Yes, she's strange and different...but not THAT different.

31 January 2011

The Good Old Days

Want an instant trip back to the carefree innocence of childhood? Try opening a big box of crayons and breathing deep a couple of times. For me – and everyone I’ve talked to – the smell of crayons conjures up memories of times long past spent indulging in the largely solitary pleasure of coloring. My kids, now 9 and 15, still have two huge cigar boxes full of crayons, and I admit to occasionally joining them in coloring just to fleetingly re-experience a time when I didn’t have to worry about bills or the house or the cars or the kids’ health or any of the other myriad problems that occupy a good portion of my life today. Ah, the good old days.

But in hindsight I see that those days were good largely out of ignorance. I didn’t know about war and poverty then. I didn’t know about segregation or discrimination then or the fact that I would experience them first hand simply for being myself. A part of growing up is learning that the world is not automatically a good place … and not automatically a bad place, either. The good old days are really just what we want to remember from our history but if we’re honest we’ll admit that there were some bad old days, too.

OK, so what? Things have been bad and things have been good for us all, but I think things were more bad than good for most of us who identify ourselves as transgender. Some folks never really make it past the bad parts, but a bunch of us do. Those of us who find the courage to admit to ourselves who we are and then to realize that we are not inherently bad people because of that are the survivors. We have no way of knowing how many don’t make it this far, but there are more than a few of us who have survived. Thankfully, I think that circumstances are actually improving for transgender people today. Nowadays, most of the population has a general idea of what being transgender means. Also, it’s a lot easier to find resources and groups of others like us. The subject of transgender people and their lives is openly discussed today. We’ve come a long way but we still have a long way to go, and I think that the next generation will have it a lot easier.

Even at the age of three, my daughter had a beginning grasp of the concept of gender versus sex, or probably more appropriately, behavior versus appearance. She denoted someone’s sex by calling people “boys” or “girls” based on their obvious appearance. But she also used two other words to describe people: “boy-head” and “girl-head”, and those words weren’t related to appearance but more to behavior. I’m not sure what specific criteria she personally used to determine which category someone belongs in, but she realized (and still realizes today) that appearance is not the only way to categorize people. (I do know that with regard to appearance, she calls ‘em like she sees ‘em. For instance, people are not “black” or “white” to her; they are “brown” or “pink”.) A girl friend at daycare who was pushy and loud was still a girl but was a “boy-head”, while her brother was definitely a boy AND a boy-head. Back then and continuing to today, her mother and I encouraged her and her brother both to realize that everyone is different but that regardless of how different anyone might be, they are still more like them than they are different. And I don’t think we’re alone in teaching our kids that.

The next generation – my children’s generation – will grow up knowing a lot more about a number of things, including being transgender, than my generation did. Ignorance fosters fear while knowledge fosters acceptance; light dispels darkness. And while I don’t think that everything will ever be all sweetness and light (we’re talking about human beings, after all), I do believe that the really good old days are yet to come.

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