Back in November of 2014, I got a call from Oleg that he was in Florida and that I ought to meet him at our usual spot (said usual spot being behind the house of a friend down in Cocoa, in whose back yard we have frequently shot and once blew up a zombie target). I was specifically looking forward to seeing Oleg because I had been talking with him about my idea that eventually became the "Gun Owner Diversity" poster, and so we planned to have him take pictures of me.
It's out of character for me, but let me be uncomfortably specific here, because it's relevant to the story: I was bringing down several sets of women's clothes so that Oleg could photograph a bearded, obviously biological male in drag for the poster.
When I arrived, however, Oleg wasn't alone. In fact, there were quite a few people there.
- People I hadn't met before.
- People I who was, shall we say, uncomfortable showing that side of myself to, because I was freshly "out" as trans and didn't know how people would react and I really didn't want to cause a stir or confrontation.
By the time Oleg got to me, we were losing the light (and I'd had plenty of time to work up a good level of nerves, due to being around people I didn't know), and so we compromised: I would put on something sporty and simple, and he'd take some establishing shots of me to 1) burn off my nervousness and 2) get a feel for how better to photograph me the next day. I agreed, changed behind the house (no one was around), and let him take pictures.
(No, you aren't going to see those pictures; they're terrible. Don't get me wrong: Oleg's composition is fine, I'm just hideously uncomfortable and it's plain for all to see.)
By the time we were finished, we'd lost the light and night was falling quickly. However, I didn't have anywhere to change out of drag and into "respectable" clothing (I mentioned the house was empty and the lights were out, yes?), and this was a dilemma for me. Oleg assured me that I looked perfectly fine, and that both John and Dawn would be fine with me as I was.
Somewhat assured, I followed him back to the Bibby's house. I parked my car, got up to their front door... and proceeded to have a panic attack on their front porch.
I can't possibly go in like this. Not only do I look awful, but John's wife doesn't even know me or know to expect this. It's rude behavior, and a guest is supposed to be polite.
Heck, she might even take offense at this. Some women see transvestites and transgenders as a mockery. I certainly don't want to cause trouble. I can't go inside.
I can't change clothes, though. I have no room to do it in my car, and I can't change on their well-lit porch or carport because this house is on a busy street and someone will see me being indecent.
I really, really want to leave. Just run away. But I can't do that, either, because it's also incredibly rude.
What the hell do I do?After what felt like 20 minutes of panic, but was likely only 30 seconds, I came up with a stopgap solution: I opened the door just a crack, said "Hi, sorry to be a bother, I'm just having a panic attack on your porch, please don't mind me. I'll be in as soon as I have my act together," then promptly sat down on their outdoor couch and proceeded to freak out.
I don't know how long I was out there. It felt like hours. Oleg checked on me and assured me that 1) it was going to be all right, that Dawn knew who I was and that it was okay, and 2) dinner was still cooking so I could stay outside until then but at some point I would have to go inside.
Dinner was announced, and I couldn't make myself come inside. I was entertaining possibilities of "Okay, maybe if I get in my car and find an empty cul-de-sac, I can change there and come back... but I don't have a map of the area, and if I leave I'll probably get lost and not be able to find the place again.." when Dawn, in her unique style, solved the problem.
She came out onto the porch and sat down next to me. I was so so embarrassed I couldn't even look at her, but that didn't seem to matter. She just said, in her soft and kind voice, "Erin, I want you to know that Oleg has explained who you are to me, and I'm perfectly fine with it. I accept you as you are, and you are welcome in my home. Now please come inside and have dinner with us." Then she gave me a sideways hug and went inside.
In one graceful motion, Dawn had defused the entire situation:
- Too embarrassed to come inside? No problem, she'd go outside to me.
- Didn't want to come into her house dressed like that? She didn't make me.
- Worried about what she'd think? She told me what she thought of me, and how I was dressed, and welcomed me anyway.
Well. After that, all of my objections were pretty much in flames... so after taking another moment to compose myself, I went inside. I had a wonderful time with her and John and Oleg, and they even put me up on their couch for the night so I wouldn't have to drive home and back again for the photo shoot the next day.
That one moment defined Dawn for me: kind, accepting, and a delightful combination of "not accepting my nonsense but still being mindful of my feelings."