MY FIRST ENCOUNTER OCCURRED when I was around 11 years old. My brain couldn't make sense of that weird kid at school, likely because at that point in my life, I took things at face value. Questioning life's peculiarities seemed only to invite more confusion and my plate was already quite full.
Fast forward to a few months ago. I was walking down the aisle at the grocery store. Another shopper came towards me in the opposite direction. The person wore a black miniskirt with matching leather jacket and heals that made my ankles hurt just by looking at them. Long, black hair swooshed back and forth as this peculiarity strolled past me towards the freezer aisle. That same confusion from decades earlier came rushing back to my consciousness as it had other times when confronted with this particular situation.
"I saw a transvestite at the store," I confessed to Sandra, my coworker that afternoon. I described his/her attire and how confused I was because, despite an air of femininity, it was obvious that this was a man. "My brain doesn't connect with people like this," I told her. "My brains identifies male or female but for this person the lines were blurred and I didn't know what to think. It was disconcerting."
Sandra let me know that she shares similar confusion. We talked a bit longer, each of us fueling the other with disparaging comments, unfit for inclusion here, I confess. Transgenders are easy targets for mocking.
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Fast forward to a few weeks ago. I began reading Alexandra Bogdanovic's memoir Truth Be Told: Adam Becomes Audrey, an absorbing account of a wife being confronted with her husband's Gender Identity Disorder (GID) or Gender Dysphoria.
Alexandra and Adam are madly in love. Following their fairy tale wedding, they begin their very active lives together, working and playing hard. Alexandra dismisses little oddities such as why she has to spend the first day of their married life alone and perhaps it's this active life that keeps her distanced from her husband's sometimes peculiar behavior.
After a two-year marriage, with the help of Adam's therapist, Alexandra learns of her husband's decision to "make his body match his mind" or live as a woman. A painful divorce follows and then Alexandra must come to terms with the horrendous betrayal that shattered her dreams. She has good friends and a healthy support system but, understandably, it takes about a decade for Alexandra to heal.
In the final chapters of Truth Be Told, Alexandra wisely cites studies done on people with GID. These statistics and bits of a TV show narrated by Lisa Ling serve to humanize what GID is and how difficult and painful it can be for everyone involved. She also points out the inherent stigma surrounding GID and how society's ignorance fuels abuse for these already hurting people.
I always thought of transgender types as nightclub-going, cross-dressers, people who got their jollies in weird ways, a sort of bizarre underworld or something. I never really thought about GID being a psychological condition or perhaps a yet-unidentified biological anomaly. More importantly, I never thought about how difficult it must be to struggle with gender identity, to be living in an atomically incorrect body.
I readily confess that Truth Be Told: Adam Becomes Audrey has challenged my thinking and prejudice against people with GID. I will look at them differently now. The older I get the more I realize I don't know about the human condition. And the more I realize how important compassion is.
Thank you Alexandra.