This is a love story that has been in my heart and mind, actually hounding me for some time now. This is the story of my beloved niece, who used to be my nephew; she is now transgender. So as not to confuse you, I will begin this story by referring to my beloved one as male until we reach the point in the story where he transitions to female.
I was in the room with his parents that wonderful day he came into this world, beautiful, whole, and healthy. An immediate bond was created between us.
With every day, week, and month that passed, our bond grew stronger since we lived in the same house. His parents, and my then husband, and I bought and shared a brownstone together. I was there throughout his infancy and some of his toddler life. Before he could talk, I would talk to him and he would try his best in his baby way to talk back, making all kinds of cooing sounds, gazing in my eyes and seeing my love for him reflected back into his amazing gray/ green eyes that seem to change colors daily.
Around age three, Sharakhu began exhibiting feminine qualities. He loved dressing as his mother dressed at that time, in lapas (wrap skirts) and head wraps. He would do this during the day while at home with his mother, but when he heard his father coming through the door he would run to his room and change back to his male clothing. I guess he assumed his father wouldn’t approve. His mother and I assumed that he was gay and accepted and love him all the more along with the rest of the family; perhaps we instinctively knew he would need our love and support more than ever. (I am so happy to say, Sharakhu’s father has been a true supporter of his child through all his/her stages.)
I’ll never forget the cold December night that we gathered him, his sister and his cousins in the car traveled to the city to see the famed Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater at Town Hall. On the way back home everyone was on a high from the exhilaration of seeing the exquisite artistry of the company. It seemed to have expanded our hearts, causing us to feel in some way that we too could gracefully leap through the air as those skilled dancers had, making it look flawless and effortless to soar.
With family, joy, and laughter in the car it seemed Sharakhu felt free, safe and loved enough to share his heart and he casually and matter-of-factly said to us, “God made a mistake when I was born because I was supposed to be a girl.” At the time he was about four or five years old.
Like his sister and his mother, he had and has a very astute command of language. Even at a young age, he was a natural born thinker and critic, and I believe his voice will one day be heard on the world stage in one manner or another.
Sharakhu and his sister are exceedingly intelligent in spite of their dyslexia; both he and his sister have dyslexia. This doesn’t stop them one iota from pursuing their dreams. His sister is currently at the top of her law school class at Syracuse University. Their parents have gone through and over and under the system to make sure both their children received all the support they required to attend and get through great schools.
I made it my business to be there for Sharakhu. One of our most memorable outings was when we headed out early one Sunday morning to The Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the Alexander McQueen exhibit. Sharakhu is a lover of fashion and art in general. She is currently enrolled in an all-girls college for art. We enjoy sharing art together so this season we will be attending the new Broadway version of M Butterfly.
Sharakhu recently turned 21 and a couple of years ago realized that she was not gay, but instead feels like a female born in the body of a male. The words of her youth reminding us of the adage “From the mouths of babes”. I cannot tell you how this reckoning has caused her much suffering, the many long bouts of depression, day upon weeks, upon months of not wanting to get out of bed or leave the house or be seen. Most of us cannot begin to imagine this kind of pain; it runs deep, all the way to the bones, to the soul and back again. I sincerely appreciate Sha giving me permission to share her story.
I have a particular perspective regarding transgender people. In my mind, they are on a most grueling spiritual quest and their suffering will lead to a higher form of evolution and growth. It is my sincere belief that all people who suffer greatly have a closeness to the Divine. Some of them make it through their rough journey scraped and bruised, with many internal and sometimes external scars that reveal the rugged terrain they have traveled and many prevail, like transgender Author and Advocate, Janet Mock. Others cannot take the suffering, the ridicule, and non-acceptance, and end their lives. Others trying to live their truth have their lives taken away from them.
The number of trans-teens who commit suicide is staggering. Thirty-percent of trans-teens attempt suicide and forty- two percent report a history of self-injury, such as cutting. Twenty-five transgender people were murdered in 2017, for being transgender. And the thought that my niece could be killed on two counts for 1. being born black and male, and 2. being black and transgender. The thought of it can be harrowing. I don’t let it get to me because I trust that she is being protected by angels and ancestors and I’m hoping to open the hearts and minds of others who can offer love, a love that protects all those who are deemed “different”.
About eight years ago, I was at the checkout counter at Victoria’s Secret on 34th Street. The salesperson behind the counter was a transgender woman of exquisite beauty; I could not take my eyes off of her. She seemed to be Filipino or perhaps she was from Thailand, a place that specializes in gender-altering operations. In any event, this trans person looked like a work of art. Her gracefulness, the skin, the flawless makeup made her absolutely mesmerizing. I realized that transgender people are rarely seen working in public places. They are more often than not, unemployed. In addition to job discrimination, they are also burdened with housing discrimination and many other forms of discrimination. I wonder what would Jesus say about all of this? I don’t think he would approve as his teachings were about love and loving all of humankind. Yet, I doubt this topic comes up in Christian church services.
In the teaching of the Buddha, it is stated that understanding is love and love is understanding. Another of the Buddha’s teaching says that we should not discriminate. I always thought of discrimination as having to do with race, but discrimination takes on many forms. We often discriminate against ideas, people, religions and or ways of being of others that we don’t understand, therefore are unable to accept.
Imagine how they would feel if they were accepted and loved. There would be less suffering. I can’t begin to explain the pain I’ve experienced as an aunt of a trans-child. The things that have been said to me about transgender people are not only lacking in sensitivity and humaneness, but those who share their thoughts seemingly have no idea how very painful, heart-wrenching their words can be. They seem to have no idea how they have hurt me with their closed minds and hearts and judgmental words.
If the thought of trans-people assaults your sensibilities, you may have some heart-expanding work to do. It is my sincere belief that trans-people have been around since the dawn of time, like the rest of us. Today’s trans-children are not waiting on society. They are letting their parents know as soon as they realize their discomfort, that they are not the gender that their body says they are, and they will not repress their true identities. Last month, eight openly transgender politicians won in their districts in local elections.
During this holiday season, a time that I refer to as the holy season, I ask that you search your heart to see if there is a way you can expand it to encompass love and understanding for trans-people. In the true spirit of this holy season, let’s love one another; let’s expand our minds and our hearts to the true love of all people. Each and every one of us has emerged from the One Divine Source and to that Source, we will all return. When we are completely whole and healed of our discriminations and our own sufferings; when our hearts are pure, and we can truly see in every way, the Oneness that is All, that you are me and I am you, we will then be one with Source. Each time you expand your heart to accept the “other” you become a step closer to divinity.