Location: Knoxville, Tennessee
I met a lovely person at a coffee shop in Knoxville on my road trip last week. As a non-binary trans person, they (preferred pronoun) had finally found peace and freedom to be their true self and they were eager to share their journey. This lovely person had been through a lot, with deeply religious Southern Baptist parents who tried myriad means to scare or pray the gay away when they first came out as queer as a teenager, and there were years of drugs and other self-harm and deep depression that followed.
Their coming out and years of struggling with their self-identify and self worth ultimately led to self-identifying as non-binary transgender, meaning someone whose gender is neither female nor male. They said that the first time they figured it out, everything finally made sense. Cutting their hair and binding their breasts revealed an image in the mirror that made them cry with relief, seeing someone who finally felt like their true selves looking back at them.
I walked away from that encounter feeling so grateful that our paths crossed and that their story had a happy ending. And I resolved to be better about pronoun choices (it kills me to use they for a singular person, but my grammatical objections pale in comparison to the many indignities someone suffers for whom the binary pronouns of he and she do not fit.) I also pondered for the millionth time why anyone would feel anything but empathy and warmth for this lovely individual who is simply trying to live an angst-free life. Even with an incredibly supportive family, being trans is hard. There are so many physical and societal hardships that transitioning engenders (no pun intended) and why anyone would think that someone transitioning would choose to take all of that on for any reason other than it is what they are and need to be is just beyond me.
As my coffee house friend (whose name I am not using out of respect for their privacy) put it so simply and eloquently, “Trans people are just trying to be free and be our true selves. We are not trying to step into anybody’s life but our own.”