By Sarah Morehead
The first time I experienced a friend coming out to me as an openly transgender woman, I was stunned. I hadn’t ever known anyone “like that” and didn’t know what to think, or how to process such a bizarre (to me) and abrupt (to me) change in someone I’d always known as a man. I had known a couple of out and proud gay men as dear friends on my long path away from religious fundamentalism, and those relationships sparked a huge domino effect in my personal growth, but the concepts outside of the gender binary “norm” were still pretty foreign to me.
Please understand what I mean by personal growth here – after years of effort to overcome the bigotry caused by decades of sermons like this, I’d finally realized that no one chooses homosexuality any more than they do heterosexuality. I understood that “they” lived lives as typical as any of “us,” and that life went on without incident even when they got legally married, or ran a scouting troop, or coached a youth team. It no longer bothered me to see same sex couples interacting in public, and I really thought I’d grown beyond all of the prejudices so deeply infused into the morals and values taught to me all my life. Despite growing up seeing demons of homosexuality cast out (here’s an example), I no longer thought it was bad or even a personal choice to be gay. I felt pretty enlightened, and after all, I even watchedBrokeback Mountain! But regardless of who they were attracted to, people (in my mind) were either declared men or women at birth, and that seemed clear enough to me (barring some chromosomal error or birth defect). Sure, men could be gay, and women could be lesbians, but men “becoming” women? Women “becoming” men? That messed my head right back up. You might not wake up one day and decide to be gay, but living as the opposite gender? That decision seemed pretty clear, and pretty optional in my mind.
I’ll call him Jim for the purposes of this article, but he was a longtime family friend who had known us and our kids for many years. I remember talking to him for hours at a time while he was going through a brutal divorce in another state, celebrating his kids’ birthday parties together, having family picnics in local parks, meeting his girlfriend (and eventual wife), and soon after their beautiful daughter.
I wasn’t a fundamentalist by the time he told me the news of his upcoming transition. I recall I was in my ‘spiritual but not religious’ stage (probably yellow on the Spectrum of Disbelief – see image on the right), but I distinctly remember trying to understand how something “like this” could happen. I also worried about what to tell my kids, who at the time ranged in age from infant to teens (those kids are now teen – adult). Voices whispering condemnation echoed from the wooden pulpits I thought I’d stashed far away in the dark corners of my memory. They clashed noisily with the caring friendship I’d always had with this person –
his her goofy grin shone throughout our photo albums for so long. Why did he she want to do this? What about his her kids? What about mine? What do I call him her now? What did this mean for our friendship? It was tremendously confusing to me, and unsurprisingly my greatest concerns were pretty self-centered. It seemed to change everything about how I viewed him her, and while my response to him her was supportive and accepting, my own confusion couldn’t have been more obvious.
Judgment and disdain seems to be a common reaction when people view something as a choice instead of an inherent right or need being fulfilled. It’s so much easier to slip into the smug luxury of presuming WE would have chosen differently when looking at the “sin” of others, and of course we’d choose better if presented with the same situation! When something is understood to be a biological need, at least regarding the people I’ve interacted with who overcame similar prejudices, it seems a lot easier to accept even if we don’t yet understand it entirely. Homosexuality was like that for me. Once I understood the complexities behind the biology of sexual orientation, learned you can’t “fix” homosexuality through reparative therapy, and realized same-sex activity is seen throughout the Animal Kingdom, I eventually learned my lesson about how wrong I’d been all those years. But outside of hateful slurs and whispered rumors of dirty, perverted men cross-dressing, I had barely even heard the term transgender, much less understood it, so trying to even comprehend the idea as it related to my friend was an incredible challenge.
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