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  BUILDING BRIDGES
Nancy Nangeroni

I'm out. For better or worse, I'm now known for what I am. Not only that, but everyone knows I'm a transsexual, too. What I feared most, for most of my life, has finally happened. Family, friends, co-workers and associates have all found out about Nancy. The amazing thing is, some of them still seem to like me. In fact, precious few of them gave me any problem about it, and lots of them are as supportive as can be. Now I find myself giving seminars and speaking out with just about everyone I meet about crossdressing and transsexualism. I'm even beginning to fancy myself as a good voice for our community. (This is one ego that knows no bounds.)

In my daily life, I don't try to hide my past. I'm proud to be who I am, and the fact that others know me is my insurance against a return to the closet. The freedom I've gained by their knowledge and acceptance empowers me to be myself and share my experience freely.

Funny, but the most dramatic change for me didn't turn out to be my gender. When I came out to everyone, and gained widespread acceptance, the guilt and anger I'd been stuck on for so long just evaporated. Poof. OK, not overnight, but over a couple of years. Just ask my folks, they'll tell you. I used to be a real pain; now I'm much more of a pleasure.

But where did I go right?

To answer this question, I've developed a presentation I call "Building Bridges". And now, on to the lecture....

Islands All. We are all small islands swimming in a great sea, each a fiefdom isolated from it's neighbors by an ocean of ignorance, fear, and uncertainty. Our relationships are the bridges that tie us together and allow us to trade goodies. It may be that we find ourselves with a surplus of grapes, and notice that our neighbor has a press. The image of making sweet wine together inspires our desire for a bridge. But we can't just go out and build a bridge. After all, if we put up a bridge overnight without warning, you can be sure that our neighbor's reaction will be to get out the dynamite. So the first step we need to take in building a bridge is to get our neighbor's agreement, or permission. But unless our neighbor is terribly naive or foolish, some questions will need to be answered before the first support can be put in place.

Foot the Bill. The question of who will pay it usually comes up early in the process. The answer is not what you might think. You can't expect them to pay an equal share. It's your idea, and it's your tab. You want the bridge, you have the need, you should be willing to pay for the whole thing. Sure, the other person will also benefit. But your benefit alone will more than cover the cost of construction, and you have a vested interest in getting this bridge built, so be generous. Be willing to put out whatever effort it takes to make it work. Be willing to take the extra step towards them. Don't use their lack of interest as an excuse for accepting failure. In fact, don't use excuses at all. Accept only success. Failure comes from giving up. If you never stop trying, you cannot be defeated.

Expect Fear and/or Suspicion. Don't be surprised if your neighbor is suspicious of your motives, or fears the possible effect of your proposed bridge on their island. The person who lives without some suspicion of others is a patsy. And the person who is without fear will not live long. Their suspicions and fears are healthy and to be taken seriously.

Beat Your Own Fear with Preparation. What if they don't like you, or reject you? These are your fears talking, and they're too costly for you, so don't indulge in them. You'll find out what happens when the time comes, not before. "There are no guarantees in life" as the EST-ian adage rightly goes. This is not a time to worry, but a time instead to marshal your confidence, draw yourself up with pride and make the preparations needed to provide the best possible chance for success. Instead of indulging your fears, use them as guides to help steer you around pitfalls. In this case, it's always possible that the other person won't like you, and might well reject you. So do a little groundwork in advance to insure against these things happening. Your bridge needs a foundation before it can soar into the sky.

Be Considerate. Your foundation begins with your awareness of the other person's reality. Notice that they see everything from a different angle. They have their own needs. Their memories and emotional triggers are different from yours. Their tool kit, the skills by which they must live and get by, are different from yours. In short, they exist in a completely different world than you. You cannot say how they should behave at any time, because you do not know all of their considerations. So cultivate an attitude of acceptance for the thoughts and actions of others. There, but for the grace of God, goes you. Give them your loving acceptance, just as you would have them accept you. Set a good example, even if it may seem to be wasted sometimes. It will work in subtle ways, often outside of your perception.

Be a Good Friend. Friendship is the cement of your foundation. Be truthful and dependable. Do what you say you're going to do, when you said you'd do it. If you can't, let them know beforehand. Your broken word kills their confidence in you, but your warning them of your failures in advance will strengthen their trust.

Make Yourself Attractive. If you look dirty, smell bad, and sound unpleasant, people will turn away when they see you coming. But if you wear a smile, smell clean, and sound pleasant, you're much more likely to be welcomed. You don't have to be beautiful, but a little soap and water applied to your attitude can go a long ways. Take the time to make yourself presentable, and make the effort to be pleasant. No excuses.

Spread good cheer. Become a source of good vibes and a smile. Become someone who brings sunshine to a room, life to a party. Leave your worries outside the door as much as possible. Be a good person to have around.

Earn Respect. You don't deserve respect, it's not your birthright, and you won't get it by demanding it. You have to earn it. Earn it by showing it both for others and yourself. If you want to be respected, set a good example by respecting yourself. And if you want others to respect you, respect them. Don't expect something for nothing.

