Dr. Martin Vitorino, of InsightLA Meditation, discussed with The Collective the weighted emotions around PRIDE in 2020. From US Supreme Court rulings to personal story, Dr. Vitorino urges everyone to continue tough conversations with anyone opposing equality for the LGBTQ+ community.
It’s Pride Month, a time of year typically filled with celebration and historical tributes for the LGBTQ+ community. Amongst a global pandemic and daily protests for Black Lives Matter, how have you navigated this time personally?
For me, I’ve been working on how my experience of being trans and queer helps me to feel an affinity and compassion for people of color and black people who are also queer and trans. People who are experiencing some of the same things I do, plus having to deal with racism and institutional oppression and all of the ways in which that shapes our experience.
Especially now, at least in my own experience, I have enough resources and privilege to have the capacity to really see my experience as not as difficult as those of color in particular, and specifically those who are queer and trans. For example, in the trans community, black trans women have one of the highest murder rates of any other group in the whole world.
I think this month, and this uprising, are both shining light around all of the ways in which I don\’t have the same kinds of violence and discrimination and risks to my own safety as people of color.
So I\’m becoming more attentive to how I can use my privilege. People will listen to me or care about my perspective in ways they might not listen to trans women of color other trans women in general. Trans women generally are not received or welcomed or embraced in the way that trans men tend to be.
Having the experience of marginalization is difficult and painful. But it can also be something that feels unifying with other folks who have experienced marginalization. Oppression moves me into compassion and wanting to do what I can to support social justice for those who need access to resources, safety, and protection.
Knowing you have a practice of meditation, has this currently helped you? Do you have any other tools you rely on?
As a meditator and practicing Buddhist, one thing that is really alive for me is how the practice can support meeting with difficulty. Looking at my own suffering, the suffering of what black people are experiencing, and also looking into the pain of being part of the institutions and structures that are responsible for creating this pain. Being a part of white supremacist patriarchal dominant culture and seeing the ways in which I\’ve internalized those values and unconsciously perpetuate these things, is difficult to hold. But it is important for me to look at it so I can understand it. My meditation practice helps with this.
I have my own kind of reckoning to do around how I contribute to this larger system and my own complicity.
Resmaa Menakem, in his book My Grandmother’s Hands, talks about the difference between clean pain and dirty pain. Clean pain is seeking out the discomfort that comes with feeling like “I shouldn\’t say that”, “I\’m afraid to say this, I know it\’s the right thing to do but I\’m afraid of getting rejected”. There is this discomfort that comes with being authentic and taking risks and doing what you feel is right. If we seek that out, then we have a chance for liberation. If we don\’t, if we choose to go against that instinct, then we have dirty pain- the feeling of remorse, shame or guilt about not having been authentic and truthful in speaking up for what we believe in.
Right now my meditation practice gives me the strength to move into the places where I don\’t want to look, where I don\’t want to see. My practice also helps when I fall short, when I don\’t have the strength or the courage to actually push forward and do what I think is right. My meditation practice helps me have compassion, and move through when the dirty pain arises because that is inevitable. I’m human.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled this month that the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects gay, lesbian, and transgender employees from discrimination based on sex. In your opinion, does this bring promised certainty and safety for the LGBTQ+ community?
I would hope so, given that it\’s coming from the supreme court and presumably they have final say, but there are continual efforts to try to undermine and take away rights of queer and trans people. I don’t imagine that’s going to go away. I think that it\’s not necessarily the last word, but it felt very significant to hear that decision given that there were judges on both sides of the political spectrum that supported it.
Of course this is good news for the LGBTQ community, but progress for LGBTQ rights has been quite swift in terms of our laws and institutions, in comparison to how our institutions have been responding (or not responding) to racism. It is a stark contrast.
Look, if you murder somebody and only get fired from your job–that’s it? So I\’m holding that alongside this supreme court decision. You murder a black person you just get fired, but you can’t get fired for coming out as gay. It’s tough to feel 100% positive about this win when we have so much further to go.
There is an interesting intersection around black trans people being the people who are most victimized and trans women in particular. Now we need to shine a light on that, and help protect trans women. They might not be targeted by police violence for example, but they’re targeted by interpersonal violence, hate crimes and so forth.
People can be very hateful and angry around protecting this idea of masculinity and what it looks like. For me, as a trans man, I don\’t experience that kind of violence because I\’m not seen as threatening to patriarchy. In fact, it makes sense in this culture that I would be aligned with masculinity because there is this anti-femininity that exists. So it\’s fairly complex.
What can Allies do to support the LGBTQ+ community?
Continuing to have these tough conversations with anybody– your family members or friends or people having opposing ideas about LGBTQ people. This is always helpful.
It should not be entirely up to LGBTQ people to advocate for themselves. We need others to step up and have our backs. Often times, people will listen more if it’s another straight person or another cisgender person speaking up.
Also, learning as much as possible about what those experiences are like. Hearing from trans people about what it\’s like for them, so that now we can all do the work of uprooting our own internalized bias. Everyone living in this culture is going to have internalized some degree of transphobia and homophobia. The more we can expose ourselves to alternative stories and narratives to humanize people, the more we can move beyond that bias.
This is not separate from our work to end racism. All these systems are constantly at play and patriarchy is a big part of it. We need to look at all these systems and how they are hurting us. We can then reflect on a personal note, where do we have a sphere of influence for the ability to make a difference? We can start there, and start taking the action needed to make that difference in the world.
Martin Vitorino, Ph.D. is both a facilitator and the Deputy Executive Director at InsightLA. He leads guided meditations at InsightLA East Hollywood and facilitates the Mindful Transitions for the Transgender Community practice group that takes place on the first Sunday of every month. He is a graduate of InsightLA’s Facilitator Training program and is trained by Courage of Care in Oakland, CA to teach a model that merges sustainable compassion practices with social justice activism. He is passionate about sharing meditation and self-compassion practices with people in the transgender and queer communities.
Prior to joining InsightLA, Martin trained foster parents and social workers in the child welfare system on ways to better understand and support LGBTQ young people in foster care. Martin earned a Ph.D. in Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies from Emory University where he researched resiliency in women who had been incarcerated. He also holds a B.S. in Psychology from Westfield State University in Massachusetts. In a volunteer capacity, he organizes retreats for transgender men that support healing and a sense of belonging. He is also on the speaker’s bureau of PFLAG Los Angeles
Interviewed by: Cayce Howe, Mindfulness Facilitator for The Mental Health Collective