The Fraternity Paradox

They are often, as recently as this week, in the news, and it is seldom for something good.  The houses where they reside will bring any self respecting parent or, for that matter, adult, to their knees.  Reputations for partying and acting stupid macho prevail.  But I am here to tell you that there is another side to fraternities that you probably do not, but certainly should know.

This past week, our family found ourselves, yet again, in crisis.  Everyone is safe and things are more under control than a week ago, but my hashtag for the foreseeable future: #gonnabeabumpyride remains.  Our world flipped upside down, sideways and backward…and this time it has nothing to do with a certain transgender kid living in my house.

The details are not necessary and while it is not a “secret” right now the story is complicated and raw and personal.  What is, however, available for public consumption and discussion: the behavior of a group of fraternity brothers who have, quite literally, blown me away with their concern, kindness, empathy and respect.  These are young men who, to a person, I would be proud to call my own.

aepi

Yes, these boys party.  Yes, they stay up late and often, but not always, look ugly the next day.  And yes, they talk trash, swear and fart with abandon.  Their pledge names, which morph through the years, stay with them…for life.  BUT: they study hard, are philanthropic (in this case breast cancer research and Autism Speaks) and will do anything, absolutely anything, for a brother and, I have learned, his family.

I had been told of the power of the fraternal order, but, admittedly, didn’t think it could possibly be so fierce.  The maturity, compassion and life experience of a group of 18-22 year olds was, to me, underdeveloped and ultimately incapable of acting like kind, articulate and caring men.  Wrong.  And wow.

Harrison sent his brothers a beautifully raw and honest email telling his story.  At the end he gave my number for anyone who wanted to talk  (and, I might add, he said I was “super chill”, just sayin’).  Within moments of his hitting the send button, my phone blew up with texts.  And not trite, obligatory texts, either.  These were long, thoughtful notes all of which told me how much they love (yes, they used that word) Harrison and their willingness, no, desire, to do anything possible to lend support.  As the text notifications rang out I had goosebumps on my arms and tears in my eyes.  He, and we, are blessed.

In his email, Harrison referred to his favorite quote by Ernest Howard Crosby.  I neither knew the quote or of the power that its words hold for him, but I know it now.  Amazing what one can learn from a crisis.

NO one could tell me where my Soul might be.
I searched for God, but God eluded me.
I sought my Brother out, and found all three.

 

#gonnabeabumpyride

My Snowman

Update: As predicted, I am being blown up (in a good way) by texts, emails and FB chat messages…you guys are the bomb.

One week ago today my family’s world was, yet again, turned on its ear.  As crises tend to do, it came on  with far less warning than I, for one, would have appreciated.  Out of respect for the players, the details are not necessary, although I anticipate an onslaught of backdoor messages once this has posted which is, actually, part of the “beauty” of this whole mess.  It has been among the most horrible times ever for us (and that’s me talking) but, like all the other “most horrible times ever”, already we’ve seen silver linings take shape.

snowman

Those who do know the details have shown undying support.  Seriously broken relationships have been rehabilitated and grossly deteriorated fences have been mended.  Burgeoning adults have stepped out of their comfort zones and have robustly demonstrated more empathy and compassion than one knowing them superficially would ever have presumed.  Full grown adults have put aside their own issues, concerns, responsibilities and adventures to make room for us and our needs.  And, while there is quite literally nothing any of them can do to make this all go away, they’ve rallied around us fiercely.

In the past, it has not been until a crisis is more comfortably in my rearview mirror that I have been so acutely aware of the astounding level of support not only for me, but for my family.  While I firmly stand behind my assertion that with every crisis there is always one person who disappoints you, I find that it, and that person, no longer matter.  The benevolent in my life so far outweigh the, um, assholes, that it is, in a silver lining kind of way, almost funny.

