by Paulette S. Menard
I am a male-to-female transsexual and have successfully transitioned fully to female. In the course of my transition, I had let slip many friendships due to many factors, among them fear of non-acceptance.
Emil is a friend who owns a motel in the next state. He moved there because it was getting too crowded here in the “flat lands”. We became friendly when I first stopped at his motel many years ago because we had been from neighboring towns. It was a chance for Emil to reconnect with his roots. I visited him two or three times a year as a male.
I hadn’t visited Emil throughout my transition because he can be rather conservative in his politics, is a lifelong bachelor, and is rough as a corn cob. After my surgery and living my new life for a while, I felt it was time to try to connect with him again.
I went to Emil’s motel and registered, and asked the desk clerk if Emil was around. She said he was at his cottage. After putting my things in my cottage, I walked over to visit him. I could see him watching me walk up and there was no recognition in his eyes.
I said hello and could see him working hard to place me. Suddenly his eyes lit up and he said “Well, hi yourself. Come up and sit yourself down here. Want a beer?” He looked me up and down — I was in a dress and he only had known me as man. His next words to me were, “Look different, don’t ya.” I smiled, laughed and agreed. We chatted about our respective home towns and other things for most of the afternoon. All the while I felt he was carefully avoiding asking any questions about what had happened to me. It got on to dinner time and Emil said, “Don’t suppose you’re hungry? Got a roast in the oven for tomorrow, but you’re here today.”
During dinner I asked him why he hadn’t asked any questions about how I looked. “Fig’red you’d get around to telling me sooner or later,” he replied. So I told him about the reasons for my transition and the forces that led up to it. His only question was “Are you happy?” I replied yes, and as far as he was concerned that was that!
After dinner as we were sitting and talking I asked him what he thought about my transition. His response was “Ain’t for the likes of me to judge one way or t’other.” It’s funny, but sometimes those you expect to have an adverse reaction to such a major life change are the first ones to accept. Even now, a few months after this happened, I still get misty-eyed when I think of how accepting Emil is. I find this whole episode to be amazing. You just can’t tell a book by its cover.
Available in The Best of HeroicStories, Volume 1.
“Publisher’s Notes” 2014
Besides being an inspirational tale of acceptance from where it’s least expected, Paulette’s story, and the accompanying discussion and commentary, were archived on the old HeroicStories.org web site for many years.
In republishing the story today I’m very pleased to restore that archive to the site.
Please note that most of the content that follows – down to the final HeroicStories life-ring separator – is an archive that dates back to 2000 and was collected, annotated and responded to by then-publisher Randy Cassingham. Contemporary comments begin after that separator line.
The “Publisher’s Note” that Accompanied the Story in 2000
I thought long and hard before publishing this story, but decided that it was important: in my experience, people don’t know much about transsexuals, and fear them. It is, I think, a fear of the unknown; part of my goal with HeroicStories is to show that people *are* people, even if they are different than you are. (This, for instance, is why I try so hard to get stories from countries other than USA; I want readers to see the humanity behind who they might consider “enemies”; it’s very much harder to drop bombs on *people* you have some understanding of, and empathy with, than “enemies”.)
As a “sanity check”, I ran the story by the subscribers of the “Hero Talk” discussion list. At the time, there were about 140 people on the list; I asked if this was too controversial for HS. The reaction was VERY strong: they argued forcefully that I should run the story. With the permission of the people quoted, I’m including some of their comments here.
Andrew in B.C., Canada: “Paulette’s decision to risk ‘coming out’ to a close friend, after letting many other friendships fall by the wayside, is a heroic breaching of her comfort zone. Emil’s *lack* of reaction is heroic; I’d venture to say that most, if not all, people would exhibit at least a modicum of shock, if not open intolerance, and I very much doubt you could find a large number of people who would be as hospitable as Emil was. Heroism often lies in jolting people out of their complacency, and this story certainly has the potential to do that in spades. If we’re on the front lines against prejudice and intolerance, we daren’t shy away from a potential victory because we fear the backlash from the prejudiced and intolerant.” Paul in Colorado: “The hero accepts and demonstrates unconditional love. That was Jesus’ message. How wonderful it got through!”
Beth in Michigan: “I think it’s good to get people out of their comfort zone and expose them to new things. Sure, you may offend some, but you may open some eyes and make people more tolerant, too.” Caroline in California: “After all of the hate-crimes of the past months, I wish everyone would follow the lead of the woman’s friend and realize the people are people — no matter what sex, race, age, or belief system.” David in Illinois: “Paulette, though, had held prejudices about Emil, being very confident that he would be reluctant at best, perhaps totally closed-minded about her. His accomplishments were not only that he resisted falling into the prevailing prejudices about transsexuals but also that he dispelled her preconceptions about him.” Good point: prejudice held for “a good reason” is indeed still prejudice. Obviously, Paulette learned something from this encounter too, and perhaps she will reconsider letting some of her old friendships “slip” for “fear of non-acceptance”.
And Jutta in Germany: “Thank you very much for this story, please run it! Emil reacted in a very heroic way, or maybe better said a very commendable way. Most people, and even those who pride themselves in being open minded, would not have reacted in such a non-judging way as he did. Reading through the story, I initially thought that Emil was confusing Paulette with somebody else, since he reacted without even questioning. This shows even more strength to wait for Paulette to initiate the conversation about her transition, and treating her as a friend, like nothing had changed. WONDERFUL!!!”
The Readers Comments
(Published 17 March 2000)
No surprise: the story brought a bit of mail. Because of its volume, the reader letters on this story are being published here rather than in a regular issue. About half of the “anti” letters are included, and less than a tenth of the “pro” letters.*
Tim in North Carolina was one of the first to comment:
I admire you for running the story. People must understand God commands us to love one another. He does not say we have to like or accept what others do he says we must love them. Too many times people will let their ‘religion’ get in the way of the truth. I have heard to many times “God does not love ‘those’ type of people.” Sadly they do not realize that in hating a person they lose a little of the relationship they have with God. How can you love someone you can not see when you can not love someone you can see? So keep on posting stories of ‘different’ people. In one way or another we are all different — we just do not realize it.
