I have a little story to share with you. It's about me being afraid, and then--how I overcame that fear and had an awesome experience as a result. I'm afraid. It's true. And I hide a little. It sucks. And I'm surprised (not really) at how much I've been doing it lately (but it's ok).
You see, being transgender is hard. I feel torn between being out and proud, as so many of my beloved friends and supporters want me to be, and just being "me". Not "Dillan who is trans*" but "Dillan who is...trying hard to figure out what trans* means". Part of me wants to be out there as a living, breathing trans* person (hey, we aren't scary or weird, see!) to make the world a better, more accepting place. Part of me wants to blend in with the other guys and not be out there, stigmatized for the world to gawk at.
Tough call, right?
So, the other day I receive this email from a dear, dear friend. She's stellar. Off-the-charts amazingly supportive and wonderful. Her name is Jan and she's a mentor, friend and just a superb human being. She emails me that Andrew Solomon is coming to talk about his new book at the school where I'm enrolled for graduate school. I think, "crap, who's Andrew Solomon?" But, I trust Jan with every fiber of my being. So I go, no questions asked.
I arrive and Jan comes over and says, "come over and meet Andrew". Given my recent experience meeting Kim Phuc just last week and Winnie Mandela in 2000 (and countless other amazing individuals who happen to also be famous in some way), I am growing accustomed to shaking hands with these people who...having achieved great things and popularity are still just...people. People who want to have normal interactions with other people. And I am grateful to meet them and thank them for sharing their gifts with the world.
I know a little about Andrew from the chapters I've skimmed in his book ever so briefly, especially the chapter on transgender folks. Trans* folks like me. His new book is called Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity
I greet him. He shakes my hand warmly and kindly asks, "how are you involved in today's event?"
Great question. I freeze. I'm afraid. "I'm Jan's friend," I say. I feel like Baby in the movie Dirty Dancing when she meets Johnny and says, "I carried a watermelon."
Jan smiles. She knows. I'm terrified in my skin some days and feeling out of sorts. It's winter. I always feel this way in the winter. But this winter, I'm also trying to find my feet as a trans*guy.
Andrew smiles and says "it's a pleasure"...and all those wonderful things someone says when they are wonderful.
I walk away and confess that it wasn't my best effort. Jan gets it.
Andrew's presentation begins and my heart tightens when he approaches the part about trans* people. See, his book is all about kids who have the unfailing support from their family. His book is about the tremendous capacity to love, despite the odds of having a child who is "different" from others.
I think to myself that I may have to leave. I don't have the unfailing support from my family. And it's been tremendously hard. I don't know if I can listen to these stories, yet more stories, of kids who are so lucky to have this support from their parents as they take on really hard life experiences.
But I find the courage and strength inside to stay in my seat. My friend Becca, Jan's daughter-in-law, rubs my back a little. She also gets it.
Outside, Andrew is set up at a table to sign books. I buy a book. Well-worth my $40. I stand in line, wait my turn. I approach Andrew and lean down and say, "so I've found my voice now."
He smiles. Eager to listen.
"I'm trans*" I say. "I'm transgender and I"m a graduate student here, and I'm writing my memoir."
We instantly engage in a heartfelt and gorgeous conversation where he, in just a few sentences, conveys how much he "gets it" and how I have his support.
*I have his support*
It's enormously heartening to hear those words. No matter who it's from or when it comes.
We pose for a picture with Jan---one of the most perfect on-the-fly photos I've ever taken.
Turns out, being "out" as trans* today was a great decision. Hiding and playing small--that didn't serve me so well during that first introduction. I'm grateful I got a second chance to be my true self. It worked out nicely.
--NOTE TO SELF--
you can buy Andrew's (INCREDIBLE) book at your local book store or from his website right here: http://andrewsolomon.com/