Last weekend, I found myself in an unfortunate predicament. An old friend from college who I had not seen (and barely spoken to) in nearly a year was in town and wanted to meet up. He and his wife had made a day trip to meet and catch up, without checking with me beforehand. This would have been irritating enough, but he and his wife are also incredibly transphobic. They were not aware of my transition and so this put me in an awkward position. I lied and told them I already had plans to get out of meeting up with them, which they accepted, before telling me they would be back in two weeks. At this point I didn’t see much other choice and came out to my friend over text, assuming that would be the end of it. I assumed wrong.
An important detail is that my friend and his wife are extremely religious and this is the basis of their transphobia. We had all attended the same ultra-conservative Christian college (in my defense, I did not choose the college I attended). Knowing my friend, I had honestly expected to never hear from him again after coming out however, I was wrong. A few hours later, he responded and the conversations that followed were a lot. He had a lot of very personal questions, largely focused on what led me to transition. My answers only led to more questions and while he was respectful the entire time, he couldn’t seem to accept my transition. At one point, he directly stated that he thought I had made a mistake and that I must have misinterpreted God’s will if I thought what I was doing was right. The conversation devolved into a theological one (an area I excel in) and ended much more amicably than I had anticipated. I don’t think I have changed his mind, but I have certainly forced him to at least face his prejudices.
There were several points during my conversation with my friend where I seriously considered just ending the conversation. I didn’t know if it was worth engaging with him anymore. He was respectful the entire conversation, but being so open and honest was mentally and emotionally exhausting. It is hard to have to defend the validity of your own identity. But on the other hand, if I don’t educate people, who will? For most people, including my friend, I am the only trans person they have ever met (that they are aware of). I have the opportunity to educate people on what it means to be trans and on trans issues. I might be the only person who can answer questions they have about trans people. Educating people on trans issues is exhausting, but if I don’t talk to the people in my life, who will?
I struggle with this duality a lot. I feel like I need to be willing to answer questions or discuss trans topics with people, because if I don’t educate people who will? But on the other hand, it is incredibly exhausting to do so and often requires a level of openness and vulnerability that I find uncomfortable. And I don’t even know if it works. Does educating people even matter? Does knowing more change their beliefs at all? I don’t know for certain, but I have to believe that it does. I personally need to believe that people can learn, that bigotry and ignorance can be beaten, at least at the personal level. I just hope that it is actually true.