Those were the words Bob Dylan belted out as baby boomers came of age and began to question the social order, while I at 10-years-old had a secret. The world was erupting outside, a country divided by war, freedom protests, and flower power. With this as my soundtrack, I stood in my room alone and confused, dressed in my sister’s clothes, staring into the mirror trying to make sense of these feelings. The freedom train was rolling, but it would be a long time before transgender people would get on board.
This past weekend was New England autumn at its best. It was cool and the foliage was brilliant the sun shined brightly and the scent of fallen leaves wafted thru the air. As I gathered with old friends at a lakeside cabin, it was exciting to reconnect and hear where life was taking them. One young lady who I had watched grow up over the years was now in grad school studying to be a speech pathologist. She came over for a visit and was enthusiastic and passionate about her chosen career. As she ticked off the different clients she had worked with I listened politely.
I perked up when she said “Perhaps, the best group I worked with were transgender.”
When I heard this I subconsciously thought all eyes would be on me, so I remained unresponsive and kept quiet for fear I might pass some innocent remark that could out me, such as, “I want to be a woman, help me, please!”
In all seriousness, what followed was a thoughtful conversation by the group of about eight people. What struck me was the lack of surprise by those present; hardly a progressive group, they all understood what being transgender meant and seemed genuinely interested in the young woman’s work with them. She even mentioned that this would be a positive addition to her resume because there was a growing demand. One person even mentioned a colleague who had a transgender daughter.
Transgender awareness has turned a corner. In this case professionals such as speech pathologists are receiving training for this recognized condition as part of their standard curriculum and a group of average people listened with encouraging interest. I contrast this with the views of the 1960s when the only terms for transgender persons were derogatory and we were the punch line for off-colored jokes and fodder for tabloids.
It’s encouraging to see all these positive changes and I am glad they happened in my lifetime. I wish they had happened sooner. It’s easy to play the game of “what might have been.” However, I have evolved to a point I never thought possible and have reached a level of self acceptance that gives me peace.
And that brings to mind the words of another 60s anthem.
“You can't always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you need.”
Manuel Arte femulates Jane Russell and Frankie Kein femulates Marilyn Monroe
at Faces in Santa Monica, California, 1986