It was lovely afternoon, sunny after weeks of cloud and rain. I had been up the street, visiting my friend, Bev, and admiring her new greenhouse, while the dogs, hers and mine, played in her back yard. I had enjoyed our visit immensely. (So had the dogs.) So I was in a good mood as I clipped Zoee onto her lead and walked back down the road toward home. (Already, you can hear what’s coming, can’t you?) My next door neighbour was standing on the boulevard, just outside his gate as I walked past.
I knew he was uncomfortable with my being trans, but foolishly, I was determined to be as pleasant as I could be…polite, anyway. “Hi, Ben,” I said, expecting little more than silence (or perhaps a nod) in return.
What I got was just the sort of confrontation that for so many years, I had feared.
His face contorted ever so slightly, then he spoke. “Why do you talk to me?” he asked.
Puzzled, I stopped. “I beg your pardon?” I asked.
“Why do you talk to me? Back when you were normal you wouldn’t give me the time of day. Now you always talk to me.”
(Actually this isn’t true, but apparently that’s how he remembers it.)
I shrugged. “I said, ‘Hi,’ Ben. Is that a problem?”
“Yeah, it’s a problem.” The disgust in his voice and on his face was palpable. “Why can’t you be normal?”
“Actually, this is pretty normal, Ben. There are more of us than you might think: maybe three percent of the population.”
“Oh, yeah, that’s ‘normal?’ Like three percent is a majority?”
“Well, I’m sorry you feel that way, Ben, but I guess you’re going to have to get used to it. I’m not going away.”
There was more, but I will spare you some of the details. I told him that only three people in the whole world had ever spoken to me like this, and he was one of them. It was true.
“Well, that’s only because the rest of them didn’t want to say anything.” Then he turned his back and walked away. He had the last word. Inevitably.
I was upset; I admit it. I wanted to ask him if rudeness, hatred, and bigotry were “normal.” Perhaps in his circles, they are, but I doubt it. I felt as if I’d had one of those confrontations that a teacher will occasionally have with a student. Over thirty years in the high school classroom…I’ve had a few of them, though truthfully, such confrontations are really very rare. After awhile, you learn how not to hoist your sail into their wind. It was a lesson I had temporarily forgotten.
Note to self: in the future, if you have a bad feeling about someone, trust your instinct. Forget about reaching out. Forget even about simple courtesy. It will be twisted into something else. Smile briefly, if you must, but do not engage.
Not so long ago, the thought of such a confrontation would have paralyzed me with fear. What would happen if someone saw me? What would happen if someone said something? What would happen if…?
And so, for almost five decades, I hid myself away, paralysed by fear, until I simply couldn’t do that anymore.
And what did happen? He tried to shame me, but he didn’t. He tried to tell me that most people found me just as disgusting as he did. but it isn’t true. Three people have reacted like he did. Exactly three,and none of them are, or ever were, part of my life. And hundreds more have not. In fact, those who know me, even those who knew me before, in my male life, have reacted in quite the opposite way. I have been overwhelmed with huge smiles, hugs, congratulations, acceptance, and support. I have friends, now; close ones…friends like I never had before.
So what is the lesson I am finally, slowly learning from all this? To confront the fear. Not to do so is to remain paralysed. Unless you confront the fear, You will never take that dance class. You will never join that choir. You will never walk freely and proudly under that clear bright afternoon sky.
Confront the fear. Whenever I do, it seems to just dissolve and disappear.