Let this serve as the first of many thank yous: to my family of origin, my new and wonderful family, friends of long standing, friends of shorter but no less loyal standing, colleagues dating back further than twenty years, professionals, friends who are professionals in this field who have been holding my hand and guiding me to the right people and places, a slew of kids who spent their high school years in the basement of my house and, with perhaps the greatest fervor:  a certain group of frat boys.

We will get through this.  We always do.  But not without our village…all of whom we love.

p.s. Don’t even try to figure out what the snowman has to do with this: it means something to us only. <3

The Bruise

I know all about juggling lots of moving parts. In fact, some might argue that I have taken it to an art form. “Never a dull moment” is used in reference to my life so often that it is almost, but not quite, funny. I might even thrive on the chaos, but cannot make that assertion, as I simply don’t know anything else. Sounds dire and moderately hysterical, I know, but I, by some oddity, feel somewhat, kind of, in a way, on top of things.

As tantalizing as my announcement that I am living in a shitstorm may be, I am not here to elaborate on or share anything in particular. I’ve certainly got stories to tell, but out of respect for the various players, I am keeping my big mouth shut. That being said, my mind is a-racin’. My sleep is fragmented. My mood and patience are tentative. My heart is a little bit broken, in part because in every one of these situations, I am literally powerless. I can do nothing to alter, improve, destroy or dismantle the existing conditions. Ruminating and fretting: check. Obsessing and worrying: check. Eating my feelings: check.

The other night, while distracted by two or ten things, I clipped the footboard of the bed just right, resulting in an enormous bruise on my thigh, smack in the middle between my knee and hip. It was the kind of bruise that surfaced immediately and, if I am being honest, brought tears to my eyes. Over the past few days, as its colors have morphed from black to blue to yellow to green I have noticed that there appears, if you look just right, to be the outline of a person. Do you see it?

bruise

I am aware that what I am about to say sounds like proof positive that I have officially become unhinged, but… I am actually deriving a peculiar sense of comfort from the bruise. I have not named it (although the temptation is strong) but my connection to it makes me feel as though I should. Absentmindedly touching it and with the almost tender ache one has with a bruise, I feel, as the size, shape and colors change, that I am almost caressing the pain away for those I know who are in, well, shitty states of mind.

There is an odd connection between pain and pleasure, and as I touch it and mentally document the daily changes, however small, I somehow feel better. Perhaps it is the shared pain…albeit in a different flavor from that which some people I love are struggling with. Or maybe my own personal happiness feels somehow unfair and the bruise brings me back to earth. I am not sure, actually.

My bruise should be gone in about two weeks (I know because I Googled it). I hope the bruises my peeps are living with will heal as quickly.

M&Ms

I have a (large) jar of M&Ms hidden away. Not just plain ones, either. Rather, I have a perfect combination of plain, peanut and pretzel. No mint. No peanut butter. No minis. No mega. Despite full knowledge of said stash, my jar has either not been discovered by the others who reside in the house or, and perhaps more likely, it has been, but all are wise enough to abstain from touching.

m&ms

I am very disciplined when it comes to their consumption; never taking more than one palm full per visit, never more than one visit per day. When the jar is one quarter full I dutifully replenish. No sooner. No later.

I never make an impulse purchase of a single serving bag of M&Ms at the market/Target/Walmart/Staples checkout counter. When Halloween bags are dumped on the kitchen floor, I do not ever grab a bag, opting, instead, for the Sugar Babies, which are, I might add (with sadness), few and far between.

If someone I live with were to sneak a few, I would know from the distinct aroma they leave on the breath. No one has dared.

My jar of M&Ms, which I often go weeks (okay, days) without visiting, makes me feel safe. Like a good friend, they are there when I need them, bring me cheer (plain? peanut? pretzel?) and always buoy my mood. Yep, M&Ms have that power.

One of the joys of being an adult is having an M&M jar. It is up there with staying up late, not making the bed and declining an invitation simply because you just don’t want to attend, no excuses concocted in an effort to explain yourself. To me, it is akin to money in the bank, clean sheets on the bed and fresh milk in the fridge.

