Occasionally we all need a reminder that our lives are not the center of the universe and our neighbor’s journey may have had challenges that would make most us wilt. Rizi Timane’s ebook “An Unspoken Compromise” is a short but illuminating account of his journey from young Nigerian girl to adult man. As a transgender man, the unspoken compromise allows the author to maintain a silk thin connection with his fundamentalist Christian parents as he finally transitions in the United States.
As a young eight year old girl living in Nigeria, Timane tells her father she is a boy. That is perhaps the most innocent and easiest part of the journey. As Timane grows and comes out as a lesbian, because there was little concept of what transgender meant beyond an episode of the Sally Jesse Raphael Show, the author endures ridicule, abuse and numerous exorcisms arranged by his fundamentalist Christian mother. Timane is able to travel to the U.K. for school and ultimately the U.S. to escape the constant hounding from his family that blames him for stalling his father’s military career because he was a lesbian.
The real truth for the author is that he was not a lesbian, but a man that had been given the body of a woman. The “second” coming out as a transgender man was equally as painful as being viewed as a lesbian back in Nigeria. The constant thread keeping Timane sane and with a modicum amount of hope was his faith in a loving God. Even as his mother excoriates him about his path to hell for being a homosexual, the author nurses his faith in the knowledge that we are all made in the image of God.
Perhaps the two most interesting aspects of this little ebook are Timane’s inability to completely abandon and ignore his family coupled with a religious faith that refuses to be crushed. Any sane person could forgive the author for cutting his family out of his life after the verbal abuse and accusations of pedophilia. But he remains loyal to his parents and family, even if it is at a distance. Ultimately, there is some acceptance when family members witness the humanity of Timane, as a trans-man, caring for his ill father instead of the identity they want to pin on him.
My only issue with this wonderful portrait of a man coming to grips with his gender identity is that it felt rushed in parts. Timane is a good writer. There were glimpses of prose, character development and historical pictures that I wanted him to expand upon.
What hurt me most was not my mother’s shouting at me or the ludicrous accusations she had made. It was that I now had proof that my family didn’t know me at all. They saw me as a possessed pedophile who was cramping their newly attained prestigious lifestyle, and they had even made plans to fix me. They did not support me like a family was supposed to, or love me just the way I was. My mother preached at me endlessly but had she stopped to consider that this was how God made me, and that –as she had always told me-God does not make mistakes? – An Unspoken Compromise, by Rizi Timane
Timane is not readily given to speculation and sticks to the facts of the matter. It’s possible that without an in-depth conversation with his mother, if he could even have one, that he won’t fully explore his mother’s contradictory realities of the devil-in-her-daughter she had and the goodness of God in all of us.
The issue of gender dysphoria or transgender individuals is so foreign to virtually everyone that it is hard to read any account with any substantive empathy for the trans man or woman. It’s not that we can’t empathize, it’s that we don’t know how to because the concept of being trapped in the wrong body is an experience that has few equivalents. Even the recognition that you are gay fails to add the proper depth and perspective when your sexual identity is in question.
Books like An Unspoken Compromise allow us to swim in our own past experiences to see how we might react to a transgender child or actually being transgender ourselves. What Timane does a good job of is giving us touch points to connect with him on. We’ve all had difficult relatives and many of us have experience with organized religion. For my part, I cut my family out of my life, but I strongly identified with Timane and his wife over their frustration to find a welcoming and accepting church. We start with the common denominators and build from there. It will eventually create an understanding that transgender individuals are not crazy, lazy or hazy. They are people, just like everybody else, whose humanity is just as deep and profound as the pastor of a Christian fundamentalist church.
It is my hope the Mr. Timane will explore some of the other areas of family and faith in regards to the LGBTQI community in future books. He has a knack for clear and concise writing that is a boon to many people grappling with the issue of gender dysphoria and transgender individuals that could easily be reading about quantum mechanics for many of us. An Unspoken Compromise can be download from Amazon in the Kindle format and is adaptable for computers and iPads.