Allen in Korea:
I thought the story was great, one of the best, but I also see how much need there is for this ‘project’ of yours. It’s sad to think that someone who is just willing to accept others is such a rare creature in our world. Yes, I agree that Paulette also has her prejudices, understandably so. Having lived outside the comfort zone of the US now for several years and experiencing many different cultures, I can definitely relate to the core element of this story, acceptance, and a non-judgmental approach to life. I hope the bulk of the readers also appreciate your decision to run the story and realize that its not about transsexualism, but it is more about how we treat each other as humans. I’ve never really thought of myself as prejudiced, but this story has made me a bit more aware of my own little prejudices as well. My marriage is an inter-racial one, I’m American and my wife is a Korean national, and I have to admit to a few experiences of excluding or shying from people who I think might be disapproving. I’ll try to rectify that. No, I will rectify that. Cheers to both Paulette and Emil.
This is one of my favorite letters in the batch. Allen believes in being non-judgmental. But like virtually all of us, he harbors some prejudice. Yet when he realizes one, he doesn’t react violently and deny it, as many people have (see below): he simply pledges to fix it. A story changed his life, just a bit, and made him appreciate others just a touch more. That, in a nutshell, is the power of HeroicStories, and why I felt it was important to run Paulette’s story.
John in California:
Being heroic frequently means doing something because it’s *right*, not avoiding it because it’s controversial. Certainly Paulette’s story should have been told. Just as certainly, some people might be upset that you included it. So what. Perhaps you remember that we have corresponded before, sometimes in violent agreement, sometimes in harsh disagreement. I’ve long believed that if two people agree on everything, then one of them is unnecessary. If some of your readers couldn’t handle that story, then why are they reading your stuff anyway? I suspect most of them have become heroic enough in themselves to handle it. Glad you thought so too. I keep on enjoying your stuff, Randy. I enjoy it much more than I agree with it. I’m sure you wouldn’t begin trying to please everybody. Just keep playing the part of yourself, and that’ll be just fine.
I certainly would never expect everyone to like, or agree with, every story I publish. Of course some stories are meant to challenge people, to expand their minds and vision, and to see other points of view! Of course I hope to get people to see beyond their own biases, prejudice, and limited views of the world! What’s the point in publishing if you cannot bring more understanding and thought to the world?!
Doug in Texas:
“Ain’t for the Likes of Me to Judge” says it all! If more people in this crazy world of ours would heed this very simple advice, we would soon see an end to racism, gang fights, and blatant prejudices in general. It certainly helped me to recognize my own obvious apprehensions to reading the story at all, and hope others will eventually view it as I did.
A newspaper editor wrote:
When I saw the subject material, I found myself immediately repulsed by it and unable to see any opportunity for heroism. I’m glad that you included the comments of your ‘board’ — it was only after reading what they had to say that I find myself seeing the heroism in Emil’s conduct. Still, I think you are going to get a lot of grief from this item. And yes, I can see the personal bravery in Paulette’s choosing to face a difficult situation — but I note here that everyday individuals make brave relationship choices every day. Paulette is no different, but her act isn’t heroic.
After sending in his note, this newspaper editor was among several to sign up to publish HeroicStories in his paper.
Ray in Ohio:
Thank you for having balance in the stories you select. The balance is essential; because you are not beating a single drum, you reach people on many levels. Your basic theme — heroism — is excellent. I appreciate the care with which you choose stories. ‘Nuff said.
Kay in Florida:
Thank you so much for sharing this courageous transgendered woman’s story! I can’t even put my relief and gratitude into words, that the entire world does not condemn Those Not Like Them to silence and invisibility and the death of oppression. My hope for the future — a live & let live future — is renewed.
Caryl in Illinois:
I know you will get a lot of comments on this one, but I had to let you know that if it were not for the words of Paul in Colorado: (“The hero accepts and demonstrates unconditional love. That was Jesus’ message. How wonderful it got through!”) I would have cancelled my subscription. (Thanks for the reminder, Paul) Unfortunately, the message you are sending with the story the way it is written is that it is a great thing to be a transexual and anybody who has a hard time with it is somehow a “bad person.” This story, unfortunately, is too one-sided. So what if Emil had had a hard time with it at first? If he had been confused, or upset he would be a bad person instead of the hero? How wrong!
The opposite of “hero” is certainly not “a bad person”! And how can anyone think that anyone feels it is “a great thing to be a transsexual”? Why would anyone choose to be completely at odds with everyone and everything — from their own body to the entire world?! They wouldn’t! No one would choose such a fate! I said with the story that most people have no understanding of the issues transsexuals face. Many of the negative letters (below) prove that without a doubt, and reinforce the reason why it is so important to present a tiny, really very non-threatening, fact: that transsexuals are people. Yet even that simple message is rejected by so many. That is what I find “wrong”!
Cathy in Texas:
I noticed that some of the comments you printed SEEMED to refer to people who feel differently than the writer does as “prejudiced and intolerant.” (If we’re on the front lines against prejudice and intolerance, we daren’t shy away from a potential victory because we fear the backlash from the prejudiced and intolerant. — Andrew in B.C. Canada) I’m tired of being told that I’m intolerant and prejudiced because I have firm beliefs and stick to them. The truth is, it’s those who INSIST that I accept anything and everything as OK, who are intolerant. If I don’t do exactly as they want, I’m labeled and reviled. They insist that everybody be tolerated, yet they refuse to tolerate me! Their religion, so to speak, insists on tolerance, yet that is the one thing they are unwilling to afford to those who disagree with them. I view this as total hypocrisy.
This follows exactly Caryl’s reaction: the opposite of “people who feel differently than the writer” is not “prejudiced and intolerant”. Andrew knew from experience that there would be “a backlash”. And if you take the time to read this entire page, you’ll see there is one — and many are indeed from people who are “prejudiced and intolerant”. Does that include you? It doesn’t seem so to me. No one is arguing that every one and every action should be tolerated — that would of course be ridiculous. However, if you are intent on becoming a better person, on embracing others, on being a positive force in the world rather than a negative one, then yes: I “insist” that you at least attempt to understand that Paulette is a human being worthy of consideration as a human being, and one with feelings. She has a problem, and whether you agree that the problem is a mis-wiring of her brain vs. the body she was born with or not, she does not deserve being “labeled and reviled” any more than you do.
