This is an older piece that I’m re-posting (with a new title and some edits) in honor of my fabulous friend Penny and her KICKASS accomplishment of being nominated for a NYS Emmy Award in the category of Sports: News Single Story. I’m hoping there will be some live streaming of Saturday’s awards so I can look for the striking redhead in the slinky green gown. You go girl.
I’ve been working on writing this blog for about 3 months. The words just weren’t finding their way out of my heart and onto the page. The last month has brought a lot of changes – and a lot of opportunity for my heart to find its way out. I’m still a little nervous about it, but I’m gonna push “publish” anyway…
About a year ago my friend Brian confided in me that he had been struggling with his gender identity for quite some time. He and I have seen each other through some big stuff over the last 12 years. Divorces, raising children, dating dilemmas, family stuff, and we’ve seen each other go through a lot of different phases as we’ve figured out who we are. I honestly believed this was another phase. So I listened and let him know that I love him and I’m his friend always. As the months went on and we talked more, he went further and further down this road of (what I thought was) experimenting. I loved him and I supported him *AND* I was uncomfortable. I wasn’t sure why I was uncomfortable, I just was. And I was ashamed of myself for being uncomfortable. My discomfort forced me to consider whether or not I’m as loving, open minded, inclusive, accepting and compassionate as I like to think I am. Could it be that this whole loving, inclusive and peaceful thing is just bullshit that I tell myself? Could it be that I’m not really willing to “walk the walk”?
No. That just isn’t true.
And still, every time we talked about this new part of his life I’d get more uncomfortable, and the more uncomfortable I was, the more I was ashamed of myself for being uncomfortable. Then I started to feel angry. As he got more comfortable with the changes he was making in his life, I was feeling more and more unsettled. I was thinking things like “you don’t just get to decide you’re a woman” and “I don’t really care if he’s got a new name in his new life. He’s Brian to me.” I was actually starting to get really pissed off. I was refusing to acknowledge the fact that as he continued to be more honest about who he was, he looked more and more peaceful and happy. Holy mother of pearl. What the hell was going on with me?
Then one Saturday afternoon I was puttering around my house, and this little ditty from Girl Scouts nearly 40 years ago popped into my head:
Make new friends, and keep the old, one is silver and the other gold.
BTW – how weird is it when a song from Girl Scouts from 40 years ago pops into your head for no reason? Pretty weird.
With that little song playing in my head, I realized why I was angry. Dammit. It was so simple. So simple. It was about loss. I was losing my friend. I was losing Brian. Yeah, I know I was getting a new friend – BUT I DON’T WAAAAAAAAANT A NEW FRIEND. I wanted my old friend! I wanted Brian! I trusted him. I felt safe and comfortable with him. And now he was almost gone. He disappeared a little more every day. And there was this woman in his place who was a stranger to me – and yet she knew all of my secrets. That’s not fair!! She wasn’t just him in a dress. She was a totally different person. She said things that I’d never heard him say, and she was just NOT BRIAN. I didn’t like this stranger knowing my secrets. I just didn’t like her.
At the same time, Kaitlyn Jenner was honored on the Espy’s, and anyone who was confused, or didn’t understand, or even gently intimated anything other than complete celebration of her courage was labeled a bigot, a homophobe, a narrow minded Neanderthal, or just a hater. Please don’t misunderstand me – I know there is no shortage of true bigots, homophobes, narrow minded Neanderthals and haters. But someone struggling to accept a huge change is not the same thing. I wanted to scream at the television “No one is telling the whole story!!! I bet somebody somewhere misses Bruce!!!!!” But no one was telling that story. I wasn’t hearing the stories of devoted friends and family who unconditionally loved the transgender person, and yet grieved the loss of the person’s birth identity. Where were those stories? Why weren’t those stories being told? Why did it feel so wrong to simply have feelings that needed to be acknowledged and worked through? Why did I feel so ashamed of my feelings? Why was I so afraid to speak up?
So I did the only thing that made sense to me – because Brian was really important to me. I reached out to him to talk about what was going on in my heart. We’re friends; that’s what we do. We talk things through. Talking to him about my struggle with this loss was so healing for our friendship. Talking to him helped him to understand that I love him so much, and that I want to be a part of his life. And talking to him helped me to let go of him, and to begin to embrace Penny.
Let me tell you about my friend Penny. She’s happy. She is one of the happiest women I know. She is funny as hell. She’s got amazing taste. She’s a whiz with liquid eyeliner. She is an incredibly talented producer/director. She celebrates the little things in life like no one I’ve ever known. She’s kind and loving and caring and inclusive. A couple of weeks ago Penny took a big leap. She told her employer she was transgender. She started dressing like herself for work. She got a new work ID with her new name and picture on it. She’s living her life. I’ve never seen that face shine more brightly. She looks so joyous and so relaxed. As scary and as hard as it all must be every day, and she still looks happier than I’ve ever seen her look. She’s amazing.
I’m not ashamed of myself anymore for the time it took me to come to terms with this change. I’m just not. I needed some time to mourn the loss of my old friend. I needed time to process through my feelings. I’m not going to be ashamed of myself for having feelings and dealing with them. And I won’t let anyone else shame me, either.
I found myself in a conversation recently with someone who told me that they hadn’t even considered mourning Brian because to live as someone you’re not for a lifetime would be hell, and they were so glad that she finally broke free. Hmmm…It felt like a shame storm was brewing on the horizon. I pointed out that it was reasonable to mourn the loss of my old friend Brian as I celebrated the birth of Penny. Then it started raining shame. They said they understood what I was saying, but they just didn’t think of it as a loss since all that was lost was the isolation and handcuffs of an incongruent gender. Wow. Now it was raining shame, and there were random condescending lightning strikes. Luckily I had my shame umbrella, and none of that toxic stuff stuck to me.
Just because I experienced some sense of loss over my friend Brian being gone didn’t mean I wanted him to stay miserable! How is it that people draw a line between those two points so easily? How is it that people who are crusading for acceptance and tolerance are sometimes so intolerant of anyone who doesn’t immediately get on board with their ideas? That just doesn’t feel right to me. Sometimes people just need a little time, a little love, a little compassion, and it never hurts to carry a shame umbrella.