Humanity on a Train

NYC bound we happened to sit behind a young man traveling alone. An older man took the seat next to him, and I smiled as the young man got up to help this stranger lift his bag into the overhead compartment. 

As we headed toward the city these two talked and talked. I wasn’t paying any attention to what they were saying until I heard the young man say, “Well, what if I told you that I am gay?” The older man said, “Then I would pray for you.” And the the young man said, “Well I would pray for you, too.”

And the discussion continued. And for the next hour I listened to this young man calmly and intelligently object to this older man’s bigoted, homophobic and misogynistic views. I mean, this guy was UNREAL. From claiming AIDS was created by God to punish homosexuals, to claiming women are going against their innate design by working outside the home—therefore ruining society and causing themselves and their children great psychological harm.

He said that children of divorce have no one to model love for them and therefore become SAVAGES.

(I have to admit, at that I literally laughed out loud. I couldn’t help it.)

There were moments when I wanted to slam my feet against the back of this awful man’s chair. But this young man—he remained calm. They both did, actually. Never was a voice raised between them. Never did I feel that I needed to leap to his aid, either.

“That’s simply untrue,” the young man said repeatedly, and he would argue eloquently against each point. Respectfully.

It was clear to me that this polite and intelligent young man was NOT going to change this older man’s opinion about a damn thing. I’m sure he knew that too. And he could have chosen not to engage. He could have shot the conversation down after the man obviously said something derogatory about gay people. Or he could have reacted in an angry, or sarcastic way.

I can’t say anyone would have blamed him for that. I wouldn’t have.

But…I am so glad that he didn’t.

Because behind him sat my daughter. A child of divorce. The daughter of a single, working mother. The daughter of a trans and bisexual father.

And she was listening.

Ultimately the young man said, “Well, I am not a gay man. I am straight and catholic, actually. However, within the last hour you’ve managed to insult nearly everyone I love. I think we’re done here. I’ll pray for you.”

And I looked over and winked at the incredibly loving little savage in the seat beside me, grateful we were witnesses to this exchange, however ugly one man’s opinions were. Because it showed my daughter that resistance does not always have to be loud, aggressive or hostile. It can simply be a soft spoken young man on a train, respectfully and intelligently defending humanity on a Thursday afternoon.

train shot

I am Not the Buddha

The following quote by poet Tyler Knott Gregson came up on my Facebook memories this week…

“To begin again, sometimes you have to take life down to the studs, knock down all the walls, and pull out the insulation that kept you from the world. You must get dirty and feel the ache in the muscles you used to pull the house down around you. You must stare wide eyed and grinning at the mess you have made, seeing through the rubble to the clean floor that will emerge when the work is through.

Now, now is the time to destroy the foundations of fear and apprehension, the walls of waiting and wishing; now is the time to begin again. Laugh at the piles of the past you stand in, knee deep and smiling.”

I so loved it at the time I posted it. Reading it again brought me back to that moment in time. It was two and a half years after I had split with my husband and moved out of our home. I had – we had – torn it all down. It was not working. We were not happy, though we had tried and tried. I had already gone through the grieving, much of it while we were still together. I was, at that point in time, ready “to laugh at the piles of the past in which I stood, knee deep and smiling.”

The date was February 2016.

About a month later, my ex-husband (and the father of my two girls) came out as transgender. Nine months after that, my beloved father died suddenly. Nine months after that, my mother was diagnosed with BRCA and stage 3 cancer.

Let me be clear – I am not comparing my ex being trans with death nor with cancer, but I list it here because…well because when the person with whom you were in a relationship for twelve years reveals this kind of secret – when you realize you didn’t know, percieve, understand…have an inkling of something so fundamental about your spouse as his gender – it has the power to shake one’s foundation. As is, for my girls and me, navigating the outward changes of our loved one. When you think about it – what is more fundamentally true to a child, than that Dad is a man? (Or to a woman, that an ex-Husband is a man, for that matter?) Love is love…and what is revealed within that can still be a wall rattler; a soul shaker.

