Open-mindedness: The (Trans)Gender Edition

Outlaw Mama's heart making room for everyone

Outlaw Mama’s heart making room for everyone

I swear she looked familiar to me. But the “she” I was looking at reminded me of a “he” I used to know– a man I hadn’t seen in a few years.  Throughout the meeting I kept sneaking glances at her.  Was that him? Could it be?

I looked at her feet in her plastic white flip flops and noticed her nails were painted a reddish color. If I had to guess I would have said it was OPI’s “An Affair In Red Square.” I tried to concentrate on the meeting, but I felt drawn to her. I wanted to catch her eye, but she kept her head down with her hair covering her eyes.  I looked at her chest and saw that there were definitely breasts there; I could make out the outline of her bra under her lightweight yellow shirt.

I decided it was merely a coincidence that she looked like a guy I used to know. Mark. “Stop staring at that poor woman,” I admonished myself.  I tuned into the meeting.    My eyes were drawn over and over again to Mark’s doppelgänger.

I started a story in my head:  Maybe I hadn’t seen Mark in a while because he was undergoing a sex change.  That was certainly possible.  I imagined the woman sitting across from me was Mark, and she was struggling with her new identity.

A few hours later, a mutual acquaintance confirmed that Mark was now Maggie, and it was Maggie I saw at the meeting.  At first, I felt that high that comes whenever I can proclaim, “I knew it.” (I will never understand what is so intoxicating about figuring something out before someone explains it to me.) Once the high wore off, I felt a fear settle in.  I may never understand that either.  Why did Mark’s gender transformation scare me so much?

It bothered me that it bothered me at all.  I wanted to make meaning of my fear.  Did it mean I wasn’t open-minded or something even worse?

I saw Maggie again a few weeks later and took a chance to interact with her.  I wanted to face my inchoate fears by interacting with her as a person, someone who used to be a friend.  I won’t lie: it crossed my mind to just ignore her.  I was this close to avoiding contact, and I could have gotten away with it.

But I would have known about my missed chance, and it would have haunted me.

Instead, I talked to her.  I heard her laugh as we shared a joke.  My fear evaporated when I heard her laugh.  I was flooded with warmth and compassion.

I am grateful that I had the emotional transcendence, but I also grapple with the fear that came first.  I don’t ever want to be glib or facile about the process of acceptance of a transgendered person or anyone else.  I want to give myself the space to feel afraid (or anything else) and move through it to authentic connection, compassion and love. I want to be honest with myself about my feelings and respectful of other people’s choices.

I certainly wish my process was wrapped in a perfect bow of acceptance, and maybe one day it will be.  But, it’s kind of messy and imperfect (like me).

More importantly, when my children face something unfamiliar, I want to be honest with them about my process and not give them empty and dishonest platitudes that are not an authentic reflection of my true experience.

Have you ever encountered a similar situation? How do you teach your kids about acceptance while being honest about your experience? Am I the only one who starts from a place of fear? (I hope I am not alone, but that’s awesome if you guys are all way past fear!)

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14 thoughts on “Open-mindedness: The (Trans)Gender Edition

  1. I think every single thing in life begins from a place of fear at some level. If not, then either I’m not being honest or I have no soul. I’m going with the former.

  2. Wow. I’ve never experienced anything like that. I’ve had friends admit they were gay, but never transgender. I believe I’d quickly get to the same place you did, but it’s gotta feel like a massive shock. It’s pretty radical change and I wouldn’t be surprised to experience a wide range of emotions.

    On another note, I like the name Maggie.

  3. We’re afraid because society condemns whatever is different. We’re afraid of being gay, by and large (I know I was, and as it turns out, am not gay–but when I thought about it, or felt like I was attracted to both boys and girls as a young woman, I was scared shitless of the consequences) because being gay results in rejection and worse.

    Why were you afraid of Maggie? Did it mean you feared gender confusion, or did it mean that you disapproved of Maggie, or didn’t understand her . . . or was uncomfortable of what people would think if you were friends with her, or simply didn’t know what social rules would govern your interactions? I may have felt confused, afraid, and a whole bunch of other emotions were I in your shoes.

    I don’t think those emotions (any of those emotions) are bad. I think what matters is what you did with those emotions, and to my mind, you behaved with honor, dignity and respect.

    Great post. Really made me think. There was a good article about transgender issues/athletes in Sports Illustrated recently.

    • I think I was afraid because of anxiety I feel about sexuality and identity. It profoundly scares me for exactly the reasons you mentioned. I was a late bloomer and I wondered if boys didn’t want to date me because I was gay or they thought I was gay. I was a very confused adolescent. Seeing Maggie brought it all back– confusion, pain and alienation. I so hope she isn’t feeling what I am projecting onto her.

  4. No matter how evolved that we like to think that we are and the whole “it’s not the outside that counts, it is the inside” I gather to say that most people would have reacted just like you did in the beginning. However, I think most would have ignored Maggie the second time! Imagine how the exchange made you feel better and warmed Maggie’s heart too!

  5. I’ve never been in a situation as yours, but I think I would have been in a state of fear as well, but it would have been the fear that Maggie would have rejected me. Why I say that, because I think that Maggie would have notice me looking at her and she would have been in fear of what my reaction to her being Maggie and not Mark anymore. I think you did the right thing by approaching Maggie the second time, it made you feel better and I’m pretty sure Maggie felt wonderful!

    • That’s true! I didn’t know if I was supposed to notice or acknowledge what I was seeing. Kind of a white elephant in the room. I was afraid to approach because, honestly, what do you say?

  6. Love these thoughts … I tell myself your eyes communicated the affection and acceptance you felt for Maggie when you approached her. Your open heart showed all over your face … nicely done!

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