Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Walking the walk

I've come to realize that I talk the talk really well; I ain't walking the walk so good.  Why have I not shared my blog on Facebook?  The answer came to me the other day while I was at work.

Lady Gaga, no matter how you feel about her music, is a trailblazer when it comes to speaking up for the folks in this country who are often overlooked, ridiculed, and misunderstood.  If Bulldog and I allowed our daughter to tattoo, "Baby I was born this way," it would have been staring at me from the front of her forehead by now.  So the other day, when Lady Gaga was on a music awards show dressed as a "guy" one of my coworkers just shook his head and made some remark resembling, "What is wrong with people today?"

I realize that I'm in a fairly good position in my life right now.  I'm secure in my job, respected among colleagues in my profession in my department and multiple other departments.  I've worked with enough people and taught enough people that they KNOW I'm not "fruity" or overtly weird.  In fact, I've even managed to change a few people's minds regarding how they perceive people suffering from depression, how they perceive gay people, and African Americans, as well.   Granted, the one or two  male coworkers that I might have influenced may not be ready to hug a gay man, but at least they won't openly sneer in a gay man's presence.

My daughter goes to school and she frankly doesn't give a damn, in the sweetest way possible, WHAT people think, on the whole.  She's ready to be responsible to other people in her shoes by speaking out and being open about her reality.  She's not "in your face" about it, but she doesn't pull any punches on Facebook.  And let's face it, EVERYBODY in high school is on Facebook.  She knows the risk she's taking and takes it willingly, nonetheless, because she believes transparency allows the light of truth to shine more brightly.

And me?  I could make some of my Facebook friends see what a regular family with a transgender family member is like.  She's not strange, we're not strange.  And after all, isn't that what changes people's minds?  We can easily disparage what we don't know up close and personal.  But once we meet  and know people who embody what would previously frighten us, it's just so much harder to revile those people to the same degree.  Those kinds of baby steps led to repealing of poll taxes, allowing women to vote, more and more women in positions of authority in the workplace, hell, the making of the Grand Canyon even.

What's holding me back?  It's simple and everyone who may be reading it has certainly guessed it by now.  I'm afraid.  I will be outed- that's how it feels to me and my misery over my guilt only potentiates my cowardice.  People will snicker about my daughter and about me.  They will think we've done something wrong as parents.  I'm not ready to hear remarks about my daughter.  I don't know what I'll do and I'm terrified at what I might not do which is to tear whoever dares to speak against my daughter in my presence a new posterior orifice, because I'm too much of a freaking pansy.

So, as I listened to my coworker's remark about the state of humanity, I realized I had an opportunity to share, and I didn't.  And then I hearkened back to what Bulldog said that first day after DJ came out-"I hope I can be as brave as you."  I'm not as brave, not even close.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

In honor of Martin Luther King

Today was supposed to be the official unveiling of the Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington D.C.  Hurricane Irene led to the unveiling being postponed, unfortunately.  Why today?  Because today, in 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King gave his famous, "I have a dream," speech.  Until today, I had never heard, nor read, the speech, in its entirety.  I knew the general premise, certainly;  in honor of today, I decided to read the text and it is inspiring.

So what does Martin Luther King have to do with transgender folks?  Dr. King opened the door for civil rights for everybody, not just African Americans.  When our fine forefathers wrote the Declaration, and the Constitution for that matter, they primarily had folks who resembled themselves in mind:  white, educated, usually landowning, presumably heterosexual, males.  Which is why the verbage in both fine documents reads as it does, "all men are created equal" and that "men have the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."  While many people will say, "You know they meant women too, or people of color too," really, they apparently didn't because black people and women didn't get the right to vote until constitutional amendments were written stating, basically, yeah, the constitution applies to you least when it comes to voting.

Dr. King recognized that this fine country was successfully skirting the spirit and letter of the Constitution in its treatment of people of color, namely African Americans because at that time in American history, they were the predominant people of color.  Now, nearly 50 years later, while much of the discrimination against African Americans has abated, or at least been somewhat repressed by proper observance of the law, there are still large groups of people who are being disenfranchised and being denied the rights that every other law abiding, adult citizen of this great country enjoys.

When schools, and employers, and local governments allow the hazing, abuse, bullying and terrorizing of people who do not fit the typical mold, then they are taking part in denying our citizens their right to liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and in some cases, life itself.  When our state government, or federal government try to decide which two law abiding, adult citizens may marry, they are denying these citizens their rights, as well.  And according to the greatest law of the land, the Constitution, we may not only infringe an American citizens rights, we may not infringe their privileges either.  Yup, you heard me.  The government is not allowed to abridge a citizen's rights or privileges.  Here it is, straight from the Constitution itself:  

All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject
to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.  No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States..."

14th Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America

"But the Bible says....." does not justify the withholding of a citizen's rights or privileges because another amendment, namely the FIRST one, states that the government may not establish religion; thank goodness for that because if we ever had a majority of Muslims in the Congress and Judicial system who believed in a strict interpretation of the Koran, women could be forced to wear veils and be covered from head to toe, not be allowed to be educated, or even see a doctor.  Yet, we let the Judeo-Christian belief system abrade the very fabric of the Constitution, which is supposed to be the great equalizer for all people.

Those of us who are round pegs who fit in round holes may not see the necessity of a civil rights movement because our rights are unabridged, as are our privileges.  Dr. King reminded us in 1963 and his words remind us today that our work isn't finished.  Those of us "round" pegs must fight for the "square" pegs who can still be discriminated against as long as "gender" is not included in the list of reasons that protect employees from discrimination.  We've recently added "sexual orientation" to the list of no-nos that employers and schools and local governments must observe; this is a step forward without question.  But again, we still have work to do.  We must speak out to our legislators, all of us.  We must exercise our rights and speak for those whose rights are being denied them.  We must cling to Dr. King's vision where we will:

" live in a nation where (we) will not be judged by the color of (our) skin, (or our gender, or orientation)..... but by the content of (our) character."

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Who's the freak?

I love to read.  It's probably what I love to do more than anything else.  Presently, I'm reading The Help.  The TV advertisements for the motion picture are a bit misleading.  They make it look like a hilarious comedy; I'm halfway through the book and jocularity is not the word that comes to mind while reading it.  Tension, however, is.

