I’m a straight man in a men’s prison. I’ve been here for six years now. Its a lot like a big high school and a lot of the folks around here talk like we’re in a high school guy’s locker room. Things are said that surely shouldn’t be heard by any lady’s ears. After years, and sometimes decades, of this type of dialog, people lose any hope at being grounded in softer emotions. The kind of emotions you give to mothers, aunts, sisters, girlfriends or just girls you know. The softer, kinder spoken ones. The one that make you think of modesty or sensitivity. Perhaps, it could even be considered classier. But certainly not the crude dick jokes or flagrant eff bombs that are hurled for the sake of sounding tough.
Over a week ago, I lived with a man’s man in his mid fifties. A sports nut. A jock who peaked many years ago and since faded. The dick jokes were a plenty, but so was the crude sense of his arrogance. He is like so many others here with the arrested development and narrow mind. He is the norm and I was exhausted. I wanted some class in my day. Or at the very least something softer. A reminder of home and the life before this would be great. A roommate who made it ok to be vulnerable. I asked a gay friend if it was cool, could we pair up and house together? The whole idea was a win. He would feel safer, I wouldn’t have locker room talk all the time, and even the jock made out by having someone more compatible for his points of view. We lined it all up and waited for the time to come. A win-win… and then my gay friend gave me more of himself than I had anticipated.
This guy, since I’ve met him over a year ago, has always been a bit effeminate. Long hair, well manicured eyebrows, clean shaven. In the weeks leading up to our paired housing, he disclosed her to me… her name is Ruth. You see, my effeminate gay friend is in the middle of the transformation from male to female. A transgendered female. To me, it makes so much sense and I’m so goddamned proud of her for being who she is. In the back of my mind, for a long while now, I knew she thought about things differently. Not just gay, because some gay men can be pretty crude too. She doesn’t meld into that crude culture because she’s a softer gay man. Nope, she’s simply not a man at all. She thinks in complexities like my girl friends do on the outside. And as rough as prison and life has made her, she’s soft in all her own ways. Caring. Maternal of her LGBTQ community inside these walls. She knows what she wants in her life and gets emotional talking about it.
So, now that we live in the same cell, I’ve been forced to connect to my sensibilities of being around a woman. We live in our bathroom and she operates that task just as a woman. And I operate my decency about it in return. I give her her space, encourage her growth, I’m inspired by her perspectives. She knows about makeup, fashion, people, vulnerability and fear. I offer conversation about politics and news stories and, hopefully, words that makes sure she knows how valuable she is. But really, she helps me to just listen… you know, the things guy friends do for girls. The normal things. Free world things. Because she deserves to be the dignified woman she is. And I’m blessed to have my chick friend to remind me that there’s more to this situation than dick jokes, sports stats and crude language. There’s a woman’s perspective. For me, that’s normal…