Over the past two years I have enjoyed a unique relationship with a trans person. Let’s call them Burt. Burt is half my age; years marked by violence and isolation. What commonalities we share—each of us are fathers—are shattered by how those commonalities play out. I have an ongoing relationship with my two children; Burt has two children they’ve never seen. I am often at a loss in how to react to the conditions of Burt’s life, but since the winds of fate brought us together, I figure it’s my opportunity to try to understand someone so very different from me.
It is easy, natural, for humans to relate to their own kind. To find accord with those with whom we are already in accord. It’s more challenging to accept our opposites. And even more threatening, as in the case of transgender people, to acknowledge those who occupy some ambiguous, nebulous. nether world. Thus my overt wish to understand and connect with Burt is blocked by my evolutionary fear of that which we cannot fathom.
Then I recalled a story I wrote twenty years ago. Before trans-anything was a thing. The story is about a boy forty years even further back. A thinly veiled tale about: me. A pudgy boy, age eight, alone, locked in the bathroom, occupying himself in the mirror, with a towel.
The towel came undone. A roll of terry cloth fell down my back. It cascaded behind me like a cape. Or a veil. Or a train. I looked straight at the mirror. The swath of beige highlighted my glorious form. I bent my arms in without lowering my elbows. A sweeping arc in a horizontal plane. I tucked the towel across the top of my pale chest. The mirror offered an image I had seen before. A straight line rising slightly, across a field of snowy skin, tucked demurely under a pair of arms. I puffed my chest. I enhanced the reflection. The edge of the towel fell in a vertical line, just left of center. Falling over my nipple. Running through my heart. A detail of simple elegance flowing from my bosom, past the reality of the mirror, beyond the vanity. I stood before the glass, my skin bristling, stupefied by the beauty before me.
Hardly the words of a man fixed in his masculinity. I’m gay, but not fem. I’ve never wanted to be a woman. And yet…as a boy, standing before the mirror…I held a fascination.
That long-ago story I wrote about a longer-ago time offers me an arc of connection with Burt. Even more, it reveals how none of us are as simple as we suppose. No one is entirely straight, or gay, or cis, or trans, or libertarian, or socialist, or right, or wrong. Burt’s life is a history of chaos, and yet their hope for the future is unbounded. They refuse to be bound by simple definitions.
When our days are short and dark, humans need to be closer to each other. Thus, every tradition celebrates holidays this time of year. I hope we all celebrate by finding someone seemingly unlike us beyond the basic fact of human existence; our own personal Burt. I hope that each of us finds more commonality in our neighbors than we expect. Even more, I hope we celebrate each other despite our commonalities. Simply because we are all here, and all of us matter.