Pam in Idaho:
This story is about more than one “unconventional” decision. I married a man 30 years younger than I. This has been a match made in Heaven. We have a good, strong marriage and are happy as can be. We were careful about who we told — people can be so self-righteous and judgmental, and frankly, we weren’t very interested in negative comments. It continues to be a challenge — we have found out who our true friends are. [and aren’t!] For some reason everyone wants everyone else to be happy — but only if their choices agree with their own perceptions of “normal”. Thanks for a great story!
Ray in Luxembourg:
Wow. I have to say, given my own experiences, I don’t understand this idea of a woman trapped in a man’s body, or what would drive a person to undergo surgery to remove bits and pieces with which I would never consider parting. I also don’t understand tattoos and body piercings. But I try not to project my own experiences on other people, as they are different people with different experiences, which I could never hope to completely understand. I would expect that Paulette thought long and hard about what she was doing, and the consequences, especially with friends who might not understand, and in the end would respect her decision.
Joel in Florida:
I am writing this note to accompany my request to be removed from all of your mailing lists. The cause for my request to leave was due to your recent email sent to my home containing sexually explicit and perverse dialogue. This is not what I expected from heroic stories and I am still upset that you would take such careless liberties to send things of that nature into peoples homes where their families will be exposed to it. The man in your story who encouraged this man in his trying to become a woman is no more a hero than a person who encourages a drug addict to believe that he does not have a problem. Please honor my request to be removed from your mailings, I no longer feel that I can trust your organization and allow heroic stories in my home.
Joel, there was certainly no “explicit” dialogue in the story, sexual, perverse, or otherwise. This may be a shock for you: children old enough to read are old enough to know there is a difference between boys and girls — and I’ll bet they know more about such issues than you think. That you’re this reactionary about such a simple and sweet story of human kindness makes me sad for your children. Of course you can (and did) unsubscribe — and it’s your loss. I’ll have more to say about this below, too.
Jay in California:
After many months of reading your ‘This is True’ and ‘HeroicStories’ controversial editorial opinions and no holds barred stances, I must say I am very disappointed in you for ‘having to think, long and hard’ about publishing this story. I believe you have just shown yourself to be slightly narrow-minded yourself. I cannot fathom a good reason to even stop and reconsider publishing a story that involves all the elements that you require.
That assumes the story did involve “all” the “elements I require”, but the reason I have to think long and hard is, I care about what I publish. I think about all the stories, and make decisions about what to publish, every day — all writers, editors and publishers do. I don’t want to upset my readers, and I don’t want to be barraged with hundreds of emails over a single story, but I knew from more than five years of online publishing experience that this story would do both — as we see by the very existence of this page. Knowing those negatives would occur, it then becomes a decision of, in this case, “is it worth it?” The answer is an obvious yes, but that doesn’t mean the decisions like this that publishers have to face are always easy. I don’t think having to make those kinds of decisions shows me to be narrow-minded, broad-minded, or anywhere in between; it’s irrelevant.
Carol in Texas:
Thank you so much for sharing the story about Emil’s reaction to Paulette. My 17 year old child came to me two years ago and told me that since before the age of 4 she felt at odds with her biological gender. This is a medical condition known as Gender Identity Disorder and there is no cure. The treatment is transitioning to the proper gender, gender reassignment surgery and the appropriate hormones. As a child she suffered in silence because of the prejudice of people that do not know the facts about this condition. So by you telling the story it shows that yes others may be different but they are human and deserve all the respect and rights that others take for granted. It was heartwarming to read that so many people were encouraging you to go ahead and tell the story. I thank each and every one of them. Yes, this story really does belong with the other stories in your HeroicStories Collection. It is a wonderful lesson of tolerance and true friendship. Thank you for all the stories and the people that share them with us.
This is just one of many such letters. It is amazing to me how many readers wrote to say that they have direct experience with this issue within their own families — from an audience of just 24-and-a-half thousand readers. This is not an issue that just touches a tiny number of people! Like many issues forced into hiding by bigots, it’s a bigger issue than the public thinks.
And the last word on the “pro” side is this, from HeroicStories’ consulting pastor, the Rev. Rus Jeffrey of New York:
This comes at a very interesting time in light of a conversation I had with someone today. We were talking about “why” people say things. We were talking about this as a result of a book I’m reading right now where the author says, “To really allow God to stretch you and teach you new things, you must allow Him to totally blow any and all theological assumptions you may have out of the water.” We then talked about a professor of mine at the World Prayer Center in Colorado Springs who likes to say things to “blow people out of the water” and make them think. I too am one who likes to do that. And you do it well. So I must say that I applaud your move of “blowing people out of the water” Randy. It’s interesting to note that simply because your ran the story, people assume you embrace the lifestyle without any regard to tolerance. Tsk, tsk.
As you know, Rus, I neither embrace it nor condemn it — I do not know enough about transsexuals to judge them, and I’m not interested in doing so in the first place. As far as I can see, transsexuals are no more sexually deviant than, say, priests — I’ve seen dozens, if not hundreds, of newspaper articles about priests raping children, and I don’t recall even one about a transsexual raping anyone, child or adult. What does that prove? Absolutely nothing. Just because some priests rape children doesn’t mean they all do, or that even a large percentage of them do. And even if I had found an article about a transsexual raping someone, that would say a lot about that individual, but nothing about transsexuals in general. What it shows is we need to base judgments on what we do know, and the first thing we know about Paulette is that she is a person with feelings. What we don’t know is her sexual feelings, interests or practices, since that was not an issue and wasn’t even brought up in the story. If your philosophy — religious or not — demands that you treat people as you wish to be treated, then you must respect Paulette, and people like her, as a person. The essence of the story is that a lot of people don’t, yet Emil did, rising above the average person in her life. That’s pretty much the definition of a “hero”.
The Other Side of the Coin
Heather in Texas:
i wish i had a long time to explain why i am unsubscribing. its not that i judge paulette or have a specific problem with this story. i agree with the comment about being unconditional like Jesus. however there are differences between accepting and loving people (being unconditional) and tolerating. my world view is based on the Bible. i believe it is absolute Truth. i enjoyed heroic stories for the sweet, heart warming stories that caused me to tear up but i do not want to spend time reading stories like this one.
