Getting to Know Jessica


By Troy Headrick

I pride myself on being someone who wants to have new experiences, meet interesting people, grow intellectually and spiritually, and expand my horizons in the process.

Having said all that, I want to share a story with you about how recently meeting a very special person has had such a wonderfully positive effect on my life.  Not long ago, I befriended “Jessica”–that’s not her real name–a person who’d been coming into the writing center I manage at Palo Alto College.  Jessica is perhaps in her late 40s, maybe early 50s.  Up until recently, Jessica was a male, at least that was the gender she’d been assigned at birth.  In addition to her helping me learn all sorts of new things about many subjects, I’m also pleased that she has signed up to participate in my COME AS YOU ARE program, one I’ve written about here.

When I first met Jessica, I made many faux pas when speaking with her.  I have this bad habit, probably at least partly related to the time period when I grew up, saying things like, “Hey, man” to her as soon as she’d enter our writing center.  I would then bite my tongue and feel terrible about not being more careful when speaking to her.  I didn’t mean “man” when I called her “man”; using that word is something I grew up saying (way too casually and carelessly as I now realize).  So, it just popped out of my mouth and I felt terrible I hadn’t been more careful when speaking with her.

Then, one day, without thinking about what was about to pop out of my mouth, I said, “Hey, dude, how’s it going?” as soon as Jessica stepped into the lab.  She answered, very politely, “Good, and you?”  I immediately pulled her to the side, making sure that we could speak without anyone overhearing us, and apologized profusely to her.  I even told her, right near the end of my apology, “I am so terribly sorry.  I like you so much and I want to speak to you the way you want to be spoken to, but I blow it every time I open my mouth.”

“Don’t worry about it,” she graciously told me, smiling broadly.  “I know I’m somewhat unusual, and I know your heart.  You are a good person, and I feel fine talking with you no matter what words you use.”

Meeting Jessica was one of the greatest things that has happened to me in recent months.  I’ll be quite honest with you; I don’t think I’d ever talked with a person in the Trans community before I’d spoken with Jessica.  I had always considered myself very hip, but I certainly learned that I needed to be more careful and sensitive in the way I was using language.  In other words, I had been a nitwit almost every time we’d spoken.  And rather than being offended, she had always very graciously overlooked the fact that I kept sticking my foot in my mouth.  The good news is, Jessica has been such a good teacher that I’m progressing very rapidly as her student.

More of us need to look for opportunities to meet and interact with people we don’t normally associate with.  Christians need to take the chance to befriend Muslims.  Progressives need to sit down and try to have a conversation with conservatives.  Atheists and agnostics need to get to know the religious.  Those people we don’t normally socialize with are those we most need to try to get to know.  Otherwise, we’ll continue to live our insular, little lives and will remain tribal in our outlook.

I want to encourage you to look for opportunities to get to know the kind of people you don’t normally interacted with.  If you have had a similar experience to the one I’ve described here, why not share it with everyone?  I’d love to hear lots of stories of this sort!

Troy Headrick’s personal blog can be found here.


28 thoughts on “Getting to Know Jessica

  1. Well, a couple of months ago I started helping out at a homeless centre in NY. The others who work there are tough as old boot native New Yorkers and along I came with my Roedean accent and $200 jeans. What a prat I was. But I learnt, mostly to keep my mouth shut, smile a lot and work hard. I love it there. I love the banter, the kindness, the no-nonsense attitudes. I love the fact that there’s no point in any of us getting above ourselves, because with only a couple of bad choices or a run of bad luck, we too could be in that space. So yes, I’ve learnt, have become a part of the team and continue to learn every day. Katie

    1. Your work at the homeless center sounds like a wonderful learning opportunity. I also know, because I grew up being raised by a single mother with no significant formal education, what it feels like to be down and out. I also love the students I work with at the community college. Many of them are already graduates from the School of Hard Knocks. They are far from the sort of elites I worked with in the past when I was employed by a university where most of the children grew up in families with deep pockets. Thanks so much for sharing your story; it reminds me a lot of my story. Yes, we learn every day (if we keep our eyes and ears and minds open). Again, thanks.