When we wake in the morning, we never know what lies ahead. The day could start strong and stay that way. It could, for that matter, morph into a shitstorm. Likewise, a rough morning is not always an indicator of twelve lousy hours. This morning I was laughing in my sleep so loudly, and, according to Barry, slightly hysterically, that I woke him. (Damn, I wish I could remember what was so funny!) I went on to have a great workout – complete with making a new friend – only to have things take a turn as the day progressed. I arrived home a bit worse for the wear and considered (but did not act) delving into my jar. I will admit, I went as far at to venture to the hiding spot to check my stash. I have not filled my palm, but the day is not over yet.

If you ask me, everyone should have his or her own M&M jar. What’s yours?

Cait

Please watch it.  I wasn’t really planning on it myself, but I set the DVR just in case I changed my mind.  About twenty minutes after it began to air, I hopped on, only partially attentive.  “I Am Cait” was simply excellent.

iamcait

I feared it would be a three ring circus.  It was not.

I worried that it would be fluff.  It was not.

I assumed that the presence of the Karsdashians would destroy any authenticity.  It did not.

I thought it would focus on the “pretty” and not address the deep, dark and scary.  It did not.  And it did.

Caitlyn, her story, her family and yes, even Kylie, Kim and Kanye showed a depth of acceptance, honesty and understanding that I was quite sure they never thought they would have to…and publicly at that.

I appreciated and empathized with Esther Jenner: she screwed up pronouns, acknowledged her fears, and owned that she lacked understanding.  She was bold enough to recall and inquire if a five year old Bruce not wanting to try on clothes meant more and she missed it.  She shared genuine tears at the loss of Bruce and a truly happiness about her child’s bravery.

Caitlin knows that she has a power that is bigger than she is and takes her responsibility to the Trans community seriously.  She knows that most will not have the opportunities that she has been afforded.  She wants to help.  Genuinely.

Please watch this program.  In many ways, it has nothing at all to do with transgender.  It has everything to do with being a good person with an open heart and soul.  The soul we are born with…

Ah, Facebook

Update: I spent the past two hours chatting (okay, typing) with the woman who posted the link that started it all. It started out feisty and accusatory, but I think we will both agree that it ended with each of us having a better understanding: me of her position and she of the facts of transgender. It took two days, lots of aggravation and a fair degree of unpleasantness, but all in all wounded up with everyone a little bit wiser…

It started two nights ago and continues still.  I cannot honestly recall having gotten into it like this, particularly with mere acquaintances and, truthfully, strangers, yet there is something that keeps pulling me back in, begging for more.  Yes, I am in a verbal sparring match on Facebook.

A woman who I went to high school with, and have not seen since the early 80s, often posts humorous links of people doing ridiculous things on her Facebook page.  I have noticed and appreciated the sophisticated sense of humor and bright commentary with which they are posted.  In the past, she has been supportive of Jess’s transition and appeared to be a like-minded person to myself.  And then she posted this link:

http://nation.foxnews.com/2015/07/05/california-family-supports-4-year-old-s-decision-transition-male-female

Here comment read: Wouldn’t you want to ensure the child was mature enough to make this life-altering decision? SMH. 4 years old…

This was immediately followed by a long and steady stream of her friends commenting on what a horrible decision this is, how irresponsible the parents are to allow and how it is impossible for a child that age to have any idea what they are talking about.

My response: Ouch. These comments are harsh…and uneducated. D, I thought you were cooler than this.

Then it got real ugly real fast.  And I fed right into it.

The thread  grew quickly and somehow got off on tangents discussing Jews for Jesus and whether mental illness played a role in suicide, and who is more formally educated among us.  There was horror about transitioning because, to these people (who, I suspect are upper middle class, college and beyond educated folks) that means sex reassignment surgery…as in removing body parts.  My repeated reminder that, at this age, transition means growing/cutting hair, changing clothing and pronouns – all of which are entirely reversible – fell on deaf ears.  The tone was angry, judgmental and self-righteous.  In my efforts to defend this family’s story and choices, I was told that I was, well, angry, judgmental and self-righteous.  Hmmm.

