I am writing this not as an authority on transgender people but as a cishet person who had a close friend who is transgender. I am therefore aware that I am writing from a place of privilege but hope that by speaking out, people will realize that transgender people are much like us and have the same desires, wants and needs we have.
My friend identified as “she” (because she is a woman, and this was how she was introduced whenever we met people outside of our circle who didn’t know her. I wish I could say that life was great for her and that people, including strangers, were kind, but they weren’t. She was beautiful, and I loved her fashion sense and admired her strength because it requires enormous amounts of it to be different in a world that wants you to conform to their idea of what you should be.
It was 1990, and I was pregnant with my first child, who I knew was a girl. I had already chosen her name and was looking forward to having a baby. Unfortunately, my child’s father was an alcoholic, constantly unemployed, and a serial liar and philanderer. I was unemployed as I was fired from my job because I was pregnant. It was very early on in my pregnancy that I met and became friends with her (let’s call her May)- May ran a hairdressing salon, and though you may think that was a “typical” career for transgender people, in those years, she had very few options!
Although quite honestly, she loved doing hair, makeup and anything glamorous even though she was inherently shy. In hindsight, maybe the “shyness” was brought about by peoples’ cruelty and ugliness! During my pregnancy, my hair was probably in the healthiest state it had ever been. She asked me to model some hairstyles, and in return, I would have my hair done every week at no charge. Of course, I said yes, and thus began a bond that strengthened over time. Because I was unemployed, I hardly had food to eat and being in a strange city (not my home town), I never knew many people. When faced with adversity, you tend to ask people for help, but very few people actually do. They understand your situation and will offer sympathy without anything more. In short, I hardly had anyone to turn to for help, and I did not have any money to return home. The plans I had were on hold until I could give birth and find employment.
In the depths of my despair, I sat in a flat with no furniture except a bed and a few kitchen utensils. I was alone, hungry and didn’t know who to turn to, and I was further concerned that I was losing weight due to a lack of food- It was on that particular day that I decided not to walk to the salon to have my hair done (as May and I had arranged) but to sit and try to find solutions to the situation I was in.
Suddenly there was a loud knock at the door, which I ignored, thinking it was the caretaker of the building for the rent. The knocking became even louder, and, irritated at the persistence of the person, on the other side, I flung the door open, ready to tell the person off. There stood May, in her beautiful dress, high heels, all made up and holding her huge bag that always contained so much. “Why are you not at the shop today,” she demanded. “I told you to be there so I can do your hair,” she continued. Before I could answer, she moved into the kitchen, rummaged through my cupboards for plate and told me to sit down on the bed.
She had brought me breakfast, and the smell of it made my stomach rumble even more. May and I had the type of friendship that generally didn’t require many words, but on this day, I received a lecture from her about the weight loss, the “drab” clothes I have been wearing and the fact that I now needed to think about my baby. I listened to her as I ate, thankful that she brought food because I knew she never had much money. She gave me a hug and told me to rest.
From that day onwards, coming to my flat became a routine for her. Every morning she would knock on the door, drop the food and vitamins and tell me to keep the faith. I have no words that could adequately describe my gratitude and love for what she was doing, and I had no way of repaying her. Throughout my pregnancy, I would still go to the salon, she would pamper me, and we would talk about the future and the baby- I was in my 8th month of pregnancy, thinking about what I would owe her once I was financially stable, but May was adamant that she didn’t want to be repaid.
Suddenly, it came to me that though a few other people were there for me during my pregnancy, none of them fussed over me like a mother hen as she did. I wanted to give her something that would “solidify” our friendship and indicate the gratitude and love I felt towards her. A few days before I gave birth, I asked her, what she would name a child if she had one, and she casually dropped a name. I gave birth not long after that day and chose to name my baby the name she gave me. Once I was discharged from the hospital, she came to see the baby and asked for the baby’s name. I told her, and she cried; in fact, she sobbed. She was so grateful and honoured, and I explained why I had chosen the name she gave me.
If I thought I was close to May before, our friendship became even closer after that day. She doted on my baby and would carry the child wherever she went. The bond we had, continued for many years and encompassed my marriage and the birth of my son. My children grew up calling her “Aunt” and never asked questions about her until they were in high school.
The point of this story is to tell everyone that all it requires for everyone in the world to be accepted is tolerance and humanity. I loved May as a sister, and she loved me, and that’s all that is required for us as humans to make the world a better place.
If we lived in an ideal world, there would be no one laughing at her, mocking her, abusing her because she’s “different” but accepting her “in the manner” she would like to be “accepted.” Because we don’t live in an ideal world, it is up to us, as individuals, to make the changes necessary for our world to be more inclusive.