| Aug 31, 2020
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Early this year — back when schools were still physically open and accessible — I had the occasion to provide some mentoring to an LGBTQ student group of about 30 members at a large area high school. Originally, I had made contact with the teacher who monitored the group, offering to visit or assist at a relevant function. She invited me to speak to the group at one of its weekly after school meetings. When I accepted her offer, she mentioned that the students were excited for my visit, so I knew I had to be well prepared!

The day finally arrived, and after being introduced to the students I spoke for about an hour. It was the first time I had ever led a mentoring session — let alone on such a subject — and despite some nerves on my part, it went rather well. I wore a typical daytime office look for January weather (turtleneck sweater and tweed skirt). My main objective was simply to demonstrate to the students that they should have confidence that there is a place for them in everyday life, where they can be accepted and respected.

Because most members of the group were not transgender, I tailored my speech in more general terms. Since I originally attended a neighboring high school — which is a direct sports rival — I brought my old varsity football jacket with my name embroidered on the front, to visibly demonstrate my local credentials at the start of the session. I believe that got their attention at the outset. (As it happens, I had multiple teammates and opponents who subsequently made it to the NFL, one of whom served as a backup QB to some guy named Montana.)

I devoted most of the session to a description of my personal background and history, how I ultimately came out as transgender on a full-time basis, the practical effect that has had on my personal and professional relationships, and how I believe my life has progressed as a result.

Given my age, I pointed out that there was really no outlet for transgender children or adolescents in the 1970s and 1980s. However, that’s just how things were then, and I assured them that I really don’t feel cheated by this. I admitted that I do wonder if having such outlets earlier in life would have made a meaningful difference, although in the context of that time I don’t know how this could have been possible.

I mentioned to the kids how fortunate they were to have the outlets and support networks that were not available to me at that age. All the same, I had to admit that coming out as an adult was helpful to me in the sense that: 1) by then I knew who and what I was; 2) I had learned to think my way through life’s issues, instead of simply reacting on impulse; 3) I was physically and emotionally mature, in ways that no child or adolescent can be.

Towards the end of my discussion, I included some general points I wanted to emphasize, and which I hoped everyone present could relate to. These were as follows:

  1. Most people genuinely want to do the right thing. Even if they are uncertain how to go about it, the average person really does wish to be courteous and helpful. Try to give them the benefit of the doubt at all times. Go at their pace, and do everything possible to make people feel comfortable and relaxed with you.
  2. Make a good first impression. When I interact with someone, it is possible that I am the first transgender person they have ever met and known by name, and not just some random character they may notice in public. I make appropriate eye contact, smile and am polite. These simple things often open up the door to new personal relationships.
  3. Have self-confidence. (This is very different from self-esteem.) Wherever you are, and whatever you may be doing, dress well for your environment, hold your head up, and be engaging, all while respecting the boundaries of others. You have every right to reciprocation, and nothing to be ashamed of.
  4. Stand up to bullying. This does not mean picking fights (see #5 below). When you stand up for yourself, others will stand up for you too. I have learned this lesson many times in life, in unrelated occasions. The one time that I have ever been publicly and blatantly harassed, I faced it, kept composure, and didn’t retaliate. It all backfired terribly on that person, who was deeply humiliated (and ultimately disciplined) as a result.
  5. Be non-confrontational. Don’t force yourself on others, no matter what the situation. Aggressive conduct will lose you the moral high ground, and is not the way to win sympathy or respect.
  6. Don’t complain needlessly. Nobody likes a complainer, and no one should want to acquire a reputation as the proverbial girl who cries “wolf”. If an occasional snub or casual snide comment is made, simply respond in a dignified manner. Only if a consistent pattern of abusive conduct is clearly established should anyone resort to a complaint.
  7. It’s better to be right and lose, than to win and be wrong. This is anathema in our present culture, where “my way or the highway” and “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing” seem to be the prevailing attitudes. But you can’t win every battle, and not every battle is even worth fighting. At the end of the day, it is necessary to be able to look at yourself in the mirror and know you did the right thing, whatever the circumstances and ultimate outcome.
  8. Listen to others. The world is full of people who love hearing the sound of their own voices, and enjoy seeing their words in print. Listeners (and readers) are in short supply. As a result, they stand out and are much appreciated. In addition to simply being polite, you will also learn much more about someone by listening to them, instead of interrupting them with monologues.
  9. Make friends of all types. Don’t live in a hothouse environment. When I came out at work, some of the people who were most supportive were ones whose personal backgrounds, beliefs, etc. had initially led me to expect otherwise. This was a very pleasant surprise to me, and it has led to some much strengthened personal and working relationships.
  10. God loves you. This isn’t emphasized enough. Without getting theological, there’s a reason this is in your life, and it’s not a curse or a punishment. Ask God to help you understand why, and how you may be called to serve others as a result.

After the presentation, the students asked me several thoughtful and respectful questions (huge relief — they actually listened!) that I answered as best as I could. When the mentoring session was over, everyone applauded and overall they seemed to have been receptive to what I had to say, even though like most adolescents they tried not to let their true feelings show. (How I well remember those days!)

I was greatly reassured by the student who was assigned to walk me back to the school entrance desk. She expressed her personal appreciation for my presentation, and for some specific points I had mentioned. I thanked her very much and said I was glad to have been able to offer any support to her and the group.

Later that week, I sent an email and a personal card of thanks to the teacher. I have since made contact with and received a similar expression of interest from my alma mater, which (conditions permitting) I look forward to fulfilling for their own such group in the upcoming academic year.

As someone who would never previously have thought of herself as a mentor, I found it to be a very fulfilling experience. I can only imagine how my own life might have been different, had I at their age (or my parents and teachers) received the opportunity to witness and engage with someone like me living an open and well-adjusted life in my own backyard. Perhaps I would have been inspired to take chances expressing myself earlier, instead of remaining largely hidden away until my 30s.

If along the way the people I encounter are able to better understand or relate to someone in their own life who may be in similar circumstances, then I would feel like I had served them well. Hopefully over time, I will be able to look back and see some evidence to that effect!

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Category: Transgender Opinion


About the Author ()

I am a project management professional in the greater Philadelphia area. I enjoy travel, domestic arts, reading and gardening. I am an active member of several ladies groups. I am a fan of 1970s & 80s hard rock, do not own a cell phone, and still have my high school football varsity letterman's jacket in my closet.

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