The commentary included name calling and attacking of others (me) for typos which, in their mind, indicated my ignorance.  Here are a few examples of the arguments made: “I wanted to be a fire truck when I was 4” and “At age 4 most kids only know that they want to eat candy all the time, play and hate forced nap time.”  and  “This little boy has an older sister. Perhaps he is just identifying with his sister as many younger siblings will do. [1]  But, perhaps my all time favorite: “Why not let the kid join ISIS.” [2]

This was not really about this four-year old child who has identified as transgender anymore, now was it?  Wow.

If I have queried about it once, I have queried about it a hundred times: why on earth does anyone care?  How is it in any way, shape or form affecting you?  On what planet would a child even know to go there unless they plain and simply had to?  This is not an easy journey and, I can assure you, not one that anyone would take just for shits and giggles.

The sparring continued for hours.  A few folks who were following the thread (but were wise enough to stay out of the fray by not commenting) would occasionally “like” something I had said, but, for the most part, I was flying solo and it was one hot mess yet I could not stop myself.  It was starting to become sport and I stopped feeling defensive and began to see the absurdity of it all.  And then this:,”Julie, you may be the parent of such a child, if so, I’m terribly sorry.”

Um, what?

My response: “Not sure why you are expressing sympathy to me: for having my child feel this way or for the vitriol being spewed by folks who cannot just mind their own business?”  Again, I say hmmmm.

When he arrived home, my fiance (who has never been anything other than 100% supportive of my child)  caught up on the verbal fracas, literally laughed out loud at some of the posts and began chiming in, although he did so under my moniker.  His tone was radically different from mine, yet it seems no one (despite being more educated than I)  picked up on that and  the hostility continued well into the evening (while I was asleep) at which time I was called a nasty person, there was concern and sympathy for my child that she was saddled with such a horrible woman for a mother and abject horror over my decision to have Jess undergo sex reassignment surgery.  (Of note: What?!?!?! Apparently they know something I don’t…)

Then this morning I was greeted by this little ditty:

Julie, I truly feel sorry for the children under your care. Based on our experience in this thread with you, you are teaching them, if someone thinks or acts differently than you would like them to they do not deserve respect and are free game to be the target of your hostility. I consider any one injecting their minor child with hormone blocking drugs to be unfit for parenthood. Period.

Um…accusing me of not being accepting of people who think or act differently?!?!  Clearly we have not met.[3]  And who said anything about hormone blocking drugs?[4]  Must have been the same folks who are outraged by the sex reassignment surgery that is (not) happening anytime soon.

I admit to calling this gang of people “uneducated” which they took to mean that I thought them to be high school drop-outs.  I was chastised for my word choice and acquiesced that “uninformed” was, perhaps[5], more accurate.  So, for those uninformed, here’s a little primer on transgender:

  1. Yes: Children as young as two, three and four (and older) can know that they feel that they are the wrong gender.
  2. No: Children as young as two, three and four (and older) will not undergo sex reassignment surgery. Their transition is SOCIAL: hair, clothing, name and pronouns.
  3. No: These children are not merely emulating their older siblings of the opposite sex.
  4. Yes: Any and all social transitions are completely reversible.
  5. No: These children are not doing this at the behest of their parents who wanted a boy but got a girl.
  6. No: It is not child abuse to allow children to express their gender as they are comfortable and Yes: It is abusive to not allow the same.
  7. No: This is not easy for the child, the siblings, the parents, the grandparents, the cousins, the aunts, the uncles, the friends, the teachers or the community and Yes: That is a good indication of just how strongly these kids feel.
  8. Yes: I am, like any halfway decent parent, fiercely devoted to and protective of my child. Theirs is a complicated road and it is my job to keep them safe from those who are uninformed.
  9. No: One’s being transgender does not, in any way, affect you.
  10. Yes: Kids are often way more tolerant, understanding, accepting, decent, kind and compassionate to their transgender peers than their parents are. Thank G-d and bravo!

