Trans-fat: bad, leads to illness.

Trans-gender: confusing, long thought to be an illness.

Not any more.

Here’s the story, posted by a retired eye surgeon, herself transgender, and an acquaintance of mine, Dr. Dana Beyer.

I say “acquaintance” rather than friend to draw a distinction between the increasingly loose use of the word, where anyone you’ve met even briefly is “a friend” — where people routinely have hundreds or thousands of Facebook friends (although in a world that needs all the friendliness it can get, this may not be such a bad thing) — and the stricter meaning, wherein friendship connotes a real bond.  By that definition, I have four transgender friends.  But that’s four more than most people and four more than I had ten years ago.  And that matters, because as with anything “different,” we’re wired to reject it until we get to know it, or at least until it comes highly recommended.

When I was a kid, no one knew gay people — or knew that they did, which amounts to the same thing.  Now everyone does, and, guess what?  Most of today’s kids can barely imagine a world where being gay was a codified mental illness, often treated with electroshock therapy.  They know Ellen DeGeneres.  They know Anderson Cooper.  They know their gay aunts and uncles and perhaps their gay fraternity brother, congressperson or (as of next month) senator.  I’m sorry, but it’s pretty hard not to like Ellen or Anderson.  And while some on the right may think the mayors of Paris and Berlin and Houston and Portland (and New York’s City Council President) hold some “crazy” political views, few would argue they are mentally ill.

Well, as of this month, Dana reports, trans persons are no longer classified as mentally ill, either — just as happened 39 years ago when the American Psychiatric Association made the same determination about gays and lesbians.

Most of us have a lot on our plate.  Actively seeking to make transgender friends or to read up on the topic will not make most to-do lists.  But once you do get to know people like my friends Diego, a widely respected congressional aide who was born a woman, and Babs, born a man, with whom I sit on the DNC Executive Committee, and Renee, who captained Yale’s all-male tennis team, and Martine, who recruited Ray Kurzweil — yes! “my” Ray Kurzweil! — to the board of the public company she founded and runs . . . once you get to know people like these, discomfort turns into fondness and respect.

 

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