I won't give the details away, but it takes place during the 1960's during the Civil Rights movement, in Mississippi, particularly.  The "help" decide to share their story with a budding journalist who happens to live on the white, rich and bigoted side of the tracks.  But they must do it in secrecy because the stakes are so high that most of us who are not considered the margins of society would not even begin to understand. Their truth was that if they dared to question the norm, if they had the audacity to whisper thoughts of changing the status quo, they could lose their jobs, their homes, their freedom....literally, their lives.

The book explores, to a certain degree, the roles each member of high society plays in maintaining the status quo.  And it's frightening because it's familiar.  Our methodology is subtle but insidious.  It starts with gossip: simple but ugly talk that is spoken with a degree of authority.  The listener must either agree and be accepted, or disagree and risk shunning.  The speaker often acts as if what he/she is saying is a joke, but anyone within hearing distance can distinguish the underlying humorlessness in what is being said, regardless of how it is said.  And this is where most of us fail miserably.  Ask yourself, are you the spineless speaker or the listless listener?  Because the listener who does not speak up is just as guilty as the ignorant speaker.  When we listen to ignorance and make no attempt to rebuff it, we speak the same ignorance by omission.

Our area experienced a fairly significant earthquake this week.  Many of us were called in to work since we are considered essential personnel in emergency situations.  I listened as one of my coworkers joked that it would be a riot if the Washington Monument fell on the Martin Luther King, Jr. monument that is to be unveiled next week.  Seems harmless but we all know what sentiment was lying under the joke.  Yes, I spoke up, but in a half-hearted way.  Shame on me.  I should know better.

Why?  Because my previous life was filled with abuse.  I know first hand what it is to risk change and to literally put my safety in danger.  And why else?  Because our family has a beloved member who belongs to an extremely marginalized and misunderstood group-the transgender community.  

Misunderstanding about transgender people runs rampant.  Ignorance about and ridicule of these folks is society's "normal."  Think about movies or books that depict these individuals-transgender, or transsexuals, are portrayed as sick and twisted.  They're pathetic at best and psychopathic at worst.  But if, in fact, any of these folks are twisted, I am convinced they become that way because they are ignored, harassed, hunted down, mocked, ridiculed, humiliated, shunned or simply avoided.  Why?  Because we must preserve the pecking order.  We see it on the playground, and we partake of the same dynamic as adults.

As long as I can point my finger to someone who is more (seemingly) maladjusted than me, I am, for the time being, safe from ridicule.  When you're being pursued by an attacker and you're part of a herd, you don't need to run faster than your pursuer, just faster than some other member of the herd.  We don't want to see the truth because then it's as if our frontal lobes were a waste of our Creator's efforts; the reality is when we act like a pack of wolves, we are only marginally separated from, well, the actual wolves.

Many of us defend our ignorance by finding some obscure line in the Bible to support our allegation.  But more frequently, we believe someone else who says their rationale is in the Bible.  So, we not only accept someone else's interpretation, we often willingly follow the basest interpretation just so that we can be faster than the wildebeest who is stampeding right beside us,  in terror, from the pursuer.  And the best part of all this is that oftentimes these folks profess to be a follower of a Jewish born savior born over 2000 years ago who spent the majority of his time breaking bread with the freaks or the marginalized of his day:  the lepers, the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the possessed, the crazy, the sick, the women and the children.

I used to think I was a trail blazer in standing up for the underdog.  My daughter coming out has taught me I've got plenty of room to grow in that department.  In society's eyes, she's the freak but she's got more understanding, empathy and bravery in her big toe poking out of her peep-toe glitter stilettos than most of us have in our whole bodies.  Maybe we're the freaks.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Darling girl goes militant

Our youngest, DJ, has always been everyone's darling.  Before we knew DJ as our daughter, we knew JD, our son, as that universally lovable kid.  JD was the kid that cracked everybody up, made people feel special, and had a genuinely laid-back quality that made it nearly impossible to be angry with him.  Militant was not JD's style, and certainly not DJ's style since DJ is even softer, and more sweet tempered than her "fraternal twin" JD.

I have a theory about "babies" of the family. By "babies" I mean the youngest or last born child in a family, particularly if there are at least 2 kids in the family and at least a few years difference in age between the youngest and oldest born child.  My theory is this:  these kids are so used to having a minimum of four people doting on them and treating them as if they are the most beloved person on the face of the earth, on a daily basis, that they assume, naturally and without guile, that everyone they meet will treat them the same way.  It makes for a very refreshing, self-assured yet innocent kid.  My other theory is that raising DJ's brothers killed enough of my brain cells to render me a less anxious, and thereby better, mother to her than to her two brothers.

I can be militant about causes that I find important.  Bulldog, well, I call him Bulldog for a reason:  can you conceive of an actual bulldog that does not come across as militant?  Our older two children can be militant, like their mother, about causes that incite their passion.  They come by it honestly as a result of DNA and example.  DJ, however, has never been one I would describe as militant, until recently.

OK-perhaps I exaggerate because her style of "militant" would be like seeing Tinkerbell in motorcycle leathers.  She may look tough on the outside, but on the inside, she's still pure honey, and posies and butterflies.  So how does DJ's "militant"-ness manifest itself? Nothing drastic, just different from her "norm."

We've discussed her fashion sensibility, but it's worth mentioning again because it keeps changing and getting more edgy.  Just last week, she showed me a picture of shiny red and black zebra striped leggings that she thought were the bomb.  What?!  This time last year, you were smitten with a blush colored camisole top comprised of layers of ruffled fabric.  It was ethereal, it was darling;  it was what almost any mother would be delighted to see her daughter wear.

Less than 24 hours later, she showed me a picture of what she hopes to have tattooed ACROSS. HER. CHEST.  Then she goes to the mall with her friend and comes back with sparkly blue eyeshadow and sparkly green eyeliner, which she decided to sport today.  I hate it. Bulldog hates it.

"Oh for God's sake, she thinks she's Cyndi Lauper", I cry to Bulldog.  If you're less than 30 years old, Google her.  And just so you know, DJ and all other young folks, you didn't invent BAD ASS.  Loud animal prints in colors never seen in nature?  Pretty sure Madonna did that back in her younger years.  Hair teased into ridiculous shapes that defy geometric theorems and gravity?  Cyndi Lauper, Madonna, Lady Gaga, Dolly Parton, Tammy Wynette....please, it's been done for decades.  Horrid blue eyeshadow, with thick black eyeliner?  Does anyone else remember Tammy Faye?

