...tell us what the world has been to you in the dark places and in the light...~Toni Morrison, Nobel Prize Lecture, 1993
They sat in the front of the conference room. A panel of transgender individuals telling their stories to a group of therapists, social workers and the like. The panel consisted of an attorney, several advocates who organized support groups in the community, and an individual who worked for the police department. We sat listening, absorbed by what they shared. I leaned forward in my chair. In all of their stories, I got the impression that they experienced a sense of being unmasked when they felt heard. Seen.
I thought about the impact of their narratives for me. I have transgender persons on my caseload. Sometimes I have felt terrified in working with them, knowing I was ignorant regarding so many of the issues they struggled with. Using the wrong pronouns. Being overly clinical, trying to hide my discomfort. And I'm the one with privilige. I am white. I have a car and don't have to worry about transportation. I have an ID with "F". I've never questioned my gender. I have an education. I have money to buy organic foods. I have good credit. I have a family who supports me. I can use the women's restroom without a second thought.
I learned from the panel that most transgender individuals avoid places like my worksite, even though they may need substance use treatment. They've had bad experiences with helping professionals. I can relate. Who would want to return to a medical practice who dismissed or judged? I've had this happen to me, and I never went back. And I didn't look "weird," in the midst of change from woman to man or man to woman. I could check the box that said "female" with no hesitation. I had health insurance and could choose a different provider. I learned that the population most vulnerable to die from HIV/AIDS in the southern part of the United States is transwomen of color. There is a pandemic, and no one is talking about it, not even the medical community.
I think about the transgender individuals I currently work with. Some I knew before the transition, so I've witnessed their changes. And, really, the essence of who they are has not changed. I want to continue closing the gap between them and me, though I know I will never close it totally, for that is the dynamic between client and counselor. I can be a conduit of God's grace and goodness to them. I can offer them a safe space to remove the masks. Several persons on the panel spoke of losing their family support, their faith communities. This has to break the heart of God. The very persons Jesus welcomed were some of the most marginalized in the culture of His time--the prostitutes, the poor, the overlooked, the unheard. And they flocked to Him, because they knew He was good, they knew He would accept them, embrace them. Heal them. Love them. Listen. We are His hands. We are His voice. We are His ears.
Inclusion is the gateway drug to mercy.~Anne Lamott