Once again I found myself standing in the rubble that was once my life. However, THIS time – I hadn’t asked for it. I had not held the sledgehammer in my own two hands and swung wildly, hungry to tear it all down. I had simply woken up one day to find a big hole in the roof, and then I watched helplessly as the foundation cracked, and the walls buckled, and everything seemed to crumble all around me.

The question I find myself asking is – Is it possible to approach the rubble we’ve willfully created in the same way that we greet the rubble we did not? The rubble we never asked for? The rubble we never saw coming?

The Buddhist answer would be yes – simply greet what is. Embrace it.
I can assure you, I am not the Buddha.

As I have stood in the piles of the past, I have grieved. Heavily. I have cut myself on the jagged pieces of the past as I tried to fix what was there. I have tripped and fallen as I tried to hold up the pieces that were still hanging on by a few desperate nails. When you never wanted the destruction, it is hard to accept the fact that nothing can be put back exactly as it was, in its imperfect perfection.

Whether the rubble was intended or not, Gregson was right about looking THROUGH it all, “to the clean floor that will emerge.”

Because it will. It is there, beneath it all. It is always there. Whether we brought on the demolition ourselves, or we helplessly watched as everything fell apart. Either way, we must rebuild.

We have no choice, as we stand there in the rubble, but to get to work cleaning up the mess and to begin again…and again, and again.

Such is life – learning to push up our sleeves and do the work…

The work we asked for, and the work we didn’t.

I still may not be able to greet both with a smile – to greet them equally with gratitude as bits of the house that once sheltered me cling to my hair and dust my eyelashes – but I do understand that it’s the building and rebuilding of my house that will teach me the most about myself.

Above all I must remind myself that I am not the house.
Its destruction never has to equal mine.

Day 197/365 Hate, Love & Las Vegas

I couldn’t put my thoughts together yesterday.  The heartache I felt over yet another senseless act of domestic terrorism dwarfed the nausea-inducing headache I struggled with for most of the day.

Sometimes there are just no words.

I’m tired of being afraid and disheartened by what is happening in our country.

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Last year, my ex-husband shared with me that he identified as transgender. As you can imagine, I have gone through many emotions in processing this. The strongest emotion I have had, by far, and the one that has brought me more than once to tears, is fear.

I know his gender identity is not a choice. Living life authentically within that identity is, and he is bravely doing that. I marvel at him for being true to himself, because I can only imagine how hard it must be…and…

I am also afraid. I am afraid because people are cruel in heartbreaking and terrifying ways.

A few weeks after he came out to me as transgender, I spent a weekend in New York City. There is so much diversity in the city, and I remember walking the streets being grateful for all of the people who, like my ex, dare to be authentic, when that means being different. (One doesn’t see a lot of men wearing women’s clothing in Newport, Rhode Island.)

As I waited in Penn Station for my train home, I looked up in horror at the television screens as the news covered the mass murder of forty-nine members of the LGBTQ community…a community of which my ex had just become a member.

My head and my heart ached…and raced.

I am ashamed to say I felt angry toward him for putting himself, the father of our children, at risk in order to satisfy his own desire (need) to live authentically.

I thought…we are living in a world in which being different is just not safe. 

This has continued to be a real and frequent concern of mine.

Then, something like Las Vegas happens and we are all cruelly reminded –

We don’t have to be doing anything particularly brave, bold or different to be the victims of hate. We can just be children going to school, or people enjoying a concert on a beautiful autumn evening.

We can be anyone, anywhere, doing anything, and our lives can end because deadly weapons are easy to acquire, and hate is a rampant disease.

Where do we go from here?

It is so hard not to feel hopeless.

I want to say that the answer is love…and it is…but that feels trite.

Imagine, something as BIG as LOVE doesn’t seem like enough during times like these.

Times like these.

