Guest Blogger, Linda Bailey Walsh: There are Many Ways to Save a Life

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This is a picture of my friend Linda when she was in grade school. Cute kid, huh? I asked her to write a guest blog, to expound on something she said on Facebook last week about the Caitlyn Jenner controversy. She wrote this blog and as you will read, she shares some childhood experiences, things that you don’t like to think about your friends having to experience. And yet, Linda survived. Survived and thrived. She is the beautiful adult in the other picture, but it’s the kid pic that I can’t stop thinking about. She tugs at my heart strings. I think we might all have a lot more empathy for folks we disagreed with if we found a picture of them at 6 and looked at that for a few minutes. Just an idea. Anyway, here is Linda’s guest blog, I hope it will touch your heart the way to touched mine.

There are Many Ways to Save a Life

I had the amusing realization this week that if you haven’t spoken with me in a while or if we only know each other from social media most likely you would assume I am gay. The reason why is because I often post about LGBT issues as well as women’s issues. I am unapologetic about this. I am passionate about them. I try not to take the bait and post about straight up politics but when it comes to equality and civil rights. I can’t keep quiet. After all, not speaking up is usually the number one reason that prejudice and discrimination are able to thrive.

For the record, I am not gay so, I’ll never truly know what it feels like to be gay or transgender but, I do know what it’s like to feel an “otherness”. I was a weird kid. Passionate about the arts and performing pretty much from birth. I read Edgar Allen Poe for fun in 3rd grade and stayed in one of 3 characters all day everyday when I was 4 (Barbie, Miss Flowers & Gypsy. I would tell you who I was that day and only answer to that name. ) Later there would be liquid eyeliner drawn in vines around my eyes to compliment my Mohawk. I was lucky enough to be born into an awesome family but still I know that often they didn’t know what to make of me. We are children of longshoreman who play sports and cheer. We do not practice Iambic Pentameter for fun.

I experienced my share of being bullied or just plain ostracized which for me, was worse. Before the punk rock phase I looked like an average kid but what was inside of me always shone through and kids can sniff out someone who’s different like canaries in a coalmine.

Luckily as I got older I found my tribe. The Artists, the Activists, the Fun and the Fierce. There is nothing in the world like realizing you are not alone.

In time the things that made me different became the things I grew to love most about myself. As corny as it may sound I know now that those are the things that make me special.
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I also remember everyone that ever stood up for me when I was down. Christine Angelucci protected me in Elementary school when I had to constantly find a new route home to avoid getting beaten up. Holly Arnold standing up to a cheerleading coach who was bullying me, my future brother in law Sean Smith having a talk with a boy who told me just how ugly he thought I was in front of an entire class. My parents, my sisters, the list goes on and on.

And as an adult I have been fortunate to be surrounded by amazingly loving and inspiring people. This includes the family I was born into and the one that I made out in the world. People (often LGBT) who made me dinner while I nursed a heart that felt irreparably shattered. Those who inspired me to be better in my work and my life. People have saved me on many days and in many ways just by being there, loving me and saying “I understand. I’ve been there. You are not alone.”

So this last week we met Caitlyn Jenner. I’m proud that most of the response I bore witness to was very positive. Of course it wasn’t all positive. I can understand confusion and even fear so long as it is balanced with kindness. After all this is an extraordinarily new situation for most people. What truly puzzled me is the people who felt somehow attacked, that to support Caitlyn in her journey somehow was an insult to others. Most specifically I am speaking of the word Hero. Many revered Caitlyn for sharing her story and immediately there was backlash, a wave of photos of Soldiers, Firefighters & Police with statements proclaiming them the real heroes. I would not for one second assert that they are not heroes. Of course, of course, of course they are heroes. I truly can’t imagine the bravery in their hearts and I am sincerely grateful for it. My question is this: Why can’t two good things exist simultaneously? There are different ways to be heroic. Why does something have to be bad for something else to be good? One does not diminish the other. There are many ways to save a life. There is no limited admission to the “Good”.

