Is it cliché to talk about giving thanks during the Thanksgiving holiday?
I had a post all written about disrespectful and/or annoying questions that people have asked me when they’ve learned that I am trans. But just before I posted it, I remembered the Thanksgiving holiday that is upon us and my cranky rant just didn’t seem appropriate.
And so let’s work with the cliché — what am I thankful for?
I am thankful for many things, but one of the biggies has to be the ability to finally live as my true, authentic self. Stuck in that female persona for over four decades … the word “prison” comes to mind.
Well, sure, that experience helped to make me what I am today, but I would not — could not — go back. The genie is out of the bottle and he’s damn glad about it.
And so, in being thankful about being out, I thought that rather than windge about some of the negatives, I would focus on the positives and tell you about some of the best reactions I have seen, heard or received in writing when I have come out to people as trans.
I dedicated an entire blog post to recounting the annoying behavior that dental hygienists displayed during a routine teeth cleaning I had six months after coming out to everyone in the dentist’s office. What I didn’t tell you about, however, was the reaction of the dentist himself.
When I came out at the dentist’s, I didn’t say anything like, “Hello, I’m trans and I’m transitioning my gender.” I only gave the receptionist my new dental insurance card and told her about my new name. She took care of the rest with efficiency and professionalism, changing the name on my records file and informing the hygienist who was to work on me that day and, apparently, also informing the dentist.
I’ve been seeing my dentist since 2001. I chose him on a recommendation, but meeting him for the first time sealed the deal. He’s a grandfatherly type, and even has the same first name as my maternal grandfather. I like him.
I liked him even more when he walked into the room that day, shook my hand as I was sitting in the chair and said, “Congratulations on this big step that you’ve taken. I think this is a courageous thing you’re doing. You must be relieved. How do you feel?”
Me thinks my dentist has a trans person in his life. Or maybe he’s just knowledgeable and caring. Whatever was behind his greeting, it was pretty awesome.
I came out at work a little over a year ago, with full support from Human Resources and upper management, to about 400 coworkers, vendors and academic colleagues across the U.S. and in three other countries. Within minutes of sending out my email announcement, the replies started rolling in and they continued for two days. Each message was supportive, sincere and heartfelt.
The best response, in my opinion anyway, was delivered in person by a colleague I had worked with for about eight years. He was flying in from Europe for a meeting at our Boston site and wanted to have dinner with me to discuss a new project. This was only days after I had sent out my little coming out announcement.
When I picked him up at his hotel, he greeted me in his usual fashion and launched right into the topic at hand as I drove us to the restaurant. I hadn’t received an email reply from him when I had sent out my announcement, and he wasn’t mentioning it upon seeing me in person, so I thought perhaps he hadn’t received the coming out message I had sent.
He began, “Thanks for meeting with me. What I wanted to talk to you about…” but I broke him off by saying, “Before we get deeper into this conversation, I would like to first just check in with you and see if you received the email announcement I sent out the other day.” His expression didn’t change as he looked at me and replied, “Yes, I received it.”
His response was so matter of fact, I was caught off-guard. I said, “Oh. Okay. I just wanted to make sure that we were on the same page.” “We’re on the same page,” he replied.
Then he paused, looking at me with a look as though he couldn’t understand why this had come up, and then he went right back to the conversation, saying, “So what I wanted to talk to you about…”
Now that, my friends, may be the perfect professional response to a coming out message, at least in my opinion. My being trans, my name change, my gender transition, was an incredible non-issue for this guy. Some people might say that he should have at least acknowledged my announcement and I can understand that point of view. On the other hand, I thought he had acknowledged it in his own way. He adjusted with the pronouns and my new name without fanfare and we moved on as coworkers. Seamless.
If anyone in my family had an issue with my coming out as trans, they pretty much kept it to themselves. Compared to the negative reactions that coming out can sometimes engender (pun intended) in a trans person’s family, I was pretty lucky in that regard.
