12 December 2014
Their Education, And Mine
These days, I rarely talk about my gender identity or transition. After all, my goal in transitioning was to live as a woman, and for my gender identity to be a non-issue.
But last week, a young woman in one of my classes mentioned a male-to-female relative who lost her job and was, in essence, hounded out of her profession, of which she was a part for many years. She had to go into another and start at the bottom, along with recent graduates.
“As terrible as that story is, she’s lucky,” I responded. “At least she was able to go into something else. Other people in her situation end up with minimum-wage jobs, or no jobs at all. Or they end up doing illegal things to support themselves.”
By that time, the whole class was rapt. For at least some of the students, it was the first time they heard anyone talk as I, or the student with the trans relative, did. Some of them think I’m pretty smart, if I do say so myself. But I think they were surprised to hear someone talk as if she knew about such things viscerally—I could tell they sensed it—rather than merely learned about them in a theoretical or even vicarious way.
Perhaps they could see I was on the verge of tears. Actually, at that moment, it would have been easier to talk than to hold back the flow. So I took the easy way out. “Her story is mine,” I intoned. “It’s one of the reasons why I’m here, standing in front of you now.”
There wasn’t even a moment of silence. “Thank God!” another student shot back. “I’m glad you’re here,” another said. “Whoever got rid of you, whoever got rid of you, it’s their loss,” another pronounced.
Before that day, I enjoyed teaching that class: Those students seemed to have a good rapport and chemistry with each other, and with me. And I feel present for them in a way that I never realized I could be for any students.
I don’t know whether this means my experience will play a greater role, or at least a more direct, role in my teaching and other work. Could it mean that I’ll end up as a gender educator, a role I’ve been resisting? Or could it mean that I’ll do other kinds of writing from what I’ve been doing or—Dare I say this?—that I’ll have another role in education or in my church?
I’m not even sure that this story is instructive in any way. But at least I feel good about the way it’s unfolding, so far.