I consider myself an open-minded person, someone who is pretty well versed in the myriad definitions of gender, and do my best to be non-judgmental. No amount of theory, however, truly prepares you for the first time a person you have known your whole life as a man tells you they will now be living their life as a woman.
I have found that over the past year or so, it has grown increasingly more difficult to shock me. I attribute a substantial amount of this desensitization to listening to and reading Dan Savage. Once you’ve learned how to successfully indulge a cream pie fetish, most things people consider “kinky” become almost mundane. Advice is doled out to people from all walks of life, whether it is a straight, monogamous husband in New York, a queer 19-year-old college girl from a small town in Nebraska, a transgendered woman in Texas, it seems almost everyone can find themselves represented at some point. Because of the Savage Love, as well as the circle of blogs and tumblrs I frequent, I have gained a large amount of insight into worlds of others and been forced to recognize my overwhelming privilege time and time again. I like to think this makes me more sensitive to the needs of others, and while I definitely still struggle with some things – ableist language being the one I am focusing on now, so please keep me in check if I slip- I hope that I can be an ally to other groups struggles. All that being said, when my friend Jeff* sent out a group text the other day titled “Goodbye (you won’t want to know me)” and went on to link to his blog for further information regarding his decision to live his life as a woman named Jenny going forward, I was taken aback.
For the sake of clarity here, I will be using male pronouns when discussing events leading up to the first text message, then the female for everything following.
I have known Jeff for most of my life. He is a friend of my older brother’s from high school, so he has pretty much always been around. He had substance abuse problem throughout his 20s and 30s and has had a hard life. He has lived a mostly transient lifestyle for the last 15 years, hopping around from place to place, even living in a tent in the woods behind my brother’s house for awhile. He was a jack of all trades, working odd jobs all the time to have enough money to get by. He has done a ton of work at my parents’ house, from moving furniture to building play structures. He helped me move into my house and helped lay pavers in my backyard. While he is not a big guy, quite the opposite, he did the work of someone twice his size without fail. He was a tradesman and took great pride in his workmanship. He would take any job that came his way, do it to the best of his ability, and take pride in it. When he helped out at my family’s store last year, I would give him a ride to wherever he needed to go at the end of the day. I would pay him at the end of the day, and without fail, he would want to be driven somewhere to get food, not for himself, but for his homeless friends who didn’t have enough money to eat. He was barely scraping by with enough money to have a place to sleep, but used every spare dollar he had to take care of others. It was, and is, one of the truest testaments to his character that I can describe.
When I say I was taken aback by his revelation, I don’t mean that in a negative way; I just mean it came as a total surprise. I never, not once, suspected anything. That realization made my heart ache, knowing that a person I have great affection for had been hiding this integral part of themselves for as long as I had known them, living half a life in shadows and not being free. The text itself made it clear that he assumed nobody on the distribution list would want to be around him as a her, but that this was what needed to be done and so he was saying goodbye. Heart. Breaking. I responded that I fully supported the decision, thought that it was incredibly brave, and that I was here if needed. Her response? “Thank you. I just wish others were like you.” Arrow. Through. Broken. Heart. What do you say to that? The only advice I had to give was that the good people in her life would come around eventually, and the others could go fuck themselves.
I’m not sure where to go from here. While I definitely consider Jenny a friend, it’s not as if we hang out and go to the movies. I don’t want to overstep my bounds, but I want to help where I can. She has sent and posted a few pictures, and not to be insensitive, she needs help in the make-up and clothing department. How does one go about approaching this? She texted me yesterday saying she would love to get a manicure sometime, “if I would be comfortable being around her.” I reiterated my support and that she didn’t need to waste anymore time worrying about that with me, and made plans to go with her next week. I’m hoping others here may have some guidance for me on what is appropriate to offer, hoping some may have more experience on what is totally new ground for me. We are close to the same size- is it okay to offer clothes? Is it offensive to offer hair/make-up tips? I want to be supportive and helpful for what is a MAJOR life change for her, but I don’t want to be insensitive or hurtful unintentionally. While I admit that I enjoy all the fun and girly trappings and all that goes along with that, I also am concerned about her safety. As I mentioned, she previously led a nomadic sort of existence, which is unsafe for both men and women, but even more so for women, particularly one who isn’t quite “passing” yet. Any advice would be a gigantic help, my little Persephoneers, as well as letting me know if any of the above was not okay. Here’s to hoping I can keep my foot out of my mouth by having my heart in the right place.
*names have been changed