Yes, it drives me to distraction.  To Bulldog's credit, it's only mildly annoying.  However, without even consulting each other, we've somehow managed to arrive at the same method of handling this newly militant approach to self expression-we're ignoring it.  It worked when the kids were trying out words like, "Bullshit" and "Damn it"....and, besides, I got nothin' else.  I mean, really, do I want to make our otherwise great kid become sneaky and resentful because I think she looks over-the-top?

The trick is to NOT complicate the issue with the fact that she's a trans girl.  Truthfully, underneath, I worry that her pushing the fashion limits will just draw attention to herself and that she may appear to be trying to make a statement that while she may be "different" she's still deserving of being treated as if she were the "same." And what's wrong with making a statement, truly?  Well, nothing, except that it can piss people off.

I don't want people mad at DJ because underneath, I'm worried that people will reject her.  I want her to just go with the flow, keep her head down, lie low.  Way to set the bar high for your kid, right?  I didn't have this approach for my kids who were born in  the "right" body. In fact, I applauded them when they marched to their own beat;  I can't change the rules just because I'm more afraid for this kid.  In my defense, this fear is not unfounded.  The statistics for trans kids is pretty disheartening.  Harassment, both verbal and physical, happens at a far more frequent rate with trans kids than it does to those kids whose bodies and minds match.  So, yes, I have reason to be afraid but that doesn't mean I should react.  DJ needs to find out who she is just like any other young adult.  I can't deny her that to spare myself worry.   It wouldn't be fair to her and she's already had enough unfairness as it is.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Will the world accept my kid?

In spite of DJ's seeming good fortune at thus far being accepted, I still wonder and worry.  Is she missing out in some way?  She's not dating anyone-is that because she's not interested, or are others not interested?  Does she feel like she's missing out on some social aspect of high school?  Will she be able to make up for it in college?

These are questions that may remain unanswered for both Bulldog and me.  And the possibility that she may have felt, or be experiencing emotional pain as a result of her condition leaving her on the margins of the high school social scene brings me down faster than, well, almost anything I've experienced as a parent.   But she's at an age where her privacy is paramount.  We can ask, but she may only give us minimal information.

Truth be told, everyone's happiness depends, to a certain degree, on the acceptance of those with whom we interact on a regular basis.  And tolerance isn't enough.  Haven't we all been in the position where we can tell someone who dislikes us is merely tolerating our presence? Isn't it excruciating?  Most of have to contend with this at some point in our lives, but those of us who are markedly "different" from the commonplace will face this on a far more frequent basis.

My daughter's solution is to be as "real" as possible, which I can appreciate.  She is ready to blaze a trail to foster acceptance not just for herself, but for all people who are marginalized.   I applaud her courage while I secretly worry her search to find her soulmate will be prolonged, as a result.  She will likely be honest with anyone with whom she is intimate about her past, even after she has the gender confirmation surgery and honesty is always the best policy.  But sometimes, I just wish she would just present herself as a girl, not a trans girl, just so that she can have a real chance for once of just being seen for who she is:  a real sweetheart of a young woman.  But who am I to say?

Really, I just want her to be happy and I worry the world will try to stand in her way.  There are so many people who want to deprive others of rights and privileges that the rest of us take for granted.  And why?  Because some of us interpret the bible a certain way.  Just let her live her life.  She has enough stacked against her being born in the wrong body.  But what can I do about it?  While I'm opinionated as can be, that doesn't mean I want to or am able to take on the political arena in any way.  I make my own small steps toward informing others about the reality of this condition, but I can't change everyone's minds.  What can I do? Just keep loving my kid.  Keep supporting her and teaching her.  Keep preparing her for the worst while hoping for the best.  But, man, do I worry that that won't be nearly enough.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Teen angst

We all face it-the angst of the teenager.  We either experienced it ourselves, or are re-experiencing it with our teenagers.  Whether your teen is straight, gay, the model student, president of her graduating class, captain of the football team, transgender, emo, or a nun in training, she has probably experienced it,  is experiencing it currently, or, in the future, will experience the phenomena.

The challenge as parents is how NOT to stomp out your child's spirit while teaching your child restraint.  And of course, how NOT to ground your child, take away all that is enjoyable to your child, and to make their lives miserable simply to satisfy your frustration.

Case in point:  Facebook and YouTube submissions.  Our child is creative and has chosen to air her musical abilities on both-without our consent.  She was not trying to be secretive because she came right out and asked if we had viewed her creation on either or both online platforms.  Plus, she knows we are "friends" on FB, and I can see what she posts ( one of our prerequisites).

As a teen, she feels repressed by our rules, school rules, society's rules.  As a trans teen, I imagine she feels doubly repressed.  Her frustration over repression is quite evident because she chooses to drop the f- bomb a number of times in her online submissions.  We are now requiring her to remove the submission from Facebook and YouTube and will allow her to replace the R-rated submissions with
PG-13 submissions, once she seeks editorial approval from her parents, of course.

She is majorly ticked off.  We're stifling her, it's "just words" (well if they're "just words", why can't they be replaced with other words?) are her arguments along with her concerns that her subscribers will be disappointed.  Yeah-they're really a part of our decision making process..... Now, DJ manages to be majorly ticked off in the most ladylike way, which cracks me up.  However, the only way to reach her is to show her that a precedent has already been established.

"Even PINK has to censor herself for the public airways," made some sense to her.  Bulldog is content to go with, "Because I said so," but none of us likes to hear that.  Granted, we don't care what she likes at this juncture, but if our goal is to have our message heard then let's use language that will truly make sense to her.

Guess what young lady-we all have to share the world, including the seemingly anonymous and endless space known as the web.  And as long as we have to share, rules are required, unless we want to try out "The Lord of the Flies" method.  Sometimes we have to subvert our desires so as not to tramp on the desires of others.  That's what teenage angst is all about-learning to reconcile the, "But I want" with the, "Yeah but how will that affect others."  Now don't you feel better that your trans kid is just like every other teen?  No?  I hear you.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Fashion sense

If you are the mom of a FTM (i.e., female to male-that's a genetic female who identifies as a male) then fashion sense, or the lack thereof, isn't that big a deal.  After all, once you and your new son are all ok with his moving forward with starting his transition, it's a matter of basically t-shirts and jeans for the average teenage son.  You may have to add a few collared shirts, a tie maybe, some khaki pants...not that huge an endeavor.  Now, I'm arriving at this conclusion because my two sons were happy in the aforementioned attire.

