“Oh hunny, always put the tupaware up! Never put it in a bottom cabinet.” She softly instructed with a sweet smile and that southern drawl.
I returned the smile and sheepishly unpacked the box in the top cupboard, just thankful to be out of the car after a long move.
It was 2010, my then fiancé and myself just made the drive from Burnsville, Minnesota to a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri. The effects of the recession were still being felt and this meant hiring freezes at city, county, and state levels- not great news for Brad as he sought out a job in law enforcement. Finally, he was hired. We picked up our budding life together to transplant in this quickly recovering town on the river.
The move was stressful though, the original apartment complex we were supposed to move into pulled a bait and switch. We were left without anywhere to stay; tens of hours and hundreds of miles from anyone we knew. We literally just drove around looking for “For Rent” signs, finding one just a block from the cozy downtown area. That is when I met Kerry.
She answered our call, sensing we were in distress and alone. She opened up the new townhouse to us, introduced herself, and offered us help with moving in. She was the angel we needed, an answer to the many prayers I was saying in that time of need.
“Do you know who I am? What I am?”
I again gave a dumb sheepish smile and slow nod. Kerry was an angel. She was also transgender.
“Oh, my hair is just a sweaty mess right now.” She huffed, quickly tussling her bangs to try to cover her face “I usually look better and it’s not so obvious.” I unwittingly embarrassed her and instantly regretted my hasty acknowledgement.
After unpacking the entire moving truck and helping unpack some boxes, she invited us back to her townhouse a block away for dinner. She was so kind and just had an easy way about her, it was impossible to say no.
Brad and I went to her house and she insisted we sit as she scurried about the kitchen, preparing a fabulous meal and even dishing up homemade cupcakes for dessert. The entire time she talked, telling me her story.
She use to be married and fathered three children, she even has some grandchildren now. She pushed down the feelings of being trans* her entire life, literally driving her to a ledge. She believed God saved her, telling her to try living life the way she was meant to before ending it all at that ledge.
I was a born and raised Catholic, a red blooded republican (at the time). I never met a transgender person before her. She asked if I wanted to go dress shopping with her the next weekend. I readily agreed. We went to a small strip mall that housed a women’s clothing boutique and tried on dresses in neighboring changing rooms.
I didn’t know I was supposed to be afraid. We chattered through the walls as we tried on dress after dress; sometimes coming out to the hallway to show each other ones we liked, other times refusing to exit our individual rooms because the dress being tried on was deemed too ugly. I’m basically saying: it was like any other time I’ve gone shopping with girl friends.
I went to school for criminal justice, engaged to a police officer, raised to be afraid of my own shadow. I never walked alone at night, I never went to a party without using the buddy system, I would walk across the street to avoid walking by small groups of intimidating looking men. More adventurous friends use to tease me for my cautious ways. But I never feared Kerry.
I never feared her because there was no reason to fear her. Kerry was always kind, gentle natured, and could be counted on. I never thought twice about using a changing room next to her in a boutique or using a bathroom stall next to her in Target. I knew bad people, Kerry wasn’t one of them.
But she didn’t have the same luxuries as I did. She had to be fearful of where she went and when she went there, she had to worry about who she could look in the eye. Kerry never hurt a soul, she just wanted to live her life. She has been beaten for it, ostracized and mocked for it.
In 2010, I was a staunch republican woman who didn’t know she was supposed to be fearful of her new friend. Now politicians and the media want to tell people like who I was (a small town, conservative, Catholic) that people like Kerry are going to hurt us. That they are supposed to be feared. That they don’t deserve to share the same spaces as us.
The truth of the matter is she wanted and asked nothing from me but instead went above and beyond to help me in any way possible. The truth of the matter is she is the one who has to live in fear when walking into a new business or area of town- fear of ridicule, prejudice, and violence.
I didn’t know I was supposed to be afraid of her and I want you to know that there is nothing to fear. These people are just that: people. Kerry was born a man but everything about her was very maternal. She taught me a lot without even trying, but dang it if she didn’t teach me just how to plan out my kitchen cupboards too.