  2. It’s great to hear you learning and growing, I’m the same, I love meeting new ppl but I now do not feel so bad if I gaff as my intention was never malicious. I vice chair the women’s network and I made the banner for our interaction page with a pink section, I’m sure someone will be offended but it’s how that individual chooses to react – there was no harm so I’m sorry if I offend I just like pink!
    I have a few trans friends and I brought one particular New Yorker to our famous London crossing where the lights go from stop to a the trans sign for cross – everyone is welcome 🙂

    1. Thanks for sharing your story. Like you, my gaffs were mostly me acting habitually rather than consciously. Even though America is currently stuck in an ugly political moment, I truly believe we are headed in the right direction. Towards more inclusion. Towards more multiculturalism, more internationalism, more acceptance of the wonderful diversity that describes the human family. Thanks so much for your great comment.

    1. Yes, it can be true and is becoming truer all the time. Part of that happening, though, is learning how to jettison outdated vocabularies. For real freedom to exist, we each have to have the right to self-define. Having others define us is like giving up the power of self-determination. Thanks, Betul, for joining in this conversation.

      1. So, another part of the blog post I lost the other day (does anyone else have trouble re-writing a post after accidentally losing it?)… I wasn’t going to explain here… but your comment brings it up.
        “Jettison outdated vocabularies”.
        Okay. People find this difficult. I used to hear tons of “Ive always said it… can’t change it..” kind of stuff. Frankly, that’s just ridiculous.
        Imagine being a mother of a child who comes out as trans at the age of 15/16. And then, another child who identifies at 12 as non-binary.
        How does a person deal with that? For me, not only have I had to change pronouns, but my children wishes to not go by their given names, and I have struggled with the application of they/their/them pronouns when is comes to my youngest. Those words are typically only used in plural situations.
        Let me first say, I am disabled and have severe memory issues. I would like to think that if I didn’t, this situation would be as simple as changing what you call your child as they grow out of their baby nicknames. Really… how is that complicated for people?
        But, if you have a harder time with it, give praise to technology.
        Go into your keyboard settings on your devices, to the text replacement settings.
        Set it up so that every time you type, in my case, child’s given name, it autocorrects to child’s preferred name. Now, every time you type it, you get a visual “correction”. It’s a quick way to force your brain to change thinking, and suppose you need to change the pronouns? Obviously, you can’t set “she” to change to “he” every time you type it… that would cause confusion and frustration. I found that changes the name was enough!! Because the name change reminds you that the pronouns are different. Would you say “she” when referring to a “James”? Or a “he” when referring to “Sarah”? Not usually, barring a “Boy named Sue” situation.
        I also changed the children’s contact photo to a photo of them as their identifying gender, rather than a baby photo or a photo of them as the ASAB gender. Lastly, I made a point of speaking what I was typing every time I was referring to or speaking to them, when writing.
        This might not work for everyone. I based it on my personal learning style. I’m very visual and kinesthetic. But, audio helps me too. My point though is that anyone can re-teach themselves if they want to do it. Anyone who says they can’t (in most situations… I do have a child on the spectrum. Not all people can do things as easily as others, but that child was able to do it eventually. It took longer. That’s all.) simply doesn’t really want to. I do empathize with those who are willing to try. We have many funny occurrences in our household, where things just faux pa out of our mouths. We laugh about them and move on. Cuz not everything has to be so serious, right? I think what’s most important comes down to a really simple concept. What everyone needs in life, validation and acceptance, is what gender non-conforming individuals need from you the most. If you falter on the words, but you let them know that you accept them, you’ll probably be surprised at how much laughter and warmth can come from them.
        Even when your transgender and non-binary children argue and get you REALLY confused about the toilet seat up/down situation…. WHO dun it? Well, um….. the “facts” of the case? Not so sure….. Lol. But, by the time I was finished trying to figure it out, and walking away, THEY weren’t arguing anymore, they were too busy laughing with each other at ME.
        I’m not an expert on this stuff any more than anyone else. Just a person who refuses to make anyone, ever feel like they are less than any other.
        Thank you, for accepting Jessica.

      2. Thank you for all this helpful information. My bottom line is this: The most basic right humans have is to make decisions about who they want to be, how they want to live their lives, and who they want to love.

