by Melanie Yarborough

"It's too bad that guys and girls expect different things from dates," Debbie complains. Shawn, a typically mystified teenage boy, asks her what exactly girls want. Debbie replies that they want good conversation, and to feel they've connected with someone. Girls may or may not want sex, but shouldn't have to feel it's expected. Shawn is dumbfounded, asking "But how are guys supposed to know this?" Debbie replies that girls send out signals, and it's not their fault if guys can't read them.

An episode of the ABC friday night sitcom "Boy Meets World" once took a walk on the transgender side. Shawn (Ryder Strong) went undercover as a girl for an article for the school newspaper The Patriot Spirit. Transgender themes are popping up everywhere, and this one was designed to educate young people. But there was a message for older transgendered people as well.

"Why don't you write your column about why guys are such jerks on dates?" Debbie complains to Cory, the would-be journalist at John Adams High. Later, in English class, he gets his inspiration. To research his book Black Like Me, author John Griffin had his skin colored so he could experience life as a black man. "Hey, that's it", Shawn tells Cory: "To understand how girls feel, you have to live as a girl!" When Cory balks, Shawn appeals to the journalist in him "Hey, you're writing a real article".

Cory enthusiastically agrees. He comes home with store-bought frilly lace-collared play dresses, announcing "I'm going to be a girl!". His female friend Topanga chidingly tells him "Not in that dress!". Like many guys, Cory equates femininity with playful frocks, not regular everyday girl's clothing. It takes Topanga, a real girl, to show him how girls really dress.

He still doesn't get it right. He reluctantly comes out of the bedroom closet (there's a subtle metaphor for you) in a dark brown dress with blue denim pockets, mismatched brown hose, and (gasp!) white pumps. His makeup is inexpertly done, his boobs are too big and placed too high, and he's visibly uncomfortable. He shuffles in an ungainly way, and when he tries to walk like a girl, it's with wildly exaggerated motions. His friend Shawn shows him how to do it better, with a more understated, graceful walk. "I know girls," he proudly admits. Cory and Topanga then look at each other: A star is born.

Next, Shawn is nervously peeking around the corner at school, noticeably tense and self-conscious at being dressed as a girl in public. "Why is everybody staring? What are they looking at?" he asks. Cory replies admiringly "Shawn, don't take this the wrong way, but you're kind of a babe!". Shawn is dressed like any typical 17-year-old girl nowadays: black turtleneck with dangling silver heart necklace, a red belted miniskirt, black boots.

"My name's not Shawn," he tells Cory and Topanga, to show he's getting into the spirit. "Do you have a name?" they ask, and he shyly nods: Veronica. "You've thought about this before, haven't you?" Topanga asks slyly, revealingly. Perhaps she perceptively sees the latent fascination many boys have with the idea of experiencing life as a girl. Shawn's new role is soon put to the test: Tall crewcutted macho Gary asks him out, and a date is set.

"How is it someone like you doesn't have a boyfriend?" Gary asks insinuatingly on their date at Chubbie's Restaurant. Shawn replies in well modulated if slightly husky female tones: "I'm having a little trouble breathing, you're crowding me". Gary gets closer, touches "her" knee. Shawn finds himself echoing Debbie's words from their argument the day before "You're not listening to me! You're too busy planning your next move!"

Gary invites him to play a game of table-foosball. As he shows Shawn how to play, he grabs him from behind, fondling him.

"What are you doing?" Shawn asks.

"Just teaching you how to play"

"I already know how to play the game"

"I could tell by the way you're dressed,"

Gary acidly replies, noting Shawn's dark blue velvet minidress. When Shawn rebuffs him, Gary becomes incensed. He accuses Shawn of being one of those girls who likes girls. "As a matter of fact I do" Shawn says, and lands Gary with a punch. "That's for every girl I know". He walks out triumphantly arm-in-arm with Topanga and Cory.

Shawn learned that being female isn't just wearing dresses and being admired. It also means fending off unwanted advances and feeling like you're not being listened to or taken seriously.

Many transgendered people also don't know or appreciate the difficult day to day realities of being a woman: like being seen as an object and not a person. They focus on the more visual aspects of feminine appearence. They only know what they like to look at, and want to look that way themselves.

The message is clear: transgendered people need to get serious about understanding the very real realities of the opposite sex. If we hope to be taken seriously as a social movement, we have to have genuine TRANS-gender wisdom and sensitivity.

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