“You want me to take over as the Director of the Safe Housing Project. Me.”
Jake Buchanan was sitting across a table at a local diner from Bishop as she made what he considered an outrageous suggestion. What could she possibly be thinking of?
“Just let it sink in a minute, Jake. You’ll see it makes a lot of sense.”
Bishop lifted her coffee cup to her lips to take another sip and Jake couldn’t help but notice her hands. She had transitioned nearly a decade ago, but he always felt her hands, about the same size as Jake’s, didn’t fit in with the rest of her appearance.
“Sense? You know me. I’m as conservative as they come. I’m almost sixty years old, white, male, cisgender, married to the same woman for thirty-five years, three kids, two grandkids and another on the way. My life’s practically a painting by Norman Rockwell.”
“You’ve also been involved in helping the homeless population in our community for fifteen years or more. You lead the grass-roots campaign to get the city to expand its first homeless shelter and then to approve two more.”
“I’m not finished. You and I have been friends for most of those fifteen years. As conservative as you are, you’ve always accepted me. You accepted me when I was Rudy and then when I transitioned to Ruby.”
“You want me to take over the Safe Housing Project for the transsexual and gender non-conforming community. Me. Old white guy of the year.”
“That’s exactly right.” Bishop reached out and briefly touched Jake’s forearm. Jake thought it was such a feminine mannerism and although he considered her one of his closest friends, in the back of his mind, he still remembered Rudy Bishop and the night they first met.
“Look at it this way, Jake. The cisgender community is still struggling to accept gender non-conforming people. The fact that you are a conservative and are heading the Project will send a message rippling through the entire county that transgender homelessness isn’t just a tragedy, it’s life-threatening.”
“I’m not arguing about the risks to the transgender homeless, but are you sure I’ve got that kind of influence? I’m just one man.”
“You’re the right person for the job because of your passion for this sort of work, but that’s not what’s bothering you, is it?”
Jake finished the now lukewarm coffee left in his cup. “Are you sure they’ll trust me?”
“You mean the transgender community. Probably not all of them. Probably not a lot of them. That’s where I come in.”
“You’ll vouch for me.”
“Something like that, Jake. I’m on the Board of the Project which is how I can offer you the job.”
“Integrity comes in all shapes, sizes, colors, orientations, and gender identities. People in our two worlds have been apart long enough. It’s time we come together to support a common purpose. Human dignity.”
“Well that part I can agree with, Bishop…Ruby.”
“You almost never call me by my first name. Why now?”
“I’m still trying to wrap my brain around gender non-conformity. It’s not how I was raised to think.”
“Jake, you’re living proof that a leopard can change its spots.”
“If you say so.”
“You saved my life nearly fifteen years ago. You know that.”
Jake remembered walking by an alley that night, hearing the sound of punches and cries of pain. Looking into the shadows to see three thugs beating on a small figure.
“If you hadn’t stopped them, I’d have been beaten to death, but that’s not what really saved me.”
“You got me to your car, took me to the ER, paid for my medical bills, and then found a safe place for me to stay.”
“It’s what any decent person would do.”
“Then you must be one of the few decent people on the planet. Anyone else would have walked away, not only then, but after they found out about Rudy and then Ruby. Through all of that, you watched over me, made sure I was taken care of. Now I take care of myself.”
“You said it yourself. Human dignity. It’s what we all have in common, or should have.”
“Jake, you talk about the way you were raised and the values you were taught as if they were barriers to heading the Project, when they’re the very qualities making you uniquely suited to accept this position.”
“Maybe so, but it’s not black and white. I’m not a perfect person. I’m not always as cool about you as I’d like to be.”
“I know and that’s the point. Even wrestling your own demons, you never stopped being my friend. You’re the one person that can bring us all together so that finally we stop being us vs. them. We just become us.”
“Mind if I talk it over with Jeannie first?”
“And if your wife says yes?”
“Then you’ve got yourself a deal, Ruby.”
In spite of my previous short story or maybe because of it, I wrote this current tale. Actually, it was inspired when I read ‘I Can’t Keep Living Like This’: How Homelessness Is Killing Trans People.
I’m not the heartless bigoted monster some more progressive people or some folks in the LGBTQ community might think I am if they read my political and social rants. I don’t actually desire anyone to be homeless, forced into sex work, or killed because of their gender identity (or anything else).
But it occurs to me that the biggest barrier to assisting homeless trans and non-gender conforming people isn’t the lack of legal protections, but the apparent inability for us to see each other as human beings with the right to be treated with dignity and compassion in common.
With each community demonizing the other, there is no cooperation and thus, no unified solution to anyone’s homelessness.
Admittedly, people like my fictional Jake Buchanan are exceptionally rare, but if they do exist and they are willing, maybe it takes a Jake as well as a Bishop to join forces and bring a lot of homeless and at risk people some stability.
I don’t have all the answers. Maybe I don’t have any. All I do have is a suggestion to people from my world that even if you don’t understand trans people, they are indeed people and a lot of them need help.