I write these words on Transgender Day of Remembrance, an international event to remember our trans neighbors who have been the victim of homicide. Four days from now Americans will celebrate Thanksgiving. These two days may seem to have little in common, but for me they are intertwined.
You see, as a privileged, straight man I live in a world where I am often blind to just how deep those privileges run. There is nothing about my gender or sexual orientation that costs me a relationship, an employment opportunity, or the freedom of movement. I live with unfair advantages that were handed to me at birth by sheer happenstance.
To be privileged and advantaged is dangerous, however. It is dangerous to one’s soul to live in such a cocoon, never noticing the price the disadvantaged pay just to be in this world. A soul becomes tough and brittle if it turns a blind eye to the unjust suffering around it. For that reason I will be forever grateful to my transgender friends who I have met over the years, first as a minister, and now as a counselor. Their lives are an inspiration that have helped save my soul.
I am thankful for Rosemary (all the names in this column have been changed) who I first met as Ben. Ben was married and knew that transitioning would be hard on his wife and adult son. He also knew that Ben was a lie, and that Rosemary had to live if there was to be any hope in the future. I admire how hard Rosemary worked to help her family understand what was happening, but even more, I learned from Rosemary that sometimes we have to do things even those closest to us will never understand or support.
I am grateful for my friend, John, who transitioned years before I met him and passes so well no one suspects he was a woman for the first half of his life. This ability to pass effortlessly, though, does not mean John has turned his back on his previous life. He isn’t interested in claiming the title “male” just because society is willing to grant it to him. John is comfortable living with a sense of gender that is bigger than the two options of male or female, and his ability to see beyond an either/or construct of gender helps me see that is a false choice in many areas of my own life.
I marvel at Leslie and her decision to transition from male to female at an age when most people are planning for their retirement. It feels cliche to say it, but Leslie does demonstrate that it is never too late to change your life. As my own advancing years begin to announce themselves in many unwelcome ways, Leslie inspires me to consider that the last half of life could actually hold the greatest challenges and opportunities.
I smile when I think of Cynthia, a college student from a very conservative family. Cynthia loves her family deeply and has tried for years to help them see that her male, biological body has never told the truth about who she is. Their religious objections to her decision to transition have been hard for Cynthia, but those objections have neither dissuaded her nor caused her to reject her family. She lives in the noble tension of following her truth and giving those around her the space to come along at their own pace.
I also smile when I think of Jason, another college student who is transitioning after a lifetime of knowing the dresses his mother tried to put on him never really fit. Jason is a deeply spiritual and artistic person whose faith is a great motivator in driving him toward his truth, and whose art is an outlet to share that truth with the world.
Transgender Day of Remembrance is a time to pause and consider those transgender individuals who lost their lives simply because they had the courage to live openly in the world. In thinking of the friends who have been taken from us, however, I find it natural to remember those who are still with us.
This Thanksgiving I give thanks for Rosemary, John, Leslie, Cynthia, and Jason. My life is better because of them, and my soul is softer and deeper because it has been touched by them.
- ► 2012 (12)
- ▼ 2011 (12)