A Little Too Close to Home
I flew home from Orlando last Sunday. The flight was delayed and the boarding area was packed. We were flying on an A330, a wide-body usually reserved for international flights. As I stood in line to board, a transgender woman came pushing through the crowd, pulling a wheelchair stacked with an assortment of pink and purple bags, including a Hello Kitty backpack that looked as though it had been drug through the Amazon.
The trans woman demanded to board early, and wheelchair in hand, somehow managed to board with the wheelchair passengers. When she was forced to consolidate her bags at the end of the jet way, she huffed and puffed and blocked the door as she dramatically stuffed her bags into one another until they resembled a misshapen Russian doll.
My fellow traveler looked to be in her 40s, with short black hair, a heavy beard showing through her makeup, and a barrel-chested frame, which she had chosen to squeeze into a tight mini-dress. As she boarded, the flight attendants exchanged amused glances. She turned right and headed to her coach seat while I turned left into first class.
As I sank into my cozy pod by the window, I thanked my lucky stars that I was not like her. The flight attendants made a few remarks about her that were lacking in generosity, then one turned to me and respectfully asked if I would like a pre-departure drink. They were clueless I was transgender. I thought again, “I am so fortunate I am nothing like her.”
But I am – like her. We are both transgender women. And we are both human.
I have my fair share of transphobia. I do not like to encounter trans women who, in my opinion, reflect poorly on our community. Truth be told, I do not have much of an issue not identifying with an able-bodied passenger who demands early boarding and complains when she is expected to follow the rules that apply to everyone. That’s just rude. But of course that was not the main thing bothering me. I was primarily reacting to the way she looked. She looked like the kind of picture a right-wing bigot puts on social media to justify HB-2. “Do you want this person in the bathroom with your daughter?”
As you can imagine, by the time my flight arrived in Charlotte I was in full reflection mode. Who did I think I was? How could I think I was better than this woman? So, I waited for her to get off the plane and struck up a conversation, right? No, I did not. Because on that particular day, I just did not have it in me.
I do not turn down any speaking engagements about transgender issues, whatever the venue. I am a strong woman, and I can blaze a trail with resources not available to other transgender individuals. I can take it. It is my calling. And yet…
When I have lunch with someone from my old world, I watch as they look around, afraid it will be obvious they are having lunch with a social pariah. Every week I still get letters, blog comments, and Facebook messages telling me I am an abomination. At almost every church presentation there is at least one pejorative question I am required to handle with grace.
I am tired and weary, and sometimes I do not have it in me to reach out to steady the journey of another. And that is the grace I needed to give myself on that particular day. Another day I will find the strength to reach out, but on that Sunday, I just didn’t have it.
On my connecting flight to Denver I prayed a simple prayer. “Lord, strengthen me toward generosity when my own transphobia hits too close to home.”
And so it goes.