bill appeared in the hallway holding his coat and his hat and I understood everything.
He had plans to hang out with his friends from high school. And neither of my parents felt like making the long drive down to drop him off. It had begun to snow. And the wind was whistling through the trees. So my brother was super resourceful. He had already figured out that the only restaurant still open that snowy night was the Chinese restaurant on the other side of town.
So we were back out into the cold, climbing into my ancient, reliable 1968 Volkswagen bug. The car had several hundred thousand miles on it when I put down every cent I owned $700 bucks to buy it from a classmate a few years before. The heater was broken. And the only way to defrost the windshield was by opening the side vent window, which let even colder air in that would blast on the driver's side and turn everything to complete ice, which I then scraped away from the inside of the window like eeh, eeh, eeh, eeh. Yeah. Have you also done this maneuver? Yeah, OK, you know it.
Yeah. My brother talked animatedly and recounted high school life. He was really popular with girls. He had already been invited to several junior and senior proms to escort older classmates. And so as we followed the winding road down towards town, the snow became more intense. And the windshield wipers could hardly keep up. And I was doing that eeh, eeh, eeh, eeh, trying to see out of the window.
Finally, the lights of town came dimly into view. And we saw the red neon sign of the Chinese restaurant, the only place that was open by that time in the snowstorm on Thanksgiving eve. Once inside, we quickly found Bill's friends at a big table for 10 because the place was empty except for us. And at that table were three of Bill's former prom dates along with five other buddies.
The server took our orders. And I settled in for a night that I figured I was really just serving as a chauffeur. When our dinners, arrived one of Bill's friends spun the lazy Susan laden with heaping plates of all the entrees that people had ordered and asked everyone to estimate how much centrifugal force it might take to launch all the plates into the air. Bill, my brother, nonchalantly said I have no idea, but I've been meaning to tell you all that I just read the most interesting article in The Advocate.
Suddenly, our table for 10 became very quiet because each of us was hit with the realization that if we all knew that The Advocate was the nation's gay news magazine maybe we had more in common than we realized. Only Anna, the woman who had taken Bill to her junior prom just a few weeks ago looked confused. "What's The Advocate," she said.
"It's a magazine for gay people and I have a subscription," said Bill. "I've been meaning to tell you all that I'm gay."
Anna froze, a fork full of moo shu pork still in front of her mouth. She remained that way for quite some time. But the rest of the table erupted.
The woman sitting next to me said, "Wow, me, too. Me, too."
Somebody else said, "Hey, I'm bi. I thought I was the only one in the whole town."
One by one, everybody, except for Anna, came out that night.
That night changed my life and filled me with hope. I had been convinced I would go through life totally alone and community was literally as close as my own backyard. And so I represent other statistics, the ones that don't get talked about so much.
Most LGBTQ people don't just survive, we thrive because of resilience strength, courage, community, and love. My history, LGBTQ history, is a movement intertwined with all of these and with struggle, racism, violence, misogyny, transphobia, police brutality, and gender policing. Both are true.
My history was forged by folks, primarily young, transgender, and gender nonconforming people of color, who lived their lives when things looked even less hopeful than today. Some of the strong shoulders I stand on today are Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, Les Feinberg and Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, Barbara Gittings, Bayard Rustin, and Kate Bornstein. Our lives are histories of resistance and resilience. Resistance and resilience are hope in action.
But that was a history I didn't know at that time. That was a history I learned much, much later as an adult. So for all my LGBTQ ancestors, and for me, too, it meant finding a way in the world not meant for me, one that tried hard to ignore erase me. But here I am to remind you that there's a lot of ways to be a man or a woman or a person in the world. One thing that's been central to all of this is building a chosen family-- the people who get it, who understand, the ones who always have your back, who are always there for you, the people you can be 100% yourself with. Some folks are lucky enough to find this in the family they're born into, many are not.
When I got to college, somehow without any internet or apps to help us, we've managed to find each other and to create chosen family. But then we faced another challenge. Some other students in my dorm decided that different was bad, different was frightening. And to them, different meant they saw targets instead of human beings. Constant threats, intimidation, and physical violence made things unbearable.
They targeted LGBTQ folks, people of color, a person who just was seen as sort of being different, and even our RA who was studying for the ministry. We were the targets. No matter what we did, the abuse didn't stop. Some friends and a professor encouraged me to see a particular staff person on campus, but I didn't understand why. We had asked for help, but no one did anything. Somebody even told us that the situation was all our fault and I started internalizing those messages.
So I began to pack my things. As I was about to leave, I remembered the people who had said, go see Cynthia, just talked to Cynthia. And so with everything packed, I made one last stop since I had nothing left to lose. And I was greeted by Cynthia, someone I did not know and had never met. I told her I was dropping out, that no one would notice if I left school. That it was ridiculous to think that I could make myself say something in the world that didn't want me to exist and that it just wouldn't matter.
She looked directly into my eyes and said it matters to me. It matters to me that you stay. She had hope for me and saw a future for me, even though I, myself, did not. Long story short, I decided to stay and eventually I graduated. And this is, ultimately, how I came to be here today with you all and with Soup.
