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I was busy at Motor City Pride. That’s no excuse, but it’s true. There since 8 a.m., I spent several hours helping to set up BTL’s gigantic tent and then, just about the time all the work on that end was done, I was asked to wander through the massive crowd and snap some photos. So by the time I spotted Jamie Phillips-Fox floating through the sea of faces, I simply waved and went on to scout my next photographic subject.
Never did I imagine that just a week later, I’d be attending her funeral. Never did I dream there wouldn’t be hundreds more chances to hug her, to express my affection and show that I cared.
Still, I felt somewhat shamed as I listened to speaker after speaker relive their last hugs from Jamie at Pride. One after another, representatives from TransGender Michigan, Triangle Foundation, Affirmations, PFLAG and the Human Rights Campaign spoke about how much that last hug meant to them.
None was more elegant though than Jamie’s brothers, Fred and John. They spoke of Jamie’s childhood and the happy boy he had been. They spoke of the dark times, when Jamie struggled with his identity, and his commitment to his daughter, for whom he postponed his metamorphosis until she was grown. They spoke of the beautiful butterfly that blossomed and the happiness that returned to Jamie’s heart in full bloom.
But more than that, they spoke of a passionate individual whose dedication to service was so great she was convinced she must have been a nurse working in wartime in a past life. They spoke of a tender soul who loved to listen to Brahms, Bach and Rachmaninov. They spoke of a person, I realized, that I scarcely knew.
Sure, Jamie and I were acquainted. I’d received my share of hugs over the years. As a member of the paper’s transgender advisory board, I listened to Jamie quietly explain to us what we’d been doing wrong and how we could serve her community better. I saw her at a myriad of functions and paused just long ego to say hello to her and her wife, Michelle Fox, before moving on to air kiss the next person. I even remember one hostile event, a summit on AIDS organized by a group of women who obviously had no use for gay folk, nor L, B or T folk either, at which Jamie and I, along with Michelle and Rachel Crandall, were thrilled to run into each other for support. But even then, we more so huddled together in a corner than held any meaningful conversation.
The point is, I had opportunities to get to know Jamie, and I foolishly let them slip by. In the days since her funeral, I’ve spent considerable time pondering Jamie, and how I came to be so close, and yet so far, from knowing her. Sure, it’s a busy world we live in and I, like most of us, am a busy, busy boy. But we make time for the important stuff and maybe the painful truth is that I didn’t consider Jamie important enough to invest my time in. I hate to think this could be true, and yet I’m reminded of the fact that even when I attended a fundraiser in her home, I spent such little time chatting with her.
I consider myself a strong supporter of trans folk, but maybe I’m not as cool with them as I give myself credit for. Maybe there was something about Jamie, the masculine features poking through the garish makeup, the bit of bass in the voice, that made me think we could have little in common.
At her funeral, it really hit me what a fool I’d been, and how much Jamie could have taught me had I given her the chance. My bias cost me a great price. So now I can only hope that wherever Jamie is she knows how sorry I am. And that hug I should have given her at Pride, I’m sending it to Heaven. I only hope she’ll accept it…