I like to talk about what I call Grace's Paradox.
"We are all the same...each of us is unique"
In the Preface of my book I commented on this very fact....
Most of us either take this for granted or forget it. In our very human need to belong, to be taken care of, our brains are wired to sort through those who are like us and those who are different. We often unconsciously sort and categorize, and then our culture will add labels of good and bad to these groupings.
I can't quite remember when I learned that there was a difference between people like us and people not like us. Growing up in Brooklyn, my neighborhood and elementary school seemed pretty much homogenous (not that I understood that word way back then). Most of my friends and neighbors were second-generation Jewish baby boomers, already well on the path to assimilation. I had no idea we were part of a diverse minority, even less so, a minority that suffered through the genocide of WWII. High school became more diverse, as did college and then, of course, crossing the threshold into the "real world" unveiled the differences, and the separation in everyday life.
Perhaps my first 21 years of life were pretty sheltered, as I really did not understand the concept that I was seeing in the "real" world. Actually, I still don't really understand it.
Xenophobia [zen-uh-foh-bee-uh, zee-nuh-]
1.an unreasonable fear or hatred of foreigners or strangers or of that which is foreign or strange.
Apparently we not only want to be with people like us, but we also seem afraid of those who are not like us. When I was young, I was taught that the United States and especially New York City was the "Melting Pot." Miss Liberty welcomed all with the words -- "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free..."
But, really, was this so? Do we melt together and become one society? Or do we continue to separate, and be in fear of others? Where is the balance, and how do we become more and better without the fear and the hatred?
For the past few years, I taught about diversity and used the following chart. There are so many ways that we are different both as individuals, and as sub-cultures.
Whenever I show this slide, I ask the group why any single item is more important than the other. Although I would like an answer, I do not often receive one. The question seems to stump most people. I follow with an exploration of prejudice. I admit that I have prejudices and that I am sure that each person has them too. The question is really if we are ruled and controlled by them. Can we learn to question them and find their source? Are they our own beliefs or a cultural belief handed down to us from someone or somewhere else? Are we willing to learn, to listen and to accept that our differences and uniqueness, is what makes life not only interesting and exciting but provides so much opportunity for growth.
I spent so much of my life hiding because I was different -- being transgender. When I look at the chart above, this is only one single aspect of me and my own categories of diversity. Certainly I make a claim to the label, as I even title these blogs under "My Transgender Life." But this is only a single aspect of me, and one that I hope is not necessarily the most important. I dream that in a few years the idea that a person who is transgender will get the "ho hum" treatment from most people, as this may become the least interesting thing about them.
Remember I am just like you...I am unique as are you!
I totally get that we want to be with people like us. I think we believe it is simpler, safer and will perhaps lead to more understanding, acceptance and love.
I wonder how true this may be, and perhaps this clip from Seinfeld may illustrate it best. Perhaps being with people just like me would make me a little crazy too. How about you?
Grace Stevens is a transgender woman who transitioned at the age of 64 and holds a Masters Degree in Counseling Psychology. She is a father of three, grandparent of two, athlete, advocate and author of No! Maybe? Yes! Living My Truth, an intimate memoir of her personal struggle to transition and live her true life authentically as a woman. Grace is available for speaking about authentic living with Living on-TRACK, and Gender Variance Education and Training. Visit her website at: http://www.graceannestevens.com/. Follow Grace on Twitter: www.twitter.com/graceonboard .