A prejudice regretted
I do not remember the woman’s name.
I only met her once, and I spent a relatively short amount of time with her. I remember that she was funny, and instantly likeable. She would have been one of those patients who would make me look forward to the appointment if I saw her name on my schedule. She was young (she would have to have been, to be coming to my clinic), and she was very, very beautiful.
She was there for her shot, and I was the only provider on hand at the time to administer it. I am grateful for the happenstance.
The clinic where I was working had a small population of transsexual patients who came in for hormone injections. When I was hired there, this was mentioned to me, and I was asked if I’d feel comfortable delivering that kind of care if one or two of those patients were assigned to me. Perhaps it would seem obvious that I would have said yes.
I regret that I said no.
It fascinates me, in retrospect, to see how pernicious and tenacious even the vestiges of a bigoted education can be. Even though I had long ago begun to rid myself of the ugly and poisonous things I’d been taught growing up about homosexuals, a lengthy and difficult process to be sure, I still couldn’t shake the sense that there was something wrong with transsexuals. That God did not mistakenly put people in the wrong kind of bodies. And yes, even though I would flatly reject that kind of thinking to justify any other kind of prejudice, there in my own heart it sat.
So I had said no. I did not feel comfortable being assigned a transsexual patient or two who would see me regularly for hormone injections. It wasn’t a difficult prejudice to accommodate, as the patients were few and there was one doctor in the clinic would saw most of them anyway.
But that day this particular patient had come in for her shot, and there was nobody else available to write the order.
I do not know what would have happened if I had refused. But it never really occurred to me to do so. I remember a sense of unhappiness at finding myself in that position, but in the face of a real patient needing real treatment, my discomfort was a tissue-thin and easily-discarded barrier to my giving it.
And so I went in to see her. This charming and delightful young woman who I instantly liked.
I don’t know quite what I was expecting. Perhaps a variation on the drag queen theme, a tarted-up man playing at being a woman, all artifice and arch affectation. Some obvious wrongness, maybe. Some tell that there was a disconnect between what one saw and the underlying reality.
I saw no such thing. What I saw was a woman, one who seemed no different from any of the thousands of women I’d met in my life. One who, if she’d been there for birth control pills, I’d never have thought twice about. Who, if she caught your eye on the street, would do so only because she was gorgeous.
With that, my prejudice was revealed to me for what it was, and what all prejudice is — a baseless judgment against people of whom I knew nothing.
On my recent vacation, I spent time with some good friends. Our conversation turned to anti-gay bias, and how often it is meeting an openly gay or lesbian person that finally changes a person’s mind, that coming out of the closet has the salubrious effect of making people confront their bigotry, often for the better. My friend argued that it shouldn’t take that kind of personal relationship for people to abandon homophobia, and I told her that maybe it shouldn’t but that doesn’t change the fact that often it is.
I am truly sorry to say that’s what it took for me to confront and rethink my own bigotry.
Since that time I’ve met several other transsexual men and women, and it would have been no less ridiculous in each case for me to have told them that they weren’t really men or women. With the Chelsea Manning story being so much in the news recently, I am hopeful that the attention will move the entire country a little bit closer to understanding transsexual people. But I am all too aware that even within the LGBT community, there are lots of us who claim one of those first three letters who don’t feel comfortable embracing those who claim the last one. As is so often and lamentably the case, the experience of being prejudiced against doesn’t confer a particularly protective effect against being prejudiced one’s self.
I am grateful for the patient whose name I don’t remember for the privilege of taking care of her, albeit briefly. I am ashamed and embarrassed to have ever expressed unwillingness to give hormone treatments to patients like her, and am the poorer for all the missed chances I may have had to spend time with her beforehand. She would have brightened up who knows how many of my days. But meet her I finally did, and it helped me get rid of some stupid and useless baggage of my own.
It will be a better world when all of us can be rid of it, and it will take less for other people than it did for me to realize it.