Ramadan

I’m devoting this Throwback Thursday post to my wedding day mainly because today is not only what would’ve been my wedding anniversary had my husband not left me for someone else but June 8 falls on a Thursday this year. June is the month that many couples in the U.S. traditionally get married. On top of it this month is LGBTQ Pride Month and I have a wedding-related story that definitely fits with that theme.

A couple of months ago on March 31 I saw a bunch of stories suddenly crop up on my Facebook feed about people speaking openly about either being transgender themselves or having a friend or loved one who is transgender. I didn’t know that the transgender community have been having an International Transgender Day of Visibility on March 31 since 2009. This year it really took off with all of the testimonials about transgender people and issues. I only wished someone had given me advanced notice because I would’ve told my own particular story then. So I decided to wait until Pride Month to tell my own story.

I grew up being completely ignorant about transgender people. I was raised Roman Catholic and the topic of being transgender was simply never brought up in church. The local public school system never mentioned that topic either in all the years I was a student there. The first person I recalled who actually had sex-reassignment surgery was a British man named James Morris, who became known as Jan Morris after having the surgery. I was a kid then and I thought it was pretty mind-blowing that one could change genders like that. I remember Jan Morris got tons of publicity and it ignited all kinds of debate about transsexuals (which is what transgender people were referred as at the time).

A few years later a tennis player named Renée Richards attempted to compete in the U.S Open as a female athlete. She became controversial when it was revealed that she was originally born a man and she, too, had a sex change operation. There were female tennis players who protested the idea of her being included in their tournaments.

When I was in college I picked up a copy of Gloria Steinem’s book Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions, which was a compilation of articles that she wrote in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Among those articles was a 1977 essay about the Renée Richards controversy called “Transsexualism.” Her hypothesis was that people opted for sex change operations because of the rigid gender roles that were proscribed in society, which dictates that boys don’t cry and girls don’t play sports. She basically said that if society were to loosen gender roles then men won’t feel the need to have sex change operations so they can express emotions more easily and women could play sports without having sex change operations to become men. Her closing words were “But the question remains: If the shoe doesn’t fit, must we change the foot?”

In the years since Gloria Steinem wrote her “Transsexualism” essay, there have been major changes in terms of gender roles. More men are opting to become stay-at-home dads while their wives work full-time. There are now male nurses, female doctors, male flight attendants, and female postal workers. The WNBA is a professional women’s basketball team and there is the FIFA Women’s World Cup Soccer. Women’s basketball, women’s hockey, and women’s soccer are all Olympic sports. Yet, despite these advances in gender equality, more and more people are coming out as transgender because they feel that they have literally been born in the wrong body, with the most prominent being Caitlyn Jenner, who once won an Olympic gold medal as Bruce Jenner.

During my college years at the University of Maryland at College Park, I met a couple of gay and lesbian students but my first-hand experience with transgender people was limited to going to a midnight screening of a certain cult film that has this musical number:

After college my fiancee and I decided to get married and it was my fiancee who, out of the blue, said that he wanted a church wedding. (I was always surprised by his preference. He told me that his family was basically nonreligious when he was growing up, with the exception of a few years when his family attended a Quaker congregation only to leave it when that congregation went through a nasty congregational split that disgusted his parents so much that they quit.) I had stopped going to mass and I would’ve been content with a civil marriage by a justice of the peace. I told him that we would’ve had to go to marriage classes if we were to be married in the Roman Catholic church while he would have to promise that any future children we had would be raised Catholic. He remembered an ad I had shown him that was published in The Washington Post a year earlier that was for Unitarian Universalism that said “Instead of having to fit in with a church, I found a church that fits me” while telling him that I was impressed with it. (I remember when I found that ad while I was going through the Sunday paper. There were no Unitarian Universalist groups on campus and the nearest congregation was only available by car, which I didn’t have at the time, so I never followed up on that ad and I soon forgot about it.) He even found a local UU congregation that he said we could try. (He also lined up a few other denominations we could try as well—namely Quaker and the United Church of Christ—in case the UU church didn’t work out for either of us.)

