Tuesday, December 10, 2013

An Open Letter to the Transgender Woman at my Gym

Dear Person,

I'm sorry I can't address you by name.

I first noticed you by your cool headband. I was walking across the lobby of our woman-only gym when the color caught my eye. I turned to look at it, then I did a double take.

I hope--pray even--that the startle didn't register on my face. Then there was the awkward. You looked at me. I looked away. No! I shouldn't look away! This is a person! Look her in the face like anyone else! But you had looked away again. You looked back, I looked away, you looked away, I looked back. It was just unfortunate timing. I saw you smile, though. It was a nice smile.

Panic had set in at that point. I so desperately wanted you to know that I hadn't been staring at you,--that I'd just been looking at your headband. I tried to be casual. Smile back. I wanted to pack as much good will and acceptance into that smile. Was I smiling too much? I probably looked like I was just trying to stare more. I gave up and scurried off to the nursery to get my kids.

I kicked myself as I picked up my kids, walked them to the car and buckled their seat belts. Then I slapped myself for a while on the drive home. What was wrong with me? I'm supposed to be open and accepting. I firmly believe that a transgender woman should have all the rights and respect any other woman has. Why couldn't I just meet your gaze and say, "Nice headband"?

I'll bet situations like this happen to you all the time. I'll bet it gets lonely. I hope I run into you again. Maybe we could have a conversation. Maybe we could be friends. I want a do-over.

I'd like to open these last few paragraphs to all transgender people. Because I am certain this is not the first time this has happened between two people, and it definitely won't be the last.

I'm sorry.

I'm sorry for all of us that stare without thinking. I'm sorry that some of us are struggling with change, even when we welcome it. I'm sorry that we have a hard time figuring out whether to call you "Sir" or "Mam." I'm sorry for all the stupid things I'm sure we say, some of us trying to prove how okay we are with you, others just being bad at making conversation. While I'm at it, I'm sorry we have anything to prove.

Please be patient with us when we fumble with our pronouns, titles, or other gendered vocabulary. Please don't be discouraged if one of us jumps when you say hello. Please keep smiling if we suddenly look panicked. And please, yes, please tell us if we make a mistake. Tell us if we say something rude or insensitive. Keep us accountable. It is going to take a long time for all of us to learn. Please forgive us when we are thick.

I hope this message is the extension of good will and acceptance I want it to be. I hope it is read by the people who need it most. But I hope, most of all, that it signals a small bit change.


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