Thursday, May 17, 2012

Building Transgender Awareness in My Community

Guest Post by Kelly from Saranac Lake, NY

Christopher Argyros, Esq., the Transgender Rights Organizer from the Empire State Pride Agenda and his lovely girlfriend Laura, came from Albany to Saranac Lake to speak at the Adirondack Unitarian Universalist service which centered on transgender acceptance.  This was the first time I have ever attended a Unitarian Universalist service. 

I arrived about ten minutes prior to the start of the service, very nervous as I know several of the “UU” members; they, however, do not know of my alter persona. I sat where I thought the back row would be on the end seat. As more and more people strolled into the room, it was clear more seating was in order. I was no longer in the back, nor on the end but right in the middle of the congregation!

Suddenly I looked up and there was a woman I had worked very closely with for seven years. She did not seem to recognize me or pay any special attention, but was sitting a couple seats down from me. One big sigh of relief! As the service began, there were several people who know me from my “other life.” However, none recognized me, which was great.  At the opening of the service, during the announcement and welcoming segment, any new person attending is invited to stand, say hello and be welcomed. Well, you know I wanted no part of that; however, a woman from the congregation I know from our monthly LGBT dinners came over, placed her hands on my shoulders to announce to the group her friend Kelly was here today! Oh NO!  Again no issues or problems. Another very big sigh of relief!  I do have to admit being a bit nervous as both my legs shook a bit through the initial part of the service.

The speaker, Christopher Argyros, is a very nice young gentleman.  As he began his speech, I wondered, other than working for the Empire State Pride Agenda, what actual first-hand experience he hand.  Christopher began by talking about a woman, Alberta Lucille Hart, back in the early part of the last century who became a doctor and then transitioned to become the first female-to-male transsexual in the United States.  It was quite interesting hearing the story of his life, the obstacles, hardships and discrimination he had to face. Yet he was true to himself, persevered and was quite successful. 

Next, Christopher spoke about how in many Native American cultures transgender people where held in high honor and respect. They played a very vital role in the culture and daily lives of their people.  As Christopher pointed out, this can be found in many cultures throughout the word, including in Africa, Asia, and South America, not only in today’s society but throughout history dating back to the Greek gods themselves.  What came as a complete surprise was that, as he was talking, it became clear the reason Christopher chose to open with the story of Dr. Alan Hart was that he followed a very similar journey to become the handsome young gentleman he is today. Needless to say I was so impressed!

After the main service, there was a very enjoyable “coffee hour” were members mingled and chatted among themselves.  I chatted with several members of “UU” Community. As the day was Mothers Day, one of the members brought roses to hand out to the mothers and women of the community. I was so happy when I was also presented with a lovely long-stemmed red rose.  As I said previously, there were several people in attendance who were quite familiar with my “other self” but none seemed to recognize me!  How wonderful to be able to mingle freely! After the “coffee hour,” Christopher led an hour-long discussion group for those interested in staying, on transgender issues in New York State.  There was quite a lively discussion focusing on the many issues and discrimination transgender people still face today as well as how New York State representative government is too conservative to pass legislation guaranteeing equal rights for all residents.

After the discussion group finished, Christopher and Laura invited me to join them for lunch at one of our many well-known local restaurants. Living in such a small community for as long as I have, there are risks in being out when you are likely to run into people you’ve know for many years. After such a wonderful time with Christopher and Laura for the past two hours and given the success I enjoyed at the UU gathering, I happily agreed to join them.  Christopher and Laura are such a delightful young couple, very personable and smart. In the restaurant we sat getting to know each other and chatting about life here in the North County, what we do for entertainment, recreation and what life was like so far north. They chatted about their life in Albany, skiing, tending their gardens.

There was an empty table next to us, which given the reputation of the eatery was quickly filled.  The main issue was the couple and their young son who sat down were my neighbors from across the street!  YIKES… Now what? As I sat directly across from them what could I do…. the answer was simple… NOTHING! Christopher, Laura and I continued chatting and eating our lunch.  Every so often, “Brandy” (the wife) would look over to our table, much as one might glance around any restaurant looking to see who might be in attendance.  At one point she strolled from their table, down the aisle to the counter, rather than returning to her table, she came up to ours, bent down between Christopher who was seated to my right and myself to whisper in my ear, “you look wonderful!”  

BUSTED!!! She was so supportive.  “Brandy” again whispered “you look so beautiful, I can’t believe it!”  I whispered back that I at that point I was so nervous and scared.  She said don’t worry about a thing; she “was so happy for me.” As she returned to her seat I informed my dining companions as to what had just taken place. They were very supportive as well as happy and relieved all had gone so well. After we finished our lunch and got up to leave, I walked over to their table both to show off my outfit and so they could see the full image.  They were very impressed. As we exited the restaurant, Christopher, Laura and I gave our hugs and said our “goodbyes.”

Later that same afternoon, I called over to my neighbor’s house and “Brandy” answered the phone. I told her I guess I have a bit of explaining to do. I told her this is the way I’ve always been.  She again was so supportive saying “you need to be able to be who you are.” Later in the conversation she said they had other friends who were likewise transgender so it was no big thing for them. “Brandy” inquired as to my name, which I gave. Then I invited her and her husband to come over some evening to a glass or two of wine to meet their “new neighbor.” This should make for an interesting evening of conversation.

I have often said, “The hardest door to get out of is your own front door.” Now that my secret is out to one set of neighbors, it will be that much easier to walk out my own front door.
All in all it was a very positive day, one I will remember for some time to come.

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