Telling Our Stories

The other day I wrote about facing life’s challenges – the ones that shake our foundation. Among the examples I gave from my own life were my father’s death, my mother’s cancer battle, and my ex coming out as transgender. I was careful to explain that I did not equate one’s changing gender identity with death nor with cancer, but that I do consider it a foundation rattler. After I sent what I wrote out into the world, I worried. I worried about having acknowledged that this transition is hard for me.

Why?

Because it is so much harder for her. Because it isn’t my story. Because I want to show my unwavering support of her. She is so brave – after having lived four decades as a male, to have the courage to express who she really is. I am not the courageous one, she is. The other day I read that the suicide rate among transgender teens and adults is 40%. Let that sink in. My mother had a better prognosis with stage 3 breast cancer. I burst into tears when I read that statistic. It makes me cry again sharing it with you.

There are layers of reasons why the suicide rate is so high amongst this population, and of course at the root of it is people would rather die than to have to live in a body that feels wrong. They feel trapped, either because they fear not being accepted, or they have already experienced not being accepted, for who they are. They are trapped in the wrong body, and they don’t see any other way out.

I have always been supportive of LGBTQ rights, but I have to tell you I had never met anyone who was transgender. That was, of course, until I realized I had been married for ten years and was raising two children with a person who is exactly that.

Introduction by fire, anyone?

Soon after I discovered that my ex is actually a woman, I went on Amazon (as one does in these situations) and looked for some help in the form of a book. What I found was, ‘Trans Bodies, Trans Selves”.  One click and I would hold the answers to all of my burning questions right in my hot little hands.

It arrived weighting about ten pounds and looking like a college text book. I leafed through it – medical and legal advice, very graphic diagrams – this book was not going to help me. It might be a great reference guide down the road, but for me, a newbie, it was overwhelming. I knew I wouldn’t get my head around this situation with anatomy and law. I needed to get to the heart of it. So I read stories – real, from the heart, stories written by real people who have lived through this. For me, reading “She’s Not There” by Jennifer Boylan was so helpful. It is the story of a boy who always knew he was different, but didn’t want to be (of course) so he hid his true self. He grew into a man who fell in love with a woman and had two children. He became the Head of the English department at a prestigious college in Maine. Then, he came to a point where he felt he had no choice but to risk everything to be who he was. To be Jenny.

I realized in thinking about all of this that it is so important that these stories get told.  It is so incredibly important that transgender people tell their own stories. It is stories from the heart that bring us together and help us to understand each other.

They make situations that seem so alien to us relatable.

It is for this very reason I think it is also important that their loved ones tell their stories too. We need to tell our own stories. I believe there are people out there who need to hear what I have to say.  Someone needs to hear me say that this is hard. Someone needs to hear me say that this is confusing. Someone needs to hear me say that it is scary. They need to hear me say that sometimes I resent it being hard and confusing and scary. They need to hear me say that it is okay if their foundation has been shaken.

And frankly, I need to say it.

This doesn’t mean that we are not 100% supportive of our trans loved ones. This doesn’t mean we are being dramatic or making it all about us. These are our lives too, and therefore it is also about us. It is about all of us. It is about how we will greet this foundation shaker together.

It starts with us telling our stories bravely, just like our loved ones have.

Day 308/365 Are You REALLY Okay?

Once, when I was twenty-two, I was duct taped to a board for several hours.

[I thought that might get your attention.]

Okay fine, I am sure it wasn’t actually duct tape…coulda been some kind of a strap, I suppose….and maybe it was actually some kind of spinal board EMT’s use.

It probably wasn’t a couple of hours, either, but it sure felt that way.

I had been in a car accident…a really bad car accident. I was hit nearly head on at a four way intersection, causing my car to do a 180. Later, when my Uncle Ed saw the car, all he could say was “HOLY. SHIT.

The whole front end was crumpled in like a tin can.

I was alone in the car.

People came running and were yelling, “Are you okay?!? DON’T MOVE!”

I remember thinking, “I don’t know….AM I OKAY?!” It didn’t seem to anyone present (including, for a moment – me) that I could possibly be okay.

I did a full body scan – ten fingers, ten toes…limbs still attached and intact, no apparent hemorrhaging…

“Ugh….yeessss? Yes. YES, I AM OKAY!!! I AM!!”

(They didn’t believe me.)

When the paramedics got there, despite my claims of being okay, they duct taped me to a board (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it). One strap went across my forehead so I couldn’t turn my head, another across my upper arms, and then one across my hips.

At the hospital, I remember being placed in a holding room. I was still attached to the board, which was now on top of a gurney. It seemed like forever that I was in there, all alone, unable to move. That part felt scary.

A nurse came in and asked me who they should call. I was nearest my Aunt Anne and Uncle Ed’s house in a different state, so I said they should call them, instead of my parents. I knew my aunt would lose it if she got a cold call from the hospital about my having been in an accident, so I insisted that the nurse dial the number and hold the phone up to my face so I could tell her for myself.