However,  if your new son wants to be more GQ, we are on opposite ends of the same boat.  No matter what end of the boat you're in, this is an adjustment period.  Now, if you happen to be sitting on this family's end of the boat, and your child is ready to initiate her transition, fashion sense may or may not come easily.  We have a number of warring factors here:  first of all, she missed out on all the little girl years of wearing dresses and the like.  AND, she may want to make up for that, subconsciously, by choosing RIDICULOUS confections. The frillier, the better.  Sparkles?  Well of course.  Animal prints? Hell to the yes!!!

Make up-in many cases an absolute must so that the person will "pass".  At all costs, we want to avoid the "double take" look because that means our appearance has just missed its mark, which is anathema figuratively, and in tragic cases, literally.  But we want to avoid the drag queen look because that is reserved specifically for....well....drag queens.  They are SUPPOSED to be an exaggeration of the female look.  They are SUPPOSED to appear quite theatrical and dramatic.  They are SUPPOSED to stand out.  Trans folks do not want to stand out, they want to blend in, as a rule.  (BTW-drag queens are not by definition transgender.  Some may be, but in most cases, this is a career move for them, NOT who they are. And transvestites are folks who dress in the opposite gender for satisfaction of some sort, again, this is not who they are, but who they think it's fun to pretend to be, usually for gratification reasons.)

Hair-we've already talked about that in previous blogs.  Suffice it to say, DJ is like many girls, she wants to experiment with her look.

But let's get back to clothes.  DJ just doesn't get, or doesn't want to get that cocktail party attire is NOT what one wears to, say, Wal-mart unless of course she wants to be on, an excellent source for Halloween costume inspiration.  So, when she appeared from her room this morning to accompany me to the aforementioned place of business, this is what she was wearing:  a bustier styled top with purple velvet ruffles at the waist, a knee length black skirt with a hint of black tulle peaking out from the bottom. She couldn't find her strapless bra so she wore a black leopard print bra which was peaking out of her bustier top.  The piece de resistance, however, were the glitter peep-toe stilettos.    The look on Bulldog's face was priceless when she....I want to say "sashayed" out of her room, but that's not even close to being right.  The girl has not mastered the art of walking in ridiculous heels that her mother actually purchased for her.

She thinks it's stylish.  In no uncertain terms, I told her she was wrong.  I think my words were, "You look trampy as s - - -."  In my defense, I was good natured in my verbal abuse and she knew I had no malicious intent because she just gave me a "don't be silly" look.  However, once we arrived at Wal-mart, she had misgivings, I think.  First of all, once does not make such a shoe choice if one intends to do very much walking.  But the girl has to learn the hard way, just like I did at her age.  Second, in the glaring sunlit parking lot, she realized how much she stood out, which was not her intent.  She just wanted to enjoy sparkly, glittery, soft, ruffly, girly, fun clothes ALL AT THE SAME TIME.

After nearly slipping multiple times, hiking up her dress to cover her bra even more frequently, I think she realized that she might be willing to be inconvenienced with one bothersome article of clothing at a time, and that's it.  Welcome to the fashion world young lady.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Hope: the elixer of life

Can we talk about what "family " means today? I am inspired by my family and people who have been acting as if they are my family.  For those of you who know us, maybe you'll see yourself mentioned below.

Some of us are born into our families, some of us adopt them, or are adopted by them.  Some family members "choose" each other having no DNA in common, nor any legally sanctioned anything to say it is so.  Some family members started as neighbors, others as babysitters, or are sisters of another family member's significant other; some started as co-workers, or even supervisors.  We acquire family members through marriage or simply long term commitment.  And the natural attribute of a good family member is often that they are so often "there" for you, that their importance can be taken for granted, simply because we become so accustomed to their steadfast support.

So, if you're holding a glass of OJ, or water, a moody little Merlot or a kicky Pinot Grigio, (oops, can't forget my sis) or even simply a Bud light-please raise your glass, or can, and toast these fine folks:

The elderly, conservative but unbelievably loving and accepting Grandpa, the brothers who were ready to face down their parents if we didn't accept their new sister, the aunts (and there are MANY) who welcomed DJ to the female clan with open arms and acted as scaffolding when JD broke the news, the uncles (geez, lots of those too) who tenderly accepted their new niece, the cousins who have circled the wagons around her from the beginning,  to Mimi who, frankly, just plain loves the stuffing out of DJ, always has, always will.  To the Godfather of all godfathers-you are irreplacable. 

To our neighbors-you were ready to kick anybody and everybody's @$$ who even looked cross-eyed at anyone in our family.  To our friends,both old and new, you help make us all feel safer because of your support.  To my newfound old friend, your ability to love is inspiring.  To the handful of coworkers with whom I shared private information and true to your word, spoke not a word AND were able to use the correct pronouns so quickly-you blow me away.  To folks who were childhood friends of my baby sister, for goodness sake, your words of encouragement are like the homemade strawbery jam in the most awesome PB&J sandwich...EVER.  To the Riverbottom gang:  while some of you may resemble rednecks, all of you have hearts of 24K gold.  To the school counselor who is a true professional, walks softly but carries a big @$$ stick when it comes to DJ, a special shout out, as well. Even our sons' friends and a special girlfriend have reached out in ways I could never have anticipated, so you are included in this toast, too.  And sister/daughter chromatid, you know who you are-you define what a true friend is.  You may be tiny in stature, but you have the heart of a lion;  you and your family are a blessing.

Here's the thing-when you put yourself out there for our daughter and our family, you became our family, I'm just not sure who adopted whom;  and it doesn't even matter. There have been moments where any one of you has done or said SOMETHING that has blown both Bulldog and me away.  DJ thinks everybody is naturally nice, because in her world there are only fairies, butterflies and fairness to all, but that's because all of you have made her feel that safe.  And that alone is more than enough.