I can see why someone who has no personal experience would consider age four to be too young to make this pronouncement.  I can appreciate the discomfort it creates. I can even respect the lack of understanding of the entire transgender world.  I cannot, however, see why anyone would consider it within their rights to tell another person how to conduct their lives.  As parents we can only walk alongside our children.  We cannot steer their ship as we see fit.  We cannot create their happiness.  We cannot tell them who they are.  I can only speak for myself when I say that I applaud these children for having the courage of their convictions, being brave enough to be true to themselves and charting their own course.  I also extend kudos to the parents for loving their children enough to enable them to be so supportive.  I have often told my child that I don’t care if she is a boy, a girl or a Martian and I will never stop supporting, advocating and loving her, no matter what gender she identifies with.  So far, it’s working pretty damn well.

[1] I have two older brothers.  Never once did I want to be a boy. Just sayin’.

[2] And I am the ignorant one.

[3] That’s a fact.  We’ve not met.  We never have, never will.  We are total and complete strangers.

[4] Hormone blockers are a well established protocol used under the care of an endocrinologist.  It is well documented that they are safe, fully reversible and can be a live saving measure for children with gender dysphoria.  So shut up.

[5] Jury’s still out on that one…

Love/Hate

Earlier this week, PBS’s Frontline aired  a program entitled, “Growing Up Trans”.  You can see it here:

http://video.pbs.org/video/2365520005/

A part of me loved it.  And, a part of me hated it.  Here’s why:

I loved the title.  The fact that in the title they used “trans” which is so casual and matter of fact reiterated a heightened national awareness and, arguably, acceptance.  To my mind, “trans” is way more cool and way less clinical than transgender.  As someone living in this world, the absence of the word gender can go a long way.

I loved the honesty of the parents.  This is not easy stuff and any parent who tells you that each day is anything other than overwhelming, scary and uncertain is a liar.  I don’t care how effeminate or butch your son or daughter may be, there is nothing, not one damn thing, that prepares a parent for this transition.  Your little boy loves dolls and dresses and mermaids?  Your daughter is only interested in trucks, contact sports and super heroes?  Big deal…who cares?  In fact, when my entirely cis-gender son was little he loved to go with me to the Chanel counter at Bloomingdale’s and paint each of his fingernails a different vibrant color.  Weekly.  Never ever once did I wonder if he would come to me one day and tell me he felt that as though he was a girl.  For that matter, I didn’t even really expect it from George who so resolutely favored dolls, wigs, dresses and mermaid costumes but also acted, in many ways, “all boy”.  Yet one day he told me just that.  And, like the parents profiled on the program, I was totally, completely and utterly knocked off my axis.  Apparently I put on a brave face and had everyone convinced that it was an easy adjustment but, newsflash, it wasn’t. Still isn’t, actually.  It is, however, a whole hell of a lot easier. I love those parents for admitting their fears, anxieties, and trepidations with no apology. Bravo.

I loved the kids, each one of them, with all their individual quirkiness, for having the courage of their convictions and for sharing with the world what this feels like.  I loved how each one of them owned their behavior: the good, the bad and the ugly.  No matter your age, environment or gender…that takes balls.

I loved the lack of discussion about bathrooms.  Seriously, loved that.

I hated a few things, too.  A friend messaged me about the program:

“…Wanted to punch a few of the Dads. I am sure their reactions are pretty typical but still…”

Now, what I hated about this is not what you might think.  My friend is right.  Some of the dads’ reactions were painful to watch.  The perfect parent in me wants to chide them for their selfish candor.  And, that said, I can fully understand wanting to punch them…I mean, really, who talks smack like that about their kids, in front of their kids and, oh, yeah, on national television?  The honest parents do.  I entirely understand how they felt/feel and applaud their putting it out there.  To be clear, these parents, despite verbalizing their misgivings and concerns, are not to be confused with the parents who kick their kids out of the house, disown, humiliate and, essentially torture their children for doing nothing other than being honest.  But I hate that the perception, from folks who have not walked in these shoes, that these parents were behaving badly.  They were being human.

