Last Thursday was Fairness Day at the State Capitol. It was a chance for West Virginia to say that “All Kinds are Welcome Here,” and the LGBTQ community was out in force.

I met a woman who I quickly learned was transgender, a person who identifies as a gender or sex other than the one which they were assigned at birth.

I don’t think I’m transphobic. To my knowledge I don’t know any transgender people—I doubt many West Virginians of my generation do—so this was a new experience. I asked if she could answer some very specific questions I had and she willingly agreed.

She was delightful and we had a pleasant—and frank—chat. She told me she had known since she was a child that something was different, and it took a long time to work up the courage to become her true self.

Something clicked with me during our conversation.  Instead of seeing a man dressed as a woman, I started to see the real person, someone I enjoyed talking with and thought I might even be friends with.

I grew up in a gender-specific time, gender binary as it’s called now. There were boys and girls we suspected were homosexual.  They didn’t come out—nobody did back then—but that didn’t necessarily insulate them from painful ridicule.

It wasn’t until after college that I found out that one of my best friends was gay, and that was an epiphany on the issue of equality. How could I deny this good man, one of the smartest and most decent people I had ever met, the same enjoyment and benefits of life that I, a heterosexual male, had?

So, I came to terms with gay marriage and have supported it wholeheartedly for many years now.

Then life became more complicated. After gay or straight, there came bigender, transgender, gender fluid, gender non-conformist, pansexual, skoliosexual, on and on. And I got confused.

Not sexually confused—my gender identity and biological sex assigned at birth have always aligned—but rather confused about what it all meant and whether some of these new identities were just politically correct identifications for people who wanted to have it both ways.

And confused about how I was supposed to think and feel about the rapidly changing landscape of gender identity and sexual orientation.

My process for sorting through confusion is initially academic; I do research to try to learn new information. But at some point you have to meet people in these new categories, talk to them and hear their stories.

I don’t want to be a “woke” cliché. Patronizing is almost as bad as outright discrimination. So, I’m listening and trying to learn, and from that learning I hope will develop more informed views about sexual and gender identity.

This commentary is not intended to try to change anyone’s mind about this sensitive and controversial issue. It’s my acknowledgment that life is not static. The changes come at us in spurts and waves.

My initial inclination is to batten down the hatches for protection, even self-preservation. I’ve done that a lot. Change does not come easy for me.

But it is far more liberating to try to meet these changes with an open mind, and more importantly, an open heart.

I’m looking forward to more conversations like the one I had last week.

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