Let me get this straight: you think you can love someone while simultaneously being intolerant of them? I couldn’t quite come to grips with that, especially since your intolerance is, by your statement, “based on the Bible”. I asked the HeroicStories consulting pastor, the Rev. Rus Jeffrey (also quoted above), how someone who believes in the Bible could love someone and be intolerant at the same time. His reply: “They can’t. Many times people will use examples from the Bible for issues they don’t agree with, but will totally ignore the same principle when it comes to an area of their personal life.” [Yes, she already ignores that pesky “Judge not” stuff, doesn’t she?] “I’m sure the person who wrote these comments to you does have sin in her life, but since what was written in HeroicStories does not relate directly to her life, it’s easy to pass judgment. I’m left to ask the question — I wonder what would happen if she discovered someone from her family was a transsexual?”
Enrique in Puerto Rico:
I am sorry, but HeroicStories # 131 forces me to leave. Although I sympathize with the plight et al, this should NOT be the place for this. It goes completely beyond the supposed scope of this newsletter. I regret having to do this and wish you to the best of luck.
I’m sorry too, but your action demonstrates that you indeed do not “sympathize with the plight et al” (how banal!) The “supposed scope” is publicly posted in the HeroicStories manifesto. Did you read it? I doubt it. And if not here, where? If not now, when? Even you admit there is a “plight” here; Emil responded to it, and beautifully. That pretty much defines why the story ran: there was a need; someone saw it; that person filled the need without question, despite social convention. It’s perfectly within the “scope” of HeroicStories.
Daweena (no location given):
I am thorougly disgusted by the sick and twisted story you ran about the transsexual. You write people don’t know much about them??? Well, what’s to know?? They are against everything that the Lord stands for. They are as far away from God as they can be. They are in great need of mental help. I now believe that you are too, as you must condone there actions by running that trashy story. I am not judging them. I don’t hate them, but I certainly in NO WAY condone their actions nor would promote them by running a story by them……….I don’t hate gay people either, but I certainly wouldn’t promote their ill actions, nor would I promote gay rights or anything to do with helping to promote something that the Lord is so against. All I can do is simply pray for these problemed people, and YOU as well.
What, exactly, is “sick” and “twisted” here? That someone was in great need of help? There certainly are no sexual acts mentioned in the story; for all anyone knows, Paulette is completely celibate, so what, specifically, is sick and twisted? Nothing, so far as I can see. What “actions” did I “condone” by publishing her story? None: she took no action in the story. Where’s the perversion of which you speak? There is none! Using surgery to change her body? Then I assume you also condemn people who have had face lifts. I assume you have not mutilated your own body by piercing your ears. If you have, then aren’t you, by your definition, sick and twisted? No? Then why is Paulette? Perhaps what you say is correct: worst case, she has a terrible mental problem. That makes her “sick” and “twisted”? Is that what God teaches you — to condemn those who are ill? Is that what Jesus did — turn His back on the ill? No, I don’t think Paulette is sick. But people who stand behind the Bible to justify their hatred, insisting there’s nothing they need to know? That’s worse than hypocritical; that sounds very sick indeed.
John in Washington, D.C.:
To quote a noted British statesman, Edmund Burke, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”. When I signed up to subscribe to “HEROIC” Stories, I expected manly, inspirational sagas of dangerous, sometimes lonely, struggles against overwhelming odds, conquering raw wilderness, battling evil and tyranny, and daring last-second rescues. Instead, I just see more of this fashionably trendy “politically correct”, “revisionist history” (concepts that are Satanic and Marxist in origin and application) government-approved, Hollywood-promoted propaganda. While the majority may applaud the contemporary idea of a man eschewing his manliness, it is condemned by the HOLY BIBLE, and I choose to stand with my God on this issue, come Hell or high water. We, as individuals, ARE supposed to judge. It’s our duty, part of daily living, and cannot be avoided, but merely temporarily shirked. For the good of society, we MUST have hard and fast standards of right and wrong. Any man or woman who so hates their own body or their own selves, that they would choose such drastic action, has serious personal problems which we need to address and redress. They desperately need our help, not our justification for perversion. “Tolerant”? That is a too-frequently misused word which has become nothing more than a codeword for acceptance of evil.
The concept of “judge not, lest ye be judged” is not mine, John. I do believe it’s in that Bible you’re trying to hit me with, unless — as it seems — your copy has a lot of things crossed out. (And what a laugh! Anyone who insists I’m trying to be “politically correct” sure doesn’t know me very well!) Yes, I can believe that your concept of “heroism” only involves men fighting communists — preferably hand-to-hand. How trite. How boring. And what a narrow view of humanity. Evil? There is no evil in this story, just a person who is trying to find herself and a man who steps forward to help in a non-judgmental (there’s that Biblical ideal again!) way. I don’t know where you’re standing, but it certainly doesn’t look like it’s “by God”.
Richard in Texas (converted from ALL CAPS for easier reading):
Sorry guy’s but I do not accept anything that is perverted as normal. We have come a long way in accepting people as they are, (race) but when we as humans accept perversion as a normal or even heroic way of life what then do we call right and what would be called wrong. By using words such as “fear them” and “they might consider enemies” is a poor choice of words describing someone who believes that perversion is wrong. I have no fear of them nor do I consider them to be my enemies, I feel sorry for them and for what they do to their families. It makes me sick to think that the behavior that is portrayed in H.S #131 is considered heroic in any manor. Emil along with you Randy has no backbone, and chose not to call what is right right and wrong wrong. A little compassion on his part to find out why someone can think that they can be changed from a man to a women and be happy would have at least salvaged your respect with me.
Accepting people for their race is not the last step, it’s the first. Keep working on it: you have a long way to go.
Mary in Wisconsin:
I’m sorry but I think you should have checked with some other people other then the ones you did on this disgusting article. I thought your Web sites were above that sort of stuff. I didn’t really appreciate it at all.
You thought my “web sites” were above what, pointing out that people who have done nothing to you and are oppressed, reviled, and hated for it are indeed people? You indeed didn’t “appreciate” it, Mary.