I hated that it forced me to have many (many, many, many) conversations that, frankly, I didn’t really feel like having.  And I hate that I have to admit that.  The subject is rife with opinions, facts, speculations and, well, scary stuff.  Every well-intentioned and well-meaning exchange left me feeling equal parts soaring with confidence and paralyzed by insecurity.  Confession: It is way easier to coast than to make this part of the daily discussion.  While I know that I always have Jess’s back, there are differing opinions of what that means.  File under: scary crap parents have to deal with while pretty much punting.

I love that PBS produced this program.  I love that discussion and acknowledgment of the realities of the transgender community has become so, well, mainstream.  I love that I have so many people in my life who love me and feel comfortable enough with me to offer their always, always, always well-meaning, well-composed opinions.  And I hate that it has to be so complicated, so emotionally charged and so overwhelmingly overwhelming.

special shout out and lots of love to PS, BTS, and GS <3

Decidedly Undecided

Transgender everything is everywhere and I am decidedly undecided about how I feel about it.

On the one hand, all the exposure, explanations and acceptance are spectacular. On the other hand, that’s a whole of exposure, explanations and (not so much) acceptance. Oh, the irony.

minion

With this latest round of chatter (thank you, Caitlyn Jenner) I have found myself again asking why anyone gives a shit. I know that sounds trite and, perhaps ridiculous, but seriously…how does one person’s gender (or any other, for that matter) expression in any way impact me, you or the mailman? I get that it is (un)comfortably outside of the norm. I get that it is not what most of us grew up with. I even get that what feels natural and real to the transgender person and their families, feels extraordinarily unnatural and unreal to folks who are on the outside looking in. I. Get. It.

What I don’t get is how polarizing the whole subject matter is. Oh, I do, but I don’t. See: decidedly undecided.
I will acknowledge that the sheer volume of media attention is indeed making it virtually impossible, particularly for those folks who are uncomfortable and unable to latch onto the concept, to avoid it. Even in the three and a half years since our transition (to be clear: it is an entire family that needs to transition) the discussion has changed dramatically…and while I applaud the newfound understanding, I worry about it being too much all at once. And, boys and girls, that just gives me one more thing to worry about.

Yes, I have seen the Vanity Fair cover. Yes, I will buy the magazine and read the article. Yes, I believe this is a good thing in terms of paving over the gravel on the road that my kid is travelling. And yes, I think about it every single day. Repeatedly.
No, I don’t think that the people who are spewing hate, anger and vitriol are playing fair. No, I don’t understand why they, as I have already said, give a shit. And no, it isn’t easy to listen to.

The media is entirely schizophrenic on this subject and has caused tremendously good and fantastically horrid banter. This, in my mind, only breeds more anxiety on both sides. I love that transgender is part of the national discussion. I hate that it is, too. I just want my kid to be whomever she is…girl, boy, somewhere in between.

Yes, I am decidedly undecided.

Caitlyn

Caitlyn Jenner. Vanity Fair.

th

Gross.

Freak.

Publicity Hound.

Crap.

And those are among the less offensive comments I have seen.

I even found myself in a Facebook tussle with a friend of a friend who posted this:

 

I’m just so sick and tired of everything in the news now being about Trannies…..and how ‘nature made a mistake’.

I wish no ill-will at all on any of these poor people with this affliction either.I am sure life cannot be easy for them nor do I feel that they ‘chose’ this path.

But – don’t lecture me and tell me I have to buy into this gender confusion crap.

If the PC Police ever allow actual science to shine a light on this – it will prove it’s a mental health issue with a potential physical disposition, ie: a brain chemical deficiency which is impacting the gender confusion for example.

