We started talking over football; rival fans of competing teams loyal enough to disagree but understandable enough to take it in stride. His sense of humor and kind demeanor and overall intellect were mesmerizing. It was friendship at first fight.
When he told me he was gay, I told him why my team would win next week’s match up. It was that “out of the ordinary” to me. His sexual orientation was as important to me as his favorite food or his favorite color or his favorite television show; a matter of preference that makes him who he is but doesn’t define him. His fear turned to relief and we went about our friendship as if nothing changed. Because nothing did.
When he told me about her, I told him why I thought she was the bravest friend I’ve ever had the pleasure of loving. She was tired of hiding, of pretending to be someone she wasn’t, and of letting the narrow-mindedness of others dictate the level of happiness in her life. I said I would support her any way I could. I told her I loved her. I asked her if there was anything I could possibly do to help.
And then I told her that the upcoming season would end with my team standing on the championship podium. Again.
The transgender community has become more and more prevalent, and rightfully so. Society is realizing there’s a community of people who not only need, but deserve, our support and understanding; just like any other community we don’t belong to but rub elbows with. Along with this newfound understanding – and transgender individuals beginning to feel safe and secure in coming out, transitioning, and telling their stories – the reactions to, essentially, their existence are shared as well.
Which is when I start to shake my head in disappointment.
Not because there are bigots, alive and well in their blind hatred and religious ignorance. Not because mindless jokes are made at the expense of other people’s existence. Sadly, such reactions are expected in a country that, on its good days, is continuously attempting to tell women what to do with their bodies or lovers who they can and cannot marry.
No, I’m disappointed in the reactions some seemingly supportive individuals have expressed.
I hear phrases like, “It was shocking” or, “it’s been difficult understanding” or “it will take a while to get used to”, and I’m left dumbfounded. I see people saying “I couldn’t imagine” or “that would be hard” or “it is so interesting”, as if we’re discussing a historical time in history that no one could possibly fathom living in.
While I can see how combating gender binaries may be difficult for people to understand, and discrediting social norms takes time for some to comprehend, someone very important is being overlooked when the aforementioned reactions are voiced.
The transgender individual.
An individual’s existence isn’t for you to understand. A person’s right to life isn’t a shocking fact or a reality you need time “adjusting” to. It just, is. Whether you understand it or not.
It isn’t a transgender individual’s job to help you understand why they are the way they are. It is your job to support them in being who they are.
A transgender individual’s transition isn’t a time for you to be coddled or cared for. In fact, it is a time in which you are of the absolute, least importance. Relationships are never a 50/50 transaction. They ebb and flow like the waves of an ocean, or my weight after a particularly devastating break up. One person requires 80% one moment, then a situation shifts and the other person requires 95%. That is a relationship; a voluntary game of tug of war in which you gladly give all the rope to the other person when they need it.
And in this moment, your transgender friend or family member or acquaintance or second cousin twice removed by three failed marriages, needs, and deserves, it all.
If there’s something you don’t understand about transgender or gender identity: look it up. If your friend/family member/acquaintance wants to talk about it or offers to share so you can gain some understanding, listen and learn. But make no mistake, their transition isn’t a live-action wikipedia entry in which you can broaden your horizons or gain some empathetic competency. It is their life. Their journey. Their unique and beautiful path and if you want to walk alongside them, do so as their sidekick instead of their student.
While it is kind of transgender community to take the time to explain and describe their existence, if you stop and think about how ridiculous – even outrageous – it is that such explanations and descriptions are necessary, you’ll (I hope) begin to feel foolish. I can’t help but feel that every time we ask a transgender person to “explain themselves” so that we may better understand, we are really asking them to argue their case for a meaningful existence to people who have had the privilege of never being asked to do the same.
A transgender individual should never have to “prove” their humanity.
A transgender individual should never have to describe their right to life. Or happiness. Or love.
A transgender individual shouldn’t be asked to divulge the private and/or personal aspects of their lives so that you may better support them.
A transgender individual shouldn’t be worried about how you’ll feel or what you’ll think or how you’ll cope or what you’ll need. You should be worrying about how they feel or what they think or how they’ll cope or what they’ll need.
I’m beyond excited to see my dear friend become more and more the woman she was meant to be and the woman she’s always been and the women she’s been scared and excited and eager and worried to show the world. I’m excited for the changes that will make her feel as beautiful as I know her to be. But most of all…
… I’m excited for the upcoming football season, so my team can beat her team, and I can tell her all about it. Again.