Mason Street Musings

posted by Scott Schaeffer-Duffy on July 28th, 2008

I took a call one afternoon from a friend seeking a bed for a woman named “Nancy.” For once, we had not only one empty bed, but three, so I said, “Certainly.” When Nancy arrived, clad in a skirt, blouse, hat, and purple wig, I was surprised to see she had a prominent Adam’s apple, a five-o’clock shadow, and a deep bass voice. Although we have had an enormous variety of guests over the years, people of different nationalities, religions, characteristics, and, on some occasions, sexual preferences, we have never had a man dressed like a woman.

It didn’t take long to imagine the difficulties Nancy must have experienced over the years. Many men heap ridicule and direct violence on cross dressers. Women are often more accepting, but not necessarily comfortable with sharing a bedroom with them. Nancy would not go to a men’s shelter and wasn’t accepted at a woman’s shelter. Our friend, who brought Nancy to us, said there were a hundred such people in Worcester, but that most stayed with friends when they got in a jam. Nancy was new in town from San Francisco. Interestingly, she told us that she came to Worcester because it was more tolerant than San Francisco. (Imagine that.) She also told us of her early years with a dysfunctional family followed by multiple placements in foster care. When I wondered how we would handle her stay–I put her temporarily in the empty men’s room on arrival–Claire didn’t hesitate to say that it’s a hallmark of the Catholic Worker to shelter those who have nowhere else to turn. Of course she was right.

Nancy stayed several days until New Horizons, a part of AIDS Project Worcester, found her a safe haven. Their coordinator sent us a letter saying, “Whether or not you realize it, you have helped to save a life in our city!” Since Nancy’s departure, we’ve received numerous calls from people in jail who can only be paroled to a fixed address with a land-line telephone. Some of these inmates are convicted sex offenders. Like Nancy, most doors are closed to them. The same can be said for immigrants without documentation. Entire classes of needful people are being squeezed into the margins of our society where their suffering will not be apparent enough for most of us to notice.

Excerpted from The Catholic Radical, August/September 2008.

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