But here's the other thing:  you've renewed my faith and my hope in people.  And hopefully, when I share your shining examples on this blog, maybe some other person in our shoes, or DJ's shoes will know what is possible.  What an incredible, unexpected gift.  For that, and for everything, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Chaos theory in human form

Have you ever felt like your life and the universe are in cahoots to prepare you for some big event?  Has there been an experience in your life that seems so ridiculously random and out of the blue, until you ponder, and then realize, that small events have transpired over the days, months, years....(hell, my age is showing, decades)  that have shaped you so that you can actually deal when the proverbial $hit hits the fan?

And THAT is what makes me know there is a Creator and ultimate order in the universe.  Now granted, I am NOT of the belief that we are all pawns on God's chessboard.  Rather, I think God's unlimited love can lead us to righting something that can go terribly wrong.  I don't think for one second that God would create a circumstance just to challenge us, or make us stronger, or teach us a lesson.  Hell, we create our own blessed challenges every. single. moment. of. every. single. day.  But because of God's perfect order, we can piece together the oddball instances of our life and create a mosaic.  So what seems random, actually becomes purposeful.

Thirty five years ago, as a teenager in her last years of high school, I went through a terrible period of anxiety attacks.  I think I was inclined that way anyway between genetics and the programming that can occur in dysfunctional families.  Nonetheless, I remember the day, nay, the moment, I had my first anxiety attack....and guess what led to it?  The issue of transsexualism.  I am not kidding.

There was a program quite popular in its day:  Hill Street Blues. It centered around an urban police department.  I remember nothing of the story line except in one episode: a man who had been married for 25 years suddenly suffered the ending of his marriage when he revealed that he was a woman trapped in a man's body.  This frightened me because it seemed like a plague that could suddenly descend on a person and turn one's life upside down and lead to rejection.  This in due course led me to be fearful of having other "syndromes", "disorders", etc., all of which would have led to the same end result:  being shunned by all who loved me.  I was certain that I would end up:  locked up for being nuts, having a personality disorder, being schizophrenic, being lesbian, being transgender, being a pedophile.

Do not mistake me:  I do not equate being a transgendered person, or a homosexual,  as being sick like a pedophile.  What all these conditions have in common is that back in 1980, one could count on being rejected fairly, or unfairly, by family and society at large were one to fall into any of the aforementioned categories.

OK-so I got over my panic attacks the old fashioned way....I outgrew them.  No meds-this was 1980, after all.  Maybe I'm lucky or maybe this is part of God's plan, but I learned to cognitively maneuver my way through these fears.  It took time, maturity, life experience, but it eventually happened.  And while I was already a sensitive person, I became even more so.  I identified with people who are marginalized even though I was, overall, pretty middle of the road in every other way.

My sister came out as a lesbian when we were teenagers,  my parents divorced (not because of my sister), I married, became a (very anxious, initially) mother, my first husband battled depression and suicidal thoughts for years, I experienced domestic violence throughout my marriage, as well as economic depression that led me to pick up groceries from the church on more than one occasion, my marriage imploded, a protective order hearing ensued, followed by the suicide of first husband.  All REALLY BAD JUJU overall, I'm sure most anyone would agree.

But what doesn't kill us makes us stronger, or at least we hope.  Eventually, my life turned around, I got myself and my kids some help through the tough times, married a stable man (high five for Bulldog) and realized as I got older, that I continued to identify with the underdog.  To feel for the disenfranchised and the marginalized-especially those who ended up being that way through no fault of their own.  I never believed for one second that a person would choose homosexuality,  or being born in the wrong body.  Why would someone choose a life of potential rejection like that?

I swore when I was pregnant with DJ that I was having a girl.  My symptoms were markedly different, and my gut TOLD me it was a girl, just like my gut told me, correctly, that my first two pregnancies would yield boys.  My disappointment was keen when the ultrasound proved my gut wrong, but you move on right?  You love your kids no matter what their genitals, or chromosomes, or DNA says.

Over the years, the topic of transsexuality popped up rarely UNTIL six months before JD came out that he was actually DJ, a she.  (What I thought of as) my three sons and I were watching one of those informational channels that covers all kinds of interesting topics-strange disease processes, interesting and unusual cultural phenomena and the like, when a documentary came on discussing a marginalized part of India's culture-the transgendered folks.  These folks are pretty widely recognized, but still marginalized.  As we viewed this, I remarked about how difficult it must be to feel like you're in the wrong body.  I mean, think about it-you wake up tomorrow and crap, you've got freaking testicles!! Or breasts!!  WTF-you "feel" like the people who have the opposite genitals as you, so how can you possibly be part of the wrong team, physically?  What a grotesque joke-right?!!!

Fast forward six months, and I'm at work reading a mainstream women's magazine that has a feature story of, you guessed it, transgenderism.  But the picture of the young woman reveals a young woman who looks, well, quite feminine, not at all having the "drag queen" look that most of us associate with being a transgendered MTF (that's male to female for those of you unfamiliar with the lingo.   The opposite being the FTM: a "genetic" female who identifies as -feels like-a male.)  And wow, a pretty positive piece because this young woman has friends who know her condition and love her unconditionally.  How freakin' hopeful is that?  How encouraging, and I don't even need the encouragement because none of my kids is transgendered.

Except, literally, a week later, I find out that one of my kids is.  You can imagine, or you know, how out of control and disordered you feel at first.  But in my case, all my previous history of fear, anxiety, acceptance, education through various media suddenly clicked together and order was restored.  Not immediately, mind you, but fairly quickly.  God or the universe had prepared me for this, somehow.  God didn't make my daughter a transgendered girl so that she could learn something, or I could learn something; rather we could internalize and learn as a result of our experiences so that when something comes along that might knock one on one's @$$, we can get up, dust off, hearken to our collective experiences and DEAL for God's sake, or more likely, for our kid's sake.

So dig deep.  If this process is hard-and it is- look for experiences in your own life that will help you empathize and sympathize.  If that doesn't work, use your cognitive abilities-what do you know about your kid?  Systematically run through your kid's life-hindsight being 20/20, you may actually realize there were some subtle signs all along.  And sometimes, if you can detect even the slightest pattern or consistency, then it begins to "make sense" and becomes less difficult to accept or understand.  And if that doesn't work, use your imagination.  Imagine having to wake up every day and put on a bra when you feel like you shouldn't even HAVE breasts for goodness sake.  Imagine that your natural inclination is to be bubbly and sweet, tenderhearted and effusive,  but the world says because you have testicles you should come across as less emotional, more reserved, more "manly", whatever the heck that means.

