Proud to have used the tiny pulpit of my last column in furtherance of an important social cause, I was equally mortified to receive flack about devoting any thought at all to the issue. Stated with a clarity that only the drunk can muster, the critic’s argument was that since the percentage of transgender people is so small, that they do not deserve attention. To him, it was a simple matter of economics. Though I had only postulated about the struggle of the unnamed protagonist, I was still acutely sensitive to slights of even her fictional existence. Hearing her being defamed incensed me to such a degree that I was uncharacteristically mute. And then, I was relieved. To see my opposing worldview rendered in such blunt detail was an unintentional gift of understanding that I truly appreciated.
In the course of resolving conflict, people struggle mightily to intuit even a glimpse of their opponent’s motivations. Here, I was privy not just to the periphery, but to the core of another being. And, at the risk of an overzealous extrapolation, I internalized something meaningful about the swath of our populace that is driven by profit motive and not by empathy. Certainly, there is a middle ground that is often situationally dependent, but the larger dichotomy holds true: some have their head lead their heart and others, vice versa. Whereas I see interactions as a mélange of people and personalities, others see the exact same situation in terms of the flow of numbers and dollars. I previously understood this intellectually, but it nonetheless felt like a deep-seated revelation.
Then, because life is both fair and cruel, I found myself at the intersection of these two psychological superhighways. Drawn to my profession by the opportunity to protect and aid those in need, I found myself unable to take on a matter. It was not because I lacked the experience or subject matter knowledge. It was because I could not spare the time from paying work to devote to defending a sweet person caught in the crosshairs of an aggressive litigant but who could not justify the exorbitant costs of litigation.
When I turned down the case, I was beyond troubled: I was despondent. My head told me that this was the right decision: I have my own bills to pay and business to run and cannot be flippant with my family’s future. But, my center, my guiding force was crushed by the victory of monetized “justice” over the well-being of a fellow human. A fresh wound, even writing these words stings me like a Portuguese man o’ war.
Perhaps there is no reason to lament this outcome. Perhaps it is predictable from a capitalistic perspective. Perhaps I should accept that lawsuits are most suited for people of means to fight over an excess that the less fortunate can barely even comprehend. Perhaps I should have been studying monetary policy when I was studying geography and the law. I could believe in those hypotheticals; it would be much easier. But, to my occasional dismay, I do not see that happening. Naïve or not, utopian or not, I believe in the power of people over economics.