Part Two of Haley’s Guest Post…
The experience of living in two genders and perceived to have different sexual orientations, has made me aware of privilege and how oblivious I once was to it. I don’t share my experiences as some guilt trip to people who possess privilege or to paint a picture that my life is really hard. My life is really great. I am living freely and openly. I wake up and I look forward to what the day will hold. Honestly, my life has never been better. However, reflecting on privilege and how my perceptions of it evolved as I evolved, can be illuminating. In fact while I’ve lost some privileges I’ve gained a new one. It is a privilege to grow in empathy and see so many different vantage points. While there are some experiences that I will never authentically have. My journey as a transgender woman has exposed me to a wide variety of perceptions and encounters with people and I am very thankful for that.
My experiences make me sensitive to how doctrinal teachings can categorically exclude people. The other week Melissa was told by a gay affirming non-Catholic friend about what a good deal the Lenten fish fries at the Catholic Churches in town are and that they are open to the community. I’m sure the fish fries are very tasty and enjoyable. But Melissa was immediately wondering if she took her wife and kids to this fish fry would we be welcome? Would it vary from parish to parish? It feels funny being invited to churches where we’d be welcome individually perceived as straight women, but as a couple it could be a different story. Some churches I’ve been invited to have a statement of faith which basically says, “Gays unwelcome.” It has added new meaning to the warm invitation of affirming churches whose signs say, “All welcome.” And it makes those “everyone welcome” signs on non-affirming churches seem a little ironic.
Living as a lesbian couple has made me sensitive to how travel has a new set of risks attached to it compared to when we traveled as a straight couple. We regularly hear stories on both mainstream and LGBT news sources about gay couples or transpersons being assaulted or killed as a direct result of their orientation. Even if we are physically safe, disapproving people groups or populations can be exhausting. How do we discern safe situations from unsafe ones?And when is it worth it to bother to correct people’s assumptions about our relationships. For example, say a customer makes a reference to “my husband”, do I correct them and say “actually I have a wife” ? Is it worth taking the time to be open about my being queer if I hardly know this person, have no way of knowing their reaction to my being open, and have little to no chance of seeing this person again? These are questions I never had to contemplate before.
When we choose a school for our children, it matters to us that school officials will be welcoming and accepting of us and our family. This isn’t a guarantee by a long shot. We worry about our kids getting excluded or picked on because of their parents. And yet many people seem to think bullying isn’t a problem, try being anyone who is different from the stereotypically upheld “norm” and ask us about our experience in supposedly “bully free” schools; the efforts of groups, organizations and individuals, to recognize every person as having value and being worthy of respect, are still very much needed.
Safe space is really important. I am so thankful for the support of each person who steps up and says to me that my family is beautiful knowing full well we are a queer family. I am thankful for each person who is an ally of LGBT people and comes to our defense when the oblivious and prejudiced come after us. I am thankful for each person who takes the time to even try to look out beyond their experience and have respect and toleration for people who are different from them. I am grateful for each person who has chosen to love rather than hate. I have such respect for the diversity of experiences including those who are very different than me. I value people who can listen to the experiences I’ve had and can step up to combat stereotypes and embrace each person as they are.
I was oblivious of so much, and I’m still oblivious of so much, but as I’ve journeyed I have realized something very important.
Empathy helps us make this world a better place. It helps us understand instead of judging. As our empathy grows, we are better able to stand up for others and for ourselves. Each day things are getting better because word is getting out.