I work in a male dominated field.  I'm a firefighter/paramedic.  I wear what looks like "men's" clothes over 50 hours a week to work.  It's a uniform that I can, and do, shed as soon as I get off work. THEN I wear the clothes that make me feel like "me" and assume my non-work persona.  Can you imagine (and this is a poor analogy) always having to "wear" what is not comfortable, or doesn't feel like you?  All day, every F-ing day of your life?  This is THEIR reality until they can come out.  And yes, some people come out with a vengeance but damn it, they want their REAL freaking lives, finally.  We all get a little angry when we are basically told "no" over and over.  On the other hand, some folks are just so relieved that they are finally being told "yes" that they'll just be freaking mary sunshine.

Either response is ok-we can be patient, we might even be able to be supportive.  It's possible that we are actually be more prepared for this than we knew; we just need to give ourselves, and them, a chance.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Pushing your limits

Earlier today we had our discussion about hair, suppressing identity, etc.  I guess I've been ruminating on it because I've been revisiting those first weeks when JD first started transforming to DJ, physically.   And here is another challenge for the trans person and the people who financially support the person: obtaining a new wardrobe, new grooming supplies, in our case, make-up, perhaps different room decor.  What if your finances are exceedingly tight?  That is a helluva challenge.  Thrift stores may be a great place to start.

She was like a racehorse:  she'd cleared the gate and was ready to gallop forward into her new life at breakneck speed.  It's not so easy.  We couldn't let DJ go to school as DJ.  Everyone knew her as her male self, JD.  But harder than that-were WE ready to see JD as DJ?  And then we felt guilty about our selfish regard for our own's a vicious cycle.

OK-the argument can easily be made that it's not all about us.  Of course, we get that now, but getting it then was not as easy.  Interestingly, it was harder for Bulldog than for me.  But this is a common phenomena:  the parent that has the same gender that the child was born with tends to have a tougher time making the adjustment to the "new" gender presentation.  Look at Cher and her son Chaz.  If you watch the OWN network, you'll see the documentary.  Cher's reaction and Bulldog's reaction are pretty commonplace, we know NOW.  But in the first few days and first few weeks, you suddenly learn that adjustment is a process that can differ widely from person to person.

Bulldog, as stated in previous blogs, was raw- ready to support DJ- but raw and unsure how.  Or unsure if he was capable, in the end, of being able to really give her what she needed-freedom to be who she was; to dress and act like a girl.  We agreed that her room was a perfect place to start.  Bulldog was happy to help paint giant pink polka dots on her walls, but he just couldn't bring himself to see DJ wearing pink.  And then, for some reason, when I added some giant daisies to a vase on her bedside table, it made him teary eyed again.

What was my reaction to his reaction?  Mixed.  I felt for him, I did, but it was incredibly clear to me (I don't know how-mother's instinct maybe?) that we MUST let her move forward as much as we possibly could.  We MUST push the envelope and STRETCH our comfort zones or risk losing our kid, emotionally, or worse.  I was ready to fight ruthlessly with him for it, but knew that would not serve anyone well.  And to Bulldog's credit, at least the first week or two, because he was so raw, it was easy to get through to him.  So we were able to make other subtle changes that helped DJ feel more like herself, but weren't terribly obvious.

Such as-tweezing the eyebrows.  Just enough to clean them up and slightly feminize.  Bulldog could definitely deal with that.  What we thought of as "neutral" clothing followed.  Nail polish on weekends, as long as it was a light, barely there, shade.    It was a tough balancing act for me because I felt like the mediator trying to find balance between what DJ needed-presenting as a girl, and what Bulldog needed-NOT seeing a complete transformation yet.

But in short order, DJ started to slide a bit.  She became withdrawn on Monday mornings and it increased through the week.  She REALLY thought when she came out to us that the next day her new life would begin IN EARNEST.  And even on weekends, it's not like she could put on a dress.  I thought I could be ready for that, but Bulldog had indicated that he was in no way ready for that.

So what changed that?  First, I shared with Bulldog that DJ had been painting her toenails and nails with crayons and magic marker at night and washing it off in the morning.  Which just sounds freaking tragic and sad, now, and it certainly did then.  It struck Bulldog as incredibly sad also, and he relented to nailpolish of any hue on her toes.  Then, DJ and I took a weekend trip to the beach where she could be her true self the entire time.  We stopped at a shop and I guided her toward "neutral" t-shirts to please Bulldog.  Then I saw a fabulous sundress for myself.  I bought it and could not bring myself to wear it.  It didn't seem fair for me to be able to dress up if she couldn't.  It was literally hurting me, so I could clearly imagine how it hurt her.

I told Bulldog about my inability to wear a dress and he GOT it.  I ran out and grabbed a couple of cute, sundresses at Target and showed him first, again, so the initial shock could take place privately.  When she saw what was waiting for her after school, the girl was beaming!!!  We saw it and her joy made everything a little bit more clear to us.  But clear doesn't translate to easy.  An Olympic athlete knows that the clear path to success is thousands of hours and years of practice, which will be an uncomfortable, difficult, trying, painful and demanding path.  But if your goal is to be an Olympic athlete, you have no choice-you MUST go through it.

So, our path has been identified.  We often had to remind each other that if we think WE'VE got it rough....what the hell has DJ experienced all this time? Even with that reminder, however, it still is TOUGH at first.  But again, it gets better.  Look for your kid-he/she is still there.  And you still have your kid-what a blessing.  Some people don't get to keep their kids.  When you remember that, you remember joy.  Hang in there, fake acceptance if you need to for now, it will eventually come naturally.


DJ wants to color her hair.  No problem-when I was her age, I wanted to experiment with my look, too.  We've already let her dabble a bit in this direction by the way of a few vibrant streaks in her hair.  But that's not enough apparently because now she wants her entire head to be a work of technicolor art.  Initially, to quote a"Glee" character (because I'm hip like that), I said, "Hell to the no."  I followed with something that I thought was even wittier, which neither she, nor Bulldog on my repeating it at a later date, found amusing, "You will look like something out of a Dr. Seuss book."

