Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Makes the World Go 'Round

A friend of mine used to work as an accountant in state government. She had a colleague who'd grown up in the circus. His parents were acrobats and, naturally, expected him to follow in their footsteps. But, alas, he heard a different siren song. He trained and performed until he reached adulthood and then ran away to join the bureaucracy.

Other people are a mystery.

Today is my ninth wedding anniversary (true to form, T had to remind me). Sometimes I still wake up in the morning and look over at T and wonder how this stranger got into my house and my life. Eleven years ago I didn't even know him and now we make all of our decisions together and there's a tiny, female copy of him getting under foot while I wash their dishes and underwear.

How much do you have to know about someone else before you can say that you know him or her?


I'm still working my way through all of the "Right Where I Am" posts from Angie's project last week. In between my despairing Scarlett-O'Hara-at-the-train-depot moments, I feel like I'm wrapped up in something greater than the sum of its parts, an extended Aha! moment shared amongst a bunch of strangers.

But these bloggers are still strangers. They're still mysteries.

For all I know, they kick puppies or refuse to give up seats to old ladies on the subway or cheer for the Mets between posts.

But somehow, I feel like the darkest, most desolate corner of another person is all you really need to know anyway.


Last week Jennifer Boylan came and spoke at my workplace as part of our LGBT special emphasis program. You can follow the link there to learn more about her story. The short version is that she's a transgendered woman who started out life as a man. That sentence may have been redundant. I probably could have said transsexual and gotten the point across. Anyway, she spoke for about an hour on the general topic of gender identity and issues of unity and civil rights for the transgendered community.

While I didn't grow up as a member of an actively bigoted family, I've never really gone out of my way to learn about transgendered folks. How many times have I tossed off a joke about transgendered people over the course of my life without even thinking about it? As the wife of a self-described hillbilly, I understand that we are more accepting of jokes about some segments of society than others. Yokels and women trapped in male bodies are probably somewhere on the edge of the political correctness frontier.

As she spoke, my mind wandered toward my own experience as a social misfit. When I first started looking for other people who had experienced babyloss I had a bit of a hang-up about my circumstances. Even though my newborn daughter had died, I was still wandering around with her identical twin. I was one of those women who made the 100% babylost duck down the aisle at the grocery store or turn and walk in the other direction. I looked...clueless...lucky...normal.

Perhaps I'm all of those things. I'm willing to concede on the 'clueless' part--I mean, we're all clueless about some things. And I've already been over the 'lucky' part. Normal is where I get stuck.

If I were normal I'd probably have more than one kid. I wouldn't cringe when I see my dead daughter's name in print at the grocery store. I'd laugh at jokes about long-lost twins or people who seem to have been separated at birth.

Then again, I suppose it's normal to have something that sets you slightly apart from everyone else, a sore spot that gets casually prodded by friends, co-workers, TV commentators day in and day out.

When R died I turned inward. I dismissed other peoples' problems. I stopped caring. It's taken a long time but I feel like I've turned things around. Instead of fixating on my internal monologue, I wonder about the hidden pain and grief carried by others and how I contribute to it, how I can help.

In terms of LGBT issues, I feel like I'm on the right side of things. Consenting adults should be able to marry each other and share benefits regardless of the numbers of X's and Y's in the equation. But there's a gap between being accepting of something in theory and being actively aware of it in fact.

This wasn't a huge 'come to Jesus' moment for me. It was more like sanding a rough edge. I will be more thoughtful. I will be more considerate. I won't take cheap shots at something that I don't understand.

As part of her spiel, Ms. Boylan read an essay about a conversation with her son, a teenager entering his final year of high school. In the episode she describes, they're talking about his future and his post-college plan to move to Australia and develop anti-venom for some type of snake that I can't remember.

The story included a repeating punchline about a mother's theoretical reaction to the death of a child.

Ms. Boylan is a very witty and charming storyteller and the line got a huge laugh out of the audience. Well, most of the audience.

Presumably the take-home message was something about letting people be themselves and live their dreams. I, however, came away with the new knowledge that I can now share space with a transsexual and still feel like the oddest person in the room.

But I promise that that will be my last joke about transsexuals.