 Anyone can look great during a photo shoot with pro hair and makeup……

But, he still has a penis and a size 13 foot — good luck finding shoes at the clearance rack, Caitlyn!

I want to see him put on a box of Wheaties now in the bustier….

 

 

What I wanted to say:

I can only imagine the vitriol you might spew if you did wish ill will upon any of “these poor people” who, incidentally, do not appreciate being called Trannies, are not mentally ill and do not consider living an authentic life as “gender confusion crap.” I’ve never seen you, but your ugliness strongly suggests that even with professional hair and make up your innards would seep through. Further, if anyone is guilty of “lecturing” that would you be you. Your declaration, (which, to my knowledge, is unsubstantiated) that “actual science WILL prove” anything is a bold and uneducated one. Having a fear of something you do not understand but insist on spouting off about is unbecoming, bitch.

 

What I actually said:

Wow. And yuck. Your attitude actually scares me.

 

She is (and will remain) a total stranger, free to opine from the safety of her laptop and not face to face with another human intimate with the transgender process. Interestingly, she did not respond to my comment. Others did…and they weren’t on her side.

But…then I saw this, also on Facebook. The gigantic difference being, it was posted by a friend. Someone I know in real life. Someone I’ve talked about tough stuff with. Someone I thought was better than this:

Now that I’ve seen it, I can’t erase it from my eyes…. seeing Vanity Fair cover…. gross

I read it on my phone while waiting for an appointment and let out an audible gasp. With trepidation I responded:

Gross?! Wow.

That was several hours ago.  No response.  No private message tripping over herself in a (veiled) attempt to explain herself.  Yuk.

 

Listen, I am wise enough to know that this is complicated stuff. But apparently I am not wise enough to understand why on earth anyone gives enough of a shit about what is it in someone’s nether regions that they feel compelled to malign, criticize, ridicule and torment; often loudly and proudly. Yes, it is unusual. And no, it is not the path most people take, but: Gross? Crap? Brain chemical deficiency? (Maybe, just maybe, it is actually a brain superiority…an indicator of a more evolved human. Ever think of that?)

I wonder if any of these people ever stopped to think how they would feel if Caitlyn (or Jess, or Aiden, or Cameron or Liv or any other fantastically brave trans person) were their child or parent or sibling or friend. Would it be gross? Would they be a freak? Would it be crap?

Yeah, didn’t think so.

Oh, and by the way: you should all look as good as Caitlin does.  Rock on!

