You don’t get to decide the truth. Other people have their own experiences, just as valid. This is easy to forget. Your slice of life seems so large and unmistakable, like a mirage of wholeness from where you stand. But it is your job to know better and not confuse your small piece for the whole, even if you sometimes forget. Life is big—much bigger than just yours. This is the only note to self: other people are real. That’s all there is to learn.
— Frank Chimero – The Only Note To Self
At an event earlier this month, I sat reading over the only flyer available: an advertisement for The New Three Tenors. As I glanced over the neon page, I saw two sandled feet standing inches from where I sat. I found the feet peculiar, noting that the toes weren’t bare but layered with seamed stockings, and followed them until they took a lengthy pause outside the men’s room.
The figure, dressed in a black ill-fitting suit, had broad shoulders and legs as thin as jump rope. I looked further and saw a black purse, worn at the edges; brown hair, thin like gossamer; and glasses, square-rimmed and smart.
While I gathered my things, the figure crossed my path once again, this time walking around me to hold open the ladies’ room door. I said “thank you” and saw her weathered hands, then heard her deep voice in reply. As I walked through the door, I looked at her…cobbling together her frame, her hands, her voice and the way she looked away when I Saw her. Suddenly, her long pause in front of the men’s room made sense: she was transgender.
The National Center for Transgender Equality defines transgender as “a term for people whose gender identity, expression or behavior is different from those typically associated with their assigned sex at birth.” In other words, being biologically male, but self-identifying as female and vice versa.
We have the tendency to catalog the people we see, often by gender followed by any number of sub-catalogs: attractiveness, body type, level of friendliness, assumed personality type, etc. As those who identify as transgender may not fit our internal catalog system, we may be left feeling stymied and thus catalog them in the following way: Other.
Whenever I look at a person I remember that she or he is an iceberg.
Only one-tenth of an iceberg’s volume is above water; as with us, its true form and balance of content lie beneath its surface. If all we see when we look at a person is the layer of skin stretched over muscle and bone, then we don’t really See. Our True shape is only visible beneath our blue veil, but most don’t go to those depths.
Perhaps they don’t want to.
Perhaps they’re afraid to.
I recently went to those depths with a dear friend. She is tried and true, remarkable and resilient. She is what everyone hopes for in a confidant: open-hearted, clear-minded and stalwart in soul. She has been happily married for 33 years and through that union has been blessed with four living children. She is a giver of kindness, a doer of good, and a lover of people. She is also transgender.
Because of her desire to walk in her truth, she has lost friends, been ostracized, vilified, and more recently, fired from a job where she put in three plus decades of service. All of this because they choose to see the skin stretched over muscle and bone, nothing more.
On October 17, a pastor and fellow blogger, John Pavlovitz, published a post titled “The Lost Christian Art of Giving a Damn”. In it he wrote:
We’ve stopped seeing people, (especially those we disagree with or who disagree with us), with the kind of softness and compassion that should mark us as followers of Jesus; the deep empathy that comprises a clear calling upon our lives.
I would like to extend his words even further, past Christianity, to our master status: that of human beings. It should not matter if someone is black or white, gay or straight, trans or gender conforming, Jew or Muslim. People are people. We all deserve to be Seen, where we are, as we are.
Often we are touched only by what touches us. I am a prime example of this: I only understood the horrors of rape once I experienced them, I only understood the heartache of pregnancy loss once I had my first, and I only understood the injustices and discrimination the trans community faces once I befriended a transgender woman.
It is easy to let our hearts break for ourselves and for our own suffering. But the true test of our humanity is letting our hearts break for others and letting our empathy and gifts make a difference in their lives. It is not enough to be a friend in the dark. You and I have been called to be friends, advocates and Seers in the light of day.
The next time you see someone transgender, look at them and truly See. Perhaps dare to smile or even say, “hello”. They are not the bogeymen they’ve been made out to be. They are not “its”, “abominations”, “freaks”, or “mistakes”. And they are certainly not “Other”.
They are human beings. So here’s some heartfelt advice:
Treat them as such.
P.S. To the woman I crossed paths with in the ladies’ room: I find you brave. I find you lovely. And I See you.
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