I wrote this piece when Caitlyn Jenner came out and I’m sharing it today on my blog for International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.
Caitlyn Jenner has announced herself to the world in an awe inspiring way – on the cover of Vanity Fair, in a beautiful portrait shot by Annie Leibovitz. The cover states “Call me Caitlyn.” It’s a declarative statement and it is incredibly courageous. “If I was lying on my deathbed and I had kept this secret and never ever did anything about it, I would be lying there saying You just blew your entire life,” she explains.
This is a story about authenticity. Caitlyn Jenner is now living her truth and, in doing so, advocating for others. Her plans to bring awareness to the struggles of transgendered people are even more inspiring. It takes a lot of courage to say, “this is who I am, accept me” in such a public way and to then extend that statement to “and accept people like me also.” I know too well acceptance can be difficult.
My life has been relatively sheltered. I live in a pretty conservative community. I spent a lot of years advocating on race-based issues and as a writer, I addressed gender from a feminist perspective. I didn’t realize how far off intersectional I was as far as feminists go. I signed off on a general statement that it is unquestionably wrong to discriminate on the basis of race, gender, or sexual orientation. I believed it was unfair of one of “us” to discriminate against one of “them.” As fate would have it, one of “them” would become one of “us.” I have worked with transgender people in a professional capacity and had enough common sense to respect pronoun preferences and to coach and encourage others to do the same. This was basic etiquette for every day interactions. Then one day, someone in my inner circle began a relationship with a transgender woman.
My academic generalizations were put to the test. This was not a matter of adhering to etiquette in passing. This was real life. Initially, I feel like I failed. I really had no real knowledge of what it meant to be trans. I didn’t have a clue. I struggled with acceptance because my worldview was so narrow. I wasn’t mean; my failure was very private and predated any actual interactions. I recognized my shortcomings. I sought advice from members of the L.G.B.T.Q. community to help me understand what it meant to experience life in this way. I researched.
I had difficulties with my interactions with others who were even less accepting. Someone asked if I would really be introducing my child to her. I really didn’t know what to say and I feel like I didn’t address that question strongly and emphatically enough and I really wish I had. It has been a year of learning. I learned to love someone new and accept her into my circle. I learned that in focusing on the differences that we miss out on very human similarities. I learned that when I acknowledge what is in someone’s pants is of no consequence to me, I can benefit from what is in their heart. I learned some things are simply none of my business. I learned that genitalia assigned at birth are arbitrary and what sets people apart are who they choose to be on every level and who they feel they are in their heart.
Through this process, issues affecting transgender people have become my issues. I have read articles about people wanting to make policy about which bathroom is used by a transgender person. Then I realized, this isn’t just a problem “they” face, it’s a problem she faces. And she is one of my people. Do people really care where she pees enough to have a public debate?
A former school board trustee in Ontario tweeted about not believing in transgender people. I tweeted him back. Who is he to question my friend’s legitimacy? I hear about violence perpetrated against transgender people and I’m scared for my friend. I don’t want anyone to hurt her. She is precious. I get being ignorant. I was ignorant. But I made a choice to learn and accept and in doing so, enriched my life and that of my child. I hope we enrich hers too.
If I could say something to Caitlyn Jenner, it would be this: You are a beautiful woman and every bit as much of a woman as any other, but I recognize you do not require my acknowledgment of this fact. This is just me honoring you, woman to woman. I do not believe it’s your responsibility to educate the whole world about every facet of your experience. I hope that what you do choose to share is accepted with gratitude and with the knowledge that it is not information owed to anyone. I hope you have the privacy that you require. I hope people realize your anatomy and your sex life is not their business and that you are free from unwanted questions in this regard. I hope you enjoy your body that reflects who you are inside.
I hope you soak up the love and admiration of everyone who is cheering for you and that you can find it in your heart to have compassion for those who aren’t there yet. They don’t know what they are missing out on. Thank you for sharing your story. Thank you for using your platform to speak for people who don’t have a worldwide audience. Thank you for speaking out to make like better for people like my friend. I’m excited for you and I’m happy for you. I will call you Caitlyn and I am pleased to meet you.
This post originally appeared on Good Men Project.