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Telling our stories

by Robbi Cohn . Contributing Writer

Given the myths, stereotypes and half-truths that abound in the world today regarding the LGBT community, one of the tools we can use toward dispelling them is to build bridges between ourselves and the community at large. I have found that the “telling of our stories” cannot only be cathartic for us, personally, but is the perfect vehicle for communication and bridge building. When we relate to others what it means to be lesbian, gay or transgender, we open ourselves and display vulnerability.

The very essence of such risk taking creates a relationship between us and those with whom we are conversing. Such letting down of our guard not only puts the other person at ease, but it establishes a commonality that can serve as a foundation for trust.
When we undertake this opening up of ourselves, we become ambassadors who can create goodwill and who are able to work the miracle of education. I think that every one of us is familiar with the formula that ignorance leads to confusion, confusion leads to fear, fear leads to hatred and hatred leads to violence. As ambassadors and educators, we are able to prevent or remedy ignorance and keep the cycle from developing. Each person who is able to relate to us and to what it is like to be LGBT becomes, potentially, a future advocate and ally, someone who may eventually stand up for us. We gain understanding, acceptance and a sense of unity. We have built a bridge.

After accepting myself as being transgender, I was determined to live my life 24/7 as the woman I felt more accurately mirrored the person inside. My first challenge was to find work. In the aftermath of my divorce, I lost virtually everything, including my ability to earn a living. I came to understand the stark reality that I was, essentially, unemployable in this rural, central Carolina county. That was, perhaps, a blessing in disguise because it served as the catalyst that has impelled me into the world of LGBT activism.

I made the decision to return to school with the intention of becoming a paralegal. My “big picture” thinking was that we needed to effect change on the inside, as participants in the legislative, judicial and political process. I was determined not to live my life in stealth and to be the first openly TG student at my local community college. This was the true advent of my determination to tell my story.

I began with my instructors and gave them leave to discuss it with the administration. I was open with my fellow students who have been curious and have asked an unimaginable breadth and depth of questions. Those with whom I have interacted come from all walks of life…divergent ethnicities, religions, prior levels of education and economic backgrounds. I cannot think of one student who has been unfriendly or abrasive. Each and every one of them seems to appreciate my openness and honesty and many have become close friends.

There have been those persons whose background, one might suspect, preclude them from being able to relate to me — specifically, those from the conservative and fundamentalist right. In virtually every case, my suspicions were incorrect. Each of these amazing persons has accepted me as an individual, as a woman and as a friend. I can state with complete confidence that any one of these persons would stand up for the LGBT community, even in their respective churches. Any disparaging comment would be met with something like this: “I know a transgender person and she has similar goals, dreams, likes and dislikes…she treats others the way she would like to be treated…she is just like me.”

Allowing others to glimpse our humanity and to understand who we are and what makes us tick gives them every reason to want to like us and to want to accept us. Each one-to-one relationship cultivates fertile ground for the seeds of love, tolerance and support. Each represents the fruit of living one’s life as an ambassador and another bridge built.

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