The landscaper who is trying to help me revive my poor lawn came over the other day just after I got home from yoga class. We got into a conversation about yoga, and he went on to say that he’d been meditating for years. We both agreed that meditation and having peace in your heart were important — “especially now.” And we both shook our heads at the current craziness of the world.
“It just seems that there’s more evil in the world right now,” he said. I nodded. Immediately I thought of the program of rape that ISIS is alleged to be conducting, I thought of the racist violence fomented at Trump rallies, and I thought of the young black men shot by poorly trained and over-equipped police. But he was thinking of something entirely different.
“They’re going to let those freaks use the same bathroom as my little nieces! Now, what is that all about?”
He went on for a while expressing his disgust and dismay at the backlash against HB2 here in North Carolina and the distinct possibility the law would be repealed, while I stood there dumbfounded.
Now, If I were to see transgender people called “freaks” on social media, I’d be quick to anger. But here I was, standing face to face with someone whom I like but whose concern for his female relatives seemed utterly misguided. Instead of getting angry, I simply said, “You know, transgender people are such a small portion of the population, I really don’t think you have anything to worry about. I’ve only known a few my whole life, and they were nice people.” Of course, I could have said any number of things, but I was so stunned that was all I could muster.
I went about my business, but I thought about the conversation and thought about what I would say when next I saw him and it would be this: “You know, I’ve had men expose themselves to me when I was just a kid. And I’ve been raped, as have other women I know. Those guys looked just like anyone else. Your nieces may need protecting but not from transgender people.”
I’m so grateful for Laverne Cox’s complex and sympathetic portrayal of a transgender woman on the TV show Orange is the New Black. I was in prison myself more than three decades ago on drug-related charges. We didn’t have any male-to-female transgender people in a women’s prison back then, but there was one person who could pass for just about the cutest guy I’d ever seen. There was nothing female about him beyond some basic plumbing. Needless to say, he was the most popular inmate on the compound. I don’t understand what it feels like to be born in the wrong body, but that doesn’t mean that the people who do feel that way are somehow inferior to the rest of us. We had it right a long time ago: “Different strokes for different folks.”