As I sat watching the news coverage on the night of Nov 8th, 2016 my mind wandered across the future. I knew I was at a point in my life where I was going to transition. I’d already decided I couldn’t see another birthday pass now that I really knew who I was and how I needed the world to see me. That I needed to feel comfortable in my own skin, to be whole. There was excitement, since I *knew* I would be emerging into a world that was progressively moving forward and becoming more accepting.
That all changed by the time I woke up the next morning. Suddenly everything I felt had bright and good about in my future started to dim and dull. Mild deep seated discomfort about how I would be treated solidified into outright fear. I started to question my plans. Not who I am mind you, just my plans. I began to fear for the future of our culture, of our country. Was kindness and courtesy dead?
Weeks and then months passed. Suspicions about the world around me became reality. The distant discord of political voices stopped being a far away thing. They became terribly personal. It was no longer about a distant somebody else, an acquaintance, a friend, a coworker. It was about me. I didn’t know who might hate me just because of who I am. Who might be mean to me at any moment, or even when I might be in danger. It seemed to be everywhere I looked.
And yet I put one foot in front of the other. Day after day I kept doing the smallest thing I could to move forward. I kept reminding myself — courage isn’t the absence of fear, no, true courage is being terrified of what’s in front of you and stepping into it anyway.
And my world didn’t end. The person I cared most about, my son, took a minute when I told him. Well… OK – maybe a couple of minutes, but really, truly only a couple. Then he took a step forward too. All on his own the first question he asked was what I wanted to be called. He keeps taking steps forward.
A few months after I first told him, he came with me to Talbots when I needed to make an exchange. The sales lady said “Sir, how can I help you.” It didn’t feel good, but I ignored it and made my exchange. After we left the store my son was clearly upset, when I asked why, he told me “What she said to you bothers me. She called you sir. Can’t she see who you are? I want to help but I don’t know what to do.”
My heart swelled.
He’s become one of my strongest defenders. When someone asks a question like that now, *he* responds. “Oh, I don’t need any help – but she does.”
I worried about my job. I’m fairly visible in the community of the university I work at. I’m visible in the larger community of my profession as well. This is a huge band-aid that needed to be ripped off. Yet I took another step.
On August 28th I told 300 people in one day. I told the people that work for me first thing in the morning, then I told the class I teach, and finally an email went out to several hundred people at lunchtime. I did a lot of breathing in and out, and putting one foot in-front of the other that day. I left early. Then I came back the next day as myself… trying to be prepared.
And it was OK. Most people took it in stride. Adjusted to my name, and didn’t make a fuss. It was actually better than OK. Quite a few people from all over my group and other places on campus offered their support.
Then one day recently I overheard someone talking about me, about something I had asked them to do and they were explaining it to someone else. Neither knew I was there just around the corner and could hear them. I heard “that’s not what *she* wants, let me explain so we get her the result she needs.” It was natural, without hesitation. Completely authentic.
In that moment I could tell, most people want to do the best they can, they care about being kind and respectful. I looked back over the last few months and realized that the kind and respectful experiences have outnumbered the bad 10-to-1, even 100-to-1!
Realization dawned. The world has already changed. It’s just been hidden by the loud noises of those unwilling to accept it.
Yet it’s there all around us if we look for it.
My hope for the future is growing bright again.