Truth and Consequences
When I was twelve years old, these were some of my truths:
- Being a college graduate was not a life goal, it was a life requirement.
- If you were “on welfare,” you were lazy.
- People who never left their hometown were under achievers.
- Getting anything but an A on a test or a report card was a failure.
- A woman who isn’t employed outside the home isn’t living up to her potential
These weren’t really truths at all.
They were assumptions that I had formed based on a variety of circumstances. Both of my parents were college graduates, both had travelled widely before getting married, and both lived thousands of miles from their hometowns. My mom had always worked at least part time, and much of her identity was wrapped up in her job. My parents’ friends were also transplants from all over the country, and very few lived in the same community where they grew up.
They were also inferences based on my limited life experience. If I applied myself and studied, I was always rewarded with an A. My classmates who lived in public housing and came to school unprepared did poorly in school, and my parents always talked about where my brother and I would go to college not if we would.
They were opinions based on conversations I overheard when a group of adults got together. My young brain still thought that adults who were “successful” knew everything.
And so, I entered my adolescence armed with what I thought were life’s truth and with an attitude that anyone could get A’s, graduate from college, and earn a good salary if they just applied themselves.
That’s how I entered adolescence.
I left adolescence a much different person. I had sometimes done my best and failed anyway. I had been exposed people who had different ideas and different backgrounds but whom I respected. And, maybe most importantly, my simplistic ideas about right and wrong had been challenged by people who were smarter and more experienced than I was. My truths hadn’t been rooted in reality but in a warped sense of judgement that people who weren’t like me or my family were in the wrong.
On Wednesday, I was reminded about the importance of not only admitting you have been wrong, misinformed or just plain ignorant but of also being willing to change.
I was having a conversation with an acquaintance whose adult child had recently come out as transgender. We were talking about the challenge of accepting and loving our children while still trying to grasp the reality of who they are. We talked about how, when we were younger, our only exposure to people who were transgender was through pop culture when it was generally used as a device to generate humor. My most vivid memory is of the Bud Light guys who dressed up like women so they could get drink deals during ladies night at the local bar.
What we didn’t talk about was the vitriol, blame, and hate that was currently circulating on social media. Only two days earlier, an individual who was raised as a female and had recently started identifying as a male killed six people at a Christian school in Nashville Tennessee. This fact allowed judgmental, narrow-minded people with a reason to blame the transgender community. “It’s not about guns,” they screamed. “It’s about mental illness and a lack of morals.”
Last time I checked, a lot of very mentally healthy people are transgender. In fact, making the change has greatly improved their mental health. Also, the fact that I was born female and identify as female has absolutely nothing to do with my morals. Morals are about how we treat and provide positive opportunities for other people. That’s it. It’s that simple. And yet, for many people it’s not. They hold on tightly to what they know to be true: transgender people are sick, drag queens are a danger to children, and exposing young students to a statue of a naked man will create lasting damage to their psyche.
I know those aren’t truths at all. They are simply consequences of being misinformed and fearful of something that’s difficult for many to understand. It’s about being resistant to change and growth. It’s about thinking that the way you live and the choices you make are the best way to live rather than just one way to live.
I admit I get angry when I see and hear narrow-minded people making hateful comments about others’ sexual orientation, or gender identity. I struggle at not lashing back and saying “these are real people you are talking about. They are someone’s child, someone’s sibling, someone’s friend. You are the one with something morally wrong.” And then I remember who I used to be and that people can grow, change, and learn to accept our differences.
If I can change, so can others.
It’s a truth I have to hold on to tightly.