Fast forward. The lunchtime conversation with Mark is at least a half dozen years behind me, but not forgotten. I am still quite religious at this point, and find myself at church in an adult education class–basically Sunday School, but for big people and, importantly, with coffee and donuts.
A man across the chair circle from me abruptly launches into an unsolicited rant about “the homosexual agenda.” Witness our subsequent conversation, more or less:
Me: Do you know that song, “Come Just As You Are”?
Concerned Citizen: Yeah.
Me: Could a gay person do that here?
Concerned Citizen: Well, they have to give up their lifestyle first.
Me: Why do gay people have to change first if the rest of us get to come as we are? Can’t God fix whatever needs fixing?
Concerned Citizen: I suppose.
Me: And what if being gay doesn’t need fixing? Have you considered the possibility that there is nothing wrong with them?
I don’t remember exactly how long it took me to progress from the idea that there wasn’t anything wrong with gay people to the thought that perhaps there wasn’t anything wrong with me either. Even now, I don’t always feel too sure about it. Still, I connected the dots, and decided to quit fighting my transgender identity.
I regret to say that I did not come out the next day in a technicolor blur of fabulousness. As always, I waded slowly into the water. I managed to convince myself that I was in a safe place, and that my friends either did not notice or did not care that I was gradually feminizing. It would be another several years before I found out how wrong I was.
That too, was a milestone, but one I think I’ll leave undisturbed.
His name was Mark.
When I was an intern (essentially, a freshman doctor) in Emergency Medicine, he was a more senior resident in Internal Medicine. We crossed paths numerous times during the year. I appreciated his calm demeanor and quick wit. One day, we both managed to escape to the cafeteria for a quick lunch. Our conversation, to the best of my recollection:
Mark: So, tell me about your family.
Me: I am married to Kathy, and we have a one year old, Kaitlin.
(I expound for a while)
Me: How about you?
Me: Do you have any kids?
Mark: I’m not allowed to have kids.
Me: You’re unfit to parent? Yeah, I suppose I can see that..
Mark: Some would say so.
Me: What the hell are you talking about?
Mark: Haven’t you heard _________ talking crap about me?
Me: No. Again, what the hell are you talking about?
Mark: I’m gay.
Me: I just figured you were unfit to parent…
Although I am sure that I met many gay people before that time, Mark was the first to tell me so. He probably knew of my conservative religious background and anticipated an unfavorable reaction. I don’t think I reacted much at all in the moment–clearly not enough to rein in my sarcastic sense of humor–but the conversation percolated through my consciousness for months and years to come.
We did not cross paths much more after that. I will never have a detailed understanding of his thoughts, but I recognized that he felt less than human in the eyes of society. Every time I recall our conversation, I renew the vow that I made that afternoon–I will never do that to another individual.
It took me decades to shake off the shackles of narrow-minded religion and longer still to adopt an attitude of broad tolerance toward the entire rainbow humanity. I do not claim to have finished either of these tasks, but the lunch with Mark remains one of the most potent memories of my journey.
If I can be so bold as to offer you any suggestion from my experience it would be this: pay attention. Any given moment may be one that changes your life.
More milestones to come. And more wilderness. We change, or/then we die. Let’s be good to each other.
It’s come to this–we are bombing hospitals. MSF (Medicins Sans Frontiers, aka, Doctors Without Borders) reports at least 23 dead from a US airstrike including women, children, nurses and physicians. Medical staff watched helplessly as 6 patients burned alive in the ICU. Although the US has admitted the bombing was a mistake, military spokesmen quickly floated a trial balloon alleging that Taliban had occupied and were firing from the hospital. MSF emphatically denies this is the case.
Whom should we believe? Should it be the US military, authors of My Lai, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and the malicious prosecution of selfless truth teller Edward Snowden. Or, should we ascribe credibility to MSF, who succeeded in the struggle against Ebola in West Africa in the wake of a pathetic response by the World Health Organization? Whose 1999 Nobel Prize was totally legit, as compared to the sham sequel given to Obama in 2009?
The US will quickly drop the claims about hostile combatants inside the hospital for the festering pile of bullshit that it is, but that is as far as they will go. The Air Force will investigate itself, and claim that no harm was intended for the innocent. “Smart” bombs so routinely hit the unintended that “collateral damage” is just another way of saying “damage”. If another nation did this to us, we would be breathing fire and demanding accountability for war crimes.
The Middle East air campaign during the Clinton administration, before the birth of my 16 year old son. Since then, countless sons and daughters have been sacrificed on the altar of American fear/vengeance. Only a complete idiot would claim that we are more safe today. US military and foreign policy is predicated on overwhelming force and lopsided victories. By my accounting, the last such victory we could genuinely celebrate was 70 years ago.
MSF, which stared down Ebola and won, is now leaving Kunduz. They are the finest medical charity in the world, and one that never, ever proselytizes for a religion.
Give to MSF (Doctors Without Borders) here.