So we went to our first UU service and we were impressed with the minister. We found out after the service that the woman was a visiting minister and the regular minister would be speaking the following week. We were still impressed with the fact that the church had a weekly coffee hour where people stuck around and socialized after Sunday service. (In contrast, my old Roman Catholic parish had something similar called “Hospitality Sunday” that was only held once a month. Otherwise, people basically spilled into the parking lot and drove home once mass ended.) We were also impressed with how friendly the people there were. We went back the following week to check out the regular minister and we were impressed with him as well. We started going every week and, after a few months, we signed the membership book. We even managed to get the minister to officiate at our wedding so my husband got his way on having a religious wedding.

So we were married by a UU minister. During the reception I threw my wedding bouquet and one of the single ladies caught it. Then my new husband removed the garter from my leg and one of his single friends caught it. Then the bouquet catcher and garter catcher posed for a photo with me and my newly wedded husband.

The guy who caught my garter was named Dave Norris. Dave’s mother and my husband’s mother were friends and there were times when Dave hung around with my husband and his neighborhood friends in Long Island even though Dave was a few years younger than my husband.

Traditionally there is this old wives’ tale that says that people who catch the bouquet and garter are the ones who will be married next. That doesn’t usually happen in real life but Dave was the rare exception because he got married the following year while my husband was the best man at his wedding. It was a short-lived marriage that happened soon after his girlfriend found out that she was pregnant. The bride was six months pregnant at the wedding. Three months later she had the baby. Three months after the birth, Dave and his new wife separated and they were soon divorced.

My husband and I saw Dave in person a few more times after the quick wedding/separation/divorce. The last time we saw Dave was when he traveled to Maryland with his then-latest girlfriend because he was going to a conference in Washington, DC. The four of us ate at a local restaurant. After that we lost touch with Dave for a few years.

Meanwhile my husband and I became more involved in our new UU congregation where we made new friends. About a year or two later my husband and I ended up as co-chairs of the church’s Social Action Committee. During that time AIDS was starting to ravish the nation. At the same time there was a big March on Washington for LGBTQ people that was announced. A long-time member came to us about doing a lay service about AIDS. We knew that he was previously married to a woman and he had two children (one of whom would tragically die in a car accident when she was only in her early 20’s). It was during that time he came out to us as gay. A short time later he came out as gay to the rest of the congregation. I have to admit that the congregation was shocked but ultimately accepted him because he had been an active member. (If he had been a member of my old religion, he would’ve been driven away no matter how long he had been a member.)

I’ve already written plenty about that longtime member coming out as gay in this blog so I suggest reading this post if you want to learn more about Ed Kobee and his spouse, Al Usack. After Ed managed to rally his fellow congregation members (including my husband and I) to actually attend the March on Washington for LGBTQ rights, he and Al became activists within both our congregation, the Joseph Priestley District, and in the greater UUA for that faith to become more welcoming to LGBTQ people (which resulted in the UUA’s Welcoming Congregation program). Due to those efforts we started to seeing people who were openly gay, lesbian, and bisexual attending our Sunday services. Some became members for years while others attended for a short while then moved on.

I met my first openly transgender person through my UU congregation. One of the newer members was an open bisexual who had joined with her then-husband, who was also bisexual. (They gave a forum at my congregation on bisexuality where they said they had extramarital dalliances with same-sex partners.) That marriage subsequently ended and her husband left the church. She started a new relationship with a person who was born a man but he underwent a sex change operation and was now living as a woman. Yet she was still sexually attracted to women. I attended a forum on transgender at my church and this person spoke openly about how she felt like she was born in the wrong body yet she was still attracted to women. That was how I learned that gender identity and sexual orientation are two completely different things. This person was born in a male body and was sexually attracted to females so society designated him as a heterosexual. After the surgery this person was a woman yet was still sexually attracted to females so society designated her as a lesbian.

Basically the bisexual woman and the transgender woman started a relationship and stayed together for many years until the transgender woman died a few years ago. Over the years we’ve had other transgender people attend our Sunday services. I really can’t elaborate further on these other people because it’s really not my story to tell. On top of it, even though these people are openly transgender to my congregation, they aren’t quite as open to the general public outside of church. That’s because there have been too many cases of transgender discrimination on the job and in housing. And that’s not to mention the fact that there have been Republican lawmakers who are trying to pass those bathroom bills that only exist to make a transgender person’s live much harder. If that weren’t enough, there’s the fact that transgender folks are frequently targets of beatings, sexual assaults, and other acts of violence perpetrated against them by transphobic criminals.

