There was a boy who decided to carry a shield in the 6th grade. His dad’s old briefcase. He was looking for a way to feel important. Something more. A validation of his internal compass being slightly different than that of all the other boys around him. Or so it seemed at the time. His friends, rightly, warned him that this was tantamount to putting a target his back however he was not able to hear that. Until tonight when that boy, now a man, had dinner with a woman who he met back in sixth grade. The one who gave him those warnings. The one who used to duck out of school, taking a back route, to avoid the bullying that was ever present for both of us. Me as a confused gay kid and her as a confused transsexual person. Equally distant from our true selves as children, but with all the markup that brought us to tonight at Barcelona restaurant in German Village.
Truth be told, I was nervous all week. I spoke with my husband and my best friend about it in fact. Not in the friendship I have with her today. But in the awareness of all the insidious ways that my own privilege of knowing my gender so easily matches my genitalia and the socialization that is part of my programming which can have a way of making others feel less. I have trans contacts, yes, but this is my first childhood ally who was brave enough to realize a new and open reality. I was nervous I would inadvertently say the wrong thing. Use the wrong pronoun. Default to old names that were no longer relevant. I felt intensely aware of the cadence of the conversation and tried to make sure I made every effort to embrace the woman before me as nothing less than one of the bravest, strongest, most courageous and honest people I have ever met in my lifetime. A true friend.
Oddly enough, there was an On Being mailer this week, I love that podcast, it provided the following quote by Gustavo Santaolalla.
“I’d like not to think that [in] every phase in my life, I leave phases behind. In my country, we say ‘Yo ya supere eso’ — ‘Already, I’m over that.’ Now I’m in another phase of my life. And I always thought that it was better to try to keep on adding to your life. Let’s say you have the child, then the teen, then the young man. You carry these people with you.”
It reminds me of the closing scene from Beautiful Boxer, which I watched when I lived in Dallas, where the main character sits on a bus stop, as a beautiful woman, and looks to her side and sees the boy, the young man, the athletic and muscular boxer, the troubled trans person, all sitting beside her as individual people. But, all, the same person.
The saddest part of the night for me though was that my friend, and her wife who joined us tonight, have a “backup plan.” Money set aside for a quick escape should things get violent. An actual escape route to Canada. With gas tank volume, time, and mileage calculations. Then onto Germany or Norway. Places where it is thought to be safer for trans folks and their families. That there is a climate of violence against trans people brings me back to the days of Mathew Sheppard, and countless other horrific events. The days when gay/bi men & women had to hide for fear of bashing, unemployment, loss of family. The, not so far away days when gay/bi folk could not dance together in public under “fire laws” in Columbus Ohio. Or had to speak through a sliding window built into a door of a hidden back alley bar to gain entrance. Or being left with little option but to adopt a dangerous practice of cruising in alleys and public parks just to get off as we all stood outside of acceptable culture. The whole situation smacks of persecution in the form of fear. It always has.
I spent years of my early manhood working through the process of coming out. I spent decades more debugging my code to extricate the internalized homophobia that I picked up along the way of growing up. When my friend reminded me tonight of the briefcase I carried, and the warnings she gave me as a 6th grade child born into the wrong body, I am left feeling like, maybe there is credence to the idea that we meet the people we do for a reason after all. I’m gay. My friend is trans. We are both in technology fields for great companies. Both of our bosses are women. While change is constant. It is a slow, glacial powerful force.
Tonight left me feeling like I have work to do for the trans community. Work to do for diversity in tech, and in the world at large. It also left me with the hope that things are changing and that I know how to continue to carry that as far as I am able to do so.
Well, that and friendship over a good meal with inspiring people. That’s the best that anyone can hope for in my opinion. Life is best when it’s full of open love and fulfillment after all.