JACK + ALEX
This is a beautiful story about a love that transcends gender, language, culture and country. Proof that love knows no bounds. Read on for Jack and Alex’s story in a heartfelt letter he writes to his senator.
The Honorable Susan M. Collins
United States Senate
413 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510-1904
March 18, 2013
Dear Senator Susan Collins,
Fourteen and a half years ago an exchange student from Germany joined my Physics class. Because there was an even number of students in the class, she would have to join in one of the lab groups. My lab partner volunteered for her to join us. I went along reluctantly because secretly I had a crush on my lab partner and I didn’t want to “share” her. Besides, this German exchange student had blond hair, a beautiful smile, and was a cheerleader. Because of that, I thought I “knew” her and that was all I cared to know of her. This knee-jerk negative judgment caught me by surprise; I was a hypocrite….
Here I was, finally having come to terms with the fact I was attracted to girls. After a couple long, lonely years in the “closet” I could finally say to myself, “I am a lesbian, and that’s okay.” I only wished society could send a similar message. I lived and breathed a few simple questions: “Why couldn’t we accept people for who they are? Why must we be so quick to pass judgments on others? Why the stereotypes? Why can’t we all be a little more open minded?” Turns out, these aren’t simple questions; and I had just caught myself executing the exact behavior I wished to see stop. How could I expect others to change, when I hadn’t even changed myself?
My lab partner gracefully welcomed her in, but I still assumed that because she was pretty, blond, a cheerleader, and liked boys that automatically we would have nothing in common. I had no idea the impact this girl, visiting the states for just one year, would have on my life. A friendship grew at first from our interest in Physics and the way we liked to learn. Not satisfied by memorizing formulas and punching in numbers, we had to understand “why” things were as they were. Not content to plainly accept a new formula, we had to derive it for ourselves. Even through a slight language gap I saw her incredible intelligence and we fueled each other in our quest to learn, not by memorization, but by understanding “why” and “how” stuff worked.
The intellectual curiosity spilled into other subjects and her desire to make the most out of her stay in the states meant she would say “yes” to most anything. We filled the year with laughter, learning, and adventure. It was an exceptional year for us both; one that would have been missed if I let my initial judgment close the door on her. The day after graduation, when she left for Germany, I cried. She was the friend I most hated to loose.
The following December she came to Maine for a short visit. I picked her up in Boston and brought her back to campus while I finished up finals. She helped me study for my German final which I was struggling in terribly. Never mind nouns with genders that make no logical sense, and the formal and informal ways of addressing someone, German is spoken more from the back of the throat and I couldn’t get the sounds to come out right at all. Since we had a package of cookies smuggled into the library, I discovered it was much easier to speak German with a mouth full of cookies. We laughed and laughed as I spoke German and cookie crumbs went flying out of my mouth. Such was our friendship and I cried again after dropping her off at the airport.
We kept in touch through letters, but with each passing year, fewer and fewer made it across the ocean. We talked occasionally, but mostly just around the holidays. She moved, I moved and eventually time and distance dissolved our contact. Years went by and I thought of her occasionally, but that was all. Once I hopelessly wrote to an old address, but I never heard back.
Sometimes things have a funny way working out in the world. My twenties were not a pleasant time. By thirty I was showing signs of life again and this sparked my long since dormant desire to keep in touch with people. Not even sure of Alex’s last name any more, I searched through Germany via Google and Facebook every way I could think of. Nothing worked. I figured maybe if I just “threw my intentions out there” something would happen. Sure enough, a couple months later she called my parents’ house.
The first time we spoke, the comfort of true friendship fell on us both immediately. I asked if she was coming to the states and she laughed that familiar laugh and replied with a German firmness, “No. It is your turn to come here.” That’s right; twelve years ago we decided that next time I would visit her in Germany. We caught up on the past few years, but not in too much detail because we both knew without saying that soon I would be there. I did leave out one rather important detail of my life…
For almost a year I had been going by “Jack” and asking people to refer to me with male pronouns. As challenging as it was to take this step, the change felt right. During those months, I felt true to myself and the satisfaction of society “seeing” me as I saw myself was indescribable. The experience had given me the confidence to take another step. When Alex and I got back in touch, I had just starting taking a low dose of testosterone. I knew I’d be gradually increasing the dose, but I didn’t know how much change to expect by the time I went to Germany. My endocrinologist assured me there wouldn’t be much noticeable change. This was good for my passport, but it left me wondering what to do about Alex. Should I go as Karen or Jack?
