In the mid-’90s, I had a relative visit me at my home in Raleigh, N.C. on her way up to Washington D.C. We’d known for years that she was gay. But on that occasion, she started dropping hints to me regarding her gender.
At the time I reacted with shock, though I did not show this person such. But I could not help but imagine scenes from Jerry Springer and Rocky Horror. It skeeved me out. I was skeeved.
Today, that person is my uncle.
I witnessed his transition and got to know a bunch of other people in his shoes, too. I got to the point where I got it. Or so I thought. But I still expected gender to be binary.
Later, I met other folks who disabused me of that notion as well; people who approached gender as a fluid notion. I have a long time been a person who says “yes sir” and “yes ma’am,” a habit established as a news editor in rural communities in North Carolina. I realized I was gendering people, so now that courtesy is exercised in fewer situations than before.
That’s where I’ve arrived since the mid-’90s, from feeling skeeved out because someone I cared about even remotely hinted that they felt a different gender identification to now, when I consider that, in the complex human animal, why is it difficult to imagine that something as basically identifying as gender could be a bit more complex than a light switch?
So I watched AM Joy on MSNBC Saturday with keen interest. Joy Reid, the show’s host, has come under fire off late for some seemingly hurtful blog posts in the distant past, posts that don’t always reflect the greatest acceptance of the LBGTQ community. She went so far, she said, as to hire an IT security analyst to be sure she hadn’t been hacked, and she admitted she could not prove as such. It is a good segment to watch, as she had assembled a panel of various leaders in that community and invited them to savage her. They were unanimously supportive, actually.
But I think it goes to show you how far we have come on this, not as far as we can go, but: We live in an America where a certain “F” word has been relegated to the tiny pile of words we consider so offensive they should not even be uttered when one is alone at 3 a.m. We live in an America where equality in marriage is beginning to feel as inevitable as some of us once proclaimed. As one of Reid’s panelists said, it’s not that individuals have moved. Our society has moved. Wholly. Finally. And resolutely.
This past week, my Mom and I thought about her Mom on what would have been her 94th birthday. For many years, my grandmother, who was remarkably progressive for the most part, was a resolute homophobe. I remember one time in a checkout line with her, I picked up a magazine that had Ellen DeGeneris’ photograph on the cover. The scorn she registered for that person was downright tactile. It was as if she’d witnessed her grandson pick up a dead bird. Ellen, she told me, was disgusting.
But even Mrs. Gwynn had come around by the time she left us. Mostly because of the reason many of us do: So-and-so’s son or daughter is. Look. If you are above a certain age and you HAVEN’T “evolved” on what you think or even how you speak about people in the LGBTQ community, shame on yinz. I did. Preznit Obama did. Even my grandma did. It stands to reason that AM Joy Ann Reid has done a bit of that, too.