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On "Tolerance"

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I've been coming out to professionals, friends, and family, over the past few months, and yesterday evening I decided to send an email to a male friend. I've been apprehensive about telling him I'm transgender because I have sensed that he may be less understanding than others and might say something hurtful. Nevertheless I sent the email that covered all the bases: my gender-related desires and feelings since preschool, my shame and depression, and how it all adds up to the fact that I am transgender. I felt it was comprehensive but not too long and I hoped that as a friend I've seen for a dinner every month for more than ten years he'd understand and express sincere support.  

Here's what I received:

"Well, I hope that there was nothing that I said or did over the years that made you think that I would be hostile or unaccepting or anything like.  I try to be tolerant and I hope that I seem tolerant too.

Anyway, none of what you wrote is offputting or means that you're stuck from the "friend" list.  I don't want to say something that will be misinterpreted, but the sexual proclivity or gender choice  (I realize that these are two different things) of my friends just doesn't matter any more than their height or color or whatever.  (Now, if you came out and said that you voted for Trump, that might be a problem.)  :)"

Maybe I'm being too sensitive - it wouldn't be the first time - but I needed to clear at least one thing up, so here's what I wrote back to him:

"No, there was nothing you ever said or did that particularly worried me. Sharing my secret is tough, that's all. It's like finally admitting to a lie. 

Not to put too fine a point on it, but let me say that it's not a proclivity or a choice. I agree that it's like hair color or height, or being gay for that matter; modern science agrees that it's biological. I was just born this way. It's a tough row to hoe."

Although I know that emails and written "conversations" are fraught with misunderstanding I wanted to be clear that being transgender is certainly not a choice. He hasn't responded yet but as I think about it this morning I think all will be okay.

That said, overnight I mulled his use of the word "tolerant" as if hey, he's tolerant so isn't that good or righteous? It came to me this morning that it is not: I tolerate a spider on the ceiling, a few dust bunnies in the corner, and dirty dishes in the sink after dinner. But eventually I grab the stepstool and a tissue to nab the spider, vacuum the room, and wash the dishes. So yes, tolerance is better than hate or rejection, but it's not enough.

I don't know exactly what is enough but tolerance isn't it. In an ideal world being transgender would be like having blue eyes or blond hair - not even thought about by most, perhaps appreciated by some. But we don't live in an ideal world so I feel that I have to come up with a compromise. Maybe and especially from friends and family I'd like to hear that, regardless of my being transgender, they love and support me. I don't think that's too much to ask.

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Hi there Emma


Tolerance isnt the right word to be used.  But with tolerance someone can learn more, unless they close minded and doesn't want anything to do with what they say they are tolerant about.  Give your friend some time to mull it over, as he might not have realized that it's because you value your friendship that you told him.


Everyone can't be like one of my nappy staged friends, that I haven't seen for a few years and starts talking to me telling me I look good and when are we hanging out like we used to.  In my case I thought separation of years would make him just turn a cold shoulder.  He reminded me, that with each interactive roleplay we did as children, I always took the role of the female characters and nothing is wrong, I'm just older and prettier and finally accepted myself.


Wouldn't we liked everyone to be that way, but reality is...  There will always be those that think its a choice and not a biological programming before birth, and not fulfilling the programming leads to our downfall.


Love Michele


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Hi Michele,

I agree that tolerance wasn't the right word to use, and probably my friend meant nothing untoward by using it. All too often I'm a bit overly prepared to sense or take some offense and this may very well be one of those times. Perhaps from his perspective - like most cisgender people - the whole concept of what it means and is to be trans is so foreign that he didn't perceive my need for him to express something stronger and more affirming. 

Thank you for your feedback. I very much appreciate hearing from you.



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I know I'm late to the game on this one - but first, I think your response was perfect, I think it's important to point out that there isn't a "choice" involved (except the "choice" to live authentically!).

I also agree that "tolerance" is definitely NOT the goal. Personally, I think mutual acceptance and respect is what's generally called for in life - "acceptance" feels a little off too, but that's why I put the "mutual" in front of it. It's about accepting that people are different from each other in many, many ways, and we should accept that and respect everyone for who and what they are (within reason of course - I'll never accept or respect Trump).

I would also consider that you probably have a much more nuanced understanding of what "tolerance" means than your friend - that may well have just been the first word to come to mind, and if they haven't been in a position where they were rejected for some part of their identity they might not fully appreciate the meaning. With friends I've always gone by motivation - as long as I know that they're being supportive, I don't take any incorrect terminology badly from them - though I do correct it!

Has anything further happened with this friend since February?



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Dear Friends,

Did not like the proviso Emma's friend put on their "tolerance," which was if Emma was a Trump supporter or, worse, she "came out."

I, too, do not like the way Emma's friend emphasized "tolerance" as it implied that the friend was doing it only because it was the "politically correct" thing to do.

Your friend,


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