A few years ago my taxes were complicated by a move from one state to another (with issues of two different state income taxes), my mid-year legal name and gender changes (that really muddies the waters!), and a divorce. Knowing that I was way out of my depth, I went to a professional tax preparation service.
I happened to draw a gregarious, kindly woman who has since become a good friend. She prepared my tax returns last weekend.
On Monday, there was a small hiccup caused by my misunderstanding something. I stopped by the office where she works. She wasn’t there, but another person talked to me.
I sensed some hostility from her. Everyone in that small office knows that I’m transgender. However, I had never really talked to this other woman before.
I should explain that I am a soft-spoken, polite, friendly older woman who dresses modestly. I enjoy classical music and art museums. I have finished two novels. On a number of occasions I have had people ask me whether I am an English teacher or librarian.
And I happen to be transgender.
As I do when I sense someone reacting to me in a hostile way because I’m trans, I did my best to smile and to be friendly and to relate to her as simply one human being to another.
As Michelle Obama said, “When they go low, we go high.”
The hostile woman was having none of it.
For no particular reason, she turned to someone else and referred to me as “he.” A couple of seconds later, she corrected herself by saying, “I meant ‘she’.”
OK, fine, I thought. I get that transgender issues of pronouns can be confusing. Even nice people make mistakes.
However, she did exactly the same thing again six times in the next two minutes.
Those weren’t honest mistakes. She was not a nice person. She was being intentionally as cruel to me as possible.
This is a game all transgender people become familiar with. If you challenge the bully, you get, “What? What’s the big deal?”
The “big deal” is having your most profound experience of who you are dismissed as a joke. This hurts so much in ways I cannot explain to cisgender people that when we hear it day after day after day we sometimes kill ourselves just to silence those voices.
After the second verbal cut, I remember thinking, “You think I’m garbage. Message received. Please stop now.”
But she didn’t. She was enjoying herself too much.
And I should mention that I was already sad and having crying jags due to the emotional aftermath of a just-ended month of up-close emotional abuse from my biological family.
Today I got a call from my friend, my regular tax person. Without being specific at that point, she apologized for how I had been treated when I came by the office. She said no one should ever be treated like that and invited me out to lunchtime coffee at Starbucks so we could talk. I accepted.
Over coffee, she related how that morning the obnoxious woman had plopped into the guest chair in her office and started talking in a sneering manner about “that client of yours” and how disgusting transgender people are. The woman got on a roll about how God despises queer and trans people and how we are going to suffer God’s wrath as we richly deserve for going against His Word.
My friend was so stunned it took her a moment to react. She told her co-worker that she did not want to listen to this hate and asked the woman to leave. The woman was surprised. She had fully expected her fellow Christian to hate people like me and want to see terrible things happen to us.
That, after all, was what she was being taught in her church.
The office receptionist, who had overheard the entire exchange I had with the obnoxious woman on Monday, had overheard this conversation too. She came and described to my friend how I had been treated.
My friend was horrified. That was when she called me.
So we had a lunchtime conversation over coffee and chocolate-chip cookies. My friend said that her faith teaches her not to judge people she doesn’t understand and to treat others with love. She thinks that all persons, including transgender people, are made in God’s image and are children of God.
Then she cried. So did I.