About a year ago, my therapist asked me if I knew anything about painting. I have painted just about everywhere I have lived since I moved out of my mother’s house in 1990. So I said, “Of course I do! What’s there to know about painting?” You buy paint, a brush, a roller, and you put it on the wall. “Fabulous,” she said, “then you can help me paint the new group therapy room.” I agreed. We met there on a Sunday, and we painted the new room. From that day on, she has asked me to paint several other rooms in the office, install molding, sheetrock the utility room, and countless other tasks. She was so impressed that I knew how to do these things that she started giving out my phone number to people she knows who needed odd jobs done.
“I knew this would be one of those teachable moments I am always preaching about.”
So a few weeks ago, I find myself in this woman’s house ripping up about four layers of old linoleum when she asks me what kind of non-profit I volunteer at. I paused in my brain for what felt like ten minutes, but in reality it was definitely not that long. Not knowing this woman and how she would react, I simply blurred it out. “I work for a transgender resource center. The only one of its kind where we live,” I told her. Then, I stopped what I was doing to peer up to see her facial reaction. Shocked would be a good word to describe it. Then she said something I wasn’t ready for, “I never met a transgender person before.” So I replied, “Really, how would you know?” I suddenly stopped working and got up off her floor. I knew this would be one of those teachable moments I am always preaching about. I started to search my phone for a picture of my wife that I knew she would approve of my showing someone I really didn’t know.
So I said to her, “You know transgender people are not usually in the habit of introducing themselves by saying, hi I am so in so, and I’m transgender.” She literally laughed out loud. I held my phone up to show her a picture of my wife. “This is a picture of my wife,” I said. “She is gorgeous,” the woman replied. I thanked her for the compliment, and then I said, “My wife is transgender.” Her eyes widened in amazement as she replied, “Really, if I saw her in a store I would never know she was transgender,” as she stared at the picture. “Right,” I explained. “So how do you know that you never met a transgender person before?” She was truly dumbfounded as she continued to laugh, “Wow, I guess I wouldn’t know.” Then, she went on to tell me how she watched the Caitlyn Jenner special, love her or hate her, she brought the transgender community into the homes of people who never knew what transgender was, and at least for that we should be grateful.
At this point all work had stopped. I felt slightly bad about that since I charge by the hour, but I felt so compelled to have this conversation with her. Not to mention, she didn’t seem to be upset that we were yapping and not working. When would she ever get a chance like this again to ask anything that she ever wanted to know about transgender folks? She explained to me that she has no problem with the LGBTQ+ community and that everyone should be free to love who they love and be who they are. We discussed the bathroom debate and why it is so stupid. She told me all about her work as a special needs teacher, and about the bathroom policy at her school for transgender kids (though she hadn’t met one of them). Which I thought was bullshit, as they are forced to use the bathroom in the nurse’s office. I explained why I felt that way.
“Transgender folks are not evil freaks or weirdos, they are people trying to free themselves from the prison that society has put them in.”
It is so very important to be visible as a member of this community. To teach others that transgender people are humans just like the rest of us, and that they deserve the same rights afforded to cisgender people. To explain to those who don’t know that this is not a choice, it is how they were born, and to deny that is giving them a death sentence. Transgender folks are not evil freaks or weirdos, they are people trying to free themselves from the prison that society has put them in. It was an open, honest, and unexpected conversation. My hope is that she learned a little something that day and that she will never assume that transgender people all look the same. Whenever possible, be visible in the universe, it is important for the next generation of transgender folks who still haven’t come out.