When I was young, my parents took us on a road trip. Like nearly all our vacations, we were camping in our lovely pop-up camper—equipped with double beds, a mini-fridge, and a heater. We may have been living among the trees, but we were extra fancy about it. In between hiking mountains and eating wild blueberries, we stopped in a few towns.
At one of them, we were making our way down a store-lined street after some wholesome vacation activity, like eating ice cream or window shopping. My sister and I were a few steps ahead of my parents and had stopped to talk to someone. I can’t remember what she said to us, but her voice was deep and raspy—very deep and very raspy. We talked with her about whatever we were doing at the time and then she went on her way. Once she left, and our parents had caught up to us, we turned to them and asked why that girl had a voice that sounded like a boy’s. My mom looked at us and said, “Because she was a boy, but now she’s a girl.”
It was the perfect explanation for two young kids—simple, straightforward, and free of judgment. With that short phrase, my mom explained the truth to us. She didn’t hesitate or hedge her response. She said it as the fact it was and left it out there for us to take. I’m not sure if she expected us to keep asking questions, but we didn’t have any. We heard her, acknowledged it, and went on with our business—the business of eating summer treats and looking at trinkets. We accepted that we’d just had a nice interaction with a stranger and that stranger was a woman. It wasn’t complicated. It wasn’t difficult to understand. It wasn’t hard to keep living our lives without judging her or hating her or wanting her to be harmed.
I’ve been trying to figure out how to write about the tragedy in Orlando. I’ve thought about it again and again. It’s filling my newsfeed and my mind. There are so many pieces to it—the hate, the gun violence, the political response. Stories about the attack have been popping up alongside pictures of my friends celebrating Pride this month—dancing in the streets, celebrating their truth, and recognizing the value of the people around them. The joy of honesty is sitting right next to this deep sadness. I’ve had a lot of emotional responses to the attack, but my gut keeps coming back to that memory.
I can’t speak for my LGBTQ friends and I won’t try, but I can speak for that little girl who heard a gruff, masculine voice rise out of a tall, beautiful woman. That moment wasn’t wrought with conflict for me. I wasn’t confused or offended or bothered. I was affected only enough to cement those minutes into my mind. And that’s because of one reason—one person, really. I was lucky enough to have a mother who explained the truth simply and kindly, and who raised me in a way that made the truth easy. I know not everyone is gifted with that, but what if we were? What would happen if we had an army of openminded, openhearted mothers? What would the world look like if, when a question arose, a thoughtful mother appeared to answer? What if every politician, every community leader, every businessperson was assigned a Jiminy Cricket style mother to explain how he should act?
We might be forced to quiet down just long enough to accept one another. The trade off would be that we could never walk too close to the edge of a balcony and we’d have to eat a lot more vegetables, but it’s probably worth it.