(#52 in a series of people who changed the course of my life)
When I came out, I still lived in a fairly rural area. My Aunt Donna would tell me more than once to be careful and watch my back but I never really gave it a second thought. And now that I live in the heart of an urban area, I take my safety as an out gay man pretty much for granted. It’s pretty easy to be out and gay here.
Another relative, remarking on my “out and open” stance, once told me: “Todd, you are so brave.”
Friends–I am here to tell you that, compared to the experience of transgender people around the world–including those right here in the U.S.–my bravery is minuscule at best and my own safety a blip on the radar.
Since becoming involved in the work of our community, I’ll admit that I knew very little about transgender people. Ignorant is the best way to describe myself. I remember the first time I reached out to one of the local transgender leaders–terrified–to ask about something I did not know. But she very calmly took me through the history and an explanation of what I before had no knowledge of.
When I first walked into a mixer for transgender people and their allies, I was nervous, hoping I wouldn’t say something stupid and wondering if they would accept me as I was–ignorant (determined to become less so) and privileged. I saw the looks on many faces there: what are you doing here? you don’t belong. But by the grace of many I am blessed to call friend, my evolution and understanding has only increased. Do I bungle it, still? Yes. Do I have a ways to go? Absolutely. But my ignorance has dissipated because I have been shown so much grace and love by a community of people who have every reason not to extend it to me.
And I want to share with you what I have learned.
While I am not here to make a contest out of who has had to struggle more, the transgender people I have met represent some of the bravest people I have ever known. They are brave because they risk pretty much everything to be who they are–and to do so with such confidence. To be who they are, they have had to endure abandonment not only from important people in their lives but from many in the communities that border the T in LGBT. They have been marginalized so viciously and have had to hide deeper in the closet than most of us will ever experience. And when they come out, they most often lose everything. As we talk, I will hear of their pain or will catch a flash of it in their eyes; and my heart breaks for them
Transgender people have every right to be angry, bitter, and impatient. And yet many extend their bravery even further by being so selfless and determined to make the world a better place not just for themselves but for everyone. Modeling overwhelming love and, at times forgiveness, they educate others, advocate for greater understanding and coalition with and among other communities, and model the extent of what love looks like. I admire them deeply for it.
In his sermon on the Sunday after the Supreme Court victory extending marriage to all Americans, Cathedral of Hope Rev. Dr. Neil Cazares-Thomas gave this admonition:
I want to thank our transgender sisters and brothers for standing with us in the struggle for marriage equality. And if we don’t stand up for our transgender sisters and brothers in their struggle for full equality, then we have failed what the Holy Spirit has compelled us to do as a progressive people of faith.
I could not agree more.
To my transgender sisters and brothers–those I know and those I do not–thank you for modeling what it means to stand up for yourself and fight for others. For your example of grace–which you willfully exhibit even when we don’t deserve it. For helping pull others up around you. For reminding the LG community what it means to fight again. For making the future reality of transgender people brighter and more full of hope than it’s ever been.
If I have learned anything, I have learned to be more graceful with people who are not like me. To be unafraid to take people to task for willful ignorance. To stretch outside my own issues and advocate for others. I thank each of you referenced by this post for this gift of awareness.
Gratitude, dear sisters and brothers, for such brave love and grace and for giving me a bit of your trust. I will do my best to honor your example and try to not let you down.
53. that radical activist