I am what many would call a "mid-life" transitioner. That is I, like many, was well into life before coming to a point where I could stop running from my gender gift and start to consider it in healthy, productive ways. Many of my generation remember a time when the word "transgender" didn't exist, when there were no books or support groups or role models, when there was no internet, and when the loneliness of feeling as though you were the only one of your kind was surpassed only by the suffocating guilt and shame and fear of being discovered.
The reason I mention this is because I have an invitation in my hand to a Holiday Reception at the White House this evening. It's not an LGBT reception, or a reception for any particular cross-section of our society. It's a reception comprised of a broad range of people brought together to celebrate the joy of the season with our President in his home. The thought that out, proud, transgender people - people who are part of the fabric of this country whether others want to recognize that or not - are part of this celebration is beyond amazing to me. It's a million miles from shame, and a day I never imagined I'd see in my lifetime.
I remember a time when the only transgender people I'd see were on daytime talk shows. As a young teen I'd buy TV Guide and immediately scan the topics for discussion that week on Phil Donahue because that was the only place to see "us". Whether or not the guests were representative of transgender people was immaterial to me - it simply helped to reinforce the fact that I was't as alone as I felt.
I have learned that there is no one way to be transgender, or to "feel" mis-cast in life, just as there is no one way to feel or be anything. I used to explain that, for me, being transgender was like being an actor and being unable to get out of role - ever - even though you knew you were simply going through the motions being something you knew you weren't. Living what feels like a lie is a heavy burden to carry for a lifetime and finding your true self under all of the facade can be a painful, difficult road to travel. It is a road many of us know only too well.
As a transgender person I have had the opportunity to be involved in several "firsts" in recent years. I look back over my work with the Human Rights Campaign, with GLAAD, and with other organizations and efforts with a sense of accomplishment and pride. I did the best I could given the circumstances and I'm confident that the work that I and others started will continue to gain momentum and to make our lives better. But nothing I've done as a board member can compare to the emotions stirred while speaking at a memorial service for a transgender person who has been brutally murdered in a hate crime. I've done that twice, and it's a painful reminder that the progress we're making is all part of a broader culture war of validating our personhood where hate and ignorance still lead to horrific outcomes.
There is a time to hunker down and fight our battles because this war will last a long, long time. There is a time to console one another over our tragedies and to recognize our resiliency through our setbacks. At the same time, though, it's important to take the time to celebrate our victories. I learned a long time ago to measure a long journey not by how far there is to go but by how far we've come. In my own journey, how far is this? It's a million miles from shame.
The invitation is very impressive. "The President and Mrs. Obama request the pleasure of your company at a Holiday Reception to be held at the White House...". It's red and velvety and embossed - very nice. And the embossed envelope simply has the return address as "The White House, Washington DC"
My mom was so cute - she bought a dress she thought I'd look good in for the occasion. I still have no idea what someone wears to a White House reception so I made the decision that I'd wear what I liked, and what felt comfortable. Trying to live up to anything else would be impossible so why even try. My mom is proud of me and in that regard whatever anyone else thinks is irrelevent. My father passed away 11 years ago this month and I expect he would have found a way to be okay with things, too. They'll both be there with me, in spirit.
I can't help but think of generations of us who never imagined having an opportunity to celebrate the joys of the Holiday Season as their authentic selves at the White House, and of those who will spend this Holiday Season alone and sad. I think of youth who will never have to endure the helplessness that so many of us felt and who can grow up with a President for whom the word "transgender" is not foreign, distasteful, or irrelevent. I think of the empowerment that comes with refusing to be defined by any single dimension of yourself and to be included without hesitation into the broader fabric of society. I realize this is just a 2 hour reception that will come and go in a heartbeat, but for me it's so much more. I just hope I don't start to cry.
I could have written this tomorrow night, after the event. But sometimes it's important to stop and take the time to consider how you're feeling before something happens. This, to me, is one of those times - time to savor the moment. And however tomorrow turns out it won't dampen the sense of excitement, of honor, of amazement, and of thanks that I'm feeling tonight. Make no mistake - I'll drink the moment for the rest of my life.
Shame? No. There is no shame. It truly is a million miles away.