31 July 2009

I Broke A Promise To Myself And I'm Happy

So today I broke a promise I made to myself. And I'm feeling good, if not righteous, about it.

I'd gone into SoHo to meet Bruce for lunch. I hadn't been in that part of town since a week or so before my surgery. Nothing had changed, it seemed, since the last time I was there, yet I felt that last visit was a lifetime ago.

Someone--I forget who--said that the only real changes are in ourselves. That feels right to me.

Anyway...In keeping with what one usually sees on Broadway near Spring Street on a summer day, young people--college students, mainly--were trying garner support for one cause or another from the streams of passerby who were interested mainly in shopping or lunch. On my way from the Broadway-Lafayette station to Bruce's office, I passed people who were canvassing for the ACLU, PETA and an alphabet-soup of other organizations.

Within a few steps on either side of the entrance to the building where Bruce works, canvassers were trying to get people to "support gay rights." They represented the Human Rights Campaign, which was near the top of my personal blacklist because, essentially, they sold out transgenders: The HRC's leadership decided that including protections for transgenders in the legislation they wanted the Federal government to enact would destroy any chance of the legislation passing. So they said, in essence, "Well, we'll throw the trannies under the bus if it'll get protections for G's and L's. "

The legislation didn't pass. So much for compromise.

But today, I saw three canvassers. Two were people I didn't expect to see canvassing for the HRC. One was a straight woman who told me she's interested in gay rights because she knows gay people. The other, though, was even more of a surprise.

She moved to New York a few months ago. I could tell, just by looking at her, that her road to a shared flat in Brooklyn was a hard one, and that her path her hasn't been much easier.

I could also tell something that, well, most people could tell: That she is a transgender who hadn't been living as female for very long, and who probably hadn't started to take hormones. She clearly didn't "pass," but I have no doubt that, in her heart and soul, she's a woman. After all, it takes one to know one, right?

Anyway, I let her tell me her story. Before coming here, she came out, and people--including family members, friends, co-workers and a supervisor--pretended to accept it more than they actually did. And they used it to manipulate and abuse her in various ways. Finally, she decided to come to New York "to start over" and encountered much of the same kind of hostility. She was essentially harassed out of a place where she worked; when she filed for unemployment insurance, the caseworker (Is that what the Department of Labor calls them?) called her former employer, who denied that there was any harassment. So, of course, she was denied benefits.

Finally, after much fruitless searching, she got her current job. It isn't easy, and I'm sure the pay isn't the greatest, but at least she's motivated to do the job. Some people--mostly men (whom, I suspect, were acting out their own insecurites)--called her names and said other hurtful things. But, she says, at least her current employer isn't treating her as her old one did.

So what promise did I break? Well, I told myself that I wouldn't talk about my own status except to people who already know about me. As happy as I am about my surgery, I won't tell everyone, even though I have the urge to. As for all those people who see me with a smile on my face: Some will smile back, some will resent me, and a few others will just wonder. I cherish the ones who smile back, and I enjoy letting other people wonder.

I told that young trans woman--and the other two HRC canvassers--about myself. They were supportive, even enthusiastic. And the young trans woman wanted to talk more to me. I was perfectly willing to listen.

I'd like to think that, if nothing else, she found me and my story encouraging. I don't know whether she plans on undegoing the surgery: I suspect that she wants it, but it will take her quite a while to get the money together. Of course, that's a situation I understand very well.

But I think that she was looking at me and thinking that, yes, the sort of life she envisions is possible. I shared some of the difficulties I encountered in coming to where I am. Some of those trials parallell her own; others, I think she could understand. But all of those difficulties are just that; they are not insurmountable. (Actually, for the next few weeks, a lot of things, including fences and my bicycle will be insurmountable for me. So would a "bottom," except that I don't want, and have never wanted to, be a "top!") At least, I hope she found the encouragement I'd like to think she found.

Another thing I sensed about her: She could use a very long, caressing hug. I was perfectly willing to give her that. Turns out, she's a really good hugger.

At least I didn't make any promises not to hug anyone I've known for less than half an hour.


Erin B said...

I'm glad you are talking about (or at least writing about) the change. You never know when some hick house wife from the middle of no where will find your blog and be able to broaden her horizons ;)

Justine Valinotti said...

Erin: I'm always accused of broadening people's horizons. ;-) It's the most fun you can have while being subversive, whether or not you're trying to be subversive.