It was a beautiful spring night, around dusk. It must have been about 8:30 and 70 degrees. The baby was in bed. I had the monitor in my right hand and a small glass of blush as my nightcap in the left. The kids in the neighborhood were plucked by their mothers one by one from their front yards to come inside and get ready for bed. After-dinner play was over. The dog walkers were turning in. The single men who are best friends across the street were pulling their chariots of choice – motorcycles – into their parking spaces. Somewhere on the street, a hipster began to strum on his guitar. Ahhh, the city life.
At the same time, the most beautiful trans woman, about six feet tall, with the glossiest wig and most striking makeup I’ve ever seen, came walking down the street. She was singing a song, with a buttery baritone Sinatra would have envied. As she looked in a compact mirror, she arranged her wig and touched up her makeup, pausing her melody, only slightly.
“You look beautiful,” I said to her as she paused in front of my porch. She stopped, surprised, and looked up at me with a smile.
“Oh, honey. YOU are beautiful!” she responded. I looked down at my sweatshirt that had a hole in the armpit and spit up on the shoulder and glanced down at my “mom” yoga pants. I looked hideous, and she knew it. She continued her compliments while clapping after each word and somehow using her body to illustrate the point all at the same time, “AND. DON’T. YOU. LET. ANYONE. TELL. YOU. OTHERWISE.”
I wondered to myself that if my son were of speaking age — which he will be soon — and were out on the porch with me, he might ask if the person standing in front of me was a woman or a man. And so, my brain thought, how does a grown up answer that? It’s a delicate question, and I wanted to make sure I could answer it appropriately when the time comes.
I thought of the way diversity was explained to me as I grew up: it wasn’t, really. I learned more by observing than anything. How people acted and treated others during a time (the ‘80s) when it was far more acceptable to berate LGBTQ, minority races and women. This is not how I want my son to learn about the colors of the world. I want him to understand that if everyone were the same, it would be boring. And that he will have things about himself that won’t be the same as everyone else either. And that it will not only be OK, but preferred, for him to lead with his own mind, create original thoughts and ultimately, be happy.
I also know different forms of bigotry are considered learned behaviors in the world of Nature vs. Nurture. The age old question applies here: Do we inherit our human traits through genetics? Or through our environment? Behavioral geneticists still don’t know the answer to this, but do believe there are certain traits that are part of a spectrum. Intelligence for one. Someone may inherit a high IQ from her mother, but if raised in an environment where education isn’t valued and the brain isn’t exercised, her future test scores may not be as high as her original potential, and opportunities may be denied.
Just like I want my son to exercise his brain when working on mathematics and reading, I want him also to exercise his brain (and emotions) on acceptance and tolerance. I refuse to allow him to learn behaviors of hatred through any kind of environment I’m providing him. It’s better for him to learn behavior from my husband and me that is the exact opposite.
I do feel the social climate is much more fluid now than it was when I grew up; but at the same time, it is more hostile. It’s a bit strange and confusing. And stressful because it’s so conflicting. I hate to admit it, but danger is a very viable threat, unfortunately, when it comes to sexual identity. I wish it weren’t. It’s not as bad as it was in the past, but it should be better. In a day and age when we have the capability to talk to others through our watches, I find it hard to believe there are humans who are being beaten in foreign countries because of their sexual orientation. Wait, wait…retraction…there are humans being beaten in our own country because of their sexual orientation.
I went, as I often do, to my best friend for advice. My best friend happens to be a gay male and may be able to give some perspective on an answer that is socially acceptable, educated and kind. His response to me was simple: “How would you explain the difference between a boy and a girl to your son? This is the same thing, and it can be as scientific or as psychological as you want. Just make sure you use the right terminology. That’s when people become offended: when they’re improperly labeled.”
It was at that moment that I knew exactly how I would explain sexuality and orientation to my son one day if the question ever came up. As long as people demonstrate kindness and respect for us and our property, we should reciprocate in a kind and respectful manner. And in the great words of Dave Chappelle, no matter what sexual orientation anyone is or isn’t, “It does not disqualify you from a life of dignity and happiness and safety.”
I smiled at the trans woman and was appreciative of her words. I honestly was jealous that I was not as put together as she was. We gave each other a knowing nod, and she continued walking on her merry way, picking up the song she had been singing as if she had never stopped in the first place. To me, aside from the words respect, kindness, dignity, happiness and safety, there was only one other word I thought of that I might use to answer the anticipated question to my son.
Human. She’s human. That’s what we all are at the end of the day, aren’t we?
Carley Lucas is a working mother of one hysterically giggly 9-month-old. She, her son and her husband live in Central PA and firmly believe a household of laughter is the best form of medicine for any situation.