Saturday, February 28, 2009

On Prejudice or "The He/She"

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.


Two Auntees said...

I hope that you do meet the trans woman again to befriend her.

The cleaning lady could be showing her lack of understand or is truly homophobic. Or she might believe that the two or you might be offended and she is just warning her; I bet if you called her on her discrimination she might be personally OK and was just giving you a heads up about someone.

I think we need to give some people the benefit of the doubt.


Ellie said...

It might be simpler than that. I wore my underwear under my pajamas when I was first married and would not have been comfortable bathing with my sister. I grew up in a very small house and shared a bedroom with 3 siblings... two of them boys. Privacy was very precious. and old habits die hard.

Progressive Pragmatist said...

This American Life just did a story about two transgender girls - Somewhere Out There - they met at a conference for parents/families of transgender children and it's the first time they got to meet another child like themselves. It's very touching and nice insight into the little girls strength.

Wayfarer said...

By simply saying that you were not afraid, you made a powerful stand for acceptance. Such things speak very loudly and serve to spur others to examine their own fears.

You will befriend both the cleaning lady and the transgendered woman because that's who you are. By doing that, and in one sense ignoring that they may be on opposite sides of a divisive social conflict, you are demonstrating as clearly as you can that there is value in respecting people as people.

There isn't anything else for you to do but that. The rest is up to someone else.

LB said...

Hey HG, thanks for doing your Lent post. It allows me to be an observer of God in action. I'm looking for proof, and proof is hard to find.

Two Aunties (is/are) right. The actions taken, your understanding of the big picture. Hello, God calling. Otherwise, I don't believe so much. It's day by day with serious doubt for me.