Keep Calm, It’s Not Contagious

Recently someone expressed their concern over their children having been “exposed” to Jess.  Let that sink it.


I don’t know about you, but when I consider exposure and concern in the same sentence here’s what comes to my mind:

  1. The flu
  2. The chicken pox
  3. Ebola
  4. Tuberculosis
  5. Yellow Fever
  6. AIDS
  7. Stomach bugs
  8. Pertussis
  9. Syphilis
  10. Pink eye
  11. Legionnaires Disease
  12. Strep throat
  13. Meningitis
  14. A cold
  15. Rabies
  16. Hepatitis A, B, C, D and E
  17. MRSA
  18. Bubonic Plague
  19. Chlamydia
  20. Diptheria
  21. Malaria
  22. SARS
  23. Athlete’s Foot
  24. Typhoid Fever
  25. Herpes

Here’s what doesn’t:

  1. Anything, anything related to LGBTQ

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.

A Very Neat Mess

January 27, 2012

Last night I was just too tired (from worrying about who I haven’t told about Jessie) to make dinner. I gathered Jessie early (her choice, not mine) from extended day and headed to Comella’s around the corner. Their signature dish is called a “mess” which is basically a trough of pasta and whatever you want to add to it – we usually go for the meatballs. Having visited there with enough regularity to recognize some of the kids who work there (aside: these “kids” are in their twenties and once I realized that I could have given birth to any and all of them they started looking younger and younger) Jessie asked me on the way in if I thought “she” would be there. I knew exactly who she was referring to. “She” is a girl who works behind the counter, has a contagious and constant smile, a beautiful manner, a long mane of black curly hair in a huge ponytail and only one arm. The first time we ever saw her I was with both my kids: I noticed her smile, George (n.c.i.) noticed her arm and Harrison noticed just how adorable she was. Suffice to say, she made an impression on all of us.

We entered the store and, alas, there she was, off to the side joking around with the other employees. As I was giving our order to the awkward boy behind the register I heard Jessie (n.c.i.) asking (whom, I am not sure) if she could know more about the arm…in particular, how does she put all that hair into a ponytail with just one arm. Register boy was getting flustered trying to take my order and shut Jessie up at the same time. Once the order had been placed, register boy shook his head and whispered, “don’t ask her!” in a manner which was sweetly protective yet seemed somehow inconsistent with the read I got on the girl herself.

As we stepped away from the counter and knowing we had twenty minutes to wait for our dinner to be ready, I motioned to the girl to come over. With that beautiful smile she did and we moved, en masse, out of the way of the onslaught of other lazy mothers coming in to get dinner for their families. I started by telling her that “my son (oops, I still do that sometimes), I mean, daughter, has some questions about your arm. Is it okay if she asks you?” As I fully expected, she said of course and introduced herself to us as Christina. She asked Jessie her name and there was a sparkle between them which was palpable. They proceeded to chat comfortably and honestly about what it is like to have only one arm (which, incidentally, doesn’t slow her down in the least. Remember, I didn’t even notice it the first time we went into the store!) and Jessie asked the most burning question on her mind: “how do you do that ponytail?!?!” With a laugh and a smile, Christina told her that she was really lucky because her parents (aside: she was adopted from Greece as a baby. When her birth parents saw her “deformity” they gave her up) always told her that she could do anything and be anyone whether she had one, two or three arms. She said how lucky she was to have been chosen by her adoptive parents.

Jessie looked at me, looked at Christina and said, “I know, right? My parents are the same way!” (Have you grabbed a Kleenex yet?) I looked at Jessie and asked her if she wanted to tell Christina what is special about her. Without hesitation she said she did and proceeded to tell Christina that she is a transkid. Now the roles were reversed and Christina was the one inquiring about how Jessie manages and when she knew, and how it felt. I almost felt like an intruder in this candid yet wildly intimate conversation being had in a place that prides itself on it’s “mess”. Once our food was ready we said our goodbyes knowing that a certain bond had just been established. Two kids who will always be different but are just plain happy.