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“Taking responsibility in a complex society”
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“Taking responsibility in a complex society”

Shannay Williams, 20, a Commonwealth Correspondent from St. Thomas in Jamaica, has questions about how we navigate challenging times as she considers very personal decisions around rights and responsibilities.

Every year we debate rights. The right to life, liberty, love, the pursuit of happiness, freedom of speech, peaceful protest; we debate democracy.

We understand that rights are inalienable, we understand that responsibility is mandatory – but how do both exist in ‘perfect’ harmony? That’s the challenge. They don’t and sometimes they won’t, because society is dynamic.

Recently, we found ourselves examining the rights of transgendered men and women. We heard Caitlyn Jenner tell Piers Morgan: “It’s not funny, it’s life…people die over this issue, it’s not a joke”. We then moved to asking ourselves if it’s disrespectful to choose not to have sex with someone because they transitioned. There is no easy response to any of this. It’s all very complex, like the issue itself.

It would seem, on the face of it, that we all have the right to abstain. It would also seem that if you choose to abstain you shouldn’t make derogatory comments about the other person. But is it really this simple? There are two main ideas in tension here. Your freedom of sexual choice pitted against the right to life; which should include love, happiness and equal treatment. Some would even say that you can’t separate these two because the former is subsumed in the latter.

It is understandable that any man or woman who is a part of the transgender community would feel disrespected if someone used their gender as a tool of rejection. It could be more tactful to say “I don’t want to have sex with you because I’m not interested” rather than “I don’t want to have sex with you because you’re a trans”. I believe it’s possible to be extremely offended by a statement like the latter one.

But it makes one wonder just how much filtering we’ll have to do before we speak our truth. Being considerate and respectful is always good, but at what point can it be said that we are sacrificing our freedom of expression and attendant liberties? At what point does something move from being merely offensive to oppressive? It’s a very thin line we tread. Can we just apologise and move on? Or is an apology an admission of guilt? Is it wrong to have a preference based on gender?

We seem to be okay with heterosexuals and homosexuals. We all seem to be okay if someone says “You’re not my type, because I’m gay and you’re straight”. So why can’t we decide the same with anyone from the transgender community? I know it will be said that it’s not the same. It isn’t, but we still have our right to choose; perhaps we just shouldn’t be rude about it.

There is room for discussion, there is room for acceptance, there is room to admit we are wrong, there is room for new perspectives. There is also room for considerate choice, and I’m holding on to that. Because the truth is, we are all scrambling to grapple with our own dynamism. We are all revisiting self-evident truths because we are all seeking to understand the responsibility that comes with newly recognised rights. And we choose to do this, as J.F. Kennedy said, “[N]ot because it is easy but because [it] is hard”.

photo credit: Adam Foster Photography The new year is that way via photopin (license)

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About me: I am a vibrant and passionate 20 year old. I value my West Indian identity and hope to spark dialogue through my writing and constant search for understanding. I believe in service above self and ama proud student of the University of the West Indies.

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?
To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/

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