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....