Jewish Geography & Smallpox

Recently, my dear friend Francine* was at a social gathering for her kids.  It was held in a facility several communities away from where either she or I have ever lived. She thought it was going to be a drop off, affording her the opportunity to explore a new Marshall’s, but upon arrival she noticed that all the other parents were hanging around.  Dammit.  Because she knew no one in the room and was not interested in staring at the wall or sitting by herself all evening while her kiddos ran around with their friends, she engaged in what we in the tribe refer to as Jewish geography.  Here’s how it works: With the knowledge that several (okay, most) of the other attendants are Jewish, you start a conversation with questions like, “What do you do? Oh, you’re a lawyer? Which firm? You must know my so and so“ or, “Where did you go to camp? College? Grad school?” and so on. It is only a matter of (usually very little) time before it is discovered not if, but who you know in common; think of it as the Jewish version of “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” only substitute Kevin with Jews and six degrees with two.  It is a tried and true phenomenon and successfully breaks the ice every time.


Anyway, it was not long (like I said) before Francine came upon a shared connection with a few of the other women. (Without divulging more than necessary, suffice to say, and it is germane to the conversation, that there is an overlap between said person-in-common and me. I, however, haven’t a clue who any of these new-to-Francine peeps are.) Once the shared person was identified, friendly banter surrounding them and how they know one another, blah blah blah, ensued. And then, strangely enough, the new-to-Francine people made a link back to, um, me and, more precisely, Jess.

The particulars are not important, but the gist of it was that these new-to-Francine people somehow, although I cannot imagine how, knew “about” (that was their word) Jess.  With a tone of concern, a lowering of their voices and hangdog faces, they asked: “How are they doing?” (File under: It’s not what you say, but how you say it…)

Briefly considering if they knew something that she did not (but knowing otherwise), Francine responded with a not all together un-provocative, “They are “doing” just fine…why do you ask?” Oh, Francine (bless her perceptive and protective little heart) knew exactly what they were referring to: Jess and the (news so old it’s not even news) fact that she is transgender.  So, in a dear-friend-kind-of way, Francine proceeded to regale them with tales of Jess’s awesomeness.

When I shared the story with Jess, her matter-of-fact, wry smiled reaction did not, to her, warrant even looking up from the pile of Swedish Fish (Braces? What braces?) that she was enjoying.  It was so perfect and reminded me (as if I needed to be reminded) why she is so damn awesome:

“It’s not smallpox, people…”

It reminded me of a blog post from about a year and half ago in which I shared my reaction to someone who expressed their concern over their children having been “exposed” to Jess. Interestingly, and not all together surprisingly, the unnamed person whom I reference in that blog happens to be the common denominator in this story.  Imagine that.  Seriously. Time to get over yourself.

I have said it many times: I get it.  Unless you have had reason to be schooled on what it means to be or love someone who is transgender it is entirely reasonable for discomfort, confusion and judgment to be among your initial reactions.  And then you need to figure it out. It doesn’t even have to be a transgender issue, actually…the unknown, unusual and unfamiliar stuff in your life is also the scariest.  Doh. I’d never take that away from anyone.  I would, however, hope that years and years after the fact, you might consider getting over it as it actually affects you, um, not at all.

My personal experience has been that if you are under the age of 25 you quite literally give no shits about someone being transgender. Admittedly, that is a broad generalization, but, to my mind, an accurate one.  And, in fairness to the new-to-Francine people, they are far enough north of that demographic that they might give a shit, but not so far that they should remain uninformed.  I can say with nearly 100% certainty that, perhaps unbeknownst to them, it is safe to say that they, or, at the very least, their children, know someone who is transgender or questioning.  For example, did you know that there are a lot of kids out there whose preferred pronoun isn’t he or she, but they. Yep, that’s a (cool) thing. Get with the program, grandma and grandpa!

So, next time you struggle with being uncomfortable or anxious or fearful of someone else’s process or choices or appearance, just remind yourself of something:

“It’s not smallpox, people…”


p.s. We are doing just fine, thank you.  Jess, in fact, is kicking ass, embracing and being embraced into her new community, making friends who, in keeping with their generation’s thinking, couldn’t care less about her back story and has a way better perspective on life than most of us.  And, not for nothing, is still funny as hell.

*Not her real name.  Not even close to it.

5 thoughts on “Jewish Geography & Smallpox

  1. You are so right about transgender being a normal part of Jess’s generational acceptance. It will take a while longer, but before too long, the prejudice of people born before those wonderful 1990s will be nothing but a bad memory.

  2. Jess’s “It’s not smallpox, people….” is perfect. I’m getting the sense that the ‘exposer’ has some antiquated, much too advanced for her years (I know her and I know Francine) belief that identity is somehow contagious. Personally, I’ve yet to meet anyone who is transgender who has said, “It’s all because of that drag queen I saw when I was six.” Or a gay man who recalls reading The Agenda in secret at a Cub Scout Troup meeting! Or a lesbian who was Ellen Degeneris’s last convert for the free toaster! Exposer would do well to concern herself with her own children’s sense of identity, worth, and expression!

  3. I’d like to think that those under the age of 40 could quite literally give no shits about someone being transgender. Perhaps that’s just the type of people I hang with though.

    Still waiting for that book to be written!

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