Friday, December 3, 2010

Man in a Dress

I've always admired transgendered people. To some when they think of transgender they think of a man dressing like a woman , but it's so much deeper than that. To them it's not about being a man and putting on makeup, and wearing a dress and slipping into a pair of high heels. It's how they identify and how they see themselves living their life.
I used to be one who didn't understand the whole transgender life. Of course I was also in a place where I didn't understand my own sexuality, a place where I was in hiding and passing off as straight.I was also in a zone where there was self-hating feelings from myself of not being able to fully be who I wanted to be based on societies terms. Yet for trans, they not only represented themselves as how they saw themselves but they willingly walked into environments where a target was on their backs.
I think my turn around was from a youth that I was working with when I was employed at an agency that serviced young gay kids. She was only 15 and and when I say she, it's how he identified as he was born a male but preferred to be referred as she. Anyway during the course of interacting with her she would give me small nuggets of perspective on her life. I was fascinated because to me it was a world I never knew that much about. I had friends who were transgender but we rarely hung out as true friends.There was also an added piece in that she was black, which came with its own societal luggage, she was gay and she was trans-gendered. She would share with me how things were for her in her school, in her community and at her church. At home she was fine, well as fine as she could be as her birth family placed her in foster care at the age of nine but when I met her she was in the process of being adopted.
She went through moods, some days happy, some days snapping heads off. When we built a relationship I would learn that it was because of situations she encountered in the outside world.And it was mostly from school as she encountered 'evil looks', passing comments and other craziness. The kicker is that it was not only from the students but also from the teachers. The adult teachers who were supposed to make it a safe environment, were placing their own values on her and making it unsafe, something that many LGBT youth encounter in school as school staff are sometimes part of the problem.      
My teaching moment came when, as part of my job I would take the youths on a field trip. This meant I would be out in the public with her her and it would give me a perspective on what she endures. We went to a Red Lobster in the suburbs and the place was filled with the early dinner crowd. Right away the looks came. The looks of questioning, 'is it a she or a he?', the looks of disgust and the looks of shame. Since she was under my charge I, I immediately turned into the mama bear and everyone who looked at her crazy, I did the same thing back to them. But she was indifferent to the looks. She was used to it and it rolled off her back like the rain. I was the sponge soaking up the emotions. Not knowing until later that she probably did the same when she was younger and learned the skill of indifference. She walked to her seat and payed the people no mind. She didn't give her power away. 
Crimes against trans-gender people are very high. Higher than incidents of someone who identify as gay. The murder rate and rape cases against transgendered are sad and the statistics are actually higher because when an attack against a transgender happen sometimes they become victimized again by the police themselves so some incidents are not reported. And the sad part is that even the gay community themselves as a whole do not fully embrace the transgender community and like others, will laugh with them in private but will not be seen with them in public.
A 15 year old person taught me to be who I wanted to be and I learned that if she can live her life the way she wanted to, why couldn't I, a man in his forties do the same. It's amazing what children can teach the adults if we let them.
Not everyone who places themselves in a dress is trying to be a Madea.Someone to be comic relief for the masses. And despite what others think they don't do it as drag waiting for you to place a dollar in their belt. What they are doing when they put on that dress is clothing themselves like we all do, nothing less, nothing more.
She reminded me that even though I was a gay man I could hide behind a persona but she couldn't. She placed herself on the front lines and refused to let others dictate how she lived her life. Not even gay or straight people can say the same. We let others pull the strings on what we should be, how we should act and how we should represent ourselves in public.
Here she was 15 and as they say, ' from the mouth of babes' and in her I learned to not only live my life for me but also to fully acknowledge and embrace transgender not as the 'other' but as part of my community.

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