Donna Rose

A Million Miles From Shame

Filed By Donna Rose | December 15, 2009 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: transgender, White House, White House reception

I am what many would call a "mid-life" transitioner. That is I, like many, was well into life before coming to a point where I could stop running from my gender gift and start to consider it in healthy, productive ways. Many of my generation remember a time when the word "transgender" didn't exist, when there were no books or support groups or role models, when there was no internet, and when the loneliness of feeling as though you were the only one of your kind was surpassed only by the suffocating guilt and shame and fear of being discovered.

The reason I mention this is because I have an invitation in my hand to a Holiday Reception at the White House this evening. It's not an LGBT reception, or a reception for any particular cross-section of our society. It's a reception comprised of a broad range of people brought together to celebrate the joy of the season with our President in his home. The thought that out, proud, transgender people - people who are part of the fabric of this country whether others want to recognize that or not - are part of this celebration is beyond amazing to me. It's a million miles from shame, and a day I never imagined I'd see in my lifetime.


I remember a time when the only transgender people I'd see were on daytime talk shows. As a young teen I'd buy TV Guide and immediately scan the topics for discussion that week on Phil Donahue because that was the only place to see "us". Whether or not the guests were representative of transgender people was immaterial to me - it simply helped to reinforce the fact that I was't as alone as I felt.

I have learned that there is no one way to be transgender, or to "feel" mis-cast in life, just as there is no one way to feel or be anything. I used to explain that, for me, being transgender was like being an actor and being unable to get out of role - ever - even though you knew you were simply going through the motions being something you knew you weren't. Living what feels like a lie is a heavy burden to carry for a lifetime and finding your true self under all of the facade can be a painful, difficult road to travel. It is a road many of us know only too well.

As a transgender person I have had the opportunity to be involved in several "firsts" in recent years. I look back over my work with the Human Rights Campaign, with GLAAD, and with other organizations and efforts with a sense of accomplishment and pride. I did the best I could given the circumstances and I'm confident that the work that I and others started will continue to gain momentum and to make our lives better. But nothing I've done as a board member can compare to the emotions stirred while speaking at a memorial service for a transgender person who has been brutally murdered in a hate crime. I've done that twice, and it's a painful reminder that the progress we're making is all part of a broader culture war of validating our personhood where hate and ignorance still lead to horrific outcomes.

There is a time to hunker down and fight our battles because this war will last a long, long time. There is a time to console one another over our tragedies and to recognize our resiliency through our setbacks. At the same time, though, it's important to take the time to celebrate our victories. I learned a long time ago to measure a long journey not by how far there is to go but by how far we've come. In my own journey, how far is this? It's a million miles from shame.

The invitation is very impressive. "The President and Mrs. Obama request the pleasure of your company at a Holiday Reception to be held at the White House...". It's red and velvety and embossed - very nice. And the embossed envelope simply has the return address as "The White House, Washington DC"

My mom was so cute - she bought a dress she thought I'd look good in for the occasion. I still have no idea what someone wears to a White House reception so I made the decision that I'd wear what I liked, and what felt comfortable. Trying to live up to anything else would be impossible so why even try. My mom is proud of me and in that regard whatever anyone else thinks is irrelevent. My father passed away 11 years ago this month and I expect he would have found a way to be okay with things, too. They'll both be there with me, in spirit.

I can't help but think of generations of us who never imagined having an opportunity to celebrate the joys of the Holiday Season as their authentic selves at the White House, and of those who will spend this Holiday Season alone and sad. I think of youth who will never have to endure the helplessness that so many of us felt and who can grow up with a President for whom the word "transgender" is not foreign, distasteful, or irrelevent. I think of the empowerment that comes with refusing to be defined by any single dimension of yourself and to be included without hesitation into the broader fabric of society. I realize this is just a 2 hour reception that will come and go in a heartbeat, but for me it's so much more. I just hope I don't start to cry.

I could have written this tomorrow night, after the event. But sometimes it's important to stop and take the time to consider how you're feeling before something happens. This, to me, is one of those times - time to savor the moment. And however tomorrow turns out it won't dampen the sense of excitement, of honor, of amazement, and of thanks that I'm feeling tonight. Make no mistake - I'll drink the moment for the rest of my life.

Shame? No. There is no shame. It truly is a million miles away.

