It wasn’t hard to tell that something was a little different about her. The jean skirt, deep cut, pink V-neck sweater, heels and turquoise hand bag were immediately overshadowed by a deeply masculine voice and a thick, strong hand as she reached out to shake mine. The Kink’s “Lola” and Aerosmith’s “Dude looks like a lady” were competing with equal force for real estate in my mind.
“Hi, I’m Lily. I’m transgender. What time is your appointment?”
We were both there to see the gynecologist.
To my great fortune, the doctor was running late and Lily was a talker.
It didn’t take more than a “nice to meet you,” from me, and Lily was off and running, sharing highlights from the last 73 years of her life under the unapologetic, florescent lights of a crowded, medical waiting room.
Whoever claims “life is boring” clearly hasn’t spent enough time in waiting rooms in Israel.
In our brief twenty minutes or so together, I learned about Lily’s aliya to Israel in the mid 90’s, her service in the US Navy years before, her parents’ alcoholism and dysfunction and how she became an emancipated adult at the age of 13. I heard a few stories about life on the streets of West Los Angeles and about her childhood best friend and protector, a rescued German Shepard.
I learned a little about her current process from man to woman and about the steps she was taking to feel more right in her body and in her life… laser treatments, progesterone treatments, surgery, legal counsel and therapy.
It wasn’t just her gender orientation or look that fascinated me, the deepest impression Lily made on me was her total transparency. Her honesty was totally disarming.
When I asked her how she spends a typical day, she looked me straight in the eyes and said “I sleep a lot and I drink a lot.” This was the only time in our conversation that Lily took a few solid moments for a reflective pause, holding my gaze all the while.
In addition to Lily’s loud, “boundaries-be-damned” style of speaking, the over-done makeup and bright colored clothes, I noticed that her skin was yellowish in tone, she had slight body tremors, and her eyes were bloodshot; all tell-tale signs of a seasoned and ailing alcoholic.
She didn’t try to hide any of that either, “I like to drink beer, never really been in to the hard stuff, unless it’s ice cold vodka… what can I tell you?” Her frankness endeared me.
In a world where so many of us spend so much time editing and shaping our lives for the viewing pleasure of others, Lily didn’t seem to bother with that at all. She was just living life in the only way that makes sense to her.
When the doc called me in for my appointment, I was almost sorry to leave my new friend. We said our good-byes and I thanked Lily for taking the time to talk to me and share her story.
“You’re welcome, thank you too” Lily said.
And as I began to process our encounter, I realized that our meeting felt both like a big deal for me and also really not a such a big deal at all.
On the one hand, I met someone wholly unique and different from most folks that I’ve known and that feels important; feels like ripe ground for self-awareness and personal growth. On the other hand, all that really happened in that waiting room was that two human beings, with different backgrounds and life stories, shared some time together.
No big whoop.
For some reason, not all together clear to me, meeting Lily feels share worthy.
I’m curious, what do you think?
(* Lily is not her real name).