Let’s examine your “I don’t understand” statement about trans people
Most of us are now the same sex we were when we were born. We will not only die that way, but we will also likely die without having given serious consideration to being the opposite sex. Though we are the majority of the world’s population, it behooves us to focus our awareness in the direction of a misunderstood and, unfortunately, maligned minority: transgender people.
I am a 73-year-old man who was born male. Like most people, I never questioned my birth sex, though I did experience a period of seven or eight years when I was struggling with my sexuality, which eventually settled on being predominantly gay, a Kinsey 5.
It would be too easy to blame my struggle on the era in which I grew up. But it’s clear that those times — roughly 1963 to 1971 — were vastly different from our current age.
During that era, any talk about variations of sexuality outside of heterosexuality was in hushed tones, held in private and mostly secretive conversations — if there were conversations at all. If you were anything but straight and cis, you either kept your mouth shut or you entrusted your feelings only to those in your tight circle whom you knew would be able to guard your secret. To do otherwise would lead to public ridicule and being ostracized.
If you were born after 1980, you grew up in a different time, and it may be hard to believe, but there were no positive and life-affirming images for LGBTQ people during that era that preceded your birth. For those of us who are older, we lived during a time when Rock Hudson and countless other gay movie stars and athletes lived their own secret hells, hidden from view, as opposed to celebrated, as is more common nowadays.
In 1968, when I saw the original production of Mart Crowley’s The Boys in the Band, the scenario as it was portrayed made it quite clear that gay life was an undesirable future for me. That same year, when I saw a movie poster for The Queen, it scared the shit out of 21-year-old me. The Queen, coupled with The Boys in the Band, reinforced in me that this was not the kind of life I wanted for myself. Though at the time, I was starting to flirt with the idea of taking a step outside my closet door, these two productions led me to pull that door shut and deadbolt it behind me.
These were just two of the many cultural factors that led me, in 1970, to get married. To a woman.
The marriage lasted for a year. Ultimately, though I married a wonderful woman, it was my friendship with her and my determination to be more truthful to her, to myself, and to others that led me to the conclusion that a divorce was the best way towards setting both of us free from the lie I had been living, which was holding me back from being my authentic self.
In the ensuing years, starting most notably with New York’s Stonewall Riots in 1969, LGBTQ people have been increasingly more open about who we are, both privately and publicly.
At first, I had second thoughts about Harvey Milk’s exhortation to come out to our families, friends, and co-workers. Now that I am older, I have a much better understanding of the genius behind his encouragement: if all LGBTQ people come out to the people in their social circles, the greater majority of the heterosexual population will be able to come to the realization of the fact that they not only knew LGBTQ people, but would be able to declare that they, in fact, loved at least one LGBTQ person!
That dynamic has helped to lead us to the sea change that has taken place gradually during the last fifty years, what with marriage equality and hundreds of athletes, performers, artists, politicians, and writers who have steadfastly refused to make dirty little secrets of the people whom they love.
An increasingly large number of straight allies has been able to stand beside us and affirm their belief, “Love is love.”
What we know from the history of humanity is that LGBTQ people have always been with us, across all cultures and all times. In some cultures they have been integrated into the societal fabric. In ours, they were amongst us, but hiding. It’s become increasingly more comfortable and less threatening — at least for the LGBQ part of the LGBTQ people — to come out, love who we love, and, in so doing, hold onto the love of the people in our lives.
But what about the T of the LGBTQ people? It seems to me that this is now the current wave of people who are struggling for acceptance and understanding. I have heard many heterosexuals among us use language that, in my opinion, needs to be put aside, in favor of new ideas and new ways to express ourselves:
“I can’t accept that,” they say.
“I don’t understand it,” they say.
First of all, let’s consider acceptance. Most of us neither ask for nor need anyone else’s acceptance. After all, we’re not FedEx packages waiting for a signature before we can be delivered to our final destination. In seeking acceptance and approval, a person is placing power in the hands of others, searching for it from outside ourselves. The power we need most is from within! The power from within is what we need to propell us towards our self-actualized future.
As for understanding, I have come to realize that that, too, is optional. My conclusion is that understanding is overrated. What I propose that we do is shift ourselves away from our need for understanding and towards something else entirely. What else? We have a lot of choices as to what we will use as a means of replacing our need for understanding.
Let’s consider the fact that we are all capable of functioning effectively in our lives without understanding certain concepts. After all, while I don’t understand how electricity works, my lack of understanding the process doesn’t stop me from flipping on a light switch when I enter a darkened room. No understanding required!
Similarly, I don’t understand the process of how a car works. I’ve noticed that I don’t need to understand what is going on under the hood in order to turn the key in the ignition and make the car take me where I want to go.
Since it is entirely possible, then, to manage in the world without understanding how everything works, I propose that we change our language when it comes to people expressing our non-understanding with regard to the process that their transgender loved ones are going through.
We need to come to terms with the fact that we’re simply not going to have the capacity — or the need — to understand, just as a man cannot understand what it is like to live the life of a woman, just as a white person cannot understand what it is like to live the life of a Black person.
How about, instead of saying, “I don’t understand,” we ask ourselves, “What can I do to bring myself closer to love, compassion, and support for others?”
To continue with my analogies about electricity and cars, let’s not allow our inability to understand interfere with our moving from darkness into light or from making progress in a forward direction.
I propose that each of us is capable of doing that!
We’re all much better off if we shift our focus from trying to understand how a person could feel the way they do and start turning our focus towards ourselves, considering how we could offer emotional support to our loved one who is more than likely going through a tough time while transitioning from one sex to another.
Another way to look at it is that we’re either going to learn something from this experience, or we’re not. We’re either going to be able to enhance our own and another’s life, or we are not. I think our best option is to turn the experience to ourselves, in which we discover what we could learn about being a more compassionate and loving person, which will, in turn, make their life better.
Are we going to move in the direction of love and light, or are we going to move in the direction of fear? That’s the choice we need to make.
Each of us wants to live a fulfilled and a meaningful life. Let’s create the same kind of existence for our transgender brothers and sisters.
I am reminded of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, who explains, “Exclusion is never the way forward in our shared paths to freedom and justice.”
To his shared paths toward freedom and justice, I would add the parallel path forward to love.