About a month ago, I uncovered an ugly truth about myself: I was transphobic.
It’s something I've never openly admitted to anyone, not even myself. It’s something I never willfully intended. In fact, I believed I was supportive of the trans community.
As a gay man, I tend to be open-minded and generally non-judgmental. “You like it, I love it” has become somewhat of a mantra for me. And even though I do regularly share stories of individuals who have found the courage to embrace their sexuality or live “alternative” lifestyles, I had consistently fallen short of full-on, public support of the trans community.
Being trans is something I never related to or could fully understand. Stories of transgender women and men being killed or assaulted are horrific, but I never felt fully connected to the community — so I would often scroll by and remain silent. Can you relate?
But, there is an even darker truth. A part of my silence was rooted in concern my audience would not fully embrace me as a trans supporter. People were being killed and I was worried about viewer numbers and ratings.
These topics can be somewhat taboo even amongst certain sets of my friends or family. And, while I continually strive for authenticity, I was afraid of using my public platform in a way that would expose me to rejection or chastisement.
All of this changed when someone who would become very close to me revealed their daughter is trans.
I met Natasha Ray when she was doing my manicure and pedicure. When meeting her, I immediately recognized her distinctively "DC accent." Turns out we grew up a few miles apart in the lower-income outskirts of DC. Within our first 10 minutes of meeting, I knew I had found a kindred spirit. We had both transcended our rough upbringings — she became a celebrity nail stylist for some of Hollywood’s A-listers in Beverly Hills, California, and I was a CEO of a large financial services company, with an office also in Beverly Hills. We were anomalies.
Where we grew up, hypermasculinity is the norm, and “real men” don’t show emotion and subscribe to gender norms. Yet, this mother found herself confronting those ideals of what she thought a “man” should be when her 13-year-old son came out to her as transgender.
As she carefully buffed my nails, tears streamed down her face as she talked about her child. She said, "I love my child so much, but I have no one to support me through this process and it's hard!" She shared with me heartbreaking stories of her daughter enduring rejection, and how she even had to pull her out of school for fear of her safety. My spirit became immediately convicted to use my platform to help individuals and families just like her in whatever way I could. I also realized my past silence to the plights of this community was a form of transphobia.
When I launched my new Facebook and YouTube series, Live Limitless With MJ, I pushed my team to dedicate one of my first episodes to this beautiful woman and the story of her daughter. I knew it would be a risk, but I no longer cared!
In this experience, I realized that my transphobia was never rooted in hate, but simply ignorance. Like many people, I simply ignored the issues that this community was facing because it didn't personally impact me. However, in doing that, I was contributing to a culture of bigotry against them.
Since sharing this story, I have been overwhelmed by the number of people who have reached out to share their own testimonies and support. Even "Mary Jane" herself, Gabrielle Union, and Angelica Ross, star of the TV show Pose, shared it on their pages! On a much larger scale, this story speaks to a broader sentiment of universal acceptance no matter the circumstance, life choice, lifestyle or otherwise.
I invite you to watch for yourself and see how love, in all its forms, transcends all.
Malcolm “MJ” Harris is an internationally recognized media personality and global entrepreneur who has been featured by Oprah, USA Today and Black Enterprise. He is also the CEO and founder of National Care Financial Group, which is one of America's largest African-American owned financial services firms.