I like to pride myself on being open-minded, but when confronted with seeing an old friend at a birthday party who I had known before her transition, I was a bit nervous to say the least. I know other trans women, but I had met them all post-transition. I met Josephine years ago, when I fondly called her Joey.
I first met my friend six years ago on a photo shoot. The Joey I knew was working as an assistant to the makeup artist, and I was assisting the creative director. Joey was really cute, wearing baggy jeans and a baseball cap. Fun and full of energy, Joey was a pleasure to be around, and we exchanged numbers. I would see Joey here and there, mainly at shoots or other work-related events. Then something changed. I started seeing less and less of my friend. I heard through mutual friends that Joey was performing in drag shows, which surprised me, because although small-framed, Joey had always been very masculine. For one reason or another, we fell out of touch but remained friends on social media. As time went on, I began to see physical changes through Joey's Facebook page, and before my eyes, my friend transformed into a strikingly beautiful woman.
My friend Leda was throwing the birthday party and informed me that Josephine was on the guest list. I really didn't know what to expect. Mainly I was worried that I would say something wrong. I also wondered if it was OK to talk about the past. That might sound silly, but this was a first for me. Leda kept assuring me Josephine was the same person and that nothing would be weird -- but I still felt uneasy.
I wanted to talk to Josephine before the party just to let her know I was accepting of her journey. I texted her and she agreed to meet me at the bar of the hotel where the party was being held. When I arrived, there she was, sitting at the bar, noticeably the most stunning woman in the room. I walked over and embraced her with a warm hug. At first, I sensed a slight awkwardness, but we ordered drinks and started to play catch-up, mostly about work. Once we got to talking it was like old times -- on the outside things were different, but she was the same person I knew and loved. We didn't discuss her transition in detail and have not to this day. I didn't feel it was my place to bring it up. If Josephine had wanted to discuss it, I would have, but I didn't feel comfortable initiating the conversation. I spoke to her as if I've always known her to be a woman, simple as that. At one point, she did ask if I thought people could tell she was trans, and I said no. By the time we were ready to go upstairs to the party it was all smiles. I was more than relieved, and I questioned my initial anxiety and where it had come from.
People tend to fear the unknown or what they perceive as different, but we are all human, and this experience only underlined that for me. Keeping ourselves divided as a society keeps one group in power and others repressed. I hope one day we can live in a more inclusive world.
But watching the news can be very disturbing -- from the extremely irresponsible coverage surrounding Bruce Jenner to a fear-mongering bill moving its way through the Florida legislature that could fine trans men and women $1,000 and put them in jail for a year for using the bathroom or dressing room that corresponds with their identity.
Although prejudice often remains blatant, trans people are making strides because of the work of so many activists but also in part because of the visibility of trans people who are changing perceptions for the masses, like actress Laverne Cox, who landed the cover of Time and is "leading the next civil rights movement," and Elite model Carmen Carrera, who's regularly featured in magazines like W. Trans people, whether public figures or not, are reason to hope for change. As for Josephine, she doesn't have it easy, and to me she is a warrior. I admire her strength and am very proud to call her my friend.
DAMON GONZALEZ is a business manager at Bon Appetit and an actor, writer, and commenter.