Seeing My Transgender Roommate Transition Changed Me Too

There’s a certain amount of brouhaha amongst some evangelical Republicans over a minor presidential appointment in the Commerce Department. Amanda Simpson will perform a job for the public benefit that I can’t define. I’m pretty sure most of the American public doesn’t know what the Senior Technical Adviser for the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security does. But, because she’s transgender, it’s prompted an associate dean at the extremely conservative Liberty University to propel himself into the media’s light to proclaim that, “This isn’t like appointing an African-American in order to try to provide diversity and right some kind of discriminatory wrong. This is about political correctness.”

Absurdly stupid. Because, of course, it should be no issue at all, because people are people, and work ought to go to the person whose experience best merits it. And stupidity compounded because I’m unsure how obstinately self-blinded someone must be to believe that transgendered people don’t face deep prejudice. The prejudice is dumb, as it is at all times, but especially so when directed at a scattered group with no agenda other than to fit in and be left alone. But I guess there’s always a learning curve. I had one.
When I was in college, for a summer I lived in the gayborhood, a tree-lined neighborhood festooned with flowering trees, bars where the twee boys liked other twee boys, nightclubs with friendly, enormous bouncers who knew my name and said hello when I came home from work at 2 a.m., and the best all-night diner in the world. I lived with friends, sardine-packed in an apartment above a dry cleaner’s that we’d nicknamed “The Big Gay Haus,” immediately upon occupancy, because pretty much everyone was a lesbian except for me. There were girls and girls and girls packed into the place as partners changed and swapped in our own summer of college love.

But, then one of the girl’s girlfriends said she was really a dude in a female’s body. I wasn’t even sure what that meant. And things changed. While they did, I tripped up. I used the wrong pronouns; I used the wrong name. Everyone did. It’s confusing as hell when someone switches which box they tick on government forms. In the multitude of faces in a city, it was hard at first to see the changes in “Henry.” To go from the super-tough-looking lesbian chick in the gender-neutral leather jacket to a baby-faced kid in overlarge shirts doesn’t attract public attention right away. Because first there’s just cutting the hair and binding the chest, purging closets of girlish things and holdover skirts.

It gets harder after that. Henry took hormones to facilitate physical changes to make his body match his spirit. At the time, there was a tap dance under the light of the full moon required by most agencies that provided legal hormones, so he took the illegal variety. He’d troupe off with his girlfriend for the daily shot in the bum that made him into a pain in the ass. Living with an FTM is like living with a teenage boy — flooding back all those memories of pimple-faced jerk wads from junior high. He was frequently cranky and humorless, and it was even worse because the summer heat that year was brutal, and people transitioning wear extra layers to bind down the breasts. He treated the breasts not just like they were some vestigial tailbone, but like they were shameful. So he’d melt under a binder and two dark shirts to prevent their being caught by any eye. Sometimes he’d give up in a huff and go home with a pile of Slim-Jims to lie in front of our one beleaguered air-conditioner.

The longer he took the hormones, the more an imagined eye turned into real, confused stares. People glared when he waited in line for the men’s room. One time the bus driver tried to throw him off for swiping through his “Male” stickered transit pass. When we visited a friend’s dorm with all the collected ingredients for a taco-making adventure, the security guard laughed at his ID card. We watched “Boys Don’t Cry” over and over again, and hoped nothing ever escalated into violence. Henry was steadfast, despite everything, to live in a way that was true to him. He knew better than the rest of us, even his confused girlfriend, that balance would return. She watched with the rest of us to see what would happen, while he carried on with living and waiting to be considered simply normal again.

Henry brought over more transitioning friends, and our apartment turned into a way-station for people at all different stops on the way to mind-and-body unity. The more time I spent with more people, the easier everything became. I was fluent in hormones and binders, chest surgeons in Canada, and telling off security guards. And living with that many people with that much insight into the male and female mind had its advantages. Before going out on a fancy date (at that poverty-stricken life point, this meant anything that involved spending money), I had three different dudes that used to be girls applying their leftover MAC makeup to my face with skill that far surpassed my own. I was told truthfully that the blond actor I lusted after was a diva and an idiot (not that that stopped me).

Years later, when Henry finally got his chest surgery, we joked about the ooze sopping from the mighty wound across his chest. I brought Slim-Jims as a get-well-soon gift. Everything was simple. And everything ought to be simple now. With the presidential appointment, with whomever. Just like my friend Henry, most people simply want to live, work, and be happy with the ones they love.

As for the wing-nut evangelicals, I think their hate is gonna make them lose in the end. [The Huffington Post]