The coming out stories of allies can create some important learning moments, especially in healthcare settings. Listening to ally stories to understand what they need - and how they can contribute to the work of achieving equality for all - is a great place to start.
I am a woman from a small rural community in Montana. I have been an RN for almost a quarter of a century, the majority of my career spent in Home Health and Hospice Service. In 2006, I was blessed with an assignment to care for a patient named Mishelle. She was a transgender woman. What began as a seven-day professional encounter turned into a four-and-a-half month expedition into identity, gender and unconditional acceptance. I was very curious and bursting with questions, but I didn't want to offend her by being nosy. But she must have sensed my curiosity because she broke the ice by telling me: "If you have the courage to ask, I have the courage to answer." Mishelle became my teacher and I gladly became her student. She gave me books to read and videos to watch. She gave me her journal, typed on an old fashioned typewriter, covering the years 1988 to 1991, filled with her deepest emotions and darkest fears. Reading it, I discovered that her daily existence was filled with pain, rejection, fear and moral questions the likes of which I'd never considered. Mishelle died on August 12, 2006. She died comfortably, with peace in her heart. She knew that she was wholly accepted and loved unconditionally by me and my family. Today, my goal is not only to be a lifelong ally to the trans community but to also share Mishelle's story with anyone and everyone who will listen. My intent is to demonstrate that being transgender has nothing to do with external appearance. It is not about the look, not about the dress, not about a life-style choice, not a fetish and certainly not perverse nor a definition of one's sexuality. My dear friend and teacher was convinced that her choice was to transition or die. She chose to live. She chose to educate and she chose to face her adversities. She chose to love and she chose to forgive.
I don't remember when I first learned that there are people in this world whose sexual attraction is toward members of their own gender. Overcoming prejudice has been a gradual - and fairly late- process for me.In summer camp at age 10 or 11, our young counselor let us know that the very worst thing a boy could grow up to be was "homo." In high-school I had concerns about my adequacy as a male. At the University of California, Berkeley, my first roommate confessed that he was gay, that he liked me, and hoped I liked him in that way too. My response was panic and I moved out. We remained friends, but at a distance. As a pre-med undergraduate I was being gay as a type of illness.By my second year in med-school, from both my classmates and our patients, I learned that being gay could be seen from many different perspectives, and was not necessarily a big deal. After seven years in family practice, I started a three-year psychiatric residency. I was appalled to find that the "Bible" of psychiatry (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of American Psychiatric Society) listed homosexuality as one variety of "psychopathic personality" and was "treatable." Remembering friends and classmates who were gay, I had come to see sexual orientation as much akin to left-handedness or eye color. Any "symptoms of homosexuality" were in fact the result of living in a society that treated them as pariahs. I was happy to see the APA remove homosexuality from the DSM and to see society moving rapidly toward basic civil rights for gays and lesbians. I believe any enlightened person should support full constitutional rights for all people, including the right to marry and establish a family.
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