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Thank you Donna for writing this.

impressive, thank you.

Donna, you made me cry. Thank you for this. I so needed it.

stephanie trower | December 15, 2009 4:43 PM

Hallo Donna

I have been truly impressed with the intelligence and compassion that I have read Billerico posts to date.

I have not posted before but have rather read the blogs with great interest.

I can not find the words to say how moved I was by your post, Donna.

I hope you have a fabulous evening and I admire you well.

Love stephanie trower bem

norwich uk

Awesome Donna, you deserve this! Happy Holidays!

Congratulations, Donna. You're a wonderful ambassador for our community. Have a great time, and please try to get a picture of yourself with the President and share it with us.

Congrats Donna! That kicks ass!!

Enjoy, Donna! This is wonderful for our community. We'll all be with you there in spirit. Tell President Obama to start calling those missing Senators on ENDA! (Just kidding - have a great time!)

Congratulaions, my dear. Have a wonderful evening and do bring back silverware to share with all of us.

Go have fun and do a little politicing on the side who knows when you wil get the chance!

What a wonderful Christmas gift! I hope you have a great time. An invitation to a White House reception! That just makes me go wow. :)

Millions of miles from shame, Donna. Enjoy!

Beautiful article, congratualations and have a wonderful evening.

Happy holidays to you and the president! Here's to a better future!

This is fabulous Donna! I find it so inspiring reading about other "late bloomers" who have hit their stride. To paraphrase a famous quote, "One small step for Donna, one big step for genderkind."

Congratulations! Ricka

I'm so happy for you, Donna! That's a huge invitation to get - especially since it's not just an LGBT event. I remember when Mara Keisling tweeted the photo she took in the White House saying something like, "I might be the first trans person invited to the White House, but I surely won't be the last." While she was invited as an activist, you were invited not because you're trans, but because you're a wonderful woman who is a joy to be around.

I'm so incredibly proud of you. I hope you'll blog again on how it went, who you saw, what you had to munch on, the whole works. :)

What courage and fortitude it takes to change people's views.
That most of us are bigoted by beliefs passed on is what I am shameful of. I need to change my views of things that is for sure. I stopped going to church because of how uncomfortable I was amongst people that were not like me. I didn't hate them...but I was afraid (that much I'll admit). I can see now that it is only an old belief. Now I get to see the bigger picture and see their hearts which are so full of courage. Still I see we have a long way to go with this. Although I voted for the Gay rights in Maine...we rejected it. I was appalled by that. A lot of false advertising was to blame for that. I digress... For all the world still sees them as "different", yet we are NOT so different as it seems. Here's to hope as we close out the year.
For we are all ONE.

Donna - thank you for sharing the true meaning and spirit of what it means to live your truth. you were invited because you are one of the most important voices in our community, organizational affiliation or not

Thaks, sis. You are the right person for this. Enjoy.

Angela Brightfeather | December 16, 2009 12:25 PM

"Many of my generation remember a time when the word "transgender" didn't exist, when there were no books or support groups or role models, when there was no internet, and when the loneliness of feeling as though you were the only one of your kind was surpassed only by the suffocating guilt and shame and fear of being discovered."

It wasn't like that for everyone back then. Some of us foresaw that the day a Trans person was invited to the White House would come and continued to be proud and fearless, while still fighting of those who thought that this would never happen. It would appear that those who fought, have won in part, by your invitation and that the battles endured are now being confirmed as having some worth.

The difference between those days and your being invited would seem to measure the progress that we all have made. But in truth, for those who fought those battles and are still around or passed away, instead of progress, your invitation is a measure of the hundreds of Trans activists like yourself and Mara who give so much of their lives in this fight for recognition every day and every year and they have never stopped fighting for the vision and belief that it's going to get better for Transgender people of all kinds.

While you attend and your mother and father are there is spirit, please remember that you carry the dreams and visions of hundreds, if not thousands, of those Trans people with you and that they will be there to support you as they always have.

And please, when you leave the White House, don't leave any glass slippers behind.

Best of luck, enjoy yourself and make it a time to remember.

There will be huge numbers of us with you in spirit, Donna. Congratulations and Thank You for the work you've done to earn this sort of recognition!

This is truly wonderful news, the kind that all of us need in our journey!!! Thank you for serving as a most elegant spokeswoman for our movement!!! Have fun!!!