"Her name was Steven" was broadcast Sunday night on CNN, and I watched in order to try to understand transgender people better. This is the story: the man once known as Steven Stanton, now legally Susan Stanton, used to be a successful public figure - the city manager for Largo, Florida - and when she decided to change her public sexual identity, was fired. The man who was once respected and well-thought-of, instantly was questioned and quickly let go once she came forward, as she moved toward the reconciliation of her inner, formerly hidden, sexual identity.
There still is so much I need to learn, but I'm trying. Understanding the day-to-day issues that a trans-person goes through is like taking off blinders and looking at a bigger picture. Susan's story, brought forward with respect, is helping me and others to understand.
According to the American Psychological Association,
"transgender is an umbrella term used to describe people whose gender identity (sense of themselves as male or female) or gender expression differs from that usually associated with their birth sex. Many transgender people live part-time or full-time as members of the other gender. Broadly speaking, anyone whose identity, appearance, or behavior falls outside of conventional gender norms can be described as transgender. However, not everyone whose appearance or behavior is gender-atypical will identify as a transgender person."
Of course I wondered what this family went through, and I wish I could talk to Susan's former wife, Donna. I sure wondered what SHE has been through, emotionally, and just about every way, since her former husband transitioned. If she were reading this, I wonder what I could do or say that would let her know that her story is important, too? I hope Donna is getting to tell her story in her own way, and that she feels like she's understood and supported. (You can hear Donna in her own words on the post about the program here. Look along the left side of the article for audio posts.)
It resonated with me that Susan's love for Donna never changed. Susan said, "I am still wearing my wedding band. ... We speak frequently, I still love her as much as I did before," which is nearly exactly how I talk about my former husband (who came out as gay).
As I listened and watched I was struck by similarities of Susan's confrontations with others and with herself. The following quotes sounded exactly the same as things that either Ray or I have said...
I thought if I just explained it well enough...[others would understand]
What brought me pleasure, brought her pain...
This is not a choice. No one does this because they think it is a good thing to do. It's done to preserve life.
The vulnerability of Susan Stanton to share all that she's been experiencing is courageous and brave. The process of transitioning has taken about two years, and she has now been able to continue her career as a city planner. Her son, Travis, has remained close with "Dad," and the love the two share is evident.
I ask myself now if I've been welcoming to others in the past...those whose "gender expression" didn't conform with what I expected them to be. I have to be very honest...years ago I wouldn't have known what to do with "Susans". Even though I've gotten to know some transgender people, I'm still learning and I have to keep asking questions and listening for answers. No matter how I thought in the past, I know these days that I want to show acceptance, affirmation and support for people like Susan, like Donna, and like their family, because it is the right thing to do. I hope Susan knows that sharing this very personal story in such a public way is helping to enlighten the rest of us.