18 January 2009

Role Model

Today Dominick and I went to a brunch on Long Island to benefit an organization that, it happens, is located only a few blocks from me.

Carmen's House shelters young transgender people in the shadow of the RFK (nee Triboro) Bridge. It also turns out that one of its board members, who sat across the table from me, is a neighbor of mine.

Nina (not the one I mentioned earlier) is a retired junior-high school math teacher who, according to a friend who accompanied her, spends much of her time at Carmen's House. As far as I can tell, she's straight, and I'd guess that the director of Carmen's House, who's an Episcopal priest, is not. I'd love to find out what motivated them to devote themselves to such a project. Needless to say, I'm glad they're doing what they're doing.

And I may be joining them. They agreed that I could be the sort of mentor some of the young people need. According to the reverend, "Those kids don't even have bad parents; they have no parents." Or adults, for that matter; much less adults who have real jobs and some level of social skills.

OK...If they saw any of the latter in me, I must've done a really good job of fooling them. ;-) Not that I tried to do anything like that. Then again, they also think I have a real job or am an adult. Dominick could set them straight on those matters, as if I'd want him to set anyone or anything straight.

Anyway...I'm really thinking about volunteering with Carmen's House. For one thing, I miss contributing in direct ways to the well-being of those who share or sympathise with my experience of gender and sexuality. I did a lot of that during the my first two years of living as Justine, and now I find I miss that. It's not so much the work itself , it's the people--what some might call my "community"--I want to experience again. The brunch reminded me of that.

Bruce says that even when I'm not doing advocacy work, I'm helping because I am educating people about what it means to be transgendered. It's not as if I try to do that every moment. However, to some degree, I do that simply by living my life around those who know of my gender status. That's what Bruce says, and he's been right most of the time.

I still find it odd that anyone can see me as a role model. I wonder whether they'd see me that way if they knew anything else about me but my gender identity and the work I do. I mean, there are things I didn't do and people I didn't treat well. And I've given lots of advice that I'd love to take back. And, I still struggle with the homo- and trans-phobia, as well as other kinds of bigotry and prejudice, I internalized from people who probably didn't realize they were transmitting it.

Plus, the majority of what I've accomplished, such as it is, I achieved before starting my transition to life as Justine. I earned my degrees and started teaching, got most of my publications and accomplished myself as a cyclist and other kinds of athlete, as Nick. How could those young people see me as a model trans-woman, much less as the "tranny poster girl" that Jay once called me.

Tranny poster girl? I wonder who'd buy a poster of me, or where it would end up. I didn't end up with the Judy Garland poster that was part of the Chinese auction at the brunch. It's much more glamorous and elegant than any that could made of me.

I'm guessing that Nina, the priest and the teenagers at Carmen's House aren't looking for a poster girl. Or a model, unless she's a role model. Now there's a job I'd like to have: a role model for a major fashion designer!

Or for some young people. You might say I do that when I teach, which a reason why, even after all of these years, I still vacillate between loving and hating it. I guess it's an extension of my role as the oldest sibling in my family: I was expected to be an example for my brothers. I couldn't always, and didn't always want to be, the sort of role model the adults in my life expected me to be. Even after an excellent review or expressions of gratitude from students, I'm still never sure of how good I am at being that sort of person. Yet, somehow, that is the role in which I always seem to find myself.

And if that's what the young people at Carmen's House need, well, that's what I'll do, as best I can. I'll show them what Dominick, Nina and the priest see in me.

No comments: