There is an unfounded perception going around about our little town here. When people see me, they'll frequently fall back upon this concept of what Tulsa, Oklahoma is, and they're often shocked when I express to them the actual truth about the place. Sometimes people look at me as if expecting a punchline, or ask if I'm being subtly sarcastic. But I swear to you, I'm dead honest when I express to them The Truth About Tulsa: We are a beautiful community filled to bursting with love and acceptance of other people.
Honest. And believe me, I would know. I am a transplanted, transgendered resident of Tulsa, and I have been made to feel every bit a part of the local culture as anybody else. My daily employ consists of solely face-to-face transactions in a high-traffic retail establishment, so there's no hiding from the public my own personal image. Tulsans take a good look at me, and by and large, it doesn't faze 85 percent of them to see a lady who looks decidedly boyish. Another 14.99 percent or so actively express their support, whether I'm at work or just quietly browsing books at the library. There is that fringe, of course, that remaining 0.01 percent of folks (whom I like to call "Concerned Persons") who have actively been boycotting me (via my place of employment) in an attempt to make their point that they don't like my face, but they are clearly in the minority -- and let's face it: every family has one.
It's been my experience that most people in Tulsa are either kind and compassionate towards me, or they're willing to simply let me live in harmony alongside them. And really, that's what astonishes people when I tell them that I don't get harassed or bothered any more than the average person would. Tulsa may not be paradise, but it's a beautiful place nonetheless because the people make it so.
If I might segue into a few basic pieces of social transgender etiquette for a second here, I'd sure appreciate it. Most people have the sincere urge to do/say what's appropriate, and I hope that these words help to make that a little easier.
First, let's say you encounter someone whose gender may not be entirely obvious. Asking, "Are you a man or a woman?" is perfectly gauche. Just imagine how you'd feel if someone were to question your personal appearance. To me, it's entirely appropriate to ask, instead, "By which pronouns do you prefer to be addressed?" Or, if you aren't the type to ask either question (and bless your heart for it), it's simple to avoid "him/her," "he/she," "Sir/Ma'am" altogether. "This person," for instance. Or, with a retail store employee, why not simply read the name tag and use that, instead?
It's even nicer that way! Despite dressing appropriately for my gender (which I assure you, without getting too graphic, is absolutely female), folks often insist upon the use of incorrect pronouns. That's not an affront to me -- although it'd be nicer if people would choose to avoid "he/she" terms if the circumstances are unclear or if people would just ask (with tact) which is correct.
Secondly, it's bad taste to ask anybody intensely personal questions if you barely know them -- especially in the workplace. For instance, I'm not going to get into discussing my anatomy if I'm simply trying to ring up your purchases. This isn't intended to be rude, of course. This is simply because it doesn't apply to my ability to give you the best shopping experience that I can. It's really not okay to ask about things that perhaps only a doctor or a loved one should know.
Now, if you have children who ask "Are you a boy or a girl?" please know that this is understandable. Your children are still developing social skills! However, unless you ask your child not to ask such questions (i.e. "Are you a boy or a girl?"), then it's fair to expect the trans person to answer honestly and mindfully (read: not explicitly). Again, this isn't to be rude. Rather, it would be rude indeed to ignore the child's question altogether. Right? If you'd rather have your child believe something different, then it would be best to answer it in private and to curtail the innocent question as soon as it is asked. It's wrong to expect somebody else to deliver your "truth" at the expense of that person's sense of self! (That doesn't mean I'm going to blow the lid on the Easter Bunny; it just means I'm not going to claim to be the Easter Bunny to make things easier.)
Finally, short, pithy statements such as "[My deity] loves/hates you!" don't help. Seriously, they don't. I, personally, have heard them before, and I've weighed them carefully. Although I applaud those folks who stoically stand by their beliefs, I know that my God has a heart mighty enough to love us all, regardless of how visible our "transgressions" might be. Some people ask if they can pray for me, and I'm fine with that, but I'd feel better if such energies would be expended on helping those who are actually lonely and suffering in the world. At this point in my life, I'm more at peace than I've ever been, so let's join each other in helping those who have true tragedy and sadness afflicting them. That's more relevant than however my body appears, when it comes right down to it.
I love Tulsa, and am proud to call it home. The streets may be narrow and the summers ferocious, but the amalgamation of beautiful people (including those aforementioned Concerned Persons who really are trying to do what's right by their hearts) make it one of the most wonderful places in which I have ever lived. It truly is an exciting time to live here, and I want to thank every single one of you folks for making Tulsa strong.
-- Brenna Collins
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