Last but certainly not least! Christine Whitley, author of Little Kids, Big City, closes out a month of guest posts. It was a discussion between the two of us that gave me the idea of inviting others to tell their story. I was moved by Christine's genuineness. How could I not give her this opportunity.
By Christine Whitley
Fresh out of college, I worked for a research firm in suburban Washington DC. It was there that I met my very first transgender person. I didn't know the term "transgender" at the time. I just knew that my co-worker "looked like a woman but talked like a man." Her name was Meredith and I have felt bad ever since those days for how awkward and weird I was around her. When I met Meggan, I told her about Meredith and how I wished I could write a letter apologizing to her. Meggan kindly invited me write that letter as a guest post and here it is:
You were the very first transgender person I ever met. (That I know of anyway). I was fresh out of college at my first real, professional job. I still feel bad about how I treated you. I was so awkward and clueless. I stumbled over pronouns. I stared inappropriately because I just wasn't sure about what I was seeing. I wasn't sure what to bring up for chit-chat: cars or purses.
I cringe when I think about how weird I acted around you. It was like all that was in my head when I saw you was ARE YOU REALLY A MAN?!? and because I knew I couldn't say that, it took all my brain power to keep it from coming out of my mouth. I'm sure I wasn't the first person or the last to act all weird around you, Meredith, I just wish I had known better.
Thank you for being so polite and so patient.
I wanted to be an inclusive, accepting person. I wanted to be a person who listens and learns. It wasn't that I judged you. I just had just no experience or training whatsoever with people who didn't fit my very narrow view of gender.
Since then, I have grown up some, seen the world, and made friends with people of all kinds of indeterminate and fluid gender identities. I still say inappropriate things and act weird around people, but that's because I'm socially awkward in general. It's because of who I am, not who they are.
I once had the privilege to attend an in-service with two representatives of the transgender community when I was working at the YWCA. These ladies opened themselves and their stories to us in such a genuine, free, and honest way. I am forever grateful for that opportunity. They invited us to ask all those probing, indelicate, nosey, personal, burning questions about transitioning, life on both sides of the gender divide, and why they were so excited to wear girly clothes when I spent most of my time trying to avoid them!
And I finally got to ask BUT ARE YOU REALLY A MAN??!!
And I finally got to ask how it felt to be around people like young 20's me all the time. I asked if it bothered her when people acted all weird and staring. One of the women very kindly said that of course it bothered her sometimes but that the relief of finally feeling that her outside skin matched her identity on the inside was so wonderful that it far outweighed the pain of sometimes being treated like a circus animal.
Meredith, I am so sorry if I ever made you feel like a circus animal.
Now I have children and I live in a pretty diverse neighborhood. We have a couple of guys in our neighborhood who wear skirts every day. There's a barrista at our favorite coffee shop who is…well I don't really know how he or she identifies. My three-year-old said loudly one day MAMA IS THAT MAN A GIRL OR A BOY? I am just glad that my children are being raised with people all along the gender spectrum. For them, it's normal. They will grow up being able to just ask: which pronoun would you prefer that I use for you? No stammering around. No staring. No getting all hot in the face worrying that they've said the wrong thing. I hope so, anyway.
Well, thank you Meredith. Thank you for helping me learn that this is a wide world we live in. One populated by people of many different races, faiths, values, tastes, languages, cultures, and yes, genders. I hope you are well and I hope that our world is a place where you feel at home.
I know this experience between Christine and Meredith is not at all uncommon. I truly hope that this letter finds it's way to Meredith where ever she may be.
I want to thank everyone that contributed to Trans Girl at the Cross this month. If you have missed any of the other posts, here they are;
Tara Scalzo from Red & Company; A friend that fits outside the box
The Working Poor from Grateful but Miserable at Work; Help! There's a man in the ladies room!
Jenna Karvunidis from High Gloss and Sauce; My Embarrassing over-love of the LGBT Community
If you would like to follow Christine Whitley, you can find her on Twitter at @2pinklines