She Is Therefore I Am
written by Shari Staten
edited by LA Jamison
Shari Staten is not only a volunteer content editor but will be contributing as well. She has been a close friend for well over 10 years. You can read more about her on the "about" page. She is educated and street smart with a big heart and a great writer that I think many of you will come to enjoy a lot.
I see the world through many eyes that share the same brain. My consciousness evolves as my life continues to splinter into several of the infinite labels American culture uses to define and...well...separate its people. My ever changing circumstances provoke the observer in me. I have become less rigid and judgmental over time and far more compassionate than the quasi bleeding-heart-liberal of Birkenstock fame. I seem to be surrounded by them these days.
I moved to Portland, Oregon from Southeast Michigan three years ago. I’m still feeling the aftershock from the fault line that ran its fingers through my life thereby forcing me to rebuild. One of the first thing I noticed upon moving to Portland was the visibility of the LBGTQ community. The comparison in this between Portland and Detroit is like comparing dawn and high noon. More than distance separates the two cities. As a heterosexual woman on a quest for enlightenment I seek to learn from anyone with a life lesson, whether they know they’re teaching or not, for our riches may very well lie in hidden treasure. This edited entry, my first on GotWords was taken from my soon-to-be dismantled and restructured blog themscloset.com originally posted 11/4/14. “Dorothy, we’re not in Kansas anymore.” Pun intended.
I see her walking around my neighborhood from time to time. She always seems to have this tentative look on her face as if she is unsure of something. I can tell, if I am correct in reading the expression, she is not unsure of herself. She knows who she is. Her attire is neat, sometimes hip and always polished to the best of her budget. Her hair is always in a ponytail and her face is natural, free from excessive make-up and gaudy attempts at catering to the eye of a fickle population. I remember the first time I saw her. She was pressing up the elevated street where I live, approaching the front door of my apartment building and she was wearing these dark denim jeans embellished with the coolest floral embroidery down the sides of both legs. I don't remember what kind of top she had on. The jeans had me at "hello." I rushed up to her, as best a person unable to run walking with a cane could and shouted, "I love your jeans." At this point, I noticed she was a few inches shorter than I, but she smiled, said. "thank you," passed my building's front door, rounded the corner and was on her way to wherever. I try to say "hello" or offer a compliment when I see her. I don't know why I am compelled to do this. On second thought, maybe I do.
She is clearly transgender. Her complexion is so perfect it would make a supermodel envious. Her face, though smooth and free of even a five-o'clock shadow of any kind remains a bit chiseled. Her frame is broad but her walk is feminine and I dissect each time I see her why I perceive a negative vibe of uncertainty. She was born in the wrong body. The transformation is not as simple as outpatient surgery. There is a lengthy process that can last for years. Psych evals. Estrogen. Finding financing for the big chop and searching for a safe, cost-effective surgeon. Being categorized as a male because she is anatomically so. Not being recognized as who she is because, by society's standards, her gender was assigned at birth, although she cannot identify with such masculine societal norms. Does she use the male restroom or the female restroom? She knows she's a woman. She's clearly living as a woman. She probably won't feel complete until she is all woman. This is probably something she has wanted her whole life and now that she is finally on the road to complete transformation it can't happen fast enough while, at the same time, there are so many hurdles to jump. Who knows if she will make it over each one, but she needs to to meet her goal. Could this be the tentative expression I see? Or maybe it's the "feedback" she gets when she is out and about.
No doubt, Portland, OR. is a progressive city. In my first three months of living here, I saw over a dozen transgender out doing everyday things: catching buses, drug store shopping for the best ibuprofen pain-reliever, shopping at the Goodwill; everyday people living everyday lives. However, as progressive as this city is as a whole, there are still dead beats (dare I say, asses?) that have nothing better to do than to harass and verbally strong arm what they consider to be weak. Those individuals, ones that can't see far beyond themselves, may go so far as to physically harm what they don't understand. I would not be surprised if she has endured all of these things in mass quantities before and during her transition.
I guess I empathize with her to a degree and respect her balls, another pun intended. I know what it feels like to be a square peg trying to fit in a round hole. I know what it feels like to be a loner, not out of choice but out of necessity. I know what it feels like to not fit in, all the while, being confident of who you are and letting nothing and no one stand in the way of what you know to be true. She is all woman, and damn if someone tries to convince her otherwise. I, on the other hand, know who I am and have confidence my personal history has created a pretty well-rounded individual. My trepidation lies in what surrounds me. I am often misjudged and/or underestimated. My level of integrity and loyalty are often wrongly defined by some and I find myself in constant mini-battles with myself trying to discern if expending the energy even thinking about proving those individuals different is a waste. Being a black, educated, disabled woman, transplanted from another region of this country, living on a fixed income in a city where it's like a scavenger hunt at times to find someone that looks like me is another similarity. Perhaps this is why I feel compelled to reach out to her. Maybe I'm treating her like I would like to be treated. Maybe I'm hoping someone will reach out to me. In any case, what I observe most about her is her courage. I have no idea what it feels like to walk in her shoes and the funny thing? This whole Multiple Sclerosis “courage” thing is a bit played out for me. I mean, after 16 years if I don't have courage enough not to need to be reminded that I need it every other day then my ass deserves to be in a wheelchair. For me, the courage I need to be reminded of is against the armies of insecurity and ignorance I face on a daily basis. So, when I see her, I borrow from her. Her fortitude in the face of adversity. Her determined gait in the constant face of uncertainty. Her sureness in the face of shallowness. Everyday, in one way or another, she presses up an incline of some sort on her stroll from point A to point B. She keeps pressing. So will I.
I saw her again yesterday at the grocery store wearing a mint green separates ensemble complete with skirt and over-the-shoulder sweater. As I passed her, I looked her in the eye and said, "That color looks good on you," and well, it did. Her face lit up a bit and she replied, "Oh, thank you!" A grin ripped her chiseled but smooth face and tentative expression. She was heading toward produce. I went to get fat-free yogurt. The moral of this rant? Be courageous. Be who you are. The moment you change who you are for anyone is the moment you deprive the world of the gift you are intended to be.