06/24/2014 03:48 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

In a Word: 'Tranny'

In the sixth grade my life became about survival. Getting through the day. Dodging. Running. Escape. Safety. My job on the planet was to make it home, where I would lose myself in my Garland albums, or in my mother's closet, or sometimes in both.

One day I was standing in the hallway, holding on to my books and keeping my head down. As I stood, shaking and trying not to sweat, and people passed, I tried to avoid speaking, to only inhale, and when I saw a break in the wave of humans, I crept in, praying to get lost in the crowd. It was almost 2 o'clock, and I was halfway to my last class of the day, when a barrage of words shot through my back like bullets and rattled the inside of me:

"Fag! Sissy! Fairy! You walk like a girl!..."

On and on, and from the same threesome that had followed me from a different school the previous year. In 1975 there was no such thing as an "It Gets Better" campaign. We didn't have safe places for transgender people, and bullying was something that happened to everyone. I was used to the words. I'd heard them for years. I knew innately that turning toward them and facing the small group of red-faced boys in caps and pencil jeans not only was futile but would aggravate the situation, like looking into the eye of a wild beast as it's ready to charge.

I escaped into the main office and sat in a chair, huffing and panting and clutching my books so hard that my hands began turning white. The woman behind the desk with the Doris Day hairdo and the cat's-eye glasses said sternly, "What is it this time, Scott?"

I shook my head.

"People bothering you again? Do you want detention? You can't stay here all afternoon unless you want to see the principal."

"I don't. I'm leaving."

I watched the three boys in their red, blue and black baseball caps pass the office and disappear into the sound of faraway laughter. Then I shot out the door and ran all the way home.

I wanted to find someone. I seemed to be constantly searching for a mate in this endless maze of names and meanness, someone who'd been through it, who'd understand, and who'd hold me, tell me I wasn't those things, and take me without reservation, as another person without an affliction.

I was transgender. I couldn't help the way I walked. And I was not a faggot.

So the rage built, and eventually, as I got older, it turned into heroin and cocaine and booze and sex and men and women and homelessness, and then I found myself releasing it as much as I could, to as many as I could. I then became the boys with the caps. I flung words at people in the street, in restaurants, in bars, and in bed. I meant what I said, and I said it with great glee and freedom. And it wasn't just the words; it was also the meaning behind them. I had turned into a bully, and I had found a new home.

In my late 20s and early 30s, as my journey got bigger and I lost friends to a plague of gargantuan themes, dying one by one, slaughtered and annihilated by a mysterious virus, my rage transitioned. I learned compassion. I learned compassion for my own people first, and then, as I let go of the past and of the echoes of voices too weak to strike me anymore, I learned compassion for everyone else. I wanted to be part of something bigger than names and envy and avoidance. I wanted to forgive, and I wanted kindness. After losing so many friends, I knew that when I said goodbye to someone as they walked out of their apartment, it might be the last thing they ever heard from me.

Today I'm still in process, but at least now compassion lives in me, truer than I ever dreamed. I am not alone in my search for my tribe today. I see my transgender brothers and sisters very clearly now, and I honor them and what they need and stand for. My tribe is steeped in silence and shame, and only now are we beginning to be celebrated in a way that is both acceptable and tolerated.

Some of the time.

And yet, within my own tribe, there still lives confusion. There is still a modicum of dread. Perhaps it's because we can't seem to let go of what happened to us all in the hallways with our heads down. Perhaps it's because even if we got to see the principal, there was nothing he could really do. And even if he could do something, why would he? They were only words. And back in that time, those words were not thought of as insults but as normal. Maybe it's because of our families, maybe it's because of our lovers, or maybe it's because of us. To pinpoint the cause only takes time and creates more division.

So, without having to rehash or psychoanalyze, I would like to propose something radical: that when we see each other, when we greet each other, when we congratulate or debate each other, we do it all with great kindness; that no matter what we believe to be true or not true about words and the meanings behind them, we refuse to use any form of language that might be even remotely jarring to someone's spirit. We can disagree. We can battle. We can struggle. We are not all the same. We are all made of the stardust that shapes our being, and we are born of the light that is the life force of the human condition, but we travel individually. That's what makes us all children of the universe. Transgender or not, we all share the divine that was gifted to us histories ago. And yet, in that singleness of the paths in which we all move, in those moments of letting go and transitioning into beauty, my proposition still remains: that whatever we call each other within our own house, it come from a place of complete and utter joy, of peace, of solidarity; that even if we believe that it's not the words but the intent, or even if we believe the complete opposite, we are mindful of the heart space in which we all thrive.

Even if you're only hurting the feelings of five people on the planet, why not treat those five people as if they mattered more than anything else in the world?

We are lovers. We are painters. We are investigators of the universe. We are fabulous, and we are ordinary. We are the same, and we are utterly us. We are to be taken seriously, and we are complete buffoons. We are home because we found each other. We hold our heads up, and we walk firmly toward the end of each day.

And to sum up in one word the total experience and history of who we are and how we've survived, to put into one piece of text the brilliance and the joy, the sadness and the grief of us, all the music of all the languages that have filled our spirits and allowed us to be specific in what we want, what we need, and what we desire? Well, I cannot believe that any of us are trannies.