The Life Aquatic
Even though electricity is beyond my understanding, I respect it for what it is. I don’t insist that it be a more “natural” force, like the magnetic field, or shame it into believing that its existence is against God’s will.
I also have a healthy respect for fish—plural. Not a singular fish that lives up to my expectations of what a fish should and shouldn’t be. Fish are resilient creatures deserving of my reverence and awe. They thrive in waters I could never survive.
My life isn’t disrupted one iota by the existence of the Angler Fish, a sea creature residing in the murky depths of the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans that can grow up to 3 feet long, weighing 70 lbs.
Although I am fascinated by the fact that the female Angler is characterized by a luminescent light bulb dangling above her head, I’m also keenly aware that what she does with it is none of my damn business. You’ll never find me ranting about how light bulbs belong in lamps, not fish and electricity has no place in the ocean.
As such, I’m having a terrible time understanding why society holds human nature to a different standard than Mother Nature.
V was an old, insightful soul with a wickedly sarcastic sense of humor that made him tons of fun to be around. He also suffered from a chronic depression that ebbed and flowed way over my head.
Back in high school we were especially close. Even though he was dating one of my girlfriends, we confided in each other things that we could never share with anyone else.
Whenever we were together, there invariably came a point in the conversation —usually as we said our goodbyes—when V would become remote and pensive, floundering to express something on his mind. There was always a stuttering question on the tip of his tongue; one that he could never bring himself to ask, but somehow hoped that I would intuit and answer.
The most notable aspect of these awkward non-exchanges was the pained expression on his face, as if he were drowning in the very air he was breathing. His body was dead stiff, but if you could see the panic in his eyes, you’d expect his arms to be flailing for dear life.
We remained friends into adulthood, but lost touch when our lives took different turns. Two decades later, when we reconnected on Facebook, I was sad to learn that he had suffered significant memory loss after a suicide attempt involving painkillers that left him unconscious for several days.
After communicating briefly online, he asked me to call him in hopes of regaining some of his childhood memories. The few times we spoke, I felt that old, familiar frustration of guestimating the answers to his unarticulated questions.
About a year later, V called to tell me that he was starting an LGBT spiritual community after his own fellowship gave him the boot. After some brief small talk, I asked him outright if he was gay.
“Not gay…trans.” she replied.
Suddenly, every unresolved question made perfect sense; those desperate attempts to explain with her eyes her unspeakable pain.
It clicked in me the same way it clicked the first time I heard Chaz Bono speak and realized he sounded exactly like his father; his voice revealing the genetic birthright Chastity Bono had been denied.
After years of watching V suffer, it felt so good to finally help. I put her in touch with a transgender woman who lived nearby and told her of another trans friend who had researched gender reassignment benefits offered by their county. (Coincidentally they happen to live in one of the few places in America to declare the high suicide rate amongst transgender people who don’t receive medical support a public health epidemic.)
Even though this isn’t my coming out story, it’s imperative that I tell it. Those of us whose gender identities align with the bodies to which we were born (aka “cisgender”) are afforded a personal safety and emotional wellbeing that we take for granted every day. In order for these privileges to become everyone’s fundamental rights, our respect, empathy and compassion for the transgender and gender queer experiences are essential.
Since coming out, V and I have had many frank conversations that have helped me recognize and acknowledge those of us who are in a similar boat. Recently, I ran into a girlfriend I hadn’t seen in forever who was sporting an androgynous look. Being reminded of V, I took the opportunity to ask if she’s transgender. They appreciated my asking and clarified that they identify as nonbinary, which aligns with no particular gender and prefers the pronoun “they.”
The biggest relief about V’s coming out is that I’ll never have that dreaded helpless feeling as she begs me to save her from her own unspeakable depths. That’s not to say that she won’t falter, but at least I am beginning to understand her struggle.
Originally published in Connect Savannah