Of course, she brought it up to me first, knowing Bulldog's propensity towards inflexibility.  But, in true teenage fashion, my "hello to the no" remark only caused her to dig in her heels, nicely, mind you, 'cause that's how DJ rolls.  She won me over by agreeing to:  1) use a semi-permanent dye 2) not bleach her hair first 3) pay for it and maintain it herself.  I told her if she REALLY wanted to do this, she'd run it by Bulldog/Dad.

To his credit, HE didn't respond with a "hell to the no" but rather with, "let me think about it."  I warned her that she would have to continue to pursue the issue with him because "let me think about it" actually means, "I might agree to it after you repeatedly bring it up after I attempt to avoid the issue."

So, I brought it up to him and Bulldog raised an interesting point.  We're facing the first school year where DJ will not only be in school full time, but she will be in the regular student population for every single class, rather than spending a large portion of her day in the comparatively safe and secluded computer lab.

 Her first semester after she began her transition was spent primarily being schooled at home with online courses.  We live in a conservative, small town.  It's the kind of place where the ladies at Wal-Mart are the nicest in the world, because it's a small town, while being different can really piss off the people who were born and raised in that same small town. To our small town's credit, aside from the open ridicule from a teacher (we didn't see that coming-especially from that teacher), DJ has been treated well, on her return, the second semester.  But a significant part of her day was spent doing AP classes in the computer lab, which allowed her to mix in with the student population somewhat, in a very chaperoned manner.

This semester will be your typical semester-no seclusion in computer lab.  We (Bulldog and I) think of it as an important, and somewhat frightening, big step.  DJ thinks it's de rigeur, because she's a kid.  Bulldog is concerned that sending her to school with, albeit a comparatively subdued hue of, vibrant crayola hair could serve to make her a target.  His thought was to see how the first month of school went, and if it went as well as last year, he'd give her the green light to make her hair....well, not green, but only a few crayons over in the box from green.

She was upset.  It took some talking to get at exactly why she was upset, other than the "But I want to do it now" response many young people employ.  She was upset because she felt like we were reacting because of the fact that she's a trans girl.  Well....she's kinda right on that one.  But wouldn't we be foolhardy to not recognize the potential for fall out?  Our rationale, as we explained it to her was to let kids get to know her for her.  Most everybody has heard about her, that used to be a guy, etc., etc., but let those kids who don't know her see her for who she is: a regular girl.  People have visceral reactions to other people not being mainstream.  DJ is "lucky" that her natural appearance lends itself easily to passing as the girl she is both inside, and almost entirely, outside, as well.   Add the technicolor hair, and it just might make her "too" different, at first.

"Let people get to know you first" was our thought process.  She wasn't buying it.  We were holding her back from being herself and we were trying to keep her trans status under wraps, she said.  Ummmm, we're just trying to get you to adulthood unscathed, we said.

Being a girl in this world is scary.  One in four girls will be molested before adulthood.  One in freaking four!!!  One in four women will experience domestic violence in her life.  WTF!  Should not these mirror images of statistics scare the crap out of all women and the people who love them?  Now, on top of being a woman, or a girl, you're a trans girl, or a lesbian girl, or a "butch" girl-does that not have the potential for making you more of a target and as parents, shouldn't we proceed even more cautiously?  Well, that's our perspective.  She still ain't buyin' it, but we've convinced her that, "yes, you can dye your hair a color that resembles a fruit next month, if everything is going well at school" is a far cry from "hell to the no", and THAT, dear daughter, is called compromise.

Gotta find the humor

Eventually, I may tell the story of the actual coming out.  But today I want to focus on some of the humorous moments because believe me, the humorous moments will present themselves, if you can be open to it.  And those moments of laughter help you get through the awkwardness of those weeks, and months of adjustment.

Within 2 hours of hearing that our son believed he was a she, my husband and I had to take a time out together.  We had already made an appointment to go look at a used car for our oldest son and besides which, we welcomed the opportunity to step away and regroup.  As my husband is driving, he sighs heavily.  I sense a tone of exasperation in his voice, and I involuntarily tense up.  I'm ready to jump into lioness mother mode to defend our son, rather, damnit, our daughter, when he states, "Well, this is what happens when you let your kid become a vegetarian."  Pause....relieved (almost hysterical?) laughter ensues.  Then we pulled into the next convenience store and each grabbed a candy bar.  Chocolate makes everything better, right?

Now Bulldog, how I refer to my husband in my head, is being pretty accepting overall.  He WANTS to accept, but isn't sure how to accept enough to let DJ, our new daughter who we still view as a son, start "being" DJ at home.  He needs time to adjust.  DJ is SO OVER waiting, she's ready to dress in gold lame, probably.  She's got almost 15 years of "girly" that's been dying to get out.  And, her birthday is literally a few days away.  Luckily, I am a last minute shopper or she would have gotten another article of clothing about which she could not care less.

Literally, on her birthday, I went to the store and headed to the Junior Miss department.  I thought to myself, "It's my son's 15th birthday and I need to find a dress that will not make his father freak out."  This was a delicate operation-I had to choose something that said to DJ-"we hear you and we accept that you are a girl" without sending her father over the edge.  Pink anything was out of the question. A dress?    Forget it.

White cargo shorts with a blue plaid blouse that hinted at being a peasant blouse was what I walked out of the store with, along with flip-flops that had some minor embellishment to them.  Pretty conservative-just skating the line of femininity without screaming it.  I congratulated myself on my ingenuity.

On arriving home, I knew I had to show Bulldog what we were giving DJ so that his initial shock would be a private moment between only us.  His face fell and his eyes welled with tears.  He wasn't ready but he had to be ready, nonetheless.  Well, I guess he didn't have to be, but if he didn't "act" ready, and let DJ be DJ, then she would have suffered.

DJ was thrilled with her new outfit.  More significantly, she was gratified.  Our gesture signified progress and a certain level of acceptance, even if she was only allowed to wear such things after school.  Baby steps and a sense of humor: a formula that's working thus far....

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The sun ain't always shinin'

Lest I give the impression that my husband and I have it all figured out and it's always smooth sailing-we don't, and it isn't.  Lately, my husband has been re-experiencing a sense of loss of our "son" JD, in spite of truly loving our daughter, DJ.  It's gut-wrenching stuff.  You truly miss that other child in spite of seeing remnants of that other child in the child before you. 