It happens enough that that statement is plural.

For now, I will grieve along with the victims’ families…so many families. I will hold my own loved ones closer…I will tell them, and show them, how much they are loved.

I will strive to be worthy of my children’s admiration and imitation…for they are always listening, watching and feeling.

ALL of our children are, ALL of the time.

I will be brave and encourage my children, my ex, myself – ALL OF US – to be who we are…to wear what we want to wear, to love who we want to love, to follow our passions…because we never know what’s around the corner, but we can’t live our lives in fear of it.

Sorry, but…

Fuck. That.

We can’t let hate win.

Rather than losing heart…rather than hardening our hearts…we must keep offering them to each other…over and over and over again…even (and perhaps especially) when they are aching and broken.

 

 

 

 

Day 174/365 Karate Lobster

You know I’m a fraud, right?

It’s not deliberate, I promise.

It’s just…sometimes when I am writing this lovely advice about how to deal with life and loss, I am actually writing words of advice to myself, too.

Sometimes I share things I have literally done which have helped. Other times I write about what I think I should do – or how I think I should handle a situation.

For example, yesterday when I wrote about making each today a good day (rather than waiting for a better tomorrow to arrive), I meant what I wrote, but then – TODAY – ironically, I bottomed out.

Hard.

Leaving me feeling like a hypocrite.

Especially after a dear friend texted me to say she loved yesterday’s post – calling me “wise and wonderful.”

“Thank you!” I replied from my hiding spot under my desk, where I’d been frantically trying to get ahold of my therapist. (Okay, I wasn’t actually under my desk, but I’d thought about it).

The truth is, I am much more Karate Kid than I am Mr. Miyagi.

{Wax on, shall we?}

Within the last eighteen months I have dealt with the sudden loss of my father, as well as the masculine to feminine metamorphosis of the father of my children. (As I said to him a while back – “So you’re telling me my ex-husband is actually a lesbian?” Between he and I, there is almost always humor, Thank God).

Sometimes I think I am living in a John Irving novel.

I also feel a relentless emotional and physical pull toward a man who won’t let me close to him. (While this isn’t as impactful as the aforementioned items) I can’t help but be influenced by his tides whenever we share the same orbit…which is often. It is continually and inexplicably disorienting.

Between the man I’ve lost, the man who is (in a sense) disappearing before my eyes, and the man who seems to forever leave me wanting…sometimes it feels hard to breathe…like the wind has been knocked straight out of me.

Today I have that uncomfortable in my own skin feeling….that I want to crawl out of myself feeling…

I have come to recognize this particular sensation of discomfort…and recently I’ve discovered it has a name – Post Traumatic Growth Syndrome.

Perfect, right?

We often choose the image of the caterpillar morphing into a butterfly as the quintessential metaphor for personal growth.  I think that is inaccurate. It implies a linear path from one point to another…a beginning and an end…

So, I don’t think we are butterflies, not really.

I’ve given it some thought, and…

I think we are lobsters.

{Bear with me, I promise it makes sense.}

In life, we don’t just go through one period of personal growth. At least, I sure hope not. We have many opportunities to discover and redefine ourselves…often after periods of great struggle, discomfort and vulnerability (sometimes manifesting in a desire to crawl out of one’s skin).

Which brings me to the lobster…

Many, many times in the life of a lobster, she becomes uncomfortable in her skin…she wants to crawl out of it. She sheds her old hard shell so she can grow into a new, larger one…to expand her being.

While the new shell is developing, the lobster is at her most tender.

It is a period of great vulnerability.  

So perhaps, like the lobster, we continue to molt – over and over again – exposing our tenderness and vulnerability for a while…until we grow a new and larger shell…and then we wait, until it is time to become vulnerable once again.

We are forever evolving into iteration, after iteration, after iteration of ourselves.

So, I think in life one should not strive to be a butterfly at all.