I know that Jenner is a very wealthy, privileged person. Trust me, if I am defending anyone who has anything to do with the Kardashian’s I must feel very strongly! However like Ellen DeGeneres who struggled for almost a decade after coming out, she is still putting herself and her livelihood at great personal risk but, these are the people that need to come forward. I can promise you that for every Jenner there are multitudes that do not have the resources or the support that she does. For those people, often living in fear and isolation it can literally mean life or death to know that someone else exists that is like them and better yet, is thriving.

People say Caitlyn’s story is personal. It is but she has chosen to share it and I truly believe in my soul that there is someone out there who will find hope, possibly lifesaving hope in that story and I find that to be heroic.

Again for me, all it took to make this life worth living was finding my people and the ones who stood up for me and stood with me saying…”I understand. I have been there. You are not alone.” True heroes to me.

Indeed, there are many ways to save a life.

Call Me Caitlyn

caitlyn-jenner-boobs-060115I had a hard time falling asleep last night, many things on my mind.  One of the things bouncing around my pea brain was all the turmoil around Caitlyn Jenner that I noticed on Facebook yesterday.  Certainly, she was all over the news on Monday, but it was not until yesterday that I noticed several of my Facebook friends picked up and shared the story about her receiving the Arthur Ashe Courage Award from ESPN.  It wasn’t until later in the day that I understood what had transpired.  After ESPN announced the award’s recipient on Monday, several people suggested that someone named Noah Galloway, an Iraq war veteran, amputee, motivational speaker and Dancing with the Stars contestant, should have won the award.  If you are reading this and think I am only talking about you, please understand I saw several comments from people I know and people I don’t know claiming that Bruce Jenner could not possibly be a hero.

I wrote a little something on my Facebook wall, that I thought it careless and cruel to invalidate Jenner’s experience that because she is not a war veteran, her story has no value. Of course, most of the people who commented hold similar viewpoints as me. A couple of people stated that they did not see Jenner as a hero, which lends the question, what defines a hero anyway?

On Sunday, I was interviewed for a project, which I can’t really say too much about at this point in time. One of the things that came up in this interview was how playing the victim was a recurring storyline in my life. I asked the interviewer, “Why do you think that is?” He suggested that maybe, because I knew even as a child, that if I was gay, I could be rejected by my family and everyone I knew, it might have somehow set a course for my life. It seems incredible to me, but there really are boys and girls growing up today that aren’t taught at an early age, that there is something wrong with who they are in their core. For me, the message I received from church, school, family and peers was clear, do not grow up to be gay. And you know, I’m still a work in progress, but it seems it is possible that that fear of rejection has played a part in my adult refrain of always seeing myself as an outsider, trying to claw my way into acceptance and love.

Bruce Jenner’s story is different than mine, as is Caitlyn’s. One of the things that inspires me about Caitlyn is that she hopes she will be a better person than Bruce was. It inspires me because I have my own moments in my yesterdays that I am ashamed of. I’d like to be a better person in the future than I was in my past. On Monday, I did not think to myself, Call Me Caitlyn. But this morning is a new day. This morning I realized why yesterday’s anti-Caitlyn comments frustrated me. That it took me so long to make the connection is a startling reminder of how slow on the uptake I can be. I am Caitlyn. I am not an Olympic gold medal winner, I am not a reality star, I am not transgender woman, but we are connected. If Caitlyn puts the T in LGBT, goodness knows how much G I put in it. And I love my little umbrella, my L’s, my G’s, my B’s, my T’s. We were all, most of us anyway, just little kids growing up somewhere, afraid that the world would reject us if they knew our secrets.

To be honest, one thing that Caitlyn’s journey has reminded me of is that some of the world will hate you when they find out your secret. But others will lend their support and, if you are strong enough, you will make it. You will thrive. Maybe you will even become a hero. Yes, there might be some disagreement as to whether or not you actually are a hero, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t one.