Monday, December 30, 2013

To all my friends

To all my friends

As we come to the new year and I look back over the past year, what I see most, and what makes me happiest, are all of my friends. 

You, my friends, are amazing in so many ways. You are smarter, wiser, faster, stronger, prettier, funnier, kinder, gentler, and well... more than I am. You do totally awesome things in tech, in science, in scholarship, in art, in activism, in helping people, and so many other areas.

And there are so many of you, more friends than I've ever had. One of the hard things with hiding my identity for all of those years was that inside me was a little girl who wanted to be friends with everyone she met but she had to remain hidden.

I felt that friends were conditional, that they would only be around as long as I lived a lie. So I let old friends go too easily, believing they'd be gone anyway once they knew the truth. Making new friends was hard, too. Just being with people wore me out - I needed to play a role and keep my cover, so that meant I was continually watching what I said and how I acted. I was continually thinking, "if they only knew."

This year that friendly little girl who had always been inside the old me didn't have to hide any more. She was free to think the best of people, to give hugs and blow kisses, to go out of her way to reconnect with old friends, and to take the chance of making new ones. I know that people are not always what they seem, that some may let you down, that just wanting to be friends doesn't make it so. But this year I chose largely to ignore that wisdom and I set that little girl free to take the chance of making friends.

I know, I know - I'm still a long way from being in the running for Miss Congeniality, but for me the difference has been striking. I've reconnected with old friends from virtually every time in my life, and I believe I've made more new friends in this past year than in the previous 20 years combined. That makes this little girl very happy indeed.

One thing, however, gives me pause. Many people, it seems, tend to gather with those like themselves - people who look the same, think the same, believe the same. And I know that I was brought up in a small town where people were suspicious of anyone different - to be blunt, I was fed a steady diet of almost every kind of bigotry and prejudice.

In my prairie hometown people didn't always act on those prejudices, but they were in the air - racial prejudice, religious prejudice, sexism, homophobia and transphobia, prejudice against people from different countries and cultures, ableism in every form, the list goes on and on. And while I recognized (and objected to) some of those bigotries, so many of them seeped into me unnoticed and unopposed for too long. 

I wish I'd done more to stand up against those bigotries. I can make excuses - that I was young, that I didn't know better, that I didn't really have an opportunity, but the fact is that I did too little for too long. In my many years undercover in the role of a straight, white, cisgender male, I'm ashamed to say I let far too much prejudice go unanswered, simply because I was afraid objecting might call attention to myself, and that attention might reveal who I really was. 

So the other amazing thing about you, my friends, is how diverse you are. My friendships these days read like a roll of honor of all the labels I was brought up to scorn - different races, religions, cultures, countries, sexuality and gender identity, neurodiversity, to name just a few. In fact, some of those despised labels - transgender, lesbian, and atheist, for example - are ones that I claim for myself now, something not lost on the family that raised (and has now largely disowned) me. 

So I sometimes wonder how all of you amazing folks can be friends with me. I've tried and continue to try my best to see and neutralize that prejudice and bigotry, but the traces remain, like old scars. What can I bring to the table then? When I ponder that question, I realize that all I can offer is that little girl who  just wants to be friends.

For me being friends is not a trivial thing. It means doing my best to know you, the struggles you've faced, the triumphs you've had, how your past has shaped you and how you shape your present and future. It means acknowledging our differences in privilege, culture, belief, background, and more while embracing and celebrating our many connections. It also means having the trust and generosity to help each other improve those connections and to help each other in general. And finally, it means genuine respect for who we all are, without condescension or appropriation.  

So if I can be a good friend by that definition, if I can stand by, and stand up for, my friends, I think it will be good enough. I hope and believe such friendships can improve our lives and our little parts of the world, and for this little girl that's a darned good start.

All of this is very long and labored way for me to say how much I respect and value all of you, my friends, and hope to grow our friendships (and many more) in the future.

(and by the way, if you read this and thought, "she's not talking about me, she's talking about her other friends," you're wrong. I meant you, too.)