I am terrified to write about transgender issues.
That's not an easy thing for me to admit, given my own self-image as a writer who's happy to share his opinions. But, to be honest, it's not really that much of a stretch for a gay white male editorialist to wax indignant over ''Don't Ask, Don't Tell,'' or congressional malfeasance on gay and lesbian issues, or the accomplishments/failures of the White House on marriage and partner recognition. These are things I know and live and experience, and it's hardly a risk for me to write about them.
I haven't lived or experienced a transgender life -- I only know what I've learned from the stories of other people's lives. I'm lucky that I've gotten to help tell some of those stories here in the magazine, and that I've learned a lot from people like Mara Keisling, Dana Beyer, Earline Budd and -- from the issue you hold right now -- Diego Sanchez.
Unfortunately, even in our own gay and lesbian community, the language and attitudes towards trans folk are often hurtful and biased in ways that we're not even aware of. And that's what makes me uneasy, the idea that those same bigoted attitudes might seep into my own writing. I know it's possible because I know I've said things in the past that while casually spoken carried a great deal of ignorance and bigotry. Unintended bigotry, but bigotry nonetheless.
I hope that I've grown less ignorant with age, but there's always more to learn.
Not long ago, a younger straight relative of mine mentioned meeting a transgender woman. This is a guy who's always been perfectly comfortable around me and my husband, treating each of us as equal members of the extended family. He's a guy I can't even imagine referring to us as ''faggots'' or ''homos.''
Yet ''she-male'' and ''tranny'' popped right out with unsettling ease. It's shocking, as always, to hear someone you know to be a good person casually putting out some deeply hateful and hurtful language.
This was the perfect example of that thing we call the ''learning opportunity.'' So we had a long talk about what it means to be transgender in our society: the pervasive hostility, the barriers to employment, the risk of violence. While it was, I hope, a learning experience for him, it was for me as well. For all the times I'd spoken to straight friends and relatives about the importance of treating gays and lesbians with dignity, respect and equality, I'd never really done the same regarding transgender people.
None of this is meant to claim some mantle of bravery on my part for writing about transphobia -- all the bravery here goes to those trans folk who live openly in a world that goes out of its way to make their lives harder. All of us who have come out to live as gay, lesbian or bisexual share some of that experience, but it doesn't confer an instant understanding.
I think it's a good first step, whether for me or anyone, to realize what things we don't know or fully understand. As long, of course, as we take that second step to begin to understand.
It takes an effort to learn, but it's an effort we all need to make.
Sean Bugg is co-publisher of Metro Weekly. You can reach him at 'firstname.lastname@example.org'.