I felt like an imposter gay. If I don’t look like a lesbian, or act like a lesbian, am I really a lesbian? (I can hear my therapist’s facepalm from here.)
Why can I never do anything the standard way?! I can’t even be abnormal in a normal way!
I was perusing our local gay magazine and the local lesbian FB groups, basically trying to understand the local gay culture. The ads made one thing clear: gay men and lesbians love drag queens. Find the drag queens, find the gays.
Problem was, drag queens freaked me out. Like a lot. Luckily I’m connected with myself (finally) to recognize a red flag. How can I preach sexuality equality while ignoring a huge population of trans men? Hypocritical much?!
As I was working on this internal hypocrisy, I was invited to teach a workshop at the nation’s largest and longest-running trans conference, First Event in Boston, MA. I really needed to figure this out and now.
So I dug deep in my mindfulness, recognized my triggers, analyzed the pattern and had to have some hard talks with myself, admitting things I had never even realized before.
It came down to this: I felt like men who claimed the female gender, whether temporarily on stage or more permanently in life, were once again usurping resources from women. And it made me mad.
Hear me out. Do you remember when Hollywood cast Johnny Depp as the Native American character Tonto? So ridiculous that the role went to a white man, he earned money and gained fame that should have gone to a Native American actor.
I had similar feelings when it came to drag queens and trans women. Maybe it’s not the most logical thing in the world and maybe I couldn’t resolve it in time for First Event. But at least now, I knew what the problem was. It wasn’t hidden in the dark and growing in my psyche, it had been brought out into the light so I could see it for what it was.
And then I went to First Event. Literally 800 trans women (and about 200 trans men) all in a hotel together for 3 straight days of classes and workshops. The vast majority were over the age of 60. The wigs!! The heels!! The makeup and bags and the height! (they were all sooo tall!)
And in a life-changing moment, I was invited out to dinner with a group of 19 of them.
In the midst of 19 older, New England trans women, I learned SO much. I mean, first I learned how to drink like a blue-collar New Englandah, dammit! And how to order lobstah and the right way to apply eyeliner, child.
That night I also learned that gender is just a framework. I learned that the older and wiser you are, the more likely you are TO DO THE THING that just makes you happy. And I learned that I didn’t want to wait until I was 65 to do the thing and just be me!
They had all been through so much, coming out to their wives as crossdressers once they had finally retired, and dealing with the consequences. Some told stories that their 40+ year marriages were stronger and more authentic than ever. Some told stories that their wives had already known for years and still loved them and were just waiting for them to be brave enough to use the words.
Some told stories of being completely kicked out of their families and religious communities, and we cried together. Many, many told stories of decades of loneliness and then being the only members of their family willing to take care of aging, elderly parents. Parents who had been disgusted by them a few decades ago were now in their care. Many parents had passed on with only their trans daughter willing to be there to hold their hand.
As they walked me back to the hotel, (their fatherly instincts were just as strong as my own dad’s), I realized. There’s no single “right” way to be homosexual or straight or trans or any of the labels. I didn’t have to like drag queens in order to be a lesbian. I didn’t have to go to lesbian bars or get a nose ring or wear flannel.
The only thing I had to do was be me. Unapologetically, awesomely, uniquely me.
On a cold night in January of 2020, nineteen aged crossdressers in a seafood dive bar in downtown Boston taught me a whole new way to love who I am.
We need transwomen and transmen. They will teach us how to love ourselves in ways that no one else can. If genuinely loving ourselves can change the world, how can we afford to not value the trans people in our lives?
They have so much to teach us and we have so much to learn.