Hopkins
Hopkins

Earlier this month, my Queen Anne book club, Vinos Libros, met to discuss Queen Anne author Laurie Frankel’s book, “This Is How It Always Is.”

I have never been much of a joiner or a club person, eschewing sororities in college and resisting obligations that would further control or restrict the snippets of freedom I had as a working mother. But this book club has opened my eyes not only to books I may never have read, but also to conversations with neighbors and friends I would not otherwise have had.

“Do you actually talk about the books?” many ask when the topic arises. Yes! We do! We are very strict about it. After a brief social time we gather and get down to it.

This month’s book pick reminded me yet again why I love my book group.

In her book, Frankel tackles the topic of transgender people through her story of a fictional family of five sons, the youngest of whom prefers girls’ clothing and activities as early as toddlerhood. His parents wonder if it is a phase. His brothers, when they think about it — if they think about it — brush it off as just another quirk in an already quirky family. However, as the years pass and the child begins school, it becomes clear that their son is experiencing true gender dysphoria, the medical terminology for a person who is transgender.

Thus begins the family’s journey toward helping their son find out who he is, and ultimately helping him embrace his/her identity as a female.

When I was in my twenties and living in Greenwich Village, New York, my gay friends struggled for acknowledgment and rights. The gay pride movement was just gaining momentum, and many of us, straight and gay alike, worked to help homosexuality be accepted as normal especially to the religious right and our more conservative parents’ generation.

Now, when we learn that someone is gay, or are invited to or hear about a same-sex marriage, we don’t even bat an eyelash. For today’s lesbian, gay and queer people, far more than in my early adult years, life is thankfully so much easier.

My children’s generation is tackling transgender awareness and acceptance just as we did for the homosexual population. I admit to initially being baffled by the idea of someone going as far as surgery to change genders. With time, the patience of my daughters and their gentle education, and meeting people who have described being born into a body that does not feel like the gender with which they identify, I have come to realize that we must fight to accept and embrace our transgender population as we once did for our gay friends.

When talking to a neighbor recently who said that he did not understand trans people, I said, “But you were born into a body you are comfortable with.” His response was, “No, I wasn’t! I don’t like my body! I’m too skinny!” I gently explained that we are not talking about something that can be changed with diet and exercise. This is actually feeling like you are a different gender than the body you were born with. “Oh,” he said. “Yeah, that would be hard.”

Frankel’s book, which is not autobiographical, although she does have a transgender child, caused us to reveal to one another during our discussion that most of us either know someone or are related to someone who has transitioned. One person wrote a touching email after the meeting regarding her own child’s transgender journey. It is now commonplace to hear about a person transitioning, so much so that, as one member said during the discussion, the reaction is increasingly, “So what?!”

In the book, the mother takes her transgender son/daughter to Thailand where they see many people of indeterminate gender. There is even a Thai word, kathoey, which translates to “ladyboy” for people who are “in between.” And kathoeys have their own restrooms, with the symbol on the door half male and half female. During the Thailand chapters, the book touches on the Buddhist pursuit of the middle way, the path between paths, often harder to find and to walk on than on one of the defined, known paths. How true this must be for our transgender brothers and sisters.

We are living in a time of intolerance, of blatant racism, of polarization over differences in beliefs. Imagine being hated or not tolerated because of the way you were born, the color of your skin, your sexual preference, your religious beliefs, or your gender identity. I have been lucky to be born into a body that “fits” in to acceptable norms, that fits my identity and my comfort level. So, I cannot imagine. But I can try. As we all should.

Irene Panke Hopkins is an essayist, writer and blogger. Find more at irenehopkins.com.