This past Sunday I took my 8 year old to Church with me. He went to Sunday School for the first chunk of the service. I chose a seat about five seats deep in a lonely aisle. A 60-ish year old woman sat next to me. And by "next" I mean immediately beside me. Which was a bit strange since there were several seats to spare. But whatever. We "greeted" in the normal, sometimes painful, obligatory meet-and-greet way that Church services often force. She was kind. She wore a pink sweater, and we giggled that we matched down to the shade. I complimented her jewelry: how it delightfully livened her colors. She smirked in the humble way that women do to let other women know that they know. She wore a mini-skirt, heels, and had a cute grayish bob. She sat with her legs crossed. And had a purse. She introduced herself as Jessica. Jessica, however, had failed to adequately shave the thick scruff on her chin. Lots of it. She was clearly not a she.
And I spent the next 45 minutes wondering why. And terrified what Myles would say when he joined us in the service.
Trying to take notes during the sermon, I struggled with a dead-beat marker. Jessica scrambled in her purse to find me a worthy pen. She may have peaked at my notes. I did my best to disguise them so she wouldn't know they were about her. Kind of.
The Trinitarian topic prompted my first scribble: Church relations with one another are to reflect the relations of the Trinity.
The second jot: A quote by Miroslav Volf, "The Spirit present in all Christians 'opens' each of them to all others. It starts them on the way to creative mutual giving and receiving, in which each grows in his or her own unique way and all have joy in one another."
To all others? Really? All? Even the ones who are seemingly misguided and crazy? (Yet, I, myself am certainly misguided and crazy...I think I have learned, however, how to disguise it better.)
Creative mutual giving? What must I give to this man who has chosen to badly disguise himself as a woman? I struggled with my temptation to give him/her my disgust. Surely my censure and visible displeasure at her choice would create a change that we all could live with, right? I caught myself quickly, realizing that this must be the normal response of many, one that she is likely painfully used to. I also thought maybe Jessica trusted me not to do this in her choice to sit next to me.
I suspect that we all wear a disguise to some degree. Trying to convince people we are someone we are not, but only aspire to be. Most of the people I associate with wear disguises that are generally approved by the masses: The executive, the supermom, the compassionate servant, etc. Jessica does not. My visceral response to this man-woman was one of judgment and fear. And shake-your-head oh dear. My judgment of her was rooted in an expectation of how most people I know implicitly agree to wear their disguises.
When Myles joined us in the service, he didn't flinch. When she asked, Myles showed Jessica the drawings he had done in Sunday School. He sat cozy with us in our too-close-together-seats. He answered her questions politely. He even took her advice about how to draw better tails on wolves.
We ended up sitting together again at the Church BBQ that followed the service. I learned that Jessica lost her wife of 39 years to breast cancer last year. I also learned that Jessica is a successful engineer. And. That she just came out as a She a short while ago. She read my expressions well as I tried desperately to force away any judgment. But. I unmasked my confusion. She explained that after coming out as a she, she was finally able to feel like herself, to feel that this is who she really is. And in spite of the torturous reactions of many, she feels like she is being true to who she was designed to be: A woman.
In the folds of the weirdness of the story, there were some truths: A longing that we all have--to find our true selves, and be content. To find that one disguise that doesn't feel like a disguise. That one that feels like home, that it was meant just for us. An identity that reveals who we are, not who we are not.
And why am I tempted to judge someone who finds themselves in a socially unacceptable disguise, to judge that just because it's not one that I choose, it is wrong? My discomfort reveals more about me than it does about her. She was confident. And happy. And eager to share her story. I am so worried about what people think of me most of the time that I return things that people make fun of. I practically still live in middle school with some of my girlfriends. I am forced to listen to their desires for bigger boobs and Botox, and then look in the mirror and want the same.
In the end, I realized that it is not my job to judge or condemn. I am only called to love. And Jessica did indeed give something to me. I hope I gave her something too.