Explain This

When George was two, my parents went to an afternoon movie after which they were going to come to my house to babysit. Around 6 that evening, my mother called to tell me that they were not “coming over” after all. “Um, you weren’t coming over, you were babysitting…” I said in a perhaps less charitable tone than I should have. It was then that she explained that my father had fallen asleep during the movie and she was unable to wake him. Huh? What does that even mean? Since he was a Type 2 Diabetic, she had tried, in vain, to feed him some of the Jr. Mints left over in his lap. (He must have “fallen asleep” early on…there was little that would keep my father from emptying a box of those little gems). Suddenly aware that something was quite wrong, I told her to meet me at the hospital.
When she arrived there with him he was, apparently, in such a frightening state (important visual: my father was 6’1”, my mother 5’1”…imagine her trying to “carry” him in) that they immediately bedded him and started to try to figure out what was wrong. It was a long night. By the end, we knew that he had had a stroke. That was the good news. The answer to the question following the routine chest x-ray of, “are you aware there is a large mass in your chest?” was “um, no”. That was the bad news.
At the time, I was a (mostly) happy stay at home mom. I had stopped working not too long before, in part because George was so wild and busily beating his own drum that the family day care sort of, kind of, might have thrown her hands in the air and cried uncle. So, the only help I had was for the one (okay, sometimes two) hours a day I would drop him off in the babysitting room at the JCC and (usually) work out. There was a lovely older woman named Alla there who was solidly unafraid of George. Perhaps it was the fact that she was Israeli and, as such, able to withstand more than most, but it doesn’t much matter. Not only could she handle him, she freakin’ adored him. The admiration was reciprocated and all was right, if only for one (okay, sometimes two) hours a day.
I was a no-show for several days following my father’s diagnosis. When I finally returned and told Alla what was going on she asked how she could help. She knew I had no other coverage and that the babysitting was only for when I was in the building (theoretically) working out. Without hesitation she offered to watch George at her home for as much time as I needed, for as long as I needed. At the moment, I hadn’t realized how desperate I was for help and after asking her about a hundred times if she was sure, accepted her offer.
George and Alla hung out together for the next several weeks. I would deliver George to her and know that he was safe and happy, even though it was evident that the world around me was crashing in. I still feel indebted to her and never will forget the kindness she showed me and George.
I’ve seen Alla many times over the years. I am even relatively certain that I have told her that George is now Jess. But, either I didn’t or she does not recall…because each and every time I bump into her, she asks for her “boy George”. Every. Single. Time.
Yesterday, I ran into Alla. Literally. I was coming around the corner at the market and our carts collided. We embraced. I told her, as I always do (because it is true) that she simply doesn’t age. She caught me up on her kids, two docs and one who is set to graduate next week from Harvard Law. And, as always, she asked about her “boy George”. I told her that “everyone” is great, getting older, keeping me on my toes. I mastered the ol’ sin of omission by not engaging in one single pronoun. She asked if I had any recent pictures and I, um, lied, and told her that my phone was in the car, hoping against hope that it didn’t ding, ping or ring right then and there. I was secretly relieved that Jess was not with me. Not because I am ashamed, but because it simply feels like it is too late/too exhausting/too old news/too overwhelming/too much a part of everyday life that I sometimes forget to have to explain it again.
This is not the first time I have skirted the issue of “explaining.” I have omitted the details to my elderly neighbor who moved away years ago, but with whom I still keep in touch – primarily by phone. I once skimmed over the details of the facts with two little kids who were too young and new to our family to tell. I was later accused of lying to them which stung a little, but I know I did the right thing by “explaining” only what they would understand. Things like this come up all the time. No, really: all.the.time. And, if I am being honest, I am getting tired of having to explain to every Tom, Dick and Harry that my daughter started off as my son.
Then, late yesterday afternoon, just hours after my encounter with Alla , “explanation time” came up again when I took Jess to Urgent Care for an ear infection. I checked her in, ponytail and pink-checked lounge pant-clad Jess who happens to have an insurance card that says George. I leaned in and asked the receptionist to please call her Jess and use female pronouns which, not surprisingly, caught her off guard. To her credit, she had a quick recovery, wrote it on the intake form and moments later, Jess was called. And then! Then, the doctor came back in with the prescription which was written for Jess, forcing me to tell her (kind of again) that the script had to say George. So many Ts to cross, so many Is to dot.
Jess is used to it. She heard me tell the folks at the new allergist’s office. And the blue-haired gal taking names at Super Cuts, and the on-call pediatrician, and the camp directors, and the gymnastics teacher… She’s corrected people who slip up and others who should know better than to, um, slip up. It happens.
Anyone who has ever read a word of this blog knows how I adored my father. What you might not know, however, is that I felt the same way about his father, my grandpa, who was named…yep, George. In 2001, most people were not naming little boys George. I even hesitated a little, worried that he wouldn’t be able to pull it off. But he could and did better than pull it off – he killed it. He was the man. He was Georgie, Georgieporgiepoopoo and “boy George”. On paper, she still is. Every so often, Jess will ask that we change her name legally, but never with an intense and desperate need. If and when that happens, it happens…but for now, it’s all cool.
So, I will continue to forewarn, correct, whisper, lean in and remind folks that the name George on the form is only the name on the form. I will share as necessary. I will keep my mouth shut when there is no purpose in telling our story. She is just my kid who doesn’t always need to be explained, but if she does, knows I’ve always got her back…just like my dad and Alla did.