Dear x,

warriorI just read a brief article about an army of Kurdish women. They formed and trained in response to ISIS. One woman reported calling out to the friends of an ISIS killer she had just slain. She wanted his friends to know that he had been killed by a woman. Normally I am unhappy to hear about any kind of violence. For example, lots of people are glad to hear that the cop in North Carolina who shot the fleeing black man in the back eight times had been caught doing so on video and that he would probably have to pay for his violence. I have a mess of emotions churning in me because of that whole incident, but none of them are anything like gladness. I see two families, the black man’s and the cop’s, imploding and scarred forever by the horrible minute in the lives of these two men.

I have no such feelings about ISIS. I would like to see them disposed of with the same efficiency and dispassion one has when cleaning the mud out of a house that has been flooded or cleaning a toilet. I may have damaged an old friendship because I expressed loathing of ISIS types of extremism, conservatism, or Islam, but he is asking me to be bland in response to grown men chopping the heads off of twelve year old girls. He wants me to be what he calls tolerant of ISIS.

Sorry. No can do. When Charles Witman climbed the tower in Austin in in 1966 and murdered sixteen people, no one was impatient or judgmental of the policeman who killed him. No one said, but you can’t love anybody if you can’t love Charles Witman. Bullshit. You can’t love anybody if you can’t dispassionately dispatch Charles Witman. Gathering thousands of Charles Witmans gather into one mob, in this case ISIS, doesn’t provide them with a shield called tolerance of other cultures.

Anyway…

What I started writing to you about was the army of Kurdish women. One of my responses: How powerful and meaningful must be the lives of these women. I live in pleasant Minnetonka where one of the big problems is buckthorn. Well, at least that’s one of the big problems in my Minnetonka. I have heard that there is homelessness, poverty, and hunger even in rich Minnetonka, but I can’t see it. Marauding herds of ISIS soldiers aren’t a twenty minute car ride away from me. I don’t know anybody who has been beheaded by Lutherans. I don’t even own a tool many people use to kill other humans. Somehow calling such a tool a gun sweeps away the horror of the desire that called that gun into existence. It’s a tool for blasting open the bodies of people I don’t like.

I keep slipping back into my rage about violence. The Kurdish women remind me of how much of life other people experience that I don’t because they live in Iraq and I live in Minnetonka.

Brave SaraI have a young friend named Sara. She’s about twenty-eight years old. She’s actually become a close friend to me. She’s a graduate of St. Olaf, which was the first entry point of our friendship. I met her when she was a server, then manager, at the Macaroni Grill restaurant LeRoy and I went to most Fridays for five years at least. She saved up her money and flew herself to New Zealand. She has spent three months walking across the country, meeting people, and throwing herself into experiences. Two days ago she hiked for seven hours up the highest mountain in NZ. In part of the trek she war hiking boots and a midi-length red dress. Why? I don’t know. A ranger said he had never seen anyone do that in all his years of service. At the top, she stripped down to a little swim suit and frolicked in a hot springs. Another day she went to a bar made completely of ice. Chairs, tables, walls, glasses. All ice. She bungee jumped for the first time yesterday. She tied some stretchy ropes to her ankles and threw herself off a platform a couple hundred feet over some really hard looking rocks

And here I sit in Minnetonka. Later today I will vacuum the house, walk the dogs, plant some flowers, heat something frozen to eat, and maybe watch a movie. I love my life. I love living with Adele. I love taking pictures of junk and calling it an artistic still life. But Sara is cavorting with Maori dancers, leaping off mountains, meeting people she will be bonded to for life, wearing hiking boots and a strapless red dress in foreign countries, and spending her last penny to acquire memories she will treasure until the day she dies which might be tomorrow, but she is alive today. Kurdish women are picking up big guns to protect themselves against monsters. They are on the cutting edge of the defense of civilization and I might write a letter to my congressman about budget priorities.

I am living the life I want to live. I think. But I am afraid that I am missing so much. One thing I am not experiencing is the nearness of ISIS, which I am fine with. And I am also fine with never tying stretchy ropes to my ankles and leaping off a platform hundreds of feet over really hard looking rocks. What am I doing? Or more to the point, what am I not doing?

I think I’ll stop writing and go fix myself a bowl of cereal.

Fifteen years ago, I knew a married couple, one of whom in that time transformed from being male in appearance to being female in appearance.  I lost contact with them and had no interactions with them throughout their change or since.  Recently I have been interacting on Facebook with the person who was the wife then and I read a book entitled She's Not There.  The book didn't change how I had thought of transgendered people, but did help me begin to think about my own values and feelings.  I have always been positive toward all people, including transgendered people, but my response to transgendered people has always been abstract or vague because I have no experience with a transgendered person, not that I know of anyway.  Anyway, here is my interaction with her:

(Please excuse the choppy nature of the exchange.  That's inherent in texting on Facebook.)

