This fall has given me the chance to do a little travel. With the exception of spending the weekend with my family in Oregon this last May, I haven’t really traveled much since going full time in April, and certainly not since I came out publicly in July. In October that changed as Samantha and I took a road trip together to visit my family in Northern California, and then later in the month when I went to New York City to speak to two small groups there and see friends.
We had been planning our road trip to California for months. Samantha and I both really like taking road trips, so we had put a lot of positive energy into this one. Although there were unexpected obstacles to us getting started on time, we finally hit the road and before we knew it were hanging out with family.
This trip had a dual purpose for me personally. Not only had it been a while since we had seen my parents and brother, but it also was a chance for me to go back to my hometown and see a few friends, and to experience where I grew up, but now as my true self. This meant that I was a little more excited, and a little more nervous about making the trip this time.
Anyone who has traveled back to their hometown after being away for a while will know the familiar sense of being aware of how much things have changed (for you, for your hometown) and yet how much is the same. I experience this every time I go back to visit my parents; this time especially so.
Our week there was filled with visiting some of our favorite spots: the restaurants from my younger years and where Samantha and I had later gone in college while we were dating, driving familiar roads dotted with wineries along the twisty mountain roads, and of course visiting friends. It was wonderful.
There was more we wanted to do, and more friends we wanted to see – especially this time. I think there’s a kind of desire to reconnect and see if the relationship is the same or different. I mean, one of the things that I’ve seen a lot of people worry about is how transition will impact my friendship with them. And it’s true, I suppose there is some adjustment. Some struggle with this more than others.
We met with a few friends from college days, bumped into a few others from the community, a former boss, visited with a couple former college professors, and I was able to meet some current students at my alma mater. It was as it always is; it’s different for a couple minutes as people get used to the idea of me being a girl, and then after that it’s back to talking about old times, or catching up on what’s going on. It’s basically normal and I think there’s even a sense of relief; people sometimes seem somewhat relieved that it’s as normal as it is.
One of the more nervous moments for the week was going to church with my parents. I was raised in a fairly conservative Seventh-day Adventist family, and the church as a denomination is woefully misinformed on LGBTQ issues. I know this because growing up in this denomination we just didn’t talk about this kind of thing, and when we did there was more than disapproval about it – it was “gross”, somehow sinful.
Getting ready for church on Sabbath morning I was quite nervous. I wanted to look nice, but I didn’t want to look “too” nice, you know. I wanted to feel like I was being authentic to who I am now, and yet hopefully not make anyone feel uncomfortable. I tried not to obsess about it too much, but I know that some were probably uncomfortable by me even showing up.
We arrived pretty much on time, and ran into a couple friends before even walking through the front door. They gave me a hug and a warm welcome. On our way into the sanctuary before we even sat down someone stopped us in the aisle and gave me a hug. Within a couple minutes of sitting down, the wife of one of the pastors came and intentionally sat next to us with their kids. Soon enough I wasn’t worried anymore, and I just enjoyed the service with my family.
Visiting New York the following week was like this, too – seeing friends and former colleagues, experiencing the city I called home for eight years for the first time as “me”, as well as meeting new people. Already I’ve got this growing group of new friends who only know me as Madelyn and tell me they can’t imagine me as a guy because it seems so foreign to them.
While I was there I had a few friends confess that they had had a hard time with my coming out letter, and that they couldn’t understand how I could possibly be transgender. But they also really wanted the chance to see me in person, so they made the effort. After spending the day together they expressed how glad they were that we had gotten together; that they now saw what they didn’t see before, and that the relationship felt natural for them.
Overwhelmingly going back to my old stomping grounds has been a really beautiful experience. I’ve been reminded of how many good people I have in my life, both old and new. In moments like these where I’m reconnected to people from my past I have a tendency to focus on worrying about how they’ll see me, and whether or not they’ll still want to be friends; about not wanting to make them uncomfortable. But I’ve also realized that I’ve done a lot of projection, and a lot of worrying for naught.
In the same way that I think some people are nervous about meeting me again, and are surprised at how wrong they were about what it’s like to have a transsexual friend, I, too, have been wrong about my own expectations. I’ve always been very worried about losing most of my relationships, and to be honest, when I came out I had finally gotten to the point where I had accepted that might happen – but I knew no other way. The reality is that I’ve had quite the opposite experience. It’s true, I’ve lost contact with some – and transition hasn’t been a bed of roses for me by any stretch of the imagination. But overall I’ve been really wrong about what people around me are capable of.
I’ve spent most of my life worrying about the judgement I’d experience at the hands (and tongues) of others, and all the while I didn’t even see that in my worry I was judging them unfairly. I assumed people were so much less capable of compassion and authenticity than they actually are. Or maybe I just looked to some of the less compassionate and less authentic moments in my own life and assumed this is what I deserved from them.
Despite bumps in the road this is overwhelmingly not what I got. As it turns out I, too, have unexpectedly had my fears decimated through the authenticity and love of others.