Instead, be a lobster.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 170/365 Turning Yin Yang on it’s Head

My friend, Sarah, and I were talking the other day about gender roles within heterosexual couples (amongst mothers and fathers in particular)…

The Yin Yang of domestic life.

We got onto the topic because we were talking about my trip to Maine and how it was empowering for me to go on a more challenging trip, and to be cast in the role of provider (you should have seen me hunting and gathering those hot dogs and s’mores, you guys).

Seriously, though…

There may have been a time when I wouldn’t have taken my children on a trip like that, because I may have felt as though I needed a man to accompany us in the role of protector and provider. 

This is really stupid on so many levels.

For one thing, as the only adult in my household, I hunt and gather the shit out of things on a daily basis – like the perfect tomatoes at the farmer’s market, for example…or the elusive pair of matching socks.

Ahem…to the point…

Oftentimes (not always, but often) when men and women get together in relationships, marriages, families…there are roles that we find ourselves sliding into.  Particularly for those of us who have chosen to stay at home to be with our children full time, as I myself did (up until a few years ago).

He took out the trash. I cooked the dinners (even though he is a better cook, I was the one at home when dinner needed to get underway). I did the laundry. He fixed things. He took on the home improvement projects. I did the grocery shopping. He was the grill-master. As a stay at home mother, I obviously took on the bulk of the child rearing.

Sarah and I were talking about how this task delegation happens, often so seamlessly and without discussion or even particular awareness…like a default setting of male and female roles within the home.

Again, not always, but often.*

Here’s where I want to be careful to say that I am not placing more worth or importance on any of these roles/jobs, I am merely pointing out the tendency of mothers and fathers to each take on certain ones.

We wondered if, for children living in a single parent household (which for my children is 70% of the time), wherein that parent (by necessity) fills both the “masculine” and “feminine” roles….

Would this ultimately change the children’s default settings as adults?

Then…

I had the (so obvious, yet somehow) startling revelation that their father, who has now revealed himself to be transgender, is really turning the Yin Yang of our children’s world on it’s head.

Just as I have begun to take on both the masculine and feminine “roles” within my home, he has gradually become more and more feminine within his.  We are each blurring the gender roles, albeit in completely different ways.

One day a few months ago, one of my daughters said to me, “Mom, do you realize that some day I may actually have two moms?

I paused to consider this and replied, “Lots of people have two moms, actually.”

She looked me square in the face and said, “It’s not really the same thing, is it.”

This was not a question, but a statement…and she was right. Typically, one of the two moms was not formerly a dad.

We don’t really know what the future holds for our family, but for now my children have a mother who is not intimidated by adventurous trips, takes out the trash, cooks on the grill, and is a protector from big, scary insects (which I almost always relocate outside).

They have a father who wears make up and is very fond of pink, and who likes to pirouette across the kitchen.  He also, by the way, can build staircases and cabinets, and knock down and reframe walls. He wears steel toe boots and a hard hat to work.

I think my children are getting quite an education in many things, actually…probably the least of which is not to get caught up in gender roles.

They are learning how to be confidently independent.

They are learning how to be bravely oneself, even – or especially – when you are different, and not everybody understands.

Hopefully, above all they are learning that of all the roles assumed within a family, the most important jobs are shared amongst us all – and those are to love and respect one another.

*To be fair, a little anectdote – I remember settling into my first house after my husband and I separated. I commented that unfortunately, I didn’t have a dishwasher.  His response was, “You’re right, I’m not coming with you.”

(So apparently he did do the dishes a lot…or at least he thought so.)

Day 138/365 You Must Be A Tree

After reading my blog the other day – An Invitation – which was about compassion and acceptance around a transgender loved one (in my case, my ex-husband), a friend of mine wrote to me recounting this story –

She was at a wedding with her niece, who is five.  Her niece said to their family friend,

“Are you a girl or a boy?”

The friend replied, “Well, what do you think?”

The little girl answered, “I think you’re a boy.”

