Charlotte's Web Thoughts
Charlotte's Web Thoughts
When We Begin to Hope for America

When We Begin to Hope for America

Finding the good wherever we can.

In the summer of 2008, I was on the second floor of the Barnes & Noble that used to be near Metro Center in D.C. when a strange man approached me. I was near the back right corner wall, where I was browsing books on Christian theology, when he walked up, seemingly out of nowhere, his hand stretched out to take mine.

“God-fearing men like you are the future of this country,” he said. “Don’t forget it, young man.”

His big, warm grip enveloped my own, swallowing it whole. But before I could ask his name, he walked away from me as quickly as he appeared.

It took me more than a few minutes to put it together, the realization only hitting in the restroom when I looked in the mirror while washing my hands. Staring back at me was a young white man with a military regulation high-and-tight and a shirt with “U.S. Army” emblazoned across the front. This is the young man our enthusiastic gentleman had seen checking out Christian theology books, and it all suddenly made sense.

There is certainly no way that man could have known he was talking to a closeted trans woman who loyally supported progressive causes even back then.

Fast forward about thirteen years—after leaving the Army, after graduating college, after coming out of the closet and living as my authentic self—and I’m on a flight home to D.C. from Colorado, where I had spent the weekend with dear friends. Seated next to me, I was to learn, was a retired Marine Corps colonel. We were both reading our respective books, but it was a long flight and after a few hours, we began chatting. He was a gentleman, and in a bid to communicate decency and openness to me—remember, he sees a progressive trans woman who lives in D.C.—he mentioned his gay son and how the family had worked to be open toward him.

This was all lovely, of course, but the most interesting part of the conversation—I believe for both of us—was when we started talking about faith and I mentioned that I try to go to church every Sunday.

A look of surprise flashed across his face.

“You do?”

“I do!”

I told him that my faith in God had sustained me through some difficult times, and I felt closer to God since coming out as transgender. He was quite surprised and asked more questions, all out of kind curiosity. He admitted to me he was a lifelong Republican, but ever since Trump’s election, he had wanted to better understand the perspective of progressives. He truly did not know there are LGBTQ people who attend church, much less progressive LGBTQ people, and this revelation was clearly interesting to him.

I rarely talk about religion in-person with strangers—much less most of my friends—because it’s not very polite, but there, about 30,000 ft. above Illinois or Indiana or wherever the hell we were at that point, I knew this was one of those moments when you connect with another human being in a way that leads to understanding for both parties.

I believe it did. In fact, I know it did. For him, it was learning that LGBTQ people are quite diverse in background and perspective, and for me, it was a much-needed reminder that good faith does exist with people from a far different political perspective.

America is at the crossroads in an era of profound uncertainty, and as our future becomes more complex and thornier, it will be easier for all of us to rest on information shortcuts that give us permission to avoid recognizing the complexity in each other. We must resist that temptation.

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Here’s the uncomfortable truth: the gentleman in that Barnes & Noble many years ago who took one look at me and had me all figured out in his head isn’t much different than how I behaved with the gentleman on the plane so many years later, at least in my head. I took one look at him and knew I should be careful. As a trans woman, that’s warranted. We have to protect ourselves and be on guard.

But that’s the thing, isn’t it? As Americans, we all seem to be on guard these days, distrustful of our leaders and each other, ever cautious about the consequences of misplaced good faith.

I’d never tell someone from a marginalized community that the key to a brighter America is making themselves vulnerable with people who don’t respect them or recognize their rights. That’s not what this is about.

Here’s my point: at the very least, we should all be open to these moments when understanding can be had. It’s tough as hell. It can be scary. Lord knows there are more instances in which I decided the responsible thing to do was keep to myself and not hazard the risks of making myself vulnerable.

When it does work, though? When it works the way you’d hope, when you connect with another human and find a supportive fellow traveler, it offers a spark of light for a vision of an America that we should all want.

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Charlotte's Web Thoughts
Charlotte's Web Thoughts
Charlotte Clymer is a writer and LGBTQ advocate. You've probably seen her on Twitter (@cmclymer). This is the podcast version of her blog "Charlotte's Web Thoughts", which you can subscribe to here: