Transition has brought with it a lot of new experiences; or perhaps more accurately a new way of experiencing familiar things. For the last six months since going full time I’ve experienced a lot of those familiar firsts: going clothes shopping, or to the symphony, or even to the restroom.
When it comes to familiar firsts though, the thing that always makes me the most nervous, and excited, and hopeful all at the same time is when I see a friend for the “first time” again.
It’s really interesting for me the different reactions people have when we get together and we are experiencing each other for the first time with me being female. There’s a variety of responses from laughter and hugs, or a minute or two of awkward conversation that quickly dissipates, or exclamations of happy disbelief and compliments about what I’m wearing. I never know what to expect, but every single episode no matter how it starts quickly feels “normal” within a few minutes of conversation and people see it’s still me. A couple times people even said they felt more comfortable with me as a woman.
During a lifetime, it’s said that the typical human being only has a handful of truly close intimate friends; you know the people that you never really lose contact with even when you’re separated by time or distance. This is certainly the case with me.
Of all the new encounters with people from my past, the ones that I meet with the most anticipation is when I see one of these close friends for the first time again. I’ve had the chance to see a couple of these types of friends already and each of these experiences carries with it a unique history and a beautiful story of reunion, but recently I experienced it again and wanted to share what it felt like.
There are pictures of my friend and I scattered among various digital picture folders on my computer, and even more of them in various boxes labeled “photos” somewhere in either my garage or my parents house. Some of these pictures are of the two of us in groups, but there are quite a few of them of just the two of us hanging out somewhere. Somewhere there’s the time we went to the flea market together to practice our Spanish, one of the time we went on a 20 mile backpacking trip and I (to my great discomfort) wore “Vans” sneakers and lugged a massive four person tent, there are pictures of us in high school, at various points in college, and not least of which is of me standing next to him in a tuxedo as best man in his wedding – that one has been framed in my living room for years. Of course there are recent ones too. Clearly, we’ve been through much together in life, and I consider him among my closest friends.
When the call came in that he was going to be in the area with his wife and their new baby to see family I was of course really excited. I hadn’t seen him or his wife since coming out to the two of them earlier in the year and although we have kept in touch over the phone through transition I hadn’t seen either of them since they had their baby or since I went full time.
We got it all planned. They would stay with us for one night so we’d get a chance to see the baby and spend time together.
A couple months later the day finally arrived. They texted that they were on their way over and would be at our place soon. My heart rate went up.
The doorbell rang and for the next few minutes we entered one of those overwhelming (and happy) moments that happen when the family arrives at the front door for Thanksgiving or something like that. You know the whole luggage coming in, new babies with wide eyes watching all the commotion and adults swoon over them, hugs, smiles, etc.
When we were all inside, the luggage by the door, we finally had a chance to talk a little. My friend gave me a big hug, told me how nice it was to see me again, and told me that I looked really good. After we had all hugged, and sufficiently cooed over their absolutely adorable baby, we settled in for our time together.
Those two days were filled with much laughter and reminiscing. With time playing with and holding the baby, and a couple great meals together. After a few hours both my friend and his wife commented how surprisingly normal it felt to be with us (not that they had expected it to be abnormal, but more that none of us knew exactly what to expect.) That while they had only thought of me as a guy before, that I seemed totally natural as a girl.
The next morning brought with it packing for the return flight home, more conversation over breakfast, and just before they left a chance to take some pictures together. As we were setting up the camera and getting ready for the picture I was thinking about how much had changed since the last time we took a picture together. I think the last one we had together was the two of us standing on a pier by his house with a big pelican bird perched beside us. I was so scared that thing was going to bite off my ear; but I digress.
Finally the moment came for the picture. As the two of us got into position flashes of some of these other pictures the two of us had taken in years past came across my mind. Flashes of all the times we’ve stood next to each other exactly as we were right then. Of how much our lives had changed between each of the pictures taken; especially this one. And how even though our relationship had seen so much change, and the addition of life partners, kids, time, distance, career, and now gender – how here we still were taking these pictures together.
The photographer announced she was ready. My friend reached behind me, put his arm around my waist appropriately and pulled me close. We smiled; me perhaps a little bigger than in the past.
A new picture now joins the still growing collection of snapshots that chronicle our life journey together in friendship. Although it might be tempting to look at this series of snapshots and comment on how much things have changed, I think the more amazing thing is how much is the same.
No matter the backdrop it’s still the same two spirits in those pictures pausing together to create a memory. As different as things may look on the surface, ultimately nothing has changed on the inside.
This is the value of friendship to me; it’s more than hope. It’s the expectation that the people you have in life will always be by your side because you know they see you for who you are.