Sunday, July 7, 2019

For Many, the Path is Unclear

“I’m going through an identity crisis,” I recall telling my mom when I was about 14 or 15 years old, some 45 years ago.  

Maybe she wondered what the heck I was talking about but chalked it up to teenage psychobabble that didn’t really mean much although, by that time, my older sister had come out as a lesbian.   

In retrospect, I’m not sure what I was referring to with my “identity crisis” comment. My best guess at this time is that I wanted to find meaning in my life – I was consumed with trying to understand my role in the world – and was expressing these feelings in person or in writing, whenever the opportunity presented itself.

I struggled with all kinds of things as a teen, much the same as many of us I suppose – relationships primarily – but I have always felt free to be me.  I didn’t question my gender or my sexuality and can’t remember anyone else other than my sister choosing his/her own path as a lesbian or gay man, although I remember hearing about a drag show here and there…and not getting it.

Had a child of mine said to me he/she’s having an identity crisis – granted, many years after I said it – I wonder where my thoughts would have gone:  my guess is somewhere along the gender spectrum, which is not only represented with LGBTQ but also non-binary, gender fluid and so on.

I’m not embarrassed to admit I truly don’t get it all, but I’m starting to feel that I should indeed have a better understanding.  The world might be a much more humane place if we could be open to comprehending the struggles so many of us have and extend some compassion to them as well. 

David and I are forever surfing for what we can stream on TV and came across a Netflix mini-series called “Tales of the City,” based on the book series by Armistead Maupin, which first aired on public television in the late 1990s.  It earned a Peabody award for its groundbreaking depiction of the complex lives of the LGBTQ community.     

The current remake, from a show by the same name in the 1990s, centers on the diverse set of inhabitants who live in an apartment / boarding house complex in San Francisco.  There are also heterosexual divorced men and women in the mix, along with multi-cultural couples and basically any scenario you can imagine.     

The roles of the trans landlady is played by Olympia Dukakis; Laura Linney plays a straight woman who returned to the area after abandoning her adopted daughter – played by Ellen Page – decades before.  Linney also reconnects with her ex-husband, played by Paul Gross, who wants to be involved with his neighbor, a woman of color who is half his age.

I can relate to a couple aspects of the characters’ lives, specifically when it comes to divorce, but that’s about it.  The emotions for those transitioning are mind-boggling.  There is a lesbian – in a relationship with a woman – who is transitioning to being a man and, in that process, he finds he’s become attracted to men, no longer to the woman with whom he had been in a relationship when he was a woman.  

Another show we watched several years ago is called “Transparent,” which portrays the story of the family patriarch, played by Jeffrey Tambour, who transitioned from Mort to Maura in the loving but complicated setting of his family – his ex-wife Judith Light and his three grown children.  He spent most of his life confronting his unhappiness of being a man and wanting to be a woman and then began the transitioning process, which changed his friendships and relationships across the board.

Since watching Tales of the City, I have been trying to educate myself more and found what I consider an eye-opening story that addresses the impact of transitioning on mental health:

In this story, 35 people shared their feelings.  The first person interviewed, Ianna Drew Urquhart, stated that coming out and transitioning was like “removing the biggest weight in the world.”  Another interviewee named Sophia said that “before transitioning she felt numb and dead inside; after, even feeling sad was amazing because it meant I was alive.” Each story is heartfelt, compelling and gives me hope.

I am so happy that many individuals, while still facing discrimination unfortunately, have access to information, resources and support online and/or in person.  In addition, I am optimistic that the kids of today will feel comfortable to talk with their parents and that the parents will be open to these wide-ranging and potentially difficult discussions, as well as knowledgeable. 

I am also grateful for programing like Tales of the City and Transparent, and others too, that offer an education for those of us who may not have had first-hand exposure to people dealing with such complicated matters.

Trying to understand all these complexities reminds me how simple life can be for people without gender identity and sexual orientation issues and, honestly, how many worlds I know nothing about.