Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Walking a Mile

A couple of weeks ago a former colleague’s mother died. Besides working with this man for 20 + years, we also had daughters the same age who had become good friends in middle school and have remained friends since. I held Allison when she was first born and later had numerous conversations with her when she came out as gay. We lost frequent contact when she went away to school and found a job in a faraway city. Then she emailed me a last year ago to say that she was transgendered and was going to have top surgery and did I have any advice. The news did not surprise me as for all the years I knew Allison I watched as her hair got shorter, her clothing more masculine and her interests shift.  Beaner recently told me that Allison was now Aidan on FaceBook.

When the mother’s obituary came out I noticed my colleague’s children were listed with his oldest son and “Aiden” which made me smile that the immediate family was obviously acknowledging the transition. But then Aiden called me. He was very concerned as this would be the first time coming home and could I explain to people the different name in the obituary ahead of time and maybe hang with him at the wake as a buffer.   He told me how hard it was going to be for him to face all these people he knew from his youth.  How people would look at him like a freak. He has started a new life, in a new city, as the gender he identifies with.  He is trying to be happy there. In fact, he was telling me how incredible it is to experience the world as a man, or rather how much differently the world treats you as a man. But also how different he is treated when people know he is transgendered. Now he was faced with the first time reactions of friends and relatives and was terrified.  I hung with him at the wake and I could see it.  The strange looks, the groups of people whispering while glancing his way.  How very uncomfortable to be under that microscope of judgement.  I even heard one person say “well, of course 8thday knew about this, she is queer too.” I have not felt uncomfortable in my sexuality for a long, long time and yet here I could physically feel the tension his presence was causing.  I can only imagine what transgendered folks feel ALL. THE. TIME.

And Beaner has a new boyfriend.  I knew that this was serious when she asked if we could meet him after only a week of dating him.  She has always told me that meeting the parents was a big deal and honestly, we have met very few from her world of revolving door dating. She also told us that he was a paraplegic, and that we needed to find a restaurant that would accommodate his wheelchair.   

Having worked in site development approval my whole career, my initial reaction was “all public buildings have to be handicapped accessible.  Or so I always thought.  Turns out that older businesses are not required to be accessible if doing so is not readily achievable.  The sidewalk I use to walk to work has heaved in many places - impossible for a wheelchair. Entrance doors are often so heavy as to be impossible for a disabled person to open. Everywhere I go I am now looking to see just how “accessible” accessible really is.  And I have become much more aware of the barriers her boyfriend faces every day.   Way too many barriers.

Yesterday my friend plufrompdx posted an excellent story about her frustration with men’s unwillingness to see how dangerous the world is for women.  And it has me thinking about just how much we all don’t see because we have never stopped to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.  Or maybe we just don’t want to "see" because then we would feel morally obligated to do something about it.  It is so much easier to stick our heads in our own comfy world of sand and ignore the challenges, feelings, barriers of others, especially those not like us.

I don’t know how to end this except to say that my eyes have been opened to different people’s lives in the last few weeks in ways that were, well, eye opening. I hope to train myself to be more conscious of the different perspectives and challenges every person has and why. And then I hope to find the courage to help.



  1. I often hope that we don't do it on purpose, but I know what we don't understand or don't have to experience everyday - we react to. It is very hard to be the outcast and it is very hard to walk a mile in someone else's shoes. All I can do is try hard each day and when I screw up try not to be too big of an ass and try again the next day and hopefully learn from it. I hope he felt support from you... facing a crowd full of know it alls is tough on any day.

  2. Good for you for supporting Aiden. You're right, this is what transfolk experience every day.
    My friend KA took care of her mother who was wheelchair-bound. She is always pointing out access or the lack of it.
    Awareness. It isn't hard, but we must train ourselves to see and to act.

  3. I am really glad you were there for Aiden.

    It is always good to walk in another's shoes.

  4. Well said! I try to remember that I never know what burdens other people may be carrying but that is not the same is understanding what it is really like to carry them. So, as you say, kindness and compassion go a long way to easing other's journeys, and if you can make a real difference to their experience, so much better. And you have clearly done so for Aiden and are doing so for Beaner's boyfriend. I wish the world had more people like you:)

  5. It's good that Aiden had you to rely on.

    There are so many places that you'd think would be wheelchair accessible that are definitely not. In this town, sidewalks appear and end somewhat capriciously.

  6. This was so moving. Thank you.