Transforming the Transgender Experience Through Courage

In 1988, my high school sociology teacher, Dave Dillon, had courage. At a time when hardly anyone from his generation was even aware of transgender issues, or even what the term meant, he was hell bent on making sure that my generation was educated. Students in Mr. Dillon’s senior level sociology class at Naperville Central High School had the privilege of meeting the fascinating Karen Ulane and hearing her life story.

Karen was born as Kenneth, but always felt like Karen. During the time she lived within the parameters of her biologically assigned gender, she married, fathered a son, flew a record number of combat missions in Vietnam, earning her the Air Medal with eight clusters. She was a pilot for Eastern Airlines until the airline dismissed her because of her gender reassignment.

Karen was confident and articulate and oh my God so interesting! It took a lot of courage for her to make regular appearances at our high school in order to educate a bunch of dunderheaded teenagers about transgender issues. Meeting Karen and hearing her inspiring and courageous life story changed the way I looked at gender. She opened my eyes to the reality that gender is highly complex human issue, a spectrum, if you will, that gender is so much more than the genitalia we are born with. May she rest in peace.

When I met Meggan Sommerville, a fellow ChicagoNow blogger, we easily fell into conversation about the things we had in common – parenting, our passion for writing and love of animals. We talked a bit about job stress too. That was when I learned that Meggan’s job stress was Karen Ulane level job stress, that she was suffering discrimination and prejudice as a transgender woman. I couldn’t believe that in the over 30 years had passed since Karen’s battle with airlines, there was still such ignorance and idiocy with regard to transexuals and their rights as human beings.

Meggan is a sensitive, kind, beautiful and intelligent woman. Recently, Meggan’s case against her employer, Hobby Lobby, has received increased attention. All I can say about that is it’s about fucking time! You can read about it HERE. I’m honored to have Meggan as a guest blogger here on Moms Who Drink And Swear: Chicago Edition.

The courageous and beautiful Meggan Sommerville

The courageous and beautiful Meggan Sommerville

By Meggan Sommerville

I have been called a lot of things in recent weeks. It stands as a poignant reminder that the divide between the transgender community and some people in the rest of the world is vast. I am continually reminded how much people don’t know about what it means to be transgender. What it means for our minds not to match the body we were born into.

The mis-gendering of me was something I wasn’t surprised by. Calling me a ‘he’ is nothing new. Even calling me a ‘he/she’ is also not out of the realm of names I have been called. Being called an ‘it’ on the other hand was something I hadn’t heard before.

I have been call confused, delusional and disgusting. Labels like freak, idiot, pervert, gay anarchist, degenerate faggot, and the homosexual mafia have all been leveled in my direction. As much as it hurts to hear this vile language aimed at any human, can you imagine how it would feel if it were directed towards you?

Most of these comments have all been leveled from a place of fear. Fearing someone different. Fearing an unknown situation. They fear anything outside the gender binary.

I don’t think I am out of line when I say that most transgender individuals fear what society is going to say when we disclose our transition, or the desire to transition. I know it was for me and many that I talk to.

I am very thankful that I have not yet faced violence face-to-face. But for the community as a whole, nasty and hate filled comments are just the tip of the iceberg. Violence towards the trans community has taken the front page more times than I care to remember. Just this month, another trans women was killed in Baltimore. She was the third trans woman killed in Baltimore in the last year.

Over forty-six percent of at risk and homeless Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender youth ran away, or are forced out from their home because of rejection and/or violence from family.

There are just way too many people out there that refuse to understand what it means to be transgender. They are stuck in old ways of thinking. Why you may ask? Are they just comfortable in their own reality? Are they closed to learning something new? I would say yes to both. But the higher question is why are they this way?

There is only one answer to that question in my book. They lack courage.

The trans community is no stranger to courage. We have lived out the definition for decades.

It takes courage to live your life openly and authentically.
It takes courage to say to the world “the body you see is not the person I am on the inside“.
It takes courage to face a world that doesn’t understand.
It takes courage to face those confused that being transgender has nothing to do with sex.
It takes courage for a mom of a 6 year old trans daughter to stand up in front of the world and openly take on the misconceptions of trans kids.
It takes courage to stand for your rights and the rights of others.

When it comes to the world at large, I have seen the courage in those outside the trans community; the courage it takes to make an effort to learn.

It takes courage to sit down face to face with a stranger over coffee and ask questions in order to learn what it means to be transgender.
It takes courage to admit and say aloud “I don’t understand” or “I don’t know”.
It takes courage to listen to a world you may have never even considered before.
It take courage to challenge your own thoughts on the differences between gender and sex.
It takes courage to step out of your comfort zone.
It takes courage to admit you were wrong.


Courage is the answer. It may not be easy, but it is simple. People have a tendency to fear what they don’t understand. And fear holds them back and blinds them to the beauty that can be found in others. We have seen it in the Civil Rights movement in the ‘60s. We have seen it in the gay movement in the last few decades. We have seen it begin in the transgender movement in this decade. It has taken courage to take every step.

What so many people can’t understand is that courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is having an understanding that there is something so much more important than fear.

You can read more by Meggan on her blog Trans Girl at the Cross here on ChicagoNow and Trans Girl at the Cross on Facebook. You can read more about Meggan’s courage HERE and watch her wonderful performance in this year’s Listen to Your Mother Chicago Show here.

ChicagoNow bloggers (from left to right) Tara Scalzo, Me, Meggan Sommerville, Erin Skibinski

ChicagoNow bloggers (from left to right) Tara Scalzo, Me, Meggan Sommerville, Erin Skibinski

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