Getting back to my husband’s friend who caught my garter at our wedding, we basically didn’t hear from Dave Norris for a number of years. One day, out of the blue, Dave called our house. My husband and Dave had an enjoyable conversation on the phone. Dave told my husband that he had started his own consulting firm and he gave my husband the URL to his new website.

My husband visited the website and saw the page that had the list of the small staff that the consulting firm had along with headshots. He saw the name “Denise Norris” on the list. At first he assumed that Dave had gotten remarried and his wife was helping out in the new venture. But then he took a closer look at that photo and saw that it looked like Dave dressing in drag. My husband soon called his old friend back and asked point blank if this person now a woman. His friend admitted it.

I remember that night my husband decided to take me out to dinner and he relayed that story about his friend is now living as a woman while we were in the car. We had the car radio on at the time while my husband was telling me this and this song suddenly came on the air.

Talk about serendipity! My husband and I got a good laugh out of it.

I have to admit that accepting my husband’s friend as a woman was slightly more challenging for this reason. The other transgender people I met through my UU congregation had already made the change so I never knew them in their previous gender. On the other hand, both my husband and I knew this person when he was a guy. (And my husband knew this person longer than I did since my husband hung around with this person while they were growing up on Long Island.)

A month or so later Denise was in the DC area attending a conference so we decided to get together for dinner at a local restaurant. It was awkward at first but then we hit it off, especially when my husband and Denise started talking about the old days when they were growing up and they would get into some escapades together.

We also learned that basically Denise had long felt like she was a female even though she was born a boy but she had kept those feelings to herself while she was growing up. I can understand why she felt she had to do this. There have been too many cases of transgender children being rejected by their parents and being targeted by bullies in school. It was only after she reached adulthood that her feelings became stronger and it reached the point where she felt that she had to have the surgery. I also remember that her mother was dead by then. (I don’t know if Denise ever came out to her mother before her death or not.) I’m only paraphrasing here because I don’t have an exact transcript of our conversation from that night and I’m just relying on my less-than-perfect memories here.

I have to credit Unitarian Universalism for my husband and I quickly adjusting to the fact that Dave Norris was now living as a woman named Denise Norris. If we hadn’t met other transgender people before seeing Denise, I think it would’ve taken both of us longer to accept Denise as she is now.

We would see Denise in person a few more times after that. I think the last time we met in person was sometime before 2008 (the year I had my hip replacement).

As for the woman who caught my bouquet at my wedding who is also in that photo I posted a few paragraphs ago, her name is Trisha and she’s my godfather’s daughter. I last saw her in person when my father died in 2000 and she stopped by the funeral home one evening during the viewing period. My husband and I told her what happened to the guy who caught the garter at the wedding and how he is now living as a woman. I remember Trisha smiling and deadpanning, “I have that effect on men sometimes.” (LOL!)

Denise Norris now works at Accenture and she is also a transgender activist whose speciality is getting corporations to not only end job discrimination among transgender people but also offer benefits to them (such as health insurance that’s broad enough to afford such expenses as hormone therapy and sex change surgery). She frequently gives media interviews on the topic, such as this recent example. I follow her on Facebook where I read her posts on transgender issues and fellow transgender people like Caitlyn Jenner. (Like many in the transgender community, Denise basically has a dim view of Caitlyn mainly because Caitlyn continues to support the same Republican Party that has been coming out with those notorious bathroom bills in recent years.) I haven’t directly communicated with her in years, especially since I am now divorced and Denise had been more of a friend of my ex-husband’s than mine. On top of it, our paths simply haven’t crossed in real life. There are times I wonder if Denise still has my old wedding garter and, if so, had she ever worn it. (LOL!)

As for my UU congregation there are still LGBTQ members who are active. The most recent transgender member is a person who originally joined my congregation as a man a few years ago. He was open about admitting that he was suffering from gender dysphoria and he was seeing a therapist about that. Last year this person decided to undergo medical treatment and she is now living as a woman. She is also in a relationship with a cis woman who’s a lesbian. This member now looks happier than before the change.

That’s it for my story.

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