The friend replied, “Well then today I’ll be a boy.”

The little girl said, “No, I think you’re a girl.”

The friend replied, “Well then today I’ll be a girl.”

The little girl said, “If you are a boy and a girl, you must be a tree.”

(First of all I’m thinking we have a future horticulturalist here, because some trees do actually have “male” and “female” parts…in case you didn’t know that fun fact.)

She went on to explain, “Trees can see everything, so they must be boys and girls.”

So cute…and fascinating in a way.  

It got me thinking…

It starts as children, this need to label and compartmentalize things – and people. It is how we learn and process the world.

I think sometimes in our desire to be progressive or politically correct (or in some cases, in being defensive of ourselves or our loved ones), we forget that this desire to use labels can, and often does, still come from a sincere and innocent place.

It simply makes us feel more comfortable when we can define something.

In the case of my ex-husband, for example…

As a person who has lived strictly as a male (for four decades) and is now beginning to dress as a woman, his new appearance is going to draw attention. That is a fact. He has not transitioned fully (and is not sure when or if he will), so he appears to be a man, yet he’s wearing women’s clothing, shoes, accessories and make up.

This isn’t something that is going to slide in under the radar.

I don’t mean to say that my ex needs to walk down the street, shaking hands and saying, “Hi, I’m transgender. Nice to meet you.”

But for me, I found it helpful for him to provide me with that label, and to give me permission to use it to explain to others the changes they are seeing in him.

Being transgender is not the whole of who he is, but understanding that piece of him helps me to better understand him as a whole.

It is not his job to make others understand or accept him. However, for those who truly seek to understand, providing the label “transgender” allows those who may know little to nothing about what that means, begin to learn…to read, research, ask questions.

No, he is not a crossdresser.

No, it is not a costume.

No, he has not lost his mind.

Once we seek to understand this part of him, we can begin to focus on him as a human being again – and not just on what he is wearing.

Perhaps you will disagree entirely and say that no person should have to define him or herself. I understand your point of view. I am only speaking from my own limited experience of loving someone who is going through something completely foreign to me. I know I cannot begin to understand what it is like to be living in a body that I feel was given to me by mistake.

I also understand that there are some people who don’t feel as if they conform to any one label…the beautiful “trees” of the world.

Perhaps one day we will live in a world where a person’s gender and sexual identity is no matter of interest whatsoever.

We are still working on getting there, though, and I think the key to understanding one another is always communication, openness, and curiosity (of the non-judgmental variety).

The more we talk about our differences in a kind and open way, the less scary they become…and the more we are able to see our commonalities.

 

 

 

Day 135/365 An Invitation

I was listening to Glennon Doyle speak the other day. Glennon is a New York Times best-selling author, and a general lover of…humanity. She inspires me often. She spoke about what we can do when things are happening in the world that we know are wrong. She was inspired to speak about this after the recent ban on transgender people in the armed forces.

I am paraphrasing here, but essentially she said when we recognize that something is wrong in the world, when something really riles us and makes us upset, we can do one of three things. We can rail against it (fight), we can run and hide (flight) or we can “offer another invitation.”

I love that – Offer another invitation.

The invitation she spoke of was to be leaders ourselves.  She called it the Kitchen Table Resistance. We can lead by example – by speaking up against discrimination when we hear it, whether it be at our own kitchen table, in church, or out in our communities. Our children are listening. They want to know what we think, and silence is as powerful as agreement.

We must lend our voice.

To be fair, I have been. I have been supportive of gay and transgender rights – of human rights, but I have the opportunity to add my voice to this conversation in a different and more meaningful way.

I can bring my own personal experience to the table.

You see, my ex-husband, the father of my children, is transgender.

While he is biologically a man – in his heart, mind and soul, he is a woman.

He revealed this to me over a year ago. We had spent the day together, celebrating the seventh birthday of our youngest daughter.  Later that night, he sent me a text that shocked me. It was 10:30pm on a Saturday night, and I happened to be cozy on my couch…with a date.

