Friday, March 6, 2015
In my journey toward an authentic life, I carefully study and learn from experiences and friends. No friend has helped me more than Jennifer.
I met Jen six years ago when we were both frequent visitors at a website. I didn't have a blog yet and didn't even know about blogs. (I discovered them in 2010 and started mine then.)
From the outset, Jen was exceptionally kind and supportive. Naturally empathic, she picked up the weak signal I was transmitting to the world and amplified it. Jen sees and accepts me as female -- which is a much bigger deal than it sounds. She was the first to encourage me to express my true self. Jen asks sincere questions, listens closely to answers and supports me in my struggle.
I visited Jen and her family in Atlanta last weekend for the first time. I felt tremendous anticipation about the event and listened to a song by Little Feat ("Oh, Atlanta!") for days beforehand.
There were two notable aspects to my trip. The first was my discovery of Jen's life. The second was a profound realization about myself.
A true friendship goes both ways. You give and you receive. Only a selfish person accepts kindness without trying to repay it. I am not selfish. In gratitude for years of warm support from Jen, I'm eager to become a good friend for her. To do that, I need to learn what her life is like, what her needs and desires are, and how I can help. Real friends search for ways to help.
I was thrilled to see how Jen surrounds herself with love. Jen has a wonderful family any of us would jump to join. Jen's world is full of happiness and emotional connection. Jen is married to Jason, a bright and interesting man, and they have an adorable young daughter, Juniper, who is perfect in every way. Jen and Juni are deeply connected as a result of Jen's attentive, talented parenting. Watching the two of them together gives one hope.
Normally when I visit blogger-friends for the first time, I get a hotel room and see them in public places; I understand people worry about strangers. Jen insisted I stay at her home which was not only a vote of trust but opened a gate for us to interact all day long. The opportunity enabled me to get to know Jen's family and life quicker than otherwise. By the end of my four-day visit, I felt like a part of their family -- I'm the adopted aunt from New York. I can even tell you what kind of cute pajamas they wear!
With most couples you know, there's one person whom you like. You tolerate their partner because couples come as a packaged deal. Jen and Jason are rare in that both of them are independently attractive friends. Both are smart, caring, and full of entertaining interests. Spending time with them is a delight; when one is called away by duty, the other fills in with equal charm. There wasn't a moment of my trip that wasn't fun.
Jen and I went thrifting and found lots of nice clothes. Shopping with a girlfriend is bliss for me; we chatted endlessly. We also had several terrific meals with Jason and Juni. During free time, Jen told me about her past. She showed me her high school yearbooks (complete with stories about mean girls) and I swooned when she pulled her wedding gown and formal prom dresses out of the closet. From the visit, I got a full understanding of Jen's environment and life. I'm grateful she opened it up to me.
So the very notion of acting female makes me flinch in anticipation of opprobrium. I have to consciously overcome that learned instinct and realize that, at this stage of life, my personal fulfillment is more important than criticism from others.
Jen helps me with this. She makes me feel safe. So when Jen urged me to bring female clothing down to Atlanta, I did. I laughed when I thought about a TSA baggage-inspector finding a wig and girl-clothes in a man's suitcase.
As scary as it felt, I knew it was okay when Jen asked if we could dress up. Her offer to do my makeup was the highlight of the trip. Not only did that experience fill me with trust, it showed me a new possibility. Jen's skilled makeup-application exceeded my pathetic efforts by such a degree that, for the first time, my faced looked normal. She chose colors that work with my skin and did things I don't grasp. The experience opened yet another door for me, the importance of which cannot be overstated.
There's an ancient proverb, "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear." Jen has taught me innumerable, valuable lessons. My gratitude for that is endless.
Laverne Cox and Bruce Jenner get discussed in the media.
Some well-intentioned friends have suggested that if I present myself in public as female, I become female and they imply that if I don't, I am not. This thinking reflects a fundamental misunderstanding. I am female, whether dressed in pants or a skirt. I am female, regardless of perceptions by an observer. I have only one self and it has never changed. I know this fact to be absolutely true. Spending a weekend with Jen helped me realize the relation between my inner self and public life. While I can publicly express myself in feminine or masculine ways, my inner self never changes. And I should respect that. We should all love ourselves for who we are.
Do you have a friend in your life who helps you a lot?