One of the things that happens when you move around the world is that you meet people who don't fit the framework you were given in your little hometown in your little home church.
One of the things that happens when you move around the world is that those people you were always told about are now the coworker in the office next to yours who tells those funny jokes and the new friend from the cafe down the street.
I grew up in a place and time where we were told that it was okay for a person to have feelings of attraction to the same sex as long as that person didn't sin by actually acting on the feelings.
That always seemed fundamentally unfair to me, even at my most conservative. How could you ask a person to go through their entire life without even the possibility of a romantic relationship? If I couldn't survive without that hope, how could someone else? Was my straightness all that spared me from a life that seemed to require horrific loneliness? Why would anyone think a good God would ask that of people? How could I ask it of people when I knew, had it been me, I couldn't have done it? It just seemed mean.
But because of that teaching, for a long time I didn't know how to act around people who were gay, even as I stopped believing that there was anything wrong with gay relationships.
It wasn't until I was in law school and a good friend told me over a good cup of British tea that she had decided to become an equal opportunity dater and oh by the way that girl she introduced me to in the elevator was her new girlfriend that I realized exactly how one does react when a friend tells you the truth about herself: you react with joy, because she is closer to who she is meant to be. You react with excitement, because she is excited about her new love. You react with gentleness, because she trusted you with who she really is, and that is what friendship means: that we are gentle with the real version of each other. We love the real version of each other even more than the facade we first encountered.
Where I live now, I have friends and coworkers who are gay couples, men and women, married and just starting out, childless and raising kids. I have friends and coworkers who are bisexual and transgender and fluid in their sexuality.
A wedding between two men or between two women makes me cry with the joy of it in a way I never do at a straight wedding, because in a gay wedding I see hope deferred and finally realized, and it is beautiful.
The funny thing is that I realized that the gay men and women, the transgender men and women, the bisexual men and women, they were all around me the whole time. They were around me in my little hometown. They were around me in my home church. They just had to hide, in a world that told them that their full beautiful selves were wrong, and many of them are hiding still: from themselves, from their families, from their churches.
I have long joked that the thing Christians are most afraid of in this country is that their son might be gay or their daughter might get pregnant before she is married.
I guess what I'm trying to say is this: there is nothing to be afraid of.
People are beautiful and wonderful and mysterious, and the more they can be their real selves, the more beautiful and wonderful and mysterious they are. When we ask the people we love to be real, when we ask them to be gay or bisexual or queer or transgender just as they really are, when we ask them to trust us enough to let us love who they really are, then the fear disappears, and all we have left is love.
We just have to keep being honest and gentle, with ourselves and with the people we love. There is nothing to fear.
I wrote this in honor of a friend, who was brave enough today to share with the world the fact that he is transgender. Friend, you were a beautiful woman, and you are a beautiful man. Love always.