Judy in Louisiana:
First of all, it is not my intention to hurt anyone. In fact, I’m sure Ms. Menard has had more than enough of his/her share of pain and grief. I certainly do not want to add to that grief, and to be honest with you, I find the whole situation a very sad one for this individual. However, I fail to see where Ms. Menard’s transition story would qualify as an act of “heroism” in the real essence of the word just because he/she decided to “come out.” Now, I know this comment alone will be enough to incite a defensive stance by the folks who think that it’s wrong for anybody of a different point of view to dare say such a thing! But if we are confident that we stand in the Truth, there’s really no reason for anyone to become defensive.
A surprising number of “anti” people came to the rather interesting conclusion that the “hero” of the story is Paulette. Yes, it takes a lot of courage to undergo such a surgery, and to face the world with such a problem on their shoulders. That’s not “heroic” in my book, but it is obvious to me that Emil is “heroic”! It’s so obvious that the story is not “about transsexuals” but “about” someone rising above bigotry and acknowledging someone as a person — and being concerned for their happiness. Many simply freeze at the sight of the word “transsexual” and then apply labels such as “sick”, “twisted”, “deviant”, “disgusting”, “evil” and more, and forget in their righteousness what they’re applying those labels to — a human being. It’s “not your intention to hurt anyone”, yet you are being hurtful.
Pastor Rus Jeffrey again:
One of the common lines in the category of “I don’t like the story” goes something like this: “I love HeroicStories, but I don’t want to read stories like…” The way I look at it, God invented the “delete” button for this very reason. For crying out loud, can’t these people just delete the message they don’t want to read? Let’s spin this thinking out a bit here. Let’s say one night I’m channel surfing and discover a skin shot on a TV channel. Do I suddenly call up the cable company and say, “Disconnect my service because I don’t like what I saw on TV tonight. In the past, I’ve had no problem with the programming on this particular channel, but tonight you crossed the line!”? Of course not!
Yep, I’ve said it before in the publisher’s note: I don’t expect every person to like every story, but I know every story will be loved by many readers. If you don’t like a particular story, fine: there will be another one in a few days. Two things really bother me: one was the theme, “If this is the direction that HeroicStories is going…”, then they don’t like it. When I ran several “broken down in my car” stories, people didn’t wonder if we were “going in the direction of” all travel stories, all the time. And second, rather than just say “I don’t like this story” and hitting delete, as you suggest, it does bother me when people “unsubscribe”. They loved previous stories and they’re going to deprive themselves of future stories they would love because they’re too afraid to acknowledge their own bigotry and think about changing, so they can be part of the best of humanity rather than the worst? Very sad, but it’s their choice — and not getting the stories they love is their very great loss, not mine. There were few such defections, however: there was no noticeable reduction in the subscriber numbers, and the growth rate after the story ran is normal.
HeroicStories readers, almost by definition, consist of a wide cross-section of humanity which hopes there are still good people in the world, or embraces the fact that there are. Yet some of you are quick to label a human being as “perverted” or worse, despite the fact that she has done nothing but her best to solve a serious problem that has been thrust upon her. She did not choose her fate, as no one would choose such a problem, not even the worst masochist ever born. She bravely worked to solve it the best way she could, even though she knew she would face discrimination, hatred, and misunderstanding. While it is indeed heartening to see the large outpouring of support (happily, the selection of letters on this page is not representative of the letters I received, which was about 85 percent “pro” and 15 percent “anti”*), several HeroicStories readers were quick to condemn her. Imagine, then, how much worse the prejudice and intolerance is in the general population! We have a long way to go indeed.
Special kudos go to HeroicStories managing editor Kit Riley, who championed the story and performed its initial edit, and to the HeroTalk members who helped with their insightful comments before publication.
(Former) HeroicStories Publisher
*4 April 2000 follow-up: A few people who read these letters didn’t like the fact that I printed so many of the “anti” messages and so few of the “pros”. I put this page up quite quickly after the story ran, and there were plenty more letters that came in. Thus, I’ve added … more letters that are significantly more representative of what was received, which is to say they’re mostly very positive. -rc
Paulette’s Story: More Reader Letters
Of course I knew that Paulette’s story would be a bit controversial, and would bring lots of comments from readers. I even knew there would be angry, even nasty comments. I would guess the author faces such anger, nastiness and hostility every day. Yet there are people in the world who do realize that she has done nothing to them. That even if she has committed some sort of “sin”, it was not against them, and does not deserve to be castigated by strangers. That was the very point of original story (which is “permanently” on the site here, along with many of the original letters that came in about it): despite being rejected by many friends, one friend had the courage to accept her as a human being — for who she is, rather than for what she looks like because, he thought, “It Ain’t for the Likes of Me to Judge” her.
HeroicStories publisher Randy Cassingham with Paulette and (front) Managing Editor Kit Riley, who championed, and edited, Paulette’s story.
I — and HeroicStories Managing Editor Kit Riley — had the privilege of meeting Paulette shortly after the story ran. We can both attest that she is a delightful, interesting, intelligent and fun person!
This story brought more mail than any other story ever. A lot of the comments are interesting, thoughtful, and (if I may say) quite eye-opening about what people in the world are really like — both good and bad. I hope you’ll take the time to read through this batch of letters.
If this looks too daunting, or you don’t want to spend the time reading them all, please be sure to read the first two. They show, first, one of the very real effects of the kind of “moral” condemnation Paulette probably experiences on a day-to-day basis — the destruction of life, which is why I think the principle here is so important. And, second, how people of faith can and do embrace people who live lives different than what we might be able to understand. I was accused by several readers of being “anti-Christian” — apparently because I published several rants of Christians who spewed hate, backed up by what they thought was the imprimatur of their Bibles, and I had the temerity to argue with them. I am certainly not anti-Christian, but I do readily admit to being “anti-hypocritical”, no matter what the hypocrite’s religion. The second letter is from the kind of Christian I greatly respect: one who “walks the talk”. And the last letter at the bottom gives me hope….
