The other day a coworker mentioned that he was about to take his first ever train ride. I was stunned. How had he never been on a train? I’ve lost count of the trains I’ve been on. Big ones, little ones, zoo trains, city trains, scenic trains with coal-powered locomotives, fresh-off-the-factory-floor self-powered glass rail cars, freight trains. I’ve been on trains for romance and I’ve been on trains to calm a fussy baby (and I just now realized those are connected). I have packed my middle-school aged kids up in the middle of the night, hauled them across town to the rail yard, and put them on a freight train like little hobos off for an adventure, Natty Gann style*. And then there are the trolleys! Be careful with trolleys. They can get you married. (Don’t ask.)
My coworker and I were born in the same hospital, less than a year apart. We’ve both lived our entire lives within a 100 mile distance from where we work. We are both white. We both dropped out of high school. We even both took our GED tests at the same place. Yet our experiences are very different.
I recently heard an episode of Queerology featuring Kevin Garcia, and he talked a little bit about his experience with gender dysphoria. I thought, “I can’t imagine what that’s like.” And I really can’t. I don’t have any personal experience that I can draw on that comes anywhere near his. Many of the things he talks about, I can find parallels in my own life, but this one I just cannot.
When confronted by someone whose experience seems so alien to our own, we have choices. We can dismiss their experience, or we can listen to them. We can insist that we understand how the world works, or we can learn that the world works differently for everyone. We can remain comfortable and ignorant, or we can allow some discomfort to bring us enlightenment. Boiled down, we can value (love) ourselves above others, or we can value (love!) others as we do ourselves.
So often, people hang tightly to their own view of the world. They speak as if their experience is truth, and others’ experiences are fiction.
I don’t experience sexism/racism, so you can’t be experiencing it.
I’ve seen others pull themselves out of poverty, so you just aren’t trying hard enough.
Everyone has the same number of hours, you just aren’t using yours wisely.
I’m not angry, so your anger is wrong.
If you just looked at things like I do, you’d feel better about them.
I was a tomboy and still grew up to be a woman, so you must just be confused about your gender.
And on and on. But here’s what that sounds like:
Coworker: I’m going on my first train ride!
Me: Of course not, you’ve been riding trains all your life. Maybe you just didn’t notice, or you thought the trains were cars or boats or planes, but trust me, I know how life works, and it involves a lot of trains.
Now I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather be the person who says, “That’s awesome! Tell me all about it.” Because I don’t even remember my first train ride, but I’ll bet his is different.
*Relax, their dad was on the train with them and it was
all mostly legit.