I need to come out -- again! I need to admit that up until recently I have been transphobic. I can admit this today because I have made a complete change and have removed most of my negativity around transgendered folks.
The evolution of how I feel toward transgender folks stems from my own personal sexuality and gender experiences.
I was like many gays who say they don't know why the "T" has to be in the LGBT. The complaints of these transphobes are that their experience is different and not like those who are gay, lesbian and bisexual. While some of this is true, some of the issues do overlap.
My issue around transgendered individuals came from growing up gay and being shamed for being the "wrong" type of male. I have talked about this repeatedly in most of my writings. I was called a "girly boy," "sissy," "fairy," and "mama's boy" and was taunted and humiliated.
Perhaps the worst thing that happened to me as a young boy was a canoe trip I suffered with my mother's brother. Uncle Alvin was overweight, uneducated, sexist and patriarchal -- married with three children, who never really achieved much status in life.
When I was ten, my mother sent me with my uncle Alvin and his two sons, on a sort of Boy Scout trip with boys and their fathers. I recall dreading it, since I knew this uncle didn't like me and disapproved of my "sissy" behavior.
To please my mother and those trying to "make a man out of me," I went on this trip, which turned out to be one of the worst experiences of my life. For the canoeing part of the trip, everyone was paired up except me. Somehow I was separated from my uncle's boys and got partnered with Uncle Alvin himself.
I recall both of us in life jackets, and feeling the boat tip one way and the other as my uncle shifted in his seat behind me as he paddled. Being that I was a skinny 10-year-old and he weighed at least 300 pounds, my uncle's weight shook the boat. I became hypervigilant to our surroundings. Only sometimes could I see the bottom of the lake.
We were alone, with no other canoes in sight. Sure enough, he leaned too far to one side, and we tipped over.
I went under water. When I surfaced with the help of the life jacket, I saw the canoe overturned and my uncle trying to right it. I knew we were in deep water, since I couldn't touch the lake bottom, and I was afraid I would drown. My uncle looked afraid and not in control, which only scared me more. The next thing I recall is both of us back in the boat, and my uncle yelling at me for crying from being scared at tipping over.
For what seemed like hours, he said cutting things like, "You will never amount to anything. You are a sissy! All you like to do is play house and play with dolls! You are a crybaby, a mama's boy!" He shouted these patronizing, contemptuous epithets at me, over and over.
When we got back on land, I was too humiliated to tell a soul about Alvin's barrage of verbal and emotional abuse. It was as if he'd said aloud what I knew others thought about me -- in fact, what I felt and believed about myself.
All these years I have projected my internal hatred of myself having not been a normative male onto those whom are transgender. What we hate the most in others often exists right inside ourselves.
The beginning of the reduction in my discomfort with transgender individuals was when I taught a course at a university and brought some transgendered speakers to my class to desensitize my students.
Little did I know I was doing the same for myself.
The transgendered speakers talked about the discrimination that they had received which sounded similar to the kind I had endured including things like:
*You not the right kind of male or female."
*Something is psychologically wrong with you."
*You deserve to be harassed because you're different."
As I listened I began to realize how much we were similar than we were different. I had never thought about these messages and experiences being the same growing up.
The next desensitization was when I watched Barbara Walters interview a transgender specialist who said the difference between a transgendered child and a gay child is that the gay child will say, "I want to be the opposite sex" while the transgendered child will say, "I am the opposite sex."
I related to always wanting to be a girl when I was a little boy. I always wanted to be a girl growing up but never felt that I was a girl. I knew I was male and liked being male but identified with women and played dress up as a female and lip synched to Diana Ross and Cher songs and loved every minute of it.
The next desensitization was Rupaul. At first I was repulsed by him running around as a woman when he was a man -- and an African-American man at that. I was raised in a neighborhood where black man were masculine -- often hyper-masculine -- so to see one depart from that and be a woman was incomprehensible to me.
It didn't take long for me to be drawn to Rupaul and listen to his words of wisdom such as, "We are all born naked and the rest is drag." I loved his music and his freedom to express himself without shame or apology. I also could not believe what a beautiful woman he could turn himself into in addition to being a beautiful person.
Once his show, Drag Race appeared on television I was hooked -- not just by Rupaul but by those who entered his drag contest. These men are strong, honest, fierce and above all unapologetic.
And to my surprise I experienced what I tell people they will experience if they expose themselves to gays and lesbians -- tolerance, openness and understanding and most of all, compassion.
The movie Trans was the final desensitization for me. In the movie, there is a little girl who is born male and fights her parents and her teachers to be who she really is. Watching her know who she is at such a young and precious age and fight for herself touches me deeply.
I am happy to have come out of my transphobic trance and include people in my life and in my practice who are transgendered. And most of all I am sorry for anything I have ever said or done to any transgendered person.
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