Some people think my work and my entire life is about sexual orientation and gender identity, but it is so much more. Race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, faith, ability, we don't just show up in our lives with singular, separate identities. LGBTQ students don't just bring their LGBTQ selves through my office door, they bring their whole selves. And so that's why I know that LGBTQ liberation must be intersectional or it will not be liberation at all.
So what does this mean to me with the history and the privilege that I have? It means it is my responsibility to dismantle oppression. How come? Because anti-transgender violence and the peril that transgender women, especially trans women of color and transfemme of color, face in America, stem from pervasive structural racism. Because binary notions of sexuality and gender reflect colonialism, not the beliefs of all cultures throughout the world or the indigenous people on whose land we live. Because toxic masculinity and sexual assault impact us all. Because when our attractions and identities are pathologized or criminalized, stigma makes it even more difficult for everyone's mental health care needs to be met.
Because many LGBTQ youth and adults leave their countries of origin to escape violence only to experience inhumane detention conditions in the US. And because there's no path to racial justice without establishing, and upholding, and defending basic human rights for every one.
Today, I have a smart, funny, loving chosen family, a roof over my head, a job. And I'm standing here-- also with Soup-- did I mentioned Soup? Like what a bonus, things I did not think were possible. I've experienced loss, and fear, and shame, and yet here I am. I'm a real live, trans adult.
We still have a lot of work to do on our campuses, and in our country, and in the world. So we're going to need a lot of hope. For me, hope is action. Hope is not static, it's dynamic. Hope acknowledges that life is messy and complicated. It thrives when we live in ways that reflect the reality that we are all interconnected.
Hope frequently means figuring out how to reconcile moments of joy with pervasive suffering in our communities and in our world, embracing that these two exist simultaneously, just as I learned to do with my father. One way that I put that into action is by living authentically, intentionally, and purposefully. In my masculinity, I can embody strength and power through interconnectedness, humility, empathy, compassion, and love.
As the Soup and Hope Program itself has put into action, hope springs forth from a holding space for people to build community and belonging by treating each individual person as a person of worth. Harvey Milk famously said, "I know that you can't live on hope alone, but without it, life is not worth living."
So what is hope? I'm the LGBT Center Director at Ithaca College. I have to have hope. If I didn't have hope, I wouldn't be able to go to work or live my life or get up out of bed in the morning. Sometimes I'm surrounded by hopelessness. And yet, here I am. Resistance and resilience are hope in action.
The opposite of hope is giving up, giving in, obedience, submission, complicity, pessimism, all kinds of fancy vocabulary words for failure, for being willing to fail, to issue an invitation to failure, to consider failure as a possibility. But we can't change things if we do not believe they can change. I can't see my future if I don't think things can change.
I live my life as an act of hope. I'm not a glass half full or a glass half empty kind of a guy, I'm a "this is the only glass I've got and I'm damn well going to use it to help you." I'll share it when it's full, fill it when it's empty. And if need be, I'll smash it on the bar and take it outside for a street fight. I have a glass. I actually have a glass. I know.
I get to do stuff with this glass. I get to act. Imagine the change you can make with your glass, with your hope.
June Jordan famously wrote, recognizing the interconnections in the struggle for freedom and dignity, "We are the ones we have been waiting for." So here we are today. On whose shoulders do we stand today in particular?
Today is Friday, February 13. In 1953, world famous American transgender woman Christine Jorgensen returned to New York City after gender affirming surgery in Denmark. A former army clerk, actress, and singer, fun fact, she also spoke at Ithaca College as a guest of the Student Activities Board in 1973.
1972, February 13, the film version of Kander and Ebbs' Cabaret based on Christopher Isherwood's time in pre-World War II Berlin premiered in New York City.
1996 on this same day, Rent by Jonathan Larson opened on Broadway telling the story of a group of impoverished artists struggling to survive and create a life in the shadow of HIV.
And today, February 13, 2020, I stand before you, an unlikely person with a decidedly unlikely life in an unlikely place. I invite you to pick up your glasses with me or your mugs with me. And I wish you peace and hope. Thank you.
SPEAKER: Thank you again to Luca for sharing your story. I want to invite you all to come back in two Thursdays, February 27, when our speaker will be a Cornell student, JT Baker. Also a reminder that the Martin Luther King Commemorative Lecture will take place on Monday, February 17, at 7 o'clock here in Sage Chapel. This year's speaker will be Yusef Salaam. Salaam was part of a group of men known as the Central Park Five. You can find more information on the Office of Spirituality and Meaning Makings website. Thank you all and have a great afternoon.
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Luca Maurer is the founding director of Ithaca College’s Center for LGBT Education, Outreach & Services and teaches in the Sociology department. He co-wrote the Teaching Transgender Toolkit, an award-winning book about the lives and experiences of transgender people. Luca has worked in the US and abroad with students and teachers, families and caregivers, faith communities, workplaces, and professionals in social services, law enforcement, healthcare and more. He's passionate about the outdoors, ice cream, equity and justice. Home to 150 waterfalls, birthplace of the ice cream sundae, and site of many historic LGBT “firsts." Ithaca suits him just fine. Like anywhere else, we’ve got problems, and he wants to be part of the solutions. Luca will talk about how his unlikely survival has been built upon unexpected and generous human connection.