After reading my blog the other day – An Invitation – which was about compassion and acceptance around a transgender loved one (in my case, my ex-husband), a friend of mine wrote to me recounting this story –
She was at a wedding with her niece, who is five. Her niece said to their family friend,
“Are you a girl or a boy?”
The friend replied, “Well, what do you think?”
The little girl answered, “I think you’re a boy.”
The friend replied, “Well then today I’ll be a boy.”
The little girl said, “No, I think you’re a girl.”
The friend replied, “Well then today I’ll be a girl.”
The little girl said, “If you are a boy and a girl, you must be a tree.”
(First of all I’m thinking we have a future horticulturalist here, because some trees do actually have “male” and “female” parts…in case you didn’t know that fun fact.)
She went on to explain, “Trees can see everything, so they must be boys and girls.”
So cute…and fascinating in a way.
It got me thinking…
It starts as children, this need to label and compartmentalize things – and people. It is how we learn and process the world.
I think sometimes in our desire to be progressive or politically correct (or in some cases, in being defensive of ourselves or our loved ones), we forget that this desire to use labels can, and often does, still come from a sincere and innocent place.
It simply makes us feel more comfortable when we can define something.
In the case of my ex-husband, for example…
As a person who has lived strictly as a male (for four decades) and is now beginning to dress as a woman, his new appearance is going to draw attention. That is a fact. He has not transitioned fully (and is not sure when or if he will), so he appears to be a man, yet he’s wearing women’s clothing, shoes, accessories and make up.
This isn’t something that is going to slide in under the radar.
I don’t mean to say that my ex needs to walk down the street, shaking hands and saying, “Hi, I’m transgender. Nice to meet you.”
But for me, I found it helpful for him to provide me with that label, and to give me permission to use it to explain to others the changes they are seeing in him.
Being transgender is not the whole of who he is, but understanding that piece of him helps me to better understand him as a whole.
It is not his job to make others understand or accept him. However, for those who truly seek to understand, providing the label “transgender” allows those who may know little to nothing about what that means, begin to learn…to read, research, ask questions.
No, he is not a crossdresser.
No, it is not a costume.
No, he has not lost his mind.
Once we seek to understand this part of him, we can begin to focus on him as a human being again – and not just on what he is wearing.
Perhaps you will disagree entirely and say that no person should have to define him or herself. I understand your point of view. I am only speaking from my own limited experience of loving someone who is going through something completely foreign to me. I know I cannot begin to understand what it is like to be living in a body that I feel was given to me by mistake.
I also understand that there are some people who don’t feel as if they conform to any one label…the beautiful “trees” of the world.
Perhaps one day we will live in a world where a person’s gender and sexual identity is no matter of interest whatsoever.
We are still working on getting there, though, and I think the key to understanding one another is always communication, openness, and curiosity (of the non-judgmental variety).
The more we talk about our differences in a kind and open way, the less scary they become…and the more we are able to see our commonalities.