Me: Hi. One of the services I do at St. Luke is review books for the library so that people know what's there. Sometimes I find and donate books. One such book I have read, learned a lot from, am about to write a review, and donate to the library is She's Not There. My guess is that you are familiar with it. It's a memoir of a transgendered person. It's the first education I have had on the topic. If you are familiar with the book and think it misrepresents the experience, I would love to get your response to the book before I do anything stupid. Many well intentioned and ill informed people have done more damage than good. I don't want to be one of them.

I also hesitate to communicate with you because I don't know you or your family very well at all. My greatest exposure to your family came when I accompanied Jim to Haiti about fifteen years ago. I have very fond memories of that expedition. I write you rather than Stephanie because I have had more interactions with you than her. I don't know her at all. Part of the prompt for writing to you is my encounter with her at church last summer. I hope these next lines aren't weird or rude, but I had three responses to meeting her. My first was, wow, this is an attractive woman. My second was, this person once appeared differently to me. I sought very briefly to recognize her as she was fifteen years ago. I failed. All I could see was the person in front of me.

My third response I didn't make sense of until I read She's Not There. Stephanie opened her eyes wide when we looked at each other. She blinked as if looking into a bright light. I don't know what she was feeling at the time, but now I interpret as yet another encounter for her in which she was obliged to present herself not knowing how I was going to respond. As you know better than most people, many, if not nearly all people, are repelled by transgendered people. I assume most people have that response because they are anxious about losing what is probably the fundamental guide post helping them determine their own responses to other people: gender. Templates make everything easy. They also make everything opaque. Having grown up in a profoundly dysfunctional family, I have a little of the fear of not being acceptable to anybody around me. It feels like a lot of fear to me, but I can see that Stephanie is likely to have that fear much more than I do. And for good reason. Having a delusional idea about myself was adaptive in my childhood family so most of the delusion is internal to me. Stephanie must have the same feeling in spades given her history. She has the additional burden of having most of the delusions resident in the people around her.

The other person's response: Actually, Stephanie would be the best person to ask about the book- I read a portion of it only. Stephanie volunteers for One Voice Mixed Chorus in which I sing- and is rounding up good trans Book titles to display during the concert in the lobby. People are giving her book suggestions. You don't need to worry or be cautious with her- she is not too sensitive, and just treat her like you would anyone else.

I continue: She's Not There prompted a thought in me. If Stephanie's process of transformation was anything like what was described in the book, over and over she, and you, had to thrust herself into each old and new environment without knowing in advance whether she would be welcome. She has had to wait to see if this next encounter would be painful or pleasant. I'd open my eyes wide and blink too. My encounter with you and Stephanie was my first since you and she transformed your lives. Our encounter was not long enough for any of the three of us to get any kind of read on our real feelings. At least it wasn't for me. Here's my fear and real prompt for writing to you. Neither of you have enough information about my responses to you for you to tell the differences between two possible responses. I could have disappeared from your lives because I negatively judged you or I could have disappeared from your lives because we separated and had no opportunity to interact and explore our new relationship.

I want to make it loud and clear that I would love to have continued knowing both of you. What I thought I knew about you prior to fifteen years ago was very positive. I don't doubt that continued relationship would only build on that respect and affection. Perhaps you have a complete social world and don't have room for any more people, but if you are open to renewing our friendship, Adele and I would be delighted to gather with you again sometime soon, either at one of our houses or at a restaurant. I don't want to be any part of the ostracism than you and Stephanie may have encountered in the past. If anything I have said is rude or out of line, or just wrong, please forgive me. 

Her: No worries.  I guess I have developed an inner strength I never knew I had before. If somene feels transphobic I view that as their problem, not ours. That being said, I love St Lukes and its people, and we'd come back if we didn't live so far away. We don't know you personally real well, true, but that can always change! I know I speak for Stephanie when I say we'd love to get to know you better. We live in Burnsville.

Me: May I ask you whether what I have written to you above is strange or rude?

Her: I just got a new job, and have been really busy helping take care of my 93 year old dad so I haven't had much time to socialize. We just met and got together with another couple who is starting aling the same journey as us, and so once in a while we do outreach too along with friendship. And that's ok. If I can be reassuring. We do outreach at Mayflower UCC where we are members- for the youth groups.

Me: I am sorting out feelings. It would be helpful to me to know whether receiving my words today have been okay with you or just one more hurdle.

Her: It's no problem, really. I am open to questions, but am at work right now, and typing on my IPhone with one finger, lol. I will check with Stephanie to see when we are free.  We'd love to have dinner parties if you're interested. We are in Burnsville near 35 E.

Me: Please share what I have communicated today to you with Stephanie, if you think it appropriate.

Her: Absolutely. We have some books you could look at too. When I first found out I read a lot! I hope you can come to the One Voice concert, Gender Unchecked, at the Ordway June 13. It's all about this topic.

Me: I bet you have read books on the topic. Thank you again for your time and I hope that you will receive more communications from me in the future.

Her: Would LOVE to see St. Lukers there!