Maturing As Humans
As the decade closes, a time of retrospection is inevitable; what have we learned about ourselves and our world? Where are we heading as a nation and in our own lives? Despite many backwards trends, one leap forward has my heart: As the mother of a transgender woman, I’m thrilled to follow each example of the growing acceptance of gender nonconformity, at home and abroad. It definitely helps that I live in Washington State, where tolerance and acceptance of diversity is a solid value (at least on the West side of the mountains). It’s also the only state so far to completely cover all the medical needs for transgender people who are on Apple Care (state version of Medicaid); a powerful statement indeed.
In my community, middle- and high school kids recently requested support for their parents, many of whom are struggling to accept their kiddos’ gender exploration. I’m working with a local youth-support nonprofit and Bainbridge Pride to put together programs for parents of all the kids, because everyone needs to learn what gender nonconformity is truly about. Parents of kids’ friends also need more and better information, as do parents who may feel very negative about having to rethink gender assumptions. I’ve been deeply moved to watch positions shift as understanding replaces ignorance. Hearing real people tell their stories opens hearts and minds, whether we’re listening to people on the LGBTQ rainbow or refugees from war zones or homeless people.
National acceptance of gender nonconformity is growing these days, and faster than anyone expected; in October, a Pew report found that 75% of Americans know someone who is gay, and in June, 62% of Americans said they are more in favor of protecting transgender rights than they were five years ago. Not surprisingly, younger adults lead us oldies in acceptance by a big margin, but even among the over-60s, acceptance is growing as more people discover that someone gender diverse in their family, at work, or in their circle of acquaintances. It’s heartening to learn that knowing someone “different”, even indirectly, makes acceptance more likely.
I’m keeping track of heartening experiences these days, writing them down to review when I start to slide into the pit. I’m also working on noticing my own reflexive judgmental thoughts and assumptions; if people who held negative ideas about gender bending can change their minds about people’s right to explore and express their truest self, maybe I have some mind changing to do as well (right?). It’s been hard for me not to feel scornful of “the haters” who push back fiercely against so many progressive ideas and actions. When I not just talk with but listen to people who feel deeply threatened by changes I find exhilarating, I discover the fear that underlies the anger. When I not just talk with but listen to people of color tell of their experiences right here in this lovely, progressive community, I learn about casual, unconscious racism as well as blatant, hateful racism. So much to learn, for all of us.
Expanding Our Emotional Range
One place many of us definitely need to stretch out is in our emotional life. I’m hearing so many people sadly confess to being numbed by the constant barrage of bad news. Empathy burnout is another common confession from well meaning people who just can’t bear the burden of knowledge that mass media smothers us with. The trouble is, numbing out isn’t living fully. Lately, I’ve found myself encouraging people to allow themselves to cry, both from an overflow of gratitude and from the sorrow of loss. Our culture does not accommodate deep feelings, and we are taught to feel especially ashamed of tears.
Just yesterday, an old friend, who was happily telling me about a gift that moved him deeply, turned away to hide his tears of gratitude, saying, “I feel so embarrassed.” The day before, a mom whose kiddo was distressed by the wrong name on her old Christmas stocking started crying when I handed her the stocking with the new name on it and started telling her of the many hands that contributed to the project. She wiped her eyes and turned away to hide the tears, and apologized for being “too emotional”. A few days before Christmas, a mom with five kids whose father died suddenly a month ago apologized for allowing a few tears to fall on the map we were studying. “I feel like I’m a bad person to be sad at Christmas,” she said, looking intently down at the paper. “I feel like I’m harming my children if I’m sad at this happy time.” Another friend commented on a moving post about acceptance, “Why is kindness and tolerance so touching? (tears). It should be commonplace”, then added, “Just figured it out; they are tears of grief.”
Please Do Cry
Each time, I found myself gently encouraging the weeping person to take pride in their tears, to claim their full range of human emotions and human experiences, to revel in our human vulnerability. I can do this with a whole heart because I’ve been in those shoes myself, many times; ashamed of my tears, embarrassed by my feelings, feeling belittled by my inability to control myself. Control! The culture of emotional repression is sadly common, hiding our tender heartedness with a blanket of shame. Perhaps we weep tears of grief when we learn about an act of compassion because such acts don’t seem to be commonplace these days. Perhaps like me my friend longs to live in a kinder world where compassion isn’t rare.
Perhaps like me the bereaved mother is trying desperately to cram her natural feelings down and assume a happy face in the face of true tragedy. Many years ago, my husband moved out just before Christmas, and I remember saying bitterly to him, “Couldn’t you wait and ruin New Years for them instead?” I remember going through the motions on autopilot, putting up stockings, wrapping presents, making seasonal treats, playing holiday music, pretending nothing was wrong. And that worked so well… I’m too old for games now. These days, I’m trading control for honesty. I allow myself the luxury of tears. I cry at happy things and sad ones alike and I don’t trouble to hide my tears either way. I watch for acts of compassion, and I add to them whenever possible. After all, it’s up to us to make the world we want to live in. Let’s get real.