Donna in Colorado:
Thanks for the special HeroicStories segment. You read of so many hate crimes lately, and really they have been around since the dawn of time. It is time for people to accept others and not expect carbon copies of themselves. A few years back when Colorado had an amendment on the ballet to refuse special treatment to gays and it was passed it really devastated a lot of us. I am not gay, nor am I lesbian, just a normal human being that God placed on this earth. I do not try to judge because as Emil said it ain’t for me to do so. However it was a very painful thing when the amendment passed. My nephew who was gay took his own life because he was afraid of what would happen next. We have not fully recovered from that. Hopefully the world will one day learn to love, just love and not judge.
The Rev. Christopher in Washington:
Thank you for your courage in publishing the discussion on transsexuality. Just so you know, I am a Christian and an ordained minister. The God I believe in is inclusive. My son is a female to male transsexual. Perhaps the strangest thing is that he was one of identical twin daughters. Brenda is completely female. Bonnie is, and always was, male. Born into the wrong body. Now, thanks to medical advances, Bonnie is Aidan and comfortable for the first time in his life. This process has forced me to confront my prejudices. First, I had to accept that Bonnie was a lesbian. That was tough, but it was a valuable learning experience. I learned that we do not “choose” our sexuality. I only realized this when I had to ask if I could “choose” to be anything other than what I am, a heterosexual. Of course, I cannot choose, any more than Bonnie could. How could any father not support his child in his innate sexuality? Apparently, some fathers can’t. I decided to walk the talk. When Bonnie decided to become Aidan, I was challenged once again. How much was I supposed to give? The answer soon became obvious. My total support. I love my children beyond all reason. If I truly love them, then I must desire their happiness, whatever that entails. I know that Aidan is now comfortable as a man. He is relaxed and enjoying life. And I am doubly happy because now I have a son with whom I can share sexist jokes about blondes. God accepts transsexuals. It is only Her deluded children that do not.
Geneva in Missouri:
I agree that Emil is a hero. I appreciated the comment that one of your advisory board made about Paulette having some prejudices of her own. The fact is, we ALL have prejudices. We just don’t see them because they are ours. I have relatives who are homosexual — which I guess is not the same thing as a transexual, but still in that area that “straight” people can’t really understand. I am straight. I don’t understand, but I do know they are people, they feel, they think, they act! I love those people God has put into my life. I believe He put them there so I could grow and open my own mind a little. I am a person who has used religion (and the Bible) to not love people. I understand that though today I recognize that as very sick. Today, I know that God loves me because He created me. He loves his other children because He created them. If He created them with “different” sexual leaning, why should I despise it? I do believe He created them that way. I do not understand why, but I don’t have to!
Susan in Ohio:
I have only recently begun receiving HeroicStories and it is wonderfully uplifting and heartwarming. Your choice to share this story has prompted my first response to thank you for promoting tolerance and acceptance. If just one person is touched by this story and changes their perception and behavior, that person can touch and help change many others. Being happy and expressing love in whatever form or belief is divine. Perhaps when more people realize this and and more importantly can act it out in themselves and with others, hate crimes and other acts of violence and greed will disappear.
Kim in Oregon:
I LOVE HeroicStories. I’ve not ever come upon one that I’ve felt the need to delete, or *shudder*, ‘UNSUBSCRIBE’. Sure, there are a few that open the eyes a bit, but is that not how we grow??? I commend you and your ‘HeroTalk’ group for agreeing to run the story of Paulette and Emil. I think that we NEEDED to read this. There are so many of us ‘holier than though’ folks out there, and it’s stories like this that truly bring them out of the woodwork. Flapping their Bibles in our faces and using God as the reason for their feelings and beliefs. Perhaps I should say their ugliness. *sigh* And, yes, I do believe that it IS God who is supposed to do the judging. My heart goes out to Paulette for all of these folks that she is bound to run into. I hope that she has the strength to not let them bring her down to their level. God bless you for allowing, no, encouraging us to examine just what is truly in our hearts. You just keep on blowing us out of the water!!!
Christine in Texas:
I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that reaction to this story was so negative. I thought it was lovely. As a person who’s had many gay and bisexual colleagues and friends, and a counselor who’s worked with gay, bisexual, and transsexual men, I’ve seen the level of hatred and unacceptance that so many of them have to live with. How fortunate that Paulette found someone who could respect and accept her and her decisions; how sad that some people who read the story missed the point of acceptance. Maybe there’s at least one person out there who read this and understood for the first time that “those people” really aren’t any different from “us.”
George in Pennsylvania:
I just want to thank you for including the story of Paulette Menard in HeroicStories. I have someone close in my life who is living with gender dysphoria, and I know how difficult it is for them. To be honest, I wouldn’t call what Paulette or Emil did heroic (I guess I have a different opinion of what heroism is), but it’s nice to see that people can be so accepting of a different situation. Actually, I don’t even like the word “tolerant,” as it implies that someone is just “putting up” with someone else’s differences. But to truly accept someone, no matter what their difference is; that’s the way I try to live my life. Basically, live and let live. In fact, I try hard to keep from acknowledging someone by their difference, such as “transsexual,” “gay,” “black,” “white,” etc, and just focus on them as a fellow human being. We’re ALL made of the same stuff. I happen to be disabled, and would hope that people wouldn’t refer to me as “the quadriplegic” all the time. Also, thank you for pointing out that no one would “choose to be completely at odds with everyone and everything.” It was actually depressing to read some of the negative comments on your page concerning this story. I can’t judge these people either, however I can only hope that they never have to face such aversion to their own lifestyles, or never have to experience the “pain” of being so “different.” On the other hand, it was truly uplifting to see so much support for this story.
Judy in Ohio:
We have a woman in our company that has just completed her transformation and I forwarded the article to her. It is very uncomfortable for us in the company, many of the women will not use the restroom in the department and I admit that it is difficult for me to understand. BUT, your story helped me a little. Gerry wrote back that she appreciated your story.
Pedemonti (no location given):
Your story about the transsexual was right on the money. If you had Bibles thrown on you, those who threw them deserve them right back. How could any of us hate something that God himself created. Homosexuals did not make a choice to be different. Autopsies have shown that there are actual biological changes in the brains of homosexuals (Trust me, I am in the medical field, or research it for yourself). I may not like it very much, but I don’t like cancer, obesity, or the fact that there are a lot of people out there who choose not to use their brain to it’s fullest extent. BUT, this is what God has given us to work with, and I choose to be tolerant of the differences. Either this is the work of God or this is a result of our past sins. Maybe it is just God’s way of teaching us to be more tolerant of other’s differences?
