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Late to the Party

I saw a transgender person in the store this week. It’s not the first time I have seen one, but this woman made an impression on me. She was wearing a dress and her light brown hair appeared to be a wig. The shoulder-length bob had a purple streak in it. Her hairy calves were large and muscular. She was very busy restocking shelves and another employee approached her to work out a scheduling issue. The woman with the wig had a deep, masculine voice as she agreed Tuesday from 8:00 to 4:00 would be fine.

Well, there you go, I thought to myself. This man, who identifies as a woman, is not just a floor stocker, but has a position of responsibility and manages other employees. I admired the store for hiring him/her. And since she was doing her job well, what difference does it make?

“The times they are a-changing.” It has been a bit of a whirlwind to keep up with. I certainly remember growing up with women-who-looked-like-men….my junior high gym teacher, for one. In the 1950s, homosexuality and gender identity issues were not something we talked about.

For many years, in my ignorance, I did not know about lifelong homosexual couples. As I began to learn about them, and of their desire to be able to marry, I felt commitment to each other was a good thing.

Of course, there was the matter of “The Bible says…..” I consider myself a student of the Bible, having taken an intensive two-year overview course (twice) and then gone on to teach three subsequent two-year courses myself.

My church background is in the United Methodist Church, which allows free will in spiritual matters. The Wesleyan Quadrilateral emphasizes four elements to consider in making decisions: Scripture, tradition, reason, and personal experience. Although Scripture is highly regarded in my faith, we do not worship the Bible. We worship God, whom we believe to be outside of time and bigger than we humans can comprehend. Bigger, even, than the Bible.

So, I am aware of scriptures that condemn homosexuality and could point out others to refute the first ones. It is an exercise in futility. I will simply say God’s love is for everyone and the important thing is for each of us to treat our partners with respect.

Transgender was a bigger stumbling block for me. I remember reading Ursula LeGuin’s 1969 novel “The Left Hand of Darkness,” in which the residents of a planet were “ambi-sexual” – mostly androgynous. When they entered the state of “kemmer” they could become either male or female in order to reproduce.

What a fascinating idea. She won the Hugo Award for her creativity. No more having to explain PMS to your partner, since he would go through it himself.

Perhaps LeGuin was forseeing a future where gender is more fluid. It is a bit mind-blowing, but also exciting. So many people have been unhappy with their gender assignment and lived lives of misery. According to Dr. Anne Fausto-Sterling, a recognized expert in this field of study, up to two percent of all births do not fall strictly within the tight definition of all-male or all-female, even if the child looks “normal.” There is so much we do not know about gender.

Here’s my hang-up: All my life I have disliked seeing men dress up as women. It began when I was in grade school and we had our first black-and-white television. “Uncle Milty” Milton Berle was a big star back then and he would regale his live audiences by dressing up as a woman with huge balloon-like breasts. The audience roared as his “breasts” bumped into walls and doors. I thought it was very demeaning. It was hard enough being female in the fifties, without Uncle Milty making it look ridiculous.

I didn’t even like the movie “Tootsie,” with Dustin Hoffman. Tootsie was so wise and level-headed. Really? Only a man-dressed-as-a-woman could be that sage? Obnoxious.

And don’t get me started on Robin Williams as Mrs. Doubtfire. What was so hilarious about him setting his make-believe breasts on fire over the kitchen stove? Again, I felt women were being mocked.

But now we have entered the transgender era and many sincere men are letting us know they identify as women. I have to admit I may have been wrong all these years. Perhaps what I took as mockery was really admiration for women. And that’s something I agree with.

So I am being stretched with all these social changes. If they lead to a world that is diverse, where people accept each other as they are, that is a world I will welcome. Sort of like the world Ursula LeGuin envisioned.

I’m a bit late to the party, but I am here. How about you?

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