Sunday, April 5, 2009


This semester has been the first time since I have been in school that I have a social work major.

So, this semester, I have three social work classes. I have been looking forward to starting my field work in the summer, so my mind has been more engaged with "what does social work look like?" sorts of thoughts than it was. Still, I have felt like I am doing, doing, doing. So much energy goes toward things outside of myself; papers, deadlines, kids stuff, processing future divorce plans and what I need to do to adapt to the changes... a lot of things. Things that make up my life, but don't really add to me feeling like a social worker, in the same way I feel like an artist, or a friend, or a mom. That internalization of the identity has been missing.

Tonight something happened that changed it. At the beginning of the semester, one of my professors gave us each a minor assignment. We were each to find an article having to do with some aspect of social work, write a page summary, come up with a couple of discussion questions for the class, and give a short, informal presentation. I have been keeping my eyes open for an article all semester, and even going out of my way to look at areas I am especially interested in. I looked at sex-ed, teen dating violence, domestic violence, and some others. I picked a couple of articles and carried them around with me for several weeks. They just were not calling my name. Last week I found an article called Bending Gender, Ending Gender: Theoretical Foundations for Social Work Practice with the Transgender Community. It is from the journal Social Work, and written by Barb J. Burdge. This article was calling my name.

I'm not really sure why I am so emotionally drawn to the GLBT community. I am not a very active part of it. Of course I am never sure what I am going to find out about myself, but I feel fairly sure that this is not some hidden part of me that is trying to come out. I have always felt, for the most part, safe to be authentic about my gender and sexual preference. It was not something I was ashamed of, even when it deviated slightly from "normal" because I was perceived as basically "normal." I never had to be ashamed. If I wanted to wear mens clothing, I did it. If I wanted to take an eyeliner pencil to my upper lip, or behave "like a man" I did it. If I felt so compelled now, and I had the time and energy, I would not hesitate to cross-dress. I really enjoy it. It never felt threatening to me. It was always empowering, or at least fun, in the same way it is fun to pretend to be anyone else sometimes. And beyond that, that play turned into a part of me. It allowed me to access something of myself that I might not have if I never felt the need to deviate from "the girl." To pretend to be someone different, you have to pay attention to them. When you pay attention to people, you become more connected to them, and usually to yourself if you bother to process your internal reactions to them.

Anyway, the thing that happened... I have been reading a lot of research lately, but this article was so much more thought provoking and interesting than anything I have read for quite a while. Then, while I was looking on the internet for pictures that represented aspects of the GLBT community and gender with which to decorate the CD's I will hand out to the class tomorrow, in a search for "transgender flower" I saw pictures of transgendered people who had been beaten. Beaten. Badly. Just for being themselves. How fortunate for us "gender appropriate" folks to have the privilege of walking around looking like ourselves without getting our asses kicked by bigots.

It seems to be my nature to cry at the drop of a hat when I have any powerful emotion- not just sadness. I have been pretty stressed lately. It's crunch time, and school is taking up time I would really like to be doing other things with, like eating more than once a day, and mowing the lawn, and washing dishes... Some things though... they make me cry so hard I feel like parts of my body are migrating to other parts of my body, and this was one of those times. It might have been facilitated by stress, but the focus was on the people.

Nature (or God, if you prefer) is trying to tell us something. It is giving us color, and beauty and variety, and we are turning out stingy little eyes and hearts away from it, in order to see what makes us feel like we are OK and normal. I guess my wish was that everyone played a little with gender. See what it's like to be something other than what your family and your culture told you to be. Become a safe place for other people to be themselves around you. Don't just talk about how much you love diversity. Be diversity. Try other people on. Not to be patronizing, or to poke fun at them, but for solidarity's sake, and perhaps for your own insight and enlightenment. Listen to them as if they know more about their experience than you do, because, I promise, they do.

I keep thinking that for me to be and show who I am is OK. It is a costume that expresses a side of me, and I am at will to take it or leave it. I can indulge or put it away for later, or just savor the thought. What if it was not fun though? What if it was who I really was, and I was not at liberty to be myself? What if I had to push it down any time I was with anyone else, even my family? How could I be happy? What would I resort to do deal with the pain? How would I live knowing that almost every place I went, I would have people around me who would like to beat me, or even kill me, because I feel like someone I don't look like?

Just some things to think about.