Barbara in Missouri:
I am sorry and sad that you should be abused this way. It never entered my mind that anyone could take issue with that story. Please don’t censor the stories you tell. I want to know about *all* kinds of people. And thank you for doing this. It is good to see the good in people — a lesson evidently lost on some of your readers.
Keith in Virginia:
I just signed up to receive HeroicStories again because you had the guts to print the story about Paulette. Like you, we believe that ALL human beings have inherent worth and dignity.
Danielle in Virginia:
An open mind and heart are wonderful assets, and Emil showed he had both. I feel sad for all those who couldn’t step back from their own prejudices and open their minds for even a second.
Jill in Zambia:
I was disappointed that you published something so controversial as the transsexual story. It really made a statement, a statement I don’t allow in my home. Please keep to the neutral, wholesome things in life. Things that are innocent and non-controversial. Things that make a person’s day, a highlight, not a dark thought. I really thought that HS had this in mind. If you make so many people angry, why not sidestep those issues? I like reading HS because it is bright, and usually wholesome, and it makes me smile and think that the world isn’t in such a despairing state. But the controversial story saddened me and we deleted it, my spouse not even reading all of it. Please don’t disappoint us like that again. Please keep it bright, simple, happy, and wholesome. I think you can do that for your thousands of “right-wingers.” I know that several of my “Bible” friends subscribe to your publication because we referred you to them. I know you have disappointed them, too. Don’t make me sorry that we referred you to them. I do enjoy reading your publication normally. It makes my day, usually. You do a good job. Have a good day.
Nick in California:
It’s nice to see that at least in some people, reason lives on. I wish that some day we could live in a world where people accepted that people are different from each other, but they’re still all people. *sigh* The more people who think like that, the more cynical and disappointed with humanity I become. Why do so many people concern themselves so much with the private affairs of complete strangers?
Lesa in South Dakota:
Count my subscription request as a “bravo” for YOUR heroic stance to publish a story you knew would be unpopular, but you published it, anyway. Anyone whose knee-jerk reaction to “unsubscribe” because of that story would be most unlikely to ever harbor a heroic thought, anyway.
Doug in New York:
To me, the most amazing thing about the whole story was not Paulette’s “change” or even the fears she had about other people’s reaction to what she had done. What was most amazing was firstly, Emil recognizing the new Paulette, and secondly his withholding any reaction to what Paulette had become. His refusal to ask “why?” was a monument to look at and marvel about. It must be something of a headache dealing with the reaction to running a story like that one. There must be so many people who flame you for it. Just think, though. The people who rant and rave about a story, criticizing your running it haven’t been changed into intolerant people, they are just revealing their intolerance. I am sure your publishing those stories must be helping some people re-evaluate their thinking in ways which are beneficial to themselves and those around them. It is knowing that one or two or possibly a number of those people will change which makes all the tirades of the misguided more endurable, I would guess.
Peter (no location given):
I tend to get angry, frustrated, and just plain ticked off over people who condemn other people solely because of a particular classification that they don’t like, such as “Transgendered.” I was pleased that you received positive email, but it always floors me that people use such harsh and vile terms towards a woman, Paulette, they don’t even know. They don’t know who Paulette is, what she does, how she treats others, what she’s gone through, and yet they’re willing to use such vile language against her and others like her. I would have been telling them exactly what I thought of them, their interpretation of religious principles, and the religion they espouse in very explicit terms. I believe it was the very same Jesus of Nazareth these people like to quote who said something about loving your friends is easy, loving your enemies more difficult. Thank you for showing respect.
Steven in Australia:
I don’t go along with the hypocritical “love the person, hate the behaviour” that bigots use to excuse their own hateful words and acts. I found the HeroicStories about Paulette to be no more offensive than any of the others. Paulette didn’t harm anyone (except, and only in the minds of some, herself). It was a wonderful story, and anyone who took offense at it needs a major attitude adjustment.
RC in Nebraska:
My brother forwards “HeroicStories” to me, and to the rest of my family. I want to thank you for running the story of Paulette and her experience with her old friend. Of course Paulette is heroic in any sense for dealing successfully with her own challenges, but the real hero is her friend, which a number of the people who objected to the piece missed entirely. In quickly perusing the comments of emails in response to that posting I noticed that the people who were incensed noticed only the general subject matter, and reacted harshly. That seems to happen all too often from far too many people, these days, who claim to base their responses to life on Christian doctrine. Again, thank you for running that piece, and putting yourself in the way of criticism from some callous people.
Brian (no location given):
I was actually moved to tears by this story and the reactions it provoked from your readers. Their comments and the story itself threw light on my own predudices and inadequacies, inciting a change for the better. I can appreciate any message which encourages self-improvement, especially when it comes in a package so sweet.
Mike (no location given):
It truly amazes me to see how absolutely intolerant some “Christian” people are, (mis)quoting the bible, disregarding the true spirit of Christ and, basically, coming across as nitwits. I was raised in a fundamentalist religion, and people like those quoted are why I have run far and fast from organized fundamentalist religions since I was a teenager. The hypocrisy makes my skin crawl. The hyper-critical, judgemental writers who over-react only make it more obvious how much of a hero Emil really is. And these fools make it painfully obvious how reasonable the fears of rejection Paulette experiences are. Maybe one day people will wake up and realize the world isn’t black and white, but the Bible is. Jesus sat with the “sinners”, he and his apostles commanded that we not judge lest we shall be judged, love our neighbor as ourselves, remove the rafter from our own eye first, only those without sin may cast the first stone, etc.
