Featured Story: What's in a Name?

Featured Story: What’s in a Name?

I’m a dude named Kelsey. Marketers have encouraged me to attend an all women’s college, buy feminine hygiene products, and wear dresses.

One of the most humorous incidents around my name came from a greeting card company who snail mailed me info looking for writers (this was a few years ago). They got my name from a list of writing conference attendees. When I signed up for the conference I was amused at how many prefixes were available for your name. I chose “count.” But apparently the marketers at the greeting card company thought, “Geeze that can’t be right; Kelsey is a woman’s name!” So the mail was addressed to “Countess Kelsey Timmerman.”

When I was a preschooler I had long curly hair and people often mistook me for a girl. I would correct them, “I’m not a girrow!”

I’ve always been that certain about my gender identity. And my own certainty and experience has made it difficult for me to understand the journeys of transgendered individuals.

A few years back I was meeting a friend’s new boyfriend for the first time. When the new boyfriend answered the door, he was wearing makeup. Having traveled quite a bit and having studied anthropology where I learned not to judge others from my own experiences and perspective, I pride myself on trying hard to be open-minded. But in that moment all I could think was, “There’s a boy wearing makeup! There’s a boy wearing makeup!”

From my knowledge the boyfriend wasn’t transgendered, he just wore makeup. But even that was hard for me to process.

Two years ago I didn’t know the difference between a crossdresser, a drag queen, or someone who is transgendered. In fact, if you would have engaged me in a conversation about the issue, I may have even used the term transvestite, which for the most part is totally out of use.

I could’ve benefited from reading GLAAD’s reference guide for transgender issues.

Even right now, I’m not the most confident that I won’t say something wrong or sound like an ignorant jackass when I talk about transgender issues. In the buzz before Bruce Jenner came forward as transgendered to Diane Sawyer, I remember thinking that maybe his gender identity struggle was just another celebrity losing it as result of the bright spotlight of fame. I’m not sure there is a more ignorant viewpoint of GLBT issues than the ol’ “mental illness” argument.

But then something happened . . . I heard Bruce’s story. How he struggled from an early age. How he’d put on his sister’s dresses when no one was home, took hormones in the 80s, told his sister and two of his wives about his true self years ago. Long before Bruce was an Olympic champion on a Wheaties box or wrapped up in the Kardashian circus, he struggled with who he was.

When I heard Bruce’s story, I stopped judging him. I felt happy for him that he was finally stepping forward and sad for him that it took six decades to do so.

Bruce shared a shocking stat in his interview with Diane Sawyer that more than 40% of transgender individuals have attempted suicide.

One of those suicidal individuals shared his story in Facing Depression.

What’s in a Name? Konner Paxton’s story introduces us to an individual actively struggling with who he is:

“I don’t know if I’m a ‘Kate’ anymore. I love myself enough to choose to do what makes me happy . . . I’m starting to think I may be Konner.”

Konner is a Ball State student and I’m amazed by his bravery. Konner is doing something that Bruce, one of the world’s best athletes, couldn’t find the strength to do when he was Konner’s age.

It is such a tough journey.

Konner recalled an incident from sixth grade:

“I had short hair because when it’s long, it’s incredibly curly and my mom and I just didn’t want to deal with it. I had a friend who invited me over to a birthday party, but it ended up not being a birthday party. It was a ‘Let’s Make Kate Feminine Party.’ I remember them trying to teach me how to be feminine–there were heels and purses and dresses and the whole time I was thinking, ‘This is not for me,’ but I went along with it anyway because that’s how you fit in.”

I’ve never had a transgendered friend or family member (that I know of), and if it weren’t for Bruce and Konner sharing their stories, I’m not sure my thinking would’ve evolved enough to see what they’ve done as acts of bravery. They’ve helped me see ignorance of which I was unaware. They’ve helped me grow. And they’ve helped countless transgender individuals by sharing their stories.

One of my favorite Mark Twain quotes is: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.”

Like travel, stories are fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.

As a straight, middle-class white American dude named Kelsey, stories are constantly opening my mind and killing prejudices that I didn’t even knew existed.