I struggle with a lot of stuff. You might have heard. Some of my struggles have eased over time, and others remain . . . well, a struggle.
I am a critical person. I don’t always show it, but I certainly think and feel it. I’ve been self-critical as long as I can remember.
Tom, you’re unattractive and quiet and weird.
Tom, you’re not a good writer.
Tom, you’re a horrible friend.
The cynical list goes on and on, but I’ll halt the brakes on the Self-Deprecating Express. It can get ugly, but my critical affinity gets worse.
I’m not just critical of myself; I’m critical of others. I’m especially critical of others I don’t “get” or understand. Braves fans, Harry Potter nerds.
And then there are others I don’t get like transgender people.
I’d been attracted to other boys since second grade recesses, and yet I always hated gay people. Growing up, I’d see fictitious or otherwise “real” gay people on TV, and I’d scoff.
What is wrong with them?
Why do they act like that?
Don’t they get they’re living outside God’s obvious design?
Needless to say, it’s been quite the journey: coming out to myself firstly, and then to others. I slowly started seeing my story in gay people’s stories, and I found I didn’t hate gay people anymore. As a same-sex attracted guy, I got the L, I got the G, and I guess I empathized with the B of bisexuality too.
The LGB part of the equation got easier to get. But for years, I’d struggled to understand another letter in this labeled ladle of alphabet soup.
The T. I never quite “got” transgender people.
Whenever I heard about a woman wanting to be a man or vice versa, I never understood. And when I didn’t understand, I got critical. The whole notion of being “trapped” in the wrong sex or even the process of changing one’s sex seemed absurd and even further beyond God’s sexual design than homosexual acts.
As a same-sex attracted boy who became a same-sex attracted man, I’ve never once thought myself enslaved in the wrong gender. For all my physical and emotional insecurities as a boy-turned-man, I couldn’t imagine dealing with menstruation and breasts and countless other stuff that’s made me thank God I’m not a woman.
To exist as anything other than male makes no sense to me. And so, my critical flames have blazed at the thought of transgender people:
Why do transgenders want to be something they’re not?
Why can’t transgenders just accept how God made them?
What’s wrong with transgenders?
A few weeks ago, however, I started growing more curious about transgender people. Why could I relate with the L and the G and the B, but not this mysterious T? I watched a couple documentaries featuring transgender adults and transgender children, the latter an even more foreign concept.
I was already walking this journey of better learning the transgender mindset — and then in the midst of my journey, some horrific news broke.
A transgender teenager had killed himself. Herself.
I read Leelah Alcorn’s suicide post (since deleted by Tumblr) and got sucked into Leelah’s story: a teenager born as Joshua Alcorn, pushed over the edge by overbearing Christian parents.
The more I read, the more I watched, I couldn’t escape this transgender tornado. I found myself resonating more and more with these gut-wrenching stories.
Theirs were stories that looked hauntingly like my own.
I’ve never identified as a woman, but I can’t tell you how disjointed I’ve often felt among my male species. Throughout high school and college, I just didn’t get the other guys. The straight guys. The jocks. The jerks.
I didn’t get how guys could hit each other on a football field or in a hallway and grow chummier.
I didn’t get how guys could burp and joke and never cry and always seem fine.
And I didn’t get how guys could strip naked in a locker room without thinking twice.
I constantly compared my body to other guys’, and I wasn’t as big, wasn’t as muscular, wasn’t as “masculine.” My hyper-inflated emotions far eclipsed their seeming lack of any feelings.
At times I have felt more like a third gender: certainly not female, but not quite fully male. Something confusingly in between.
And so, while I’ll never completely understand the transgender experience, I’m gaining some perspective.
To some minute degree, I am getting transgender people now. My heart aches for transgender kids like Leelah and transgender adults who feel unbearably alone in their feelings. Their simply being.
I feel their hurt, and I’m feeling more for others different from me. For better or worse, I think all this traveling from the last year has deepened my empathy.
Throughout my #RunningTo quest across the continent, I’ve stayed with a middle-aged lesbian who lost her partner to cancer, and I’ve stayed with fellow “gay” or same-sex attracted Christians who, like me, are laying down their homosexual desires for the hope of something better.
There is one story, and there is the other; they are opposites, and yet they are the same. With every passing pit stop, I’m seeing gaps shrink between what once was so foreign. It’s amazing how sitting across from someone at dinner can help you see more your similarities and less your differences.
My massive road trip has helped me “get” people more. I’m getting transgender people, and I’m getting a clearer vision of humanity’s splotchy collage.
Understanding comes, but it only comes one story at a time. Sometimes those stories come to you, but often you must go find those stories yourself.
Oftentimes, the other story is just as misunderstanding of your own. And what an amazing thing it’s been when both sides of the window are no longer clouded but oddly clear.