Sue in New York:
I’m just amazed at all the God-fearin’ Christians who found it necessary to 1) be on an internet mailing list where they are not assured of only perfectly acceptable Christian information and entertainment; 2) insist that you write your column in a way that is acceptable to them — regardless of the majority of your readership who is happy to see most of what you have to offer; 3) read an entire story if they found the initial premise of an adjusting transsexual too much to bear; 4) complain about a story they didn’t like/approve of instead of just deleting it; 5) rail at you in such a way that they demonstrate a far less Christianly attitude than anything you’ve EVER shown in your publication! I think anyone who has a problem in seeing the heroics in your stories has blinders on. Even if they have never been in the same situation as the person in the story, they should be able to understand how difficult certain decisions are. I can’t imagine how you have that kind of surgery to change such a fundamental part of yourself, but I know that has to be a huge decision. To then go to your family, friends and acquaintances and tell them what’s happened must be a daunting task to say the least. If folks would learn this sort of tolerance, that we are all human and deserve basics like not being harassed and hurt, we would all be better off. Much though I try, I can’t fully understand the mind that would read that story and then feel compelled to take you to task for it.
David in Ohio:
While I am neither disgusted with the material, I am also not over-joyed either. I am writing this after reading the special page of other readers’ comments. I must admit, I was indeed “shocked” (initially) at the subject matter as I read the story. I am in agreement with you that so many of the negative comments seem to jump to conclusions as to what type of lifestyle Paulette must have had. Or, unfortunately, that she was “sick” or “twisted”. So many times we are quick to judge people. That is the problem. We judge the person, not the “act”. God tells us to “hate the sin, not the sinner”. All too often, we hate the sinner. And if that is the case, then we must hate ourselves, because we are all sinners and have come short of the glory of God. One thing I can say with a fair amount of certainty is that Paulette was confused, troubled, probably suffered from low self-esteem, and maybe even depressed. I am sure that most, if not all of us, have had to deal with some of these emotions. While I do not condone her ultimate decision to change the gender that God gave her, I will not persecute her for it, either. She may have chosen to make this change in much the same way people drown their sorrows in alcohol, or escape the “pressures of life” with drugs. She may have seen this action as “the only way out” or might have thought that this operation will result in happiness. OK, so now what? This I will do: I will pray for her that she will humbly seek the complete healing that only God can provide, and that her family and friends will set aside their superficial attitudes and reach out to help the “person”, Paulette, with whatever she needs. So to all those that say they believe in the Word of God, do what the Bible says, and lift her up in prayer as well.
Jon in Washington:
You know, it’s a pity that there are so many people who read that particular story but completely missed the title. It’s even more a pity that so many people read the first sentence and completely missed the remaining ones.
Lynda-Marie in Texas:
For all of the people who picketed Matthew Shepard’s funeral, holding up signs, yelling that God hates fags, and would condemn folks like Paulette, I say shame on them, they REALLY need to read the version of the Bible I have read. This version talks about a **true** gentleman named Jesus Christ, who said such “sissy” things as “Love thy neighbor” and “He who is without sin cast the first stone”, and taught about love, peace, tolerance, and understanding. I converted to Druidry because I could no longer stand the “good” people who were perverting what is otherwise sublime truth, using it for political reasons and to justify their hateful behavior.
Walter in Singapore:
I guess I’ll start off by saying that I’m homophobic in a lot of ways — at least where sexual issues are concerned. Same goes for transexuals. But your story gave me a simple small slap on the face to remind me that our Lord commanded us to love. I do not think that transexuality is right — but for that very same reason, we have to come to grips with not shunning the very same people we disapprove of. True love in the Bible was where Jesus ate with the moneylender and touched the Gentiles. Anyone who thinks that even talking about tolerating transexuals is probably too stuck in his own ways that he forgets to look into the mirror in the morning and see beyond the shaving cream. Never once have your stories disappointed me in being that little uplifting force when I read them. I really look forward to them in my mail, and even tho the story on Paulette did shock me a bit, it did NOT turn me off, and rather reminded me that true love in any form in this world, is so hard to come by, and I wonder if it’d be safe to say — those who love truely and unconditionally as our Lord jesus commanded are those who are the heroes of this world?
Teri of Illinois:
Thank you so much for your unbiased, nonjudgmental and nonbigoted way you ran the story of Paulette! It’s very rare that we are not portrayed as the usual Springer deviates and misfits. It’s very unfortunate but that is the way the world sees us. Not many transsexuals come forward as did Paulette. The vast majority of us just want to blend in and disappear. I was especially moved that at least some of the population does not want to have us locked up and “put to sleep”. And I was happy to see that most understood that Emil was the hero of the story. In addition to the comments I would like to point out to the public that we have so much more to fear from them than they do from us! There are no bands of roaming transsexuals beating, maiming or killing straight people, or any people for that matter. Nor are there transsexual groups trying to deny them the basic rights to housing, employment, insurance, health care or life itself. I don’t want anything more or less than anyone else already has. It’s truly a shame in this world that the fear we have of those things we don’t understand turns into such hatred. But it has gone on throughout history and continues all over the world today. So many people are deprived of the right to life disguised in the name of what’s “right” or “not right” but in reality is ignorance, bigotry and hatred.
Wanda in Florida:
I am shocked at some people’s attitudes, especially those who are claiming to be Christians. Let me just state right here, right now, that I am a Bible-totin’ believer. However, I am SO disappointed in my supposed brothers and sisters in the Lord for their harsh words and judemental stance. I was a little uncomfortable while reading the story, but I just knew there was something there worth hanging on for. And I wasn’t disappointed. I pondered it for awhile after reading it, to make sure I had grasped what I needed to from it. I congratulate Emil for his kindness toward Paulette. I believe that Jesus would probably have taken her into His arms and held her for awhile. What she has been through has surely been a traumatic ordeal. The thing that some have missed here, as you said, is that this story is not about Paulette. It is about Emil. It is about his overcoming prejudices and misconceptions and doing the right thing. And the right thing is ALWAYS mercy and love toward fellow human beings. No amount of condemnation ever changed anyone — in fact, it brings rebellion against the very idea you are trying to get across to them. That doesn’t mean we have to be best friends with someone we disagree with. It only means we allow them to live their life, we give them the room to be whomever they are, without condemnation, and without looking down our noses. And we try to be the best example we can be.
Jonathan in the Philippines:
I’m 16 years old and live in the Philippines, where the population is strongly Catholic. I spent my elementary education in a Catholic school, in fact. Looking at the opinions of the people who wrote to you, I have difficulty believing we believe in the same God. I was taught that God is a loving God. I don’t think it’s this loving God some of those who wrote to you believe in. In addition, I am repelled at the use of religion to defend something such as bigotry.