My husband’s cousin sent me the following image along with a message that said, “Challenge: Work this into a blog post.”
Because of my intense dislike of heights and general distrust of the structural soundness of amusement park rides, my first reaction to the concept of a double-wheeled ferris wheel was one of fear, immediately followed by the question, “Why?” Why would anyone want to build, let alone ride something like that? My response was an out-and-out rejection of that which was beyond my comfort zone.
The timing of Dylan’s email was ironic because the next day, he was the topic of conversation between my two daughters and myself at lunch. The following weekend, we were to travel back to the Midwest for a family reunion. I explained to my girls that Dylan, who had originally been named Elizabeth, was in the process of transforming from a she to a he. Due to the hormones he was taking, I told them, he might have some facial hair and look a little different than before. Most importantly, Dylan preferred us to use the pronouns he and him rather than her and she.
Since we had never previously discussed transgender issues, Emma and Clara had a lot of questions, the biggest one being, “Why?” I explained to them that since I didn’t walk in Dylan’s shoes, that I couldn’t really speak for him as to why, but that this wasn’t a decision Dylan had made lightly. Transgendering was a process that he’d been exploring for almost a decade.
I answered several more of their questions, but they were still puzzled. They were grappling with an idea that was outside of their previous frame of reference. They were struggling with the knee-jerk rejection response that shows up when we are faced with something we don’t understand.
“Listen,” I told them. “I don’t really know why, but I do know that this is something that is important to Dylan. Something he needs to do to make him feel happy and complete.”
This was an idea my girls could understand–the universal need to feel good about who you are. For the next several moments they ate their french fries and sandwiches in silence. I sensed that they were working hard to shift their reaction of confusion to that of acceptance.
After taking a long drink of milk, Clara wiped her mouth and said thoughtfully, “Just because we don’t understand it, doesn’t mean it isn’t okay, right Mom?”
I nodded, wondering to myself where along the way we lose the clear-sighted wisdom of childhood.
“And,” added her older sister, “No matter how Dylan changes her . . . I mean, his . . . outsides, his heart is still the same. He is still the same good person inside and that is what really matters.”
Yes, that is what really matters. The goodness that will always reside within Dylan whether a he or a she.
And just like that, my girls got to the heart of how to navigate the unknown. They took that which made them feel uncertain, and applied a little tolerance and a good dose of love. Instead of hardening their resolve against what they didn’t understand and taking the easy, defensive stance towards the unfamiliar, they broadened their frame of reference to include that which is different from them.
Their response made me think about double-wheeled ferris wheels. I will probably never want to ride one, but if I step aside from my reaction of fear, I can imagine that there are ferris wheel connoisseurs who love the thrill of the next best ride that is bigger and better than any that came before. So who am I to reject that which I don’t understand?
And who are any of us to reject those who are different from us be it how they pray, whom they love, or how they look? What purpose does our fear of difference serve? As my girls pointed out, we don’t really need to get why, we only need to remember that whatever makes someone different from us is only one aspect of who they are. It doesn’t necessarily define them, and it most certainly doesn’t define a human heart.
As I paid the check, I asked my girls, if they had any more questions or thoughts. Emma knitted her brow and nodded.
I took a deep breath and centered myself so I could be wise in my response.
“Do you think that even though Dylan is now a ‘he’ that he will still want to play foosball with us?” she asked. “He was on my team last year and we had a lot of fun.”
“Even though you guys never won,” her sister gloated.
I exhaled gratefully. Grateful that overcoming their fear of that which they didn’t understand was a ride my daughters were willing to take.