Give Fair Warning. Tell people sooner rather than later. Nobody is going to instantly change their image of you, nor settle all their doubts. You've had a long time to adjust; give them a break and some time, too. My mother says that the best thing I did for my family was to give them lots of warning (8 years) before I transitioned. You don't have to know exactly what you're going to be doing; just give fair warning of what might be coming. I've heard of lots of professional advice against letting the cat out of the bag, but I don't buy it. If you care about them, don't tell them lies, period. Hard advice to take sometimes, but it works for me. My family is now my Rock of Gibraltar, because I finally considered their needs, became honest with them, and trusted their love.

Accept Their Reaction. Acknowledge the spectrum of reactions that your revelation may inspire, and express your acceptance for the person, whatever their feelings. I used to tell people "The last thing I want is for my burden to become yours, so please don't feel bad if you don't feel completely accepting. After all, it took me my whole lifetime to get used to the idea". If you make it OK for them to reject you, they're much more likely to accept you. Try to force something, and you can count on resistance. Give up control, and cooperation becomes possible.

Be graceful. When the time comes to tell someone about yourself, choose a good time, a time when you're feeling good and the other person has time available. Always ask permission to take some of their time, and give them an idea of the nature of the conversation. Be firm but gentle, warm and positive. Answer misunderstanding with patience. Act kind. Encourage humor, and bring up a genuine smile from deep within.

Listen. One of our biggest mistakes is to talk too much. There's so much to say that we can't hope to get it all out, but we try anyway. Remember to pay attention to the other person. Memorize a few basic points that are most important, and be sure to deliver them, but listen keenly while and after you do so. You may be surprised to find out what the other person's real concerns are, and the whole process may turn out much easier than you expected, as I found time after time.

Provide Solutions. There will be some problems, and you can provide solutions for them. Some problems you can predict. Family and friends may wonder if you're going to embarrass them. That fear may be put to rest by a promise that they don't ever have to see you crossdressed. Give them the reins; the more control they have, the more comfortable they'll likely be. And, it gives them an opportunity to be magnanimous. Of course, if you and your sister have been feuding viciously for 20 years, there's a limit to how much control you'll want to give her. But she has a right to her own peace of mind, and you can respect that by not forcing yourself on her. Folks at work may wonder if you're going to hurt business, or which bathroom you'll want to use. I handled these in advance by volunteering to leave the company if asked, without recrimination. And I spoke privately to the women, and proposed several possible solutions to the bathroom situation. But I had done my homework well, and they were completely supportive and accepted my use of their facility. And every one of my co-workers told me that they wanted me to stay with the company, even those who had real difficulty accepting my change.

Inspire confidence. Be truthful, provide your reasoning leading up to the disclosure. Let them know where you plan to go from here, and invite their feedback. Don't waffle. If you're not sure of your course, don't move. You don't have to know your destination, just your direction. Allow that you may change your direction when you learn more. I told my co-workers that I thought that I would probably transition in 6-24 months, but that I reserved the right to change my mind if the process revealed to me that the direction was not right for me. This expression of caution in my approach seemed much more effective in winning their support than if I had said that I was certain that I was doing the right thing, which would have been a lie.

Don't transfer your burden. If you ask someone else to keep your secret for you, you're just making it their problem instead of yours, enlarging your closet at their expense. And the underlying message is "I'm ashamed". You can't be halfway out. Encourage all to talk about it with whomever they chose. Trust their judgment and you'll win their support. And it'll be easier for them to get comfortable with the idea if they can talk about it with someone else.

Encourage humor. Show that you can laugh at yourself. There's no more powerful medicine for feeling comfortable.

Be Patient. It may take awhile for them to get used to the idea; give them time. If they might be thinking that it's a passing phase, remind them every so often (gently!) that you're still moving in the same direction. Don't intrude on their space by bringing up the subject too often, or at times that are not comfortable for them. Give them all the time and space they need. There's at least one person in my life who hasn't come to terms with the thought of what I've done. All I can do for her is to back off, and encourage those who know us both to leave her alone on this issue. This isn't always easy for me, but I think it's the most loving way to handle the situation. Any attempt I make to force or hurry her will only cause increased conflict.

Make These Things Habit. You won't likely change your relationships overnight. They'll change when you become habitual in these things that will make your bridge to others a welcome addition. So do whatever it takes to master your habits. Break yourself of bad ones, and form good new ones. Don't be ashamed or shy of seeking help; an outside opinion may be your port in the storm.

Reading List: To help you to achieve all of this and much more, become good friends with these books: How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie, and Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. These are not crass "get rich quick" rip-offs, they're honest, fundamental social primers. They're part of what we all should have been taught but weren't.

SEIZE YOUR OPPORTUNITY. Each of is challenged. We're different from the general population. We can regard that difference as a curse or psychic deformity, living in fear and hiding our true selves. Or we can recognize our natural beauty. Our creation was NOT a mistake. Our existence HAS purpose, made stronger by our suffering. Join with me in seizing this opportunity to help lead the world to a better place, where men and women have greater freedom of self expression. Where all can be friends. Where softness and sensitivity are not the exclusive province of women. And where strength and power are not the exclusive province of men. Change is happening all over. We are not alone. Join the tide that's rising all around us in saying:


I am who I am;
you are who you are;
and I will make room
in MY world
for BOTH of us.

Nancy R. Nangeroni