Jane Saqib is from Oxford, England, and her husband, Mohammed, is from Pakistan. But the Abingdon residents, who moved to Harford County in 1982, call the United States home.
Kei McCaffrey of Fallston is 27 and transitioning from female to male. As a girl, he always felt like he was in a costume. Two years into his transition, he’s finally feeling comfortable in his skin.
Carl Clayton of Bel Air is retired. He was in the Army, then the Air National Guard and a few years ago retired from a law career. He’s also a biker.
Saqib, McCaffrey and Clayton were among the seven human “books” scattered around tables in a conference room Saturday at the Havre de Grace Library, where readers moved from one to the other to “check them out” every 15 minutes.
The “books” covered different subjects and shared their stories openly with the readers as part of the Human Library through the county’s Choose Civility campaign.
“These people are amazing stories and they live in our county,” Leslie Greenlee Smith, marketing coordinator for Harford County Public Library, said. “You may never otherwise meet these people, and that’s what we want to give to our customers.”
"Book" participants represent all walks of life, from a variety of diverse jobs, programs and backgrounds. Saturday’s was the second of three human library sessions that encourages the human book and the person who checked it out to have a meaningful discussion on the "book's" topic. The next session will be 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Fallston Library.
The goal is to facilitate dialogue, challenge stereotypes and promote understanding among people in the community.
“I saw this opportunity pop up, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to get good information out there,” McCaffrey, who’s been transitioning for three years, said. “I love the county. I really believe a calm community and positive discourse leads to the best change.”
He and the other books shared their stories openly and honestly with their readers. Few questions were off-limits.
Jack Hirschfeld, who lives in Bulle Rock in Havre de Grace, only had time Saturday to check out one book. He was there out of curiosity.
“I found out this is a very interesting project, as I expected it would be,” Hirschfeld said.
He didn’t learn anything in general he didn’t already know, he said, but he learned about Mary.
“Learning about another person, a total stranger, adds to your understanding of the world,” Hirschfeld said.
Jane and Mohammed Saqib met in Oxford, England. They eventually married and moved to Pakistan, but moved back to England where they had their children.
The couple had friends in the United States and visited frequently. On their third trip, Mohammed found a job in Milwaukee and moved there. Eighteen months later, Jane joined him.
The family had the option of moving to Louisiana or Baltimore and, in 1982, settled in Abingdon.
Mohammed and their children have since become U.S. citizens, Jane has not.
“There were many years I didn’t want to,” Saqib said.
After 9/11, “everybody” who wasn’t a citizen became one, she said.
“I feel American in my heart — it’s just paperwork,” Saqib said.
She does wish she could vote, though.
She thought her family would experience more racial discrimination than it has, Saqib said.
“Everyone has been very accepting,” she said.
McCaffrey spent 15 minutes talking to the Rubensteins — Rebecca, Paul and their daughter Sasha, 8.
Rebecca Rubeinstein is a librarian at the Odenton library branch in Anne Arundel County, which will be hosting the Human Library in August.
“I wanted to see what it was like,” Rubenstein said.
The Rubeinsteins are new to Maryland, moving to Odenton a little more than a year ago from New York City.
“This is good for us to see, since we’re new to the area,” she said. “This is good, having a diverse panel of people come to the library.”
Having lived in New York City for 16 years, Rubenstein said she takes it for granted how liberal people are.
“I was naive to think it would be similar here,” she said.
McCaffrey, however, said the community has been really understanding of his transition.
“I’ve grown to have a lot of faith in my community,” he said.
He wants to point out that as a male who was a female, “we’re here, too, we’re just like everyone else. It’s been eye-opening. Opinions are really shifting for the better.”
Paul Rubenstein asked about how long the transition process takes.
McCaffrey said he had to live as a man for a year, and get permission from his doctor and psychologist. He’s been taking hormones for several years, he said. He has to go for bloodwork every six months to make sure he’s not having issues.
The entire transition could take five years, and he’ll have to receive hormone injections every week for the rest of his life.
“They can’t tell you exactly what will change, to what extent or for how long,” McCaffrey said.
In addition to the hormones, he is choosing to have the upper-half surgery — a double mastectomy — to transition from female to male. He will not have the lower half surgery, a falloplasty, creating male body parts — he doesn’t feel the need.
As a girl, McCaffrey never felt comfortable in his body. The inner dialogue didn’t match the voice that came out of his mouth. He’d look in the mirror and wonder who was staring back. It was like putting on a costume every day and being unable to take it off.
“For the longest time, I thought that was how everybody felt,” McCaffrey said.
And while someone undergoing the transition never knows until they start treatment if it’s truly right, McCaffrey is happy now.
“I wasn’t living life before,” he said. “Now I just feel like a normal person.”
After retiring from his combined Army and Air National Guard career, Clayton practiced primarily family and custody law for 37 years. He retired three years ago.
Because he was already drawing retirement from his military career, Clayton had few financial pressures and provided a lot of pro bono work, mainly to women with children.
“They get the short end of the stick. If they go to court without an attorney, they just can only go so far looking out for them,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of women close to losing their children.”
Clayton was orphaned by his mother and raised by his grandparents, so he feels a connection with many of the cases.
“My personal feeling is mothers should stay with their children, as much as they can,” he said. “I was giving a mother a fair chance to stay with their children and not get swept up in the law.”
He’s not pro-women, he said, he’s pro-kids, pro-fair treatment.
He often was able to be the children’s lawyer.
“I loved, it, because you were on the side of the good guys,” Clayton said. “You were not arguing for Mom, you were not arguing for Dad. And the kids knew they had someone to talk to.”