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Alexandra Billings Headshot

That Wednesday

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Paul was short and stocky and had mint green eyes that flared every time he passed me in the halls of our junior high school in Schaumburg, Ill. When I walked down the hallway, my mere movement, the sheer idea of my hips swaying or my hands unclenched, caused a visceral rage in Paul that reverberated throughout the entire school. I wasn't supposed to act like that. I wasn't supposed to sway, and I wasn't supposed to glide. Boys moved in very specific ways, and because the body I inhabited told everyone I was male, I was breaking far too many rules. And it made Paul angry. It made a lot of people angry.

One afternoon, Paul told me during lunch that he was going to beat me up, and that I was to meet him after school by the front of the local football field. Having never hit anyone before in my life, and thinking he had to be kidding, I showed up. I was followed by a crowd of people, and there, in the middle of a large circle of other boys, stood Paul. His arms were puffed out as if he was ready to draw a gun from its holster, and his jacket was in the dirt next to his feet. I was absolutely terrified.

Visions of bad kung fu movies flashed through me, and that being my sole reference, I flung off my jacket, kicked off my shoes, and jumped in front of him, making a loud "ha!" from the pit of my belly. I then put my arms up and sported a Bruce Lee shape I'd seen on a recent poster. Then next thing I remember is being down on the ground, blood coming from my nose, and my head spinning so quickly that the sky looked like a Monet painting.

On Wednesday, June 26, I woke up with a start. Something pulled me out of my bed, and I couldn't seem to shake it. I couldn't seem to get back to sleep. So at 7 a.m. I turned on Fox News, and there was the end of DOMA. It wasn't that I had forgotten what an important day this was, or that I wasn't aware that a life-changing decision was eminent in my own country, but I'm a working actress and a teacher, and life gets in the way of my political prowess at times. At that very moment, my phone rang with a call from Florida. It was my wife, who was spending time with her parents.

"Are you awake?" she said loudly, with a quiver to her voice.

"Of course I'm awake!" I answered back, tears in my eyes and the TV blaring.

"I wish I was there with you," she said. "I love you. I love you so much."

"I love you too. I love you too," I repeated.

It was almost too much for either of us. After we hung up, I continued to watch Fox. And I began to watch what was happening to the commentators. I could sense that they were trying their best to simply read the facts and show the clips. But there was something familiar about their behavior. There was something I recognized. I could sense a hesitation and a grief. The good-looking commentator with the bright-blue suit sat in his chair as the news kept coming at him, and with a plastered smile, he looked at the camera, and as I moved closer toward him, I could swear that his eyes glared with a familiar tint. Scene after scene of hundreds of gay people and their allies flashed before him, and his entire body became rigid and uncomfortable. He was angry, and I could smell it.

Fox didn't spend much time on the largest, most significant human rights victory of this generation, and soon they were off on the football guy who might have murdered his girlfriend, the Trayvon Martin case, and Obama's myriad of scandals. Occasionally, they'd revert back to announcing what had happened that day, but mostly it was time to stop. It was too much. It was overwhelming, and it had to stop.

There's a jubilation in me and a freedom that's undeniable as I relive my marriage and my life as a 51-year-old transgender person. When I began my transition, I was arrested in 1980 for not having two pairs of what the police deemed to be "male clothing" on, and spent two days in jail. I have been thrown out of apartments, laughed out of grocery stores and beaten by a guy in a ski mask, and through all these events, I have tried to figure out why everyone's so angry at me. And the anger I've been trying to find, the rage I've been trying to identify, culminated on that Wednesday morning when I woke up inexplicably at 7 a.m. There's a great fear in newness. There's a terror when you feel as if you're being dragged into the unknown by people you don't trust. And this feeling of powerlessness is running through the social conservatives and the religious zealots all over the globe in an abundance I've never seen. We have just been granted by our own government the OK to walk down the hallway with open hands and loose hips, and they've got to receive it. This fear is masquerading as rage. And because this is true, I feel we need to celebrate with pride and grace. We can succeed in our fight to be heard and still revel in the right to be gracious. The gender rules and the sexual rules are messy. They're hard to figure out, and they're even harder to follow. So if you've been taught that there's only one truth, that there's a right way and a wrong way to go through life, then you have no basis of comparison. There is no other understanding, because there is no other side.

I have been thinking about Paul. He's been with me this last week. I tried looking him up on Facebook, but his last name is fairly common, and there were too many to send a letter from the transgender lesbian voted "Best Actor" in junior high school who wants to say hi. I don't know where he is, or who he is, and I can only hope that as he's been watching what's been happening just as I have, that he's come to place of resolution in his journey. I want to picture him on the edge of his bed at 7 a.m. watching Fox News, and as they avoid the joyful, loud noise emanating from his television, he allows himself to see what's in front of him. He accepts it as the truth, and whatever rage or pain or frustration or anger he had in him has turned into something else now. I dream of him lying back on his sofa, safe in his house, affected by the transition the country is going through. I dream that he is quietly, under his breath, dreaming of me as well, and coming to terms with what it was that compelled him to go toward me so violently. I dream that we are together, dreaming of what is, and not of what was. And because both of us live right here, right now, neither of us can deny who we've become.

And that is acceptance. And that is change. And that is what happened that Wednesday.