Airport people watching is one of my favorite activities. In general, airports make me anxious. The crowds; the frenetic sense of urgency as people rush around; the smell of other people’s (way too much) perfume or cologne; the bottled water that costs $800; business bros talking loudly into ear pieces so that we will know they are Very Important; constant reminders to guard your stuff, people, terrorists are everywhere!; the thousand ways my day and trip could be derailed by a sneeze or a thunderstorm; and did I mention the crowds?
I have no fear of flying, but the hours-long labyrinth journey to the plane…I sometimes need to carry a little orange pill in my pocket for that. But barring the availability of narcotics, I endure through mindfulness. Deep breaths, and meditative people watching.
Yesterday, I saw: a woman taking two small dogs to Phoenix for a month-long visit (“They will be so hot!” she said); a grandmother-type who brought a large bag of cookies to share with her fellow passengers; the aforementioned Business Bros (Lord, they are everywhere); tired parents and very excited children hauling adorable tiny suitcases; and a transgender college student, boarding the same flight as me.
There is a difference between being transgender and cross-dressing–an important nuance often overlooked in the recent debate about bathroom usage. I suppose this could have been a young man wearing women’s clothing and makeup, for the sake of a journalism assignment. Which would be cool. But I’m going to assume that, most likely, this was a young person in transition. So I will use the appropriate pronoun language for the sake of the story here.
She was travelling with a couple of friends. As we all queued up for the plane, I was expecting trouble. Blame my anxiety disorder, amped up from a fun day at the airport. But I watched this group closely, ready to get all down-home Mama Bear if anybody tried to mess with them.
Here’s what I did not see: first of all, I did not see this young person assault anyone, follow a woman into a restroom, or otherwise set off ‘stranger danger’ sirens in any way. To me, that was not surprising.
Here’s what else I didn’t see: I didn’t see other people shooting her nasty looks. I didn’t see rough-looking men or prim-looking women follow her to the restroom to make sure she used the “right” one. I didn’t see a gang of bullies surround her and commence name-calling and throwing things. I didn’t see people actively avoid sitting by her on the plane; I didn’t hear anyone say mean and hateful things to, or about her.
And that, to me, was surprising. Because I have been so IN this lately; so wrapped up in the news of hateful legislation, school bullying, and Target bathroom boycotts that I was primed for open conflict. It’s no wonder I was anxious in that airport. It’s no wonder if we are all anxious most of the time.
I don’t blame “The Media,” in the broad sense, for creating our current cultural climate. They are in the business of story-telling, and the stories they tell need to be told. At the same time, we should remember they also have a product to sell; and conflict sells. Hate, violence, rage, incendiary public discourse… it is all click-bait and prime time viewing. The fringe groups, the lunatics, the vocal minority of angry fundamentalists–they are always going to get more airtime than the regular folks just going about their day.
Yesterday was a good reminder for me that–for the most part–people are decent and kind and don’t want to be up in each other’s business. I’m going to try to remember that, when the news is all in the next frenzy about who hates who.
I’m not saying that life for that kid will be easy; that the campus experience will be entirely without bullies, that her career will be without prejudice, or that her relationships will be honored by the law. I still plan to do everything in my power to make sure that LGBT kids–of every age–get a fair shake, whether we’re talking about marriage equality, college admittance or bathroom access. But I will still breathe a little easier, and sleep a little better–and maybe need fewer little orange pills–remembering that people are basically good.
Sometimes, we do okay.
And if the news makes us anxious, our best defense is to tell a better story.