Our arrival in the North Country has been no big deal. St. Barnabas' previous priest was a partnered lesbian. Most of the folks that I interact with on a daily basis seem unphased by my sexual orientation or our partnership. Both of these realities led me to think that, for the most part, the North Country is pretty open. And, perhaps it is.
But, Michelle and I had an interaction last week that gave both of us much pause.
We joined a local gym for the winter months. One morning, we were in the changing/shower room getting ready to work out, when the woman who cleans came in. She offered to leave until we were done. Then she asked if we wanted the door into the gym shut. We said that closing the door wasn't necessary. She replied that we might want to close the door, because "that He/She" might be coming in soon. In the moment, the cleaning woman's words were so surprising to me, all I could do was stare at her. I stammered that her coming in would not bother us; then we left the locker room to work out.
We have a good friend in Northern Michigan who is transgendered. In fact, she led the prayers of the people at our wedding. In later conversation about this interaction, neither of us could figure out why having this woman come into the locker room might be a problem.
I've gone back over this interaction a number of times. I wonder what the cleaning woman would say about two lesbians in the locker room? I wonder how much intolerance this transgendered woman (whose name I don't know) has to put up with.
I'm struck, once again, by the prejudice that comes your way when differences are physically obvious (like race-based prejudice, or in this case, gender ambiguity). There have been times in my life when my appearance was more "gay" (I had a severe crew-cut), and people shouted anti-gay sentiments at me out of car windows. These days, my appearance doesn't single me out.
I hope that I encounter the transgendered woman again. I'd like to know her name. I hope I can signal to her that we are allies. And, I wonder how to communicate to the hard-working cleaning woman that she has nothing to fear. I may not be able to accomplish any of these things, but these are my hopes.