My husband is a bulldog of a man.  Not in stature but in make-up as a person.  He is protective and often comes across as stern and bossy-but that is how he loves us.  Vulnerability is NOT something you think of when dealing with him,  yet this challenge has rendered him as vulnerable as a newborn baby.  He is literally stripped raw of his defenses.  He shares this with me, but certainly not with DJ.  In fact, he continues to adore her and interacts with her in his playful way, much to his credit.  Nonetheless, he has lost the son, JD and he misses him terribly.  He keeps looking for signs of the lost son, and he's having a hard time remembering the lost son.  Doesn't this sound like a death in the family has occurred?  In a way, it has. 

My approach is different.  Quite by accident, I must state.  I think of JD as DJ's twin brother who is away at school.  The fact that there are so many similarities naturally makes sense in light of the fact that, in my mind, they are fraternal twins.  Granted, I don't see JD at holidays, or any other time of the year anymore, and looking at pictures of JD as a little boy is hard, at times, but to me, JD isn't "dead" so much as just not living here anymore.  It doesn't make much sense, but who says coping mechanisms have to make sense?  Neither my husband's way nor mine is right or wrong, just a different path to the same destination:  processing the change.

If you have more than one child, and one of them died, desperately missing the one that died does not mean that you love your living children less, or less than the child that is gone.  So, in my mind, you are not doing a disservice to your trans-child in missing their other-gendered "self"-but that doesn't mean you have to share that with them, because they may misconstrue.

I made that mistake once in stating to my daughter how much I had loved her "twin" brother.  I thought I was stating the obvious, that certainly I loved her, but I somehow managed to make her feel that JD was more special and more loved than DJ.  Luckily, I was paying attention to her reaction. She explained her feelings and I reassured her we love DJ the same as JD, but that DJ certainly had more courage than we knew anyone was capable of.

It's worth thinking about-the courage your child had in being true to his/her self.  I frankly can't imagine it.  My own courage paled in comparison at first.  I actually thought about and worried what other people would think of us as parents:  what did we do "wrong" in raising this kid.  I worried, selfishly, about the friends we would lose.  Yup- my daughter had more of a backbone than both of her parents combined, at first.  We just were good at giving the impression of being strong-at least at first.  It's the real thing now, but it wasn't always.  We grew into our backbones.  You will too.  As always, hang in there :)

Books to read and words of encouragement

Whether you are new to this reality, or an old timer who still feels like they just don't get it, try reading the following.  They were initially recommended by a therapist who is very experienced in treating trans kids:

The Transgender Child by Stephanie Brill and Rachel Pepper

True Selves, Understanding Transsexualism  by Mildred L. Brown and Chloe Ann Rounsley

Transgender Explained for those who are not by Joanne Herman

This a great place to start as the explanations are gentle, not in-your-face, and particularly in the case of True Selves, explain from the perspective of a transgender person.  It's hard to not feel empathy after reading it.

By the way, if you're struggling with feeling sympathy or empathy-meaning you're just reeling from trying to absorb and accept and cannot possibly feel another emotion-FAKE IT!!  Seriously-it will eventually come naturally.  And if you can manage it, try to start using the pronoun of the gender your child feels he/she is, rather than the gender he/she was born-at least to the trans person and to immediate family members residing in the home.  AGAIN-it will feel STRANGE as all H - E - double- toothpicks!!!  It's a starting place and your kid will be more appreciative than you can imagine.  We all want to be accepted for who we are-right?  And it feels great when someone "gets us".  So even if you don't really "get it" but you ACT like you do, it's still a step in the right direction.  It's loving your kid.  If you can only manage it once or twice, at least you're trying.  Hang in there and hope to see you back :)

In the trenches

So, maybe you've known for a long time, or maybe you've just found out:  but the son you've always known as a boy has just said he's a girl, or perhaps your daughter has informed you that she is actually a he.  Depending on your belief system, your educational background, hell, on any  number of variables, your reaction is:  Disbelief (as in "Seriously, if this is a joke, it is NOT funny!"),  or perhaps, Fear (as in, "holy crap, my kid is gonna get his/her head shoved into a toilet if anyone at school finds out."), possibly, Embarassment ("HOW will I explain to my friends?  How many friends will I lose?"),to, perhaps, Revulsion ("That is unnatural!").  If your kid is coming out as a teen and didn't give any "obvious" signs, you probably never saw it coming.  We didn't.

Aside from wanting to play with a kitchen set at age 3, our genetic son (you'll catch onto the lingo eventually, hang in there) didn't really do anything that screamed that he was actually a she.  JD emulated his older brothers in the way siblings often do, didn't request feminine toys or articles of clothing, and was not "effeminate" that we knew of.  When JD started to grow out "his" hair at age 10, we thought nothing of it as his brothers went through the same stage.  When he shaved his legs the year he started running cross country, we accepted his goofball explanation that it cut down on his running time.  Granted we didn't believe it, but hell, they were his legs! 

If you're thinking we were too permissive, my initial inclination is to say, "This is not the blog for you, then" but I resist that base urge and say instead, "Consider being slightly permissive."  What we're doing is working:  our kid is showing all the signs of being a happy, healthy teenage girl, in spite of being born a genetic male.  And isn't that REALLY what we want for our kids?

If you're of the mind that your child is violating the rules of the Creator, consider this:  we're learning that gender identity is in the brain.  To put it in my kid's words:  God made me a female; mother nature screwed up.  If you're struggling with that aspect, I encourage you to let it go and trust that God is merciful.  Start there, let God judge, and for now, treat your child as the "least of my brothers" and do unto your child as you would do unto Jesus himself.  That will, hopefully, calm your religious fears and allow you to support your kid so that he/she won't end up homeless or dead by his/her own hand.  Sorry to be blunt, but that is the TRUE REALITY of transgender folks who are rejected by their families.

Start there.  Just love your kid for today.  Tomorrow will take care of itself.  And come back for more words of encouragement.  We've been in the trenches for over a year gets better. And if you MUST research on the web, be cautious as there are some frightfully ignorant webpages out there.  Try "Laura's Playground" and don't worry that the graphics seem childlike, it's full of great, sanctioned-by-professionals information.  Hope to have you back :)