Humanity on a Train

NYC bound we happened to sit behind a young man traveling alone. An older man took the seat next to him, and I smiled as the young man got up to help this stranger lift his bag into the overhead compartment. 

As we headed toward the city these two talked and talked. I wasn’t paying any attention to what they were saying until I heard the young man say, “Well, what if I told you that I am gay?” The older man said, “Then I would pray for you.” And the the young man said, “Well I would pray for you, too.”

And the discussion continued. And for the next hour I listened to this young man calmly and intelligently object to this older man’s bigoted, homophobic and misogynistic views. I mean, this guy was UNREAL. From claiming AIDS was created by God to punish homosexuals, to claiming women are going against their innate design by working outside the home—therefore ruining society and causing themselves and their children great psychological harm.

He said that children of divorce have no one to model love for them and therefore become SAVAGES.

(I have to admit, at that I literally laughed out loud. I couldn’t help it.)

There were moments when I wanted to slam my feet against the back of this awful man’s chair. But this young man—he remained calm. They both did, actually. Never was a voice raised between them. Never did I feel that I needed to leap to his aid, either.

“That’s simply untrue,” the young man said repeatedly, and he would argue eloquently against each point. Respectfully.

It was clear to me that this polite and intelligent young man was NOT going to change this older man’s opinion about a damn thing. I’m sure he knew that too. And he could have chosen not to engage. He could have shot the conversation down after the man obviously said something derogatory about gay people. Or he could have reacted in an angry, or sarcastic way.

I can’t say anyone would have blamed him for that. I wouldn’t have.

But…I am so glad that he didn’t.

Because behind him sat my daughter. A child of divorce. The daughter of a single, working mother. The daughter of a trans and bisexual father.

And she was listening.

Ultimately the young man said, “Well, I am not a gay man. I am straight and catholic, actually. However, within the last hour you’ve managed to insult nearly everyone I love. I think we’re done here. I’ll pray for you.”

And I looked over and winked at the incredibly loving little savage in the seat beside me, grateful we were witnesses to this exchange, however ugly one man’s opinions were. Because it showed my daughter that resistance does not always have to be loud, aggressive or hostile. It can simply be a soft spoken young man on a train, respectfully and intelligently defending humanity on a Thursday afternoon.

train shot

Day 138/365 You Must Be A Tree

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.