International Day of Social Justice

Golden Lady Justice, Bruges, BelgiumSo how was your International Day of Social Justice? Ahh, what’s that you say? Never heard of it? Okay…let’s see if we can get you up to speed here. After all, in celebrating it we renew our focus on the idea that, as the United Nations puts it, “social development and social justice are indispensable for the achievement and maintenance of peace and security within and among nations….” Certainly a worthy idea, so let’s take a quick look.

There is an entity called the International Labor Organization (ILO) that actually has its roots in the treaty that ended the First World War, the Treaty of Versailles. Now given the fact that the world had just fought what was, at least up until that point, the most blood-soaked and resource consuming war ever known, and given that all this came about because of concentrated power in a few inflexible minds; the Great Powers decided a more democratic rethink was perhaps in order. It was agreed that true peace can only exist if there is a climate of social justice and that would mean guiding the world toward a system that was far more inclusive than many had seen before.

It was indeed a lofty ideal and they did such a bang-up job of implementing it that, 20 yearsThe_Big_Four,_Paris_peace_conference later, another planet wide conflagration would rage out of control. Yet maybe that’s what happens when the ideas are broader than those trying to implement them. Versailles was simply the beginning of a social evolution that they started and continues to this day. Now I doubt they understood the full magnitude and reach of their work as somehow I have trouble picturing David Lloyd George and straight-laced Woodrow Wilson pounding the table and demanding a clear path for a future Christine Jorgenson to do the first M to F transition. But their declared spirit of social justice did exactly that and it is the spirit of that ideal that needs to carry on.

This writer is just one beneficiary of it. I’m one transwoman knocking around in a much larger but still inclusive society. I am still very much in transition and yet when I arrived for jury duty the other day, no one so much as batted an eye. I took my place among all the other “choral whiners”, belting out such ballads as “other fish to fry today” and of course the ever popular “it’s cold out why am I here?” blues. I wasn’t selected to sit on a jury that day but I did go up to the window and ask to edit the M/F designation on the sheet they had me fill out. The woman at the window looked at me and said, “Oh don’t worry about it.” Now that, dear reader, is the spirit of social justice. I am one person, from one group, and I am proof that as society grows ever more inclusive, respect for human worth grows with it.

Balanced_scale_of_JusticeNow of course, the job is a long way for done especially when we look globally. So in the hope of keeping this evolution alive, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously declared that, starting in 2009, February 20th will annually be celebrated as the World Day of Social Justice. It is the common folk everywhere that have shouldered the burdens to attain it while also reaping the benefits of it, so why not commemorate and celebrate? Embodied in this little known day, are the spirits of Gandhi and Dr. King. Indeed, the whole ongoing and bone jarring drive toward equality for women, gays and the transgender found footing because of social justice. It is the driving force that created the world wide climate that ended apartheid in South Africa and made it possible for a very brave woman named Aung San Suu Kyi to stand up to a military dictatorship in Myanmar, formally Burma, and win the Nobel Peace Prize in the process.

It is a shame that this really big day receives so little notice and especially by the common folk it was designed to further the most. After all, it was a healthy respect, if not an outright fear, of the common folk that motivated the ideas’ founders in the first place. No doubt it has something to do with a complete lack of any vested commercial interests that starves the day for any air time. Nobody has made it a day to frolic in the beer suds and pound down piles of tasty, if unhealthy, eats. But ya know???? If that’s all it takes…maybe grabbing a beer, buns, and brats ain’t all that bad an idea….

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Out With It

Hello! I am Martha Compound and I have been honored with an offer to contribute my own experiences about “coming out” as transgender. I will also tell the reader that I am about a year into my M2F transition. Of course, the opinions and views expressed here are my own and nobody but myself is responsible for them. I offer the following with the hope it does some good somewhere.

Before I go any further here I want to mention that I am happily married. I had told her about this little dilemma of mine way back at our beginning. I love her dearly and she loves me. She has walked every step with me and she has watched me tear myself to pieces over the years, struggling with it. She has watched me cry, cried with me and even cried for me. Equally, she has genuinely reveled in my successes. When I made the decision to do something about it, her words were “it’s about time” and then stood right there to face everyone else with me. She is my soul mate. As I evolve, we get even closer. She is a gift. And now my story…

I remember walking into my doctor’s office for a regular checkup. It was the first time I had decided to wear feminine apparel out in public with the specific intent of telling the world that I am not a man but am instead a transgender woman. I was beyond nervous and I knew it showed. I was in that same panicky moment I had found myself in way back when I was a very small child in the mid 1950’s. I was also at the same fork in life’s little road caused by my girl parts not being present. Just like then, I had to either choose to risk being dismissed as an irrelevant fool because I couldn’t prove my brain sex or live through the mechanisms of imposed masculinity. Having already paid a very dear price for taking the masculine fork the first time through, I had no intention of repeating that same mistake. So with my heart half in my throat, we entered my doctor’s office, determined to stand my ground, come what may. The nurse took maybe half a second to drink me in and yet took my vitals without missing a beat. She carried on like nothing out of the ordinary was happening. It was indeed a rather surreal moment. Then the doctor came in and politely asked me what’s going on? I couldn’t hold it back anymore. I was on the verge of a mini-meltdown and with my eyes beginning to flood, she looked at me, and in a sympathetic voice said, “The outside doesn’t match the inside, does it?” I managed to nod an agreement and then felt the tempest that had been building in my head during the drive over, finally begin to ebb. Oh I wasn’t calm by a long-shot, but I knew I had just taken my first steps on the other fork. Hiding the truth was no longer optional and strangely enough, that was a comfort. I knew that was the most uncomfortable I would ever be. Being public got a little easier everyday thereafter.