  3. I’m fortunate enough to sit next to an Muslim woman in my math class -she’s wonderful. We have a lot of common ground, and it has very little to do with where we were raised or how we express faith. I have T-girl friends that I adore, and look forward to spending time with. I give Zero hoots for a person’s melanin. If anything, I’m loving school more and more because I get to spend more time with a wider array of people than I grew up with. It’s so much fun to learn!

    1. Like you, I grew up at a time when people were more worried about showing the world who they really were. I guess we all have things to hide, truths about ourselves that we know will make others judge us or feel uncomfortable around us. I hope that we are moving into a different era, into a different America (and world) where we can celebrate our differences. Liz, I expect nothing but goodness and open-mindedness from you. So I’m not one bit surprised by your comment. I guess we just have to keep on trying to do the right thing every day. Millions of us doing the right thing every day can change this country and the world! Thanks so much for sharing your story and for telling us how it should be.

      1. You do wonders for my ego. I’m just lucky enough to have all these amazing people around me who say “This is who I am”. It’s beautiful.

  4. Great post. In my facility, I now have two individuals in transition. It has been a learning experience for me. I stumbled through a few conversations much like yours with Jessica. It has helped to be open and realize that we are all learning to live in our own skins.

    1. Thanks for sharing your story. Jessica has been so understanding. In fact, as I mentioned in my blog, I see her as my teacher. I hope to keep learning from her. Your experience sounds cool. You mention a “facility” in your post. I’d like to hear more about what you do if you’d like to share more. Again, thanks.

      1. I am the coordinator of tutoring services at a small South Georgia college. We work with a variety of demographics, but it’s primarily an Ag school, so having individuals in transition is a relatively new experience for most of us. We have had one professor transition in the last year, but having two of my tutors going through the process is closer to home for me. I am definitely learning from them.

      2. Cool. You probably are aware that I manage a writing center at a similar sort of school. I work in a very urban area, though, and am happy to report that our students seem very accepting of all sorts of diversity. What is your school? I work at Palo Alto College in San Antonio, Texas. I’d like to reach out to you about your job. How long have you been doing such work? I’ve spent most of my career in classrooms, as an instructor, in both colleges and universities in the US and several other countries. I’ve been managing this writing center for a bit more than two years now so I’m still adjusting to being staff rather than faculty.

    2. Thanks for sharing your story. I’m always disappointed in myself when I bungle such situations. You’re right. We all have important lessons to learn. I’m glad that America is moving in a direction where diversity is both accepted and encouraged.

  5. These differences sound strange concept to me because a single belief does not make 100% of a character. For example, a man is also a father, son and husband, other than being a Christian or Muslim or agnostic. So there are multiple roles to interact with.

    1. Hi. Yes, I totally agree. Just take me for an example. I am an educator, a manager, a son, a husband, an uncle, a cousin, a secularist, and so on and so forth. So, this raises interesting questions about me: Who and what am I? By the way, thank you very much for the Sunshine Award nomination! It might take me a day or so to fulfill the requirements of the award, but I’ll get to them as soon as possible. Have a wonderful day!

  6. I have two non-CIS gendered children. Funny enough, I was just writing a post about that. I wrote it several times and accidentally deleted it. So, I just posted the link and decided to come back to it later. But, I will say this for now; changing terminology can feel very awkward. In any situation. However, it necessary for us all to do, in order to be a progressive global community. It’s also common, I have learned, for others to be very generous and patient when they can see that a person is trying and that they do care. For the most part, that’s what they want to see, hear, and feel. That the other person understands and is doing their best to make them comfortable, accepted, for who they are. Keep trying, eventually, you will get it. That’s all anyone can ask of another person. The willingness to make the effort. It counts so much more than most people understand.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your personal story. Jessica, being the understanding person she is, has been patient with me throughout. Most of us who grow up in politically conservative families are presented with an overly simplistic view of gender and sexuality and such. We are taught to believe in binaries: male versus female and heterosexual versus homosexual. Then, we find that the world is much more nuanced and complex than these either/or views allow. I’m so happy that I met Jessica because she is helped me learn so much about so many different things.

  7. So well said! Such good and true thoughts. I would also add that “christians” don’t see eye to eye either, As I’m sure Muslims and others don’t either. We can each make real efforts to be bridges, or just build walls and hide there, just lobbing the occasional digital grenade over the wall

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