When I saw a text from my ex come through, I explained to my date that I had to look at it in case it was an emergency with my kids. He watched as I exchanged a flurry of texts with my ex.

I then placed the phone down on the coffee table, and sat in silence.

“Are your kids okay?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“Are YOU okay? You look like you’re in shock.”

“That’s probably accurate.”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“Nope.”

(What a truly unforgettable date that was, let me tell you!)


Since then I have been marched through a parade of complicated emotions.

However, my initial impulse, and the default setting to which I keep returning, is that of love, compassion, and to an extent – fixing. Not fixing in the sense that I am trying to change him, but fixing in the sense that I want everything to be okay.

“It is going to be okay,” I texted to him that first night. “We will be okay.”

We have since had some good talks (I’d say, perhaps some of our best), during which I ask lots of questions. He answers them all. Sometimes I say the wrong thing and he corrects me. I learn.

So far he has continued to use his birth name, and will continue to use male pronouns. Over time his clothing has become more and more feminine, though he has held off on making any drastic changes. He has been easing us into it. We’ve seen a therapist to learn how and when to talk to our children about his gender identity (which we have done, and which we will continue to offer as an open conversation).

Our children, by the way, are just fine. They have nothing but pure love for their dad (yes, we still call him that, for now anyway). They see him as nothing short of amazing, and my biggest fear to date is the crushing effect it may have on them to find out that not everyone is as accepting of him as we are.

So do we wait for the world to dim their rose-colored glasses?

Or do we take on the formidable task of challenging the world to be better?

The latter – oh, yes please, the latter.

A Course in Miracles teaches – The obstacle to love is not hate, the obstacle to love is fear. In Glennon’s talk, she said, “Fear can’t handle proximity.”

We must draw each other closer.

The more we really see one another and listen to one another’s stories, the less we fear what is “different” and the more easily we can recognize our common humanity.

I realized I can quietly watch as fear continues to control the minds and hearts of many, or I can use my voice here to be a part of a conversation that may begin to shift things. I talked with my ex about using this blog platform to do just that –  to open up a conversation…or as Glennon would say,

Offer another invitation.

Perhaps we can help someone.

I have so much compassion for family members who may be struggling with what can feel like a death, as they watch the person they know and love seemingly disappear before their eyes.

A few weeks after my ex revealed his true self to me, I had to attend a memorial service for my father’s cousin. We weren’t close but he was a lovely man and it was important to me to go.  The service was at the same church where I had been married, twelve years prior (it honestly never entered my mind that this would be a problem).  It is about an hour’s drive from my house, and as I got within a mile of the church, the grief hit me like a brick wall. I had this overwhelming feeling that the man I married had died….because in some ways, to me he had. I pulled the car over and sobbed uncontrollably. I never made it to the service. I just couldn’t do it.

So I am telling you – If you are going through this – I know it’s hard. I understand.

Over a year has passed now, and I have had time to process things. So perhaps you will trust me when I tell you that your loved one hasn’t died.

The person who they fundamentally are insidethat person is the same as they always were. My ex still makes me laugh like no one else, and he also has the ability to frustrate the hell out of me – regardless of whether he’s wearing men’s loafers or women’s strappy heels. Same laughter, same frustration. Same person.

Draw them closer.

If you look your loved one in the eyes, I promise you will see them there, plain as day – same as before. 

I know your fear comes from a place of love. You are afraid of how your loved one will be received by the world. You’re afraid they will be teased, discriminated against, or even physically harmed. Maybe you feel embarrassed, and confused.

It’s okay to feel all of those things. 

You deserve the same compassion that your loved one does.

This is hard. I understand.

Please listen –

Your loved one wants you to ask questions (as long as they are born of a desire to truly understand). 

Everyone wants to be understood.

Everyone.

Draw them closer.

If I can help, let me know.

There is always room at my kitchen table.