Now beyond shaving close and wearing female garb, I had done little to otherwise alter my appearance, save for the long hair I’ve had for decades. Having crossed the “its out now” threshold, the size and depth of the social factors came rushing to the forefront. I had announced that I was going to follow my brain sex and not my body’s sex. But that also meant risking the same blow-back I feared the last time around at this same fork. That, of course, being taken for an irrelevant fool as opposed to a woman. I think that idea is what bothered me the most.

I’m someone who abhors asking for help in matters this personal. It didn’t take long, though, before I realized that I really did need help. I had the physical aspects of gender reassignment to deal with and even bigger still was the job of somehow figuring out how to integrate well over 50 years of living as the wrong sex and denying the right one. If nothing else, checking to confirm that I was not “confused” also seemed prudent. So, while diddling around on the Internet, I bumped into something called the “Comprehensive Gender Services Program” at the University of Michigan Health System. Fearing that I was not going to measure up or would otherwise end up being told I was nuts, I had to really push myself to dial the phone. On my first call, an answering machine picked up. I panicked and hung-up. Then I got mad at myself for chickening out and so I dialed again. This time a woman with a strong, confident and yet reassuring voice answered. They call what followed an intake interview yet somehow the word conversation seems more accurate. I had never met the woman on the other end but somehow I felt like we were just gabbing over coffee. It was right then and there that my actual evolution began in earnest and started to gather some momentum. So for anyone contemplating reassignment, it’s a very wise call to make. Speaking strictly about myself, they didn’t take control and dictate, but rather played sounding board and consultant to ensure that I was in control. Shortly thereafter, I was ready to get the “telling everyone else” phase over with.

I briefly toyed with the idea of calling everyone, but as I thought about having all those very clunky conversations, I decided that perhaps the US Postal Service offered a more practical solution. Phone calls might still happen (and indeed did) but at least the ice would already be broken. So in a letter to all, I tried to keep the emotion out and give a nuts and bolts briefing on what I was doing. I briefly explained the mechanics of how brain and body sex can biologically differ and also how I was under professional care. I also kept a number of copies in my purse to hand out to people who have known me for years, like the folks at our neighborhood pharmacy. It’s just too clunky of a conversation to have over a store counter. I might also mention that after I offered them this letter their faces seemed far more at ease when dealing with me. I don’t see them for long, but I do see them often.

Well, in very short order, a card came back with a very pretty butterfly on it from a close, out-of-state family member addressing me as Ms., and containing a declaration of unconditional love. Equally, a local family said, “I believe you, you should know”. I think the biggest relief came when my wife’s eldest son called and rather matter o’factly said, “I’ll bet you feel a lot better now don’t you?” Family was like that and I love them all for it.

All that were left were friends. My career kept me away from home far more than at home. Because of that, all my friends lived far away. I liked to think of them more as event pals or job buddies. We’d spend many months on a job and then completely drop out of each other’s lives, however thick we were during the job. Even so, there were still a handful that were fun to touch base with. Like keep a running email exchange or an occasional phone call with. Sadly, I figured I would lose all of them but as they were still good people, it was well worth a shot anyway. Well, before I could act, I suddenly ended up with about a two-week stretch where all those guys decided to out of the blue, give me a call! I mean people I hadn’t heard from in over two years. Well, their surprise was palpable but then came statements like “you do what you need to do to be comfortable with yourself”! Or “You’re my friend, do what you gotta do! Ya really think it matters?” Now I confess that contact with most of them is softening, but that has everything to do with lives just moving on and nothing to do with ostracizing. I don’t do that job anymore as the big economic meltdown of ’08 forced me into early retirement.

As transgender, I’ve had to stand at a particular fork in life’s road that most people don’t. Yet many, many people face other forks that have forced equally tough “lesser evil” choices with all the social difficulty mine posed. Fortunately, the world is a much more inclusive place now than it was the first time I stood at my fork. I thank all those who deliberately pushed inclusion as a key global-wide value. February 20th. is the “International Day of Social Justice”. It’s a little known day, but I mark it by noting the difference in societal attitudes regarding transgender inclusion between my two trips to my fork. I also celebrate the inclusion of countless other groups as we accept the diversity that is humankind. Now to be sure, the job of inclusion is by no means done, yet the inclusive evolution does continue.

Thanks,

Martha