I knew I’d have to tell her, but I didn’t know when. Many questions rolled through my head: Should I tell her now, when I got there, or after I got back? What if she changed and wasn’t as open-minded as I remembered her thirteen years ago? What if she didn’t want me to come anymore? Even if she was okay with the news, what if the immediate comfort we felt upon reconnecting was destroyed just because now I was “Jack”? A few days later I put these fears aside and sent her an email.
I wrote, “Alex, if you have never known anybody in your life to be transgender, you do now.” I explained what that meant for me; how I was going by Jack, using male pronouns, and beginning Hormone Replacement Therapy. I told her, “I would understand if this changes your mind about me visiting. If you still want me to come, but would rather I come as Karen, I could go along with that.” I sent her links to the Maine Trans Net webpage and a couple other reputable Tran’s resources. When I didn’t hear back from her for a few days, I thought that was it, she didn’t want me to come.
True to her character, she was looking at all the transgender sites she could find both English and German. She didn’t know anyone who was “trans”, nor did she know too much about what that meant. From research, learning the terminology, and listening to people’s personal stories she realized that what little she did know, was full a lot of negative misconceptions. She confessed that it took some time to navigate through the helpful and not-so-helpful sites. In the end, her reply to me was, “Jack, Come as you are.”
It is easy for fear to allow one to expect the worst, I have been fortunate. Countless times I underestimated peoples’ willingness and ability to keep their hearts open. With Alex, something unexpected happened, our friendship evolved. Each visit has led to another and we see that we could be faced with an interesting dilemma….
I never imagined the issue of gay rights as it pertains to immigration would have much bearing on my life, but it does now. I have changed the gender marker on my Maine driver’s license, but unless I undergo “irreversible surgery,” I cannot have my birth certificate or passport changed. Though we see ourselves as a heterosexual couple, I believe the federal government would not. The success in Maine last November makes this transgender piece a non-issue with regards to marriage, almost. From what I’ve researched and the Supreme Court cases that are currently going on, it is my understanding that, because of my decision not to undergo surgery and the Defense of Marriage Act; our marriage would not be recognized at the federal level. The immigration rights that extend to two loving people of the opposite sex would not extend to us.
In this small, rural Maine town, I know I have caused a bit of a stir. I have friends, neighbors, and co-worker all across the political spectrum. Some adopted the name Jack right away, but it is not those who impressed me the most. It took about a year for some to finally call me Jack. They were the one’s faced with the biggest dilemma because what I was doing, was something they didn’t understand or agree with. I could imagine the moment, “Jack” slipped off their tongue, they felt they were denying their own belief of what was right and wrong. I do not see it this way. Calling me by my preferred name does not mean I have “won them over”; to me it means they are simply recognizing my basic human right to be who I am. It is the individuals that continue to honor their own beliefs, while at the same time accepting me as “Jack”, that impress me the most.
Senator Collins, I believe you see that the times are changing and I applaud your stance on gay rights as it pertains to immigration. I do not understand why, in this United States of America, the land of liberty, freedom, and the pursuit of happiness, we still have laws that deny citizens equal rights because of who they are or who they love. Whether or not you agree with the choices I have made in my life, is not the issue. It does not matter to me whether or not you consider yourself a gay or transgender “ally.” What matters is your willingness and courage to stand for what this country stands for.
Threaded through this story is the impact a quick judgment can have. If I never saw beyond my first impression of Alex, a friendship never would have started. If she didn’t take the time to inform herself about what it means to be transgender, then our first visit would have been quite different. If I didn’t surrender to the preference of my heart or the identity of my soul because I was ashamed to be different, I would not be here now. A willingness to explore beyond our initial judgment of something is a risk and takes time. If politicians are not willing to investigate issues beyond what their party line supports, how can we make change?
Senator Collins, it is my sincere hope that not only will you read this letter, but you will pass it along to anyone you think might also take the time to read it. I know I am one of many thousands impacted by the Defense of Marriage Act and I know DOMA is under high scrutiny. It is not my intent to persuade anyone on their personal beliefs around marriage, but I challenge anyone to look at whether their beliefs are negatively impacting the lives of others and ask, “Is this constitutional?”
Thank you for your time and service to the State of Maine.