“Hi, Aunt Anne.  I am okay, but I had an accident and I’m at the hospital.” On the other end of the line I heard a gasp and then, “Oh Dear.” (Classic Anne.)

I could feel the tears streaming down my face and collecting in my ears (because I could not turn my head nor lift my arms to wipe the tears away).

“Really, I’m okay,” I reiterated. I’m just…duct taped to a board.”

I really was okay…pretty sore for a few days, but no worse for the wear, as they say. (Unfortunately, the same could not be said for my car.)

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Why am I telling you this story? I am telling you because I couldn’t help but think of it today. Here’s why…

This morning I woke up with two little girls in my bed. As usual, they had snuck in with me in the night. They were snuggled up to me on either side. I laid there for a while just thinking about the amazing little beings that they are. My God, I love them so much.

I thought about everything they have had thrown at them in the past few years.

Frankly, it seems like enough to have done some pretty serious damage…their parents’ divorce, the death of someone they adored, their Nana battling cancer, and then there’s the matter of their dad revealing he feels he is really a woman…

These are not small things.

I wondered…are my girls really Okay? Really?

Like my accident, it seems nearly impossible for them to walk away from (or through) all of this unscathed. Should I be duct taping them to a board or something?! (Metaphorically speaking, of course.)

I was still pondering this at the bus stop, where I found myself bringing the question to my friend, Michelle.

“Are my kids really okay?  They seem okay. Is that…really the truth?” 

Never one to shrink from a question, she kindly reminded me of a few important things…

First – My girls are more than okay….they are pretty incredible.

Second – Life’s challenges build compassion, gratitude, and perspective.

Third – No matter what a child goes through, knowing that someone has their back – come hell or high water – is what makes all the difference. It isn’t what a child goes through, as much as it is about them knowing they never have to do it alone. 

blessings

 

Day 255/365 Sex Is A Funny Word

“Is VIRGINAL a word?” my eleven year old asked me at 7am this morning.

“Yes,” I said. We were getting ready for school, and I had some Christmas music playing in the background.

“What does it mean?” she asked.

Ummmmm….(Gulp, oh God, really? I had barely had any coffee.)

“Well, in this (Christmas) context, it is referring to the baby Jesus having been born to Mary and Joseph without them having made him….ugh, without having sex. Christians believe that Jesus was a gift from God…the son of God.”

Looking confused, she said, “Was that a word in this song?”

“Wasn’t it? Isn’t that why you asked?”

“No,” she said, pointing to a piece of paper. “I meant to write the word Virginia, but instead I wrote Virginal. I was just wondering if that was actually a word.”

“Ohhhhh.”

Sex is an uncomfortable topic for me with my kids, but I am trying to be open and honest with them as they begin to ask questions. In this case she had no idea she was making me sweat out an answer about sex, but I guess it was good practice!

Beau is in fifth grade. Sex Ed is not something I’d have considered covering with her yet. Maybe that is naive of me. My parents and I never actually had “the talk”. Growing up, any information on the topic of sex I gleaned from friends, or from watching the neighbor’s dogs…or the livestock down the street. There were a lot of unanswered questions…and I was not about to ask my mother. 

Last summer Beau came home from her father’s house with a book called “Sex is a Funny Word.”

I nearly keeled over.

“Maybe I could give that a read first?’ I said.

“Well, I’ve already read most of it,” she said, dismissively.

“Great! Well…I’d like to read it so I know what you know.”

Once I started reading it I understood why her dad had bought the book. Having a father who has recently revealed that he identifies as a woman really brings the topic of sex (meaning sexuality and gender) into a child’s consciousness perhaps earlier than we (or I) would have liked.

There was a lot of value in the book. The topic of sexuality and gender identity was covered in an age appropriate and very inclusive way. There were other important points made too – for example, it addressed touching by others which might make a child feel uncomfortable, and what to do about it.

There were also some very scientifically accurate diagrams of male and female genitalia (see, even that word makes me cringe!). So, she now knows the names for parts of the female anatomy that I don’t think I learned until college (what can I say, I was a late bloomer).

It was interesting to notice how I reacted to the words “clitoris” and “labia” being shared as information for my daughter.

My initial reaction was of alarm…this is too much information! Then I thought…um, this is a diagram OF HER OWN BODY. Why did that feel shameful to me…like something she shouldn’t know about?

Why on Earth shouldn’t she know what the parts of her own body are called?

Upon reflecting about this today, I couldn’t help but think about the #metoo movement, and how women are taught that their sexuality is shameful…or worse, that it is something that is not their own

That their sexuality is it something that belongs to others, to men. That it is something that a woman gives away or hides…

That it is not her own.

I don’t want my girls to believe this incredibly dangerous LIE.

So, I will answer the questions as they arise…even when they make me uncomfortable….

Even when it’s just because someone misspelled Virginia.