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.