Editor's Letter: It's Hard to Hate a Real Person

By Matthew Breen

Originally published on Advocate.com April 16 2012 1:00 AM ET

 In the span of two hours in an airport, I had several encounters that variously heartened and disappointed me. I over- heard a conversation between an American woman and a presumably straight British man who told her his day had started in Texas, where the hotel clerk had taken great pains to tell him that he was in “the country of Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” He was duly mortified at the jackasses who chose to wear their bigotry as a badge of honor.

In a another instance, I was taking a final look over our interview with Laverne Cox on my iPad when a waitress from an airline lounge leaned in and told me what a beautiful woman Laverne is. I agreed and said that she’s a transgender actress in a upcoming movie. Our ensuing tussle over pronouns gave me a familiar twinge, and I wondered whether I’d stumbled, as is my wont, into unfriendly conversational territory. The 40-something African-American woman told me once she’d wondered if people were “born that way,” but she’s pretty well convinced of it now. Her niece, who was born a boy, had gravitated to girls’ dolls over boys’ toy trucks even before age 2. “And we tested him!” she laughed. Screw the pronouns, that woman had her heart in exactly the right place. I told her I was grateful on her niece’s behalf for her supportive auntie, and we both said how grateful we were that the world, far from being perfect, was a friendlier place for a young trans person than in any time previously.

Traveling is always an opportunity to talk with strangers about their livelihoods. My job outs me on the spot, so occasionally I take a deep breath before launching into what is more often a several-minute conversation than the “Oh, how interesting,” followed by silence that some accountants and attorneys (no offense meant to either) must surely face. I may not have been able to change anyone’s mind on LGBT rights, but at least the person on the other end of that conversation would have no doubt that I’m real, and I’m convinced it’s harder to hate a real person than it is to hate the idea of one.