There’s only one grandkid in my immediate family – my nephew. I wanted to come out to him in person, so when I was back home, I drove down to the small Midwestern university where he was in the middle of his freshman year and I picked him up so we could go for a little drive and talk. We pulled into a park and were sitting in the car overlooking a grassy field. The sun was out and it was a pleasant fall day.
When I broke the news to him, he gave it a moment’s thought, turned to look me in the eye and said, “This doesn’t change anything for me. It’s not going to affect my relationship with you.”
As that tender response was warming my heart, he seemed to reflect on it a little more and then raised his voice to announce, “I don’t think people should judge other people just by the way they look!” I was proud of him to have this sentiment, although it wasn’t a complete surprise to hear it coming from someone sporting tattoos, big plugs in his ear lobes and a gold ring in his lip.
Then, he seemed to come to some sort of realization. With his eyes opening wide, he lifted the copy of True Selves that I had given him as information. As he held it out in front of him with both hands, he exclaimed, “Hey! I have to write a paper on diversity!”
Glad I could help.
I don’t want to give anyone the idea that every single person I have come out to has responded in a positive and supportive manner. To be sure, I have lost people along the way, and a few coworkers who must deal with me on a regular basis clearly have some sort of issue with who I am.
That’s pretty obvious when they see me coming from the opposite end of a long hallway and blatantly and almost frantically search for a side door to duck into so they don’t have to walk past me. And if they can’t find that convenient side door, I always give them a very friendly greeting, maybe even ask them how their weekend was, any kind of small talk that forces them to interact with me. (Hah! Take that!)
But overall, I have been fortunate in that most people in my life have responded positively to my true self.
When I was in the process of coming out, however, I didn’t know it would all turn out this well. I was convinced that the reactions of some people in my life would be anything but positive. I was expecting rejection, maybe even hostility or anger. Fortunately, I was wrong in all but a few cases, and I realized that what other trans people had been telling me was absolutely true: You cannot predict how a person is going to react when you tell them you are trans.
There were a number of friends whose reactions defied my expectations in very good ways, one of which I would like to mention here.
He’s a Midwestern guy who works in the trades. He’s solid, well-built, middle-aged, weathered from working outdoors all his life, blond and blue-eyed, active in sports, married with grown children, someone I would call a man’s man. I was sure he would hear my story and question how someone he had seen as female for two decades could possibly be a man.
To be honest, the conversation started out a bit shaky. He did question me, he pushed back and resisted what I was telling him. And so I just talked and told the story of my life backwards, from the recent realization that I was trans to the struggles I had as an adult, to the hell of adolescence, all the way back to the beginning — to kindergarten when I repeatedly got in trouble at school for going into the men’s restroom with the other boys, to when I named myself Andy at four years of age.
Fortunately, he listened. As I talked, he asked questions here and there, and eventually, the challenges to my narrative turned to silence and reflection, and then to occasional brief comments of commiseration. Our conversation lasted over an hour.
When I reached the end of my tale, we were in the kitchen, me leaning against the cabinets and he sitting on a wooden stool. Watching him closely as he processed the information, I tried to read his potential reaction through the look on his face but he really didn’t show any emotions at that point. When I said, “That’s about it – the whole story,” he looked down for a little while and seemed to digest everything I had told him. I waited nervously, thinking that at any moment, he was going to ask me to leave his house.
Finally, he looked up and said, “There’s one thing that I hope you’ll do. Don’t be afraid to be you. Just be you.”
I looked at him, stunned, and he said again, “Just be you.”
I was speechless, and it must have shown on my face. He walked over and clapped his muscular arm across my shoulders and said, “What? Were you expecting a bad reaction?”
“Well, to be honest, yes I was,” I replied.
“C’mon!” he said, giving me a little rough shake with the arm that was across my shoulders, like one man would give another, and added, “It’s me.”
Yes, my friend, you were right. It was you.
Of the hundreds of people I have come out to — acquaintances, coworkers, family members and friends — he has been the only one who has given me his explicit expectation that I should be myself.
And so, kind readers, wherever you are and whatever you are doing today, I hope that you have something to be thankful for and are surrounded by good people who love and care about you. Happy Thanksgiving!