Learning From Others: A New Year's Challenge

As we move into this New Year, I would like to share and reflect on three stories from my life that have helped shaped my message for today's blog:

A few weeks ago I was working in Ohio. My organization, Integrity USA, is working there to help gay, lesbian, bi, and trans* people get housing, employment, and public accommodation protections under the law. One evening, after a day of meetings, I stopped into a little bar on the edge of downtown Columbus. There were two other patrons and the bartender.

My plan had been to have a quick beer and relax while reading a P.D. James novel, but instead I got to talking to the cute, queer bartender.

Turns out, she was also a veteran of the War in Iraq, like myself. Not only that, she had served on COB Basra and knew some of the same people at the British consulate who I had gotten to know. Now, I've never been much for veterans organizations, but it is a rare thrill to talk to another queer woman who served in that war.

There are so many questions, so many experiences to compare. For me, the war was a lonely experience; there were other LGBTQ people in my unit, but most of us didn't connect very well. It was just too much a risk.

These days when I find other LGBTQ veterans, I almost have the feeling of retroactive community.

We were there, we were working, we were surviving.

It is incredibly good to know that even though I might have been cut off, there were people finding each other, becoming friends, and sometimes, even dating! It is a joy to also know that, no, I wasn't the only person to see that so-and-so at the consulate was gay, and that yes, that one officer was very creepy.

After speaking with the bartender for more than two hours, it made it all feel more real. 

A couple of months before that, I was in New York City to give a talk at St. Bart's. During that weekend of meetings, I was lucky enough to get to meet up with the activist and comedian Red Durkin. She's smart and challenging, hilarious and thoughtful. The first time I saw one of her sets, I laughed so hard I was sore for two days.

It's a strange, wonderful thing to hear someone making jokes about the secret realities of trans* life.

Red invited me to a trans* women's gathering in the city that weekend. Not a lot makes me nervous, but by the time I arrived, I was stumbling over my words. When I came up to the event, there were folks standing outside smoking. They were friendly and welcoming and before long, I was deep into conversation. 

In some ways it felt like the most normal party in the world, but it was special. It wasn't just that these people understood trans* issues, it was a place where it didn't matter that I was trans*. A couple of times during the evening I stopped and asked myself, “Is this what being cisgender is like?”

My last story is from a couple of months ago when my dad died of cancer. It was awful. He held it together until the last week, but that last week was torture. He meant so much to me.

My dad's acceptance, love, and trust allowed me to be the person who I am today and frankly, I'm still totally torn up over his passing.

The thing about losing a loved one is that there is absolutely nothing good to say. People who know you feel this intense desire or even responsibility to make you feel better, but we all have to face the reality that it just isn't going to happen. 

About a week after my dad died, I received a Facebook message from an acquaintance whom I had met only once prior. She was someone I met through an ex on a trip to Boston from Providence, RI. She picked him up at the station and we were introduced. Somehow, shortly after, we became Facebook friends. 

So, when she messaged me two weeks after my dad's death, my first fear was that she was going to be one more person to offer some aphorism or some empty positive nonsense. She wasn't doing that. Instead, she told me about losing her mother and what she went through after that. We ended up chatting for three hours.

She was the first person I had talked to who seemed to get it—to get how stupid and ugly and seemingly pointless the whole situation was.

It was a hard talk that at some point during, I cried, but the next morning, I actually felt better. I felt like I could move and wasn't crushed under it. 

So here's the thing: It can be easy to avoid the people who are the most like us—the people who have gone through the same hard places that we've gone through; the people who know the heavy secrets that we know.

Sometimes, we avoid these people so we don't have to see ourselves in them. Sometimes, we avoid these people because it feels easier to. But, as we're coming into a new year, I want to invite you to seek these people out.

Sometimes, just a moment of common understanding can go a very long way.

It doesn't take much to help carry each other's burdens—we're lucky people living here in this odd techo-future.

Reach out online, reach out in person, find people. I promise it's worth it.

The asterisk in trans* is used by some advocates and allies to make the term intentionally inclusive.

Photo via flickr user Dmitrijus Jarašius

Comments (2)

Beautiful post, Viv. Thank you for sharing with us.

Your dad must be so proud. I know he was proud of you and loved you immensely when he was here with us.
Blessings,
Gita

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