of—being ineffective and foolish.”
- ANNE LAMOTT
Ugh, I swore up and down that I was not going to write about this.
As I was winding down last night, I caught wind that a favorite author of mine had apparently used her Twitter account to express fatigue with the very public gender transition of an individual once known for athletic prowess but now in the common consciousness principally through association with a media accident I refer to, collectively, as “the K Hole”. You may gather from this moniker what you will any insight about my attitude towards same.
This was problematic for me, not because of her disdain for the media circus which has ensued, but because — by not respecting that individual’s choice to adopt a change of pronoun through the omission of one letter — my author suggested an uncharacteristic callousness toward the gender identity issue as a whole that shines a new, somewhat distressed lens on her writings about grace and compassion.
I don’t know what drove that; it may have been the fact that this individual has overshared TMI about plans to Keep It and assure us (did I seem worried?) that there would be no accompanying change in sexual orientation. Or maybe it was the plasticine Photo Spread, or possibly the unwavering support for people and institutions which do their best to keep others on that same road of transition, who do not share the same safety net of money and prestige, in places of poverty and violence.
Or maybe my author was just plain tired. Anybody who reads her stuff knows she makes no claim to be perfect. She has been candid about some pretty self-destructive choices along the way, and the ongoing struggle to surrender control, be present, and generally see past others’ warts (and her own) to the God-loved person inside who really is trying hir hardest. She wasn’t issued a manual on how to respond to a seemingly camera-hungry public figure who has suddenly stood our perceptions on their collective ear.
Similarly, no such manual exists for undergoing profound identity change, post middle-age, while bearing media scrutiny and a lifetime’s assumptions about gender and sexuality on your back, many of them obtained in the oh-so-forward-leaning world of athletics.
That said, having this experience does not magically make one above reproach. Narcissism is still narcissism, and publicly voting against one’s own interests (or those of the people who share your gender identity but don’t share your privilege) is still going to earn you criticism. On the flip, if you set yourself up as a coach for others to find kindness and mercy, and then say something completely tone-deaf, you can expect to be called out on it. Possibly by your own kid.
What I know… what we fought for… is that this individual has the right to explore these things, maybe mess up, shape-shift, and sort out how to be seen and known. We can wish it didn’t have to unfold in lurid detail in the tabloids, and we don’t have to attach any bravery or heroics that aren’t warranted (try this as a poor, inner-city person of color and get back to me!). But how we respond to who one person becomes should be based on hir choices alone, and not reflect our understanding, or path to one, of what it means to have or change a gender identity.
The next Tweet in my feed, offering a completely unrelated story about Afghanistan, began with a quote:
“Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful, struggle for a new world”
THE REV. DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.
So that’s where we are: bitter and beautiful, trying to live with each other, getting it horribly wrong sometimes. Everyone we encounter has something to teach us; it’s harder with some than others to know what that is, but — in those cases — it seems to be something we need to know about ourselves.