And The Beat Goes On

This morning, as I lay awake in the wee hours of the morning, I was thinking back on yesterday: the drop off at Jessie’s weeklong overnight camp.  We have all been looking forward to this since back in January when I learned that a wonderful camp exists which is exactly like any other camp with the exception of the fact that all the kids in attendance define themselves as either transgender or gender variant.  There was something magical and surreal about stepping onto those grounds.  A place that, a mere year ago, never would have been on my radar, was suddenly in my nav.

Early in the afternoon Jessie, Harrison, Rich and I piled into the car to head to camp located just over two hours away.  Speaking for myself (which is all I can ever really do, although I have been criticized for being “me” focused) I will cop to an underlying anxiety over what lay ahead.  I had very little idea what to expect and tried to imagine how it felt for Jessie to be heading away for a week with all new people who were, in a profound way, very much like her.  Just as I was driving into a world I can never completely understand, she was leaving a world that doesn’t quite understand her and heading into one in which they do.  That is something that you and I have the luxury of living in every day.  Stop and think about that for a moment.

When we pulled onto the grounds we were greeted by a team of friendly faces welcoming us to camp and directing us where to pull the car for unloading.  As we parked, another car came in directly next to us and out stepped a beautiful teenage girl and her father.  We parents exchanged immediate “hellos” as did Jessie and the other girl.  It took me a beat to realize that she was the camper.  Had I been in any other locale I would never have thought twice about her gender. Seeing (and not taking a second look at) this tall, beautiful long-haired teenage girl who, I belatedly realized, was a biological boy, was a brief and powerful moment for me.  That could well be Jessie in a few short years.

From there we (and by “we” I mean Rich and Harrison) pulled Jessie’s luggage from the trunk (including a huge, fluffy, bright pink pillow) and worked our way over to the welcome table.  I admit that in my head I was silently trying to determine who was transgender and who was not.  It was not that it mattered as much as it was a peek into the future and an attempt to de-emotionalize the experience and see if I could even tell.  Wanna know something: had I not known that we were at a camp for transgender and gender variant kids, I would never have guessed it.  We were at a rustic (read: RUSTIC) camp, with a volleyball net set up in the middle, kids running to embrace friends from last summer, counselors trying to learn who was who and parents hastily throwing sheets over half-inch thick mattresses.  Sounds like any other camp to me.

There were, however, a few telltale signs that this was a special place. For starters, despite my having made Rich stop at McDonald’s for a Diet Coke on the way up (and having used the bathroom while I was there – which I am telling you for a reason…) upon arrival I had to go to the bathroom (see Diet Coke comment).  I asked a nice young man (hmmm) where the bathrooms were and he pointed to a shack a few hundred feet away.  Out of habit, before entering I took a look to see if it said “girls’” or “boys’” but instead was greeted with a sign that said “everyone’s”.  It was a small, but meaningful sign that we weren’t in Kansas anymore.  (Aside: Having been in that bathroom I think it is safe to say that Jessie is going to be longing for her bathroom at home.  She is my kid, after all.)

We proceeded to her bunk where we were greeted by two counselors who, upon learning her name, handed Jessie a sheet of construction paper which had been adorned with her name and allowed her to choose her bed for the week.  After having discussed it in the car, she (in opposition to my suggestion) opted to take the top bunk, with a window at her head.  (I understand the allure, I just never liked being on the top bunk in anticipation of night-time bathroom needs.  I never said I wasn’t neurotic.)  We put together her bed, turned around and noticed that she was gone.  I went to the door of the bunk and found her, along with a girl from her cabin, wandering across the central lawn to explore the camp.  As she did that first day of school as Jessie, she never looked back.  I took that private moment to inquire as to the make up of the bunk and was told that it was made up of all MTF (Male to Female) children, ages 9-11.  Just a beat off of your kids’ bunk assignments, right?

Rich, Harrison and I then began to wander around ourselves checking out the waterfront, the dining hall and the expanse of the grounds.  Set on a lake on a picture perfect afternoon it felt serene and surreal all at once.  At one point while we were strolling I asked Harrison if this all felt “strange” to him.  Without skipping a beat he responded that, “it would be strange if it didn’t feel strange.”  Amen.

With Jessie nowhere in sight, we hung out chatting with some parents that we have met over the past year as well as meeting new ones.  We are parents with a unique bond, coming from varying walks of life, parts of the country and stages of the process.  About 45 minutes after arriving we attended a parent support meeting for all of us to unload and feel the love of the others who are trying to navigate the same waters.  Some of the stories are strikingly familiar (Barbie dolls!), and others (almost exclusively of people other than the parents) would break your heart in a nanosecond.  Harrison attended the meeting as well and was given the opportunity to share his unique insight with the parents as to how their other children may be feeling.  His comment that “more upsetting than his brother becoming his sister is the fact that she can be irritating” garnered laughter and nods of agreement all around.  (Go, Harrison!)

At the assigned end time of the meeting the powers that be told the families that it was time to go.  I spotted Jessie in the middle of the volleyball court among scads of other kids.  I grappled with getting her attention so I could give her one last squeeze before we left but it was clear that she was comfortable and engaged.  We had said our goodbyes earlier and she was officially at camp.

As we were heading to the car, Rich began a conversation with a gentleman with the name tag “Wayne” (oh, by the way, we were all wearing name tags).  We chatted for a few moments when I realized that this was Wayne Maines who (see if you can follow this…): is the father of the twins who were the focus of the article in The Boston Globe which I was reading on George’s tenth birthday which resulted in his (gender and name choice intended) responding with, “you mean I’m not the only one?” and from which this whole adventure was unleashed.  (Insert exhale here).  I introduced myself and, having read some of my writings, he knew just who I was.  Again: unique bond.  I told him that Jessie will be ecstatic to learn that his daughter is there and that we are grateful to him and his family for their willingness to put themselves out there to make things that much less difficult (I won’t say “easy”) for the rest of us.  It seemed an apropos note on which to take our leave.

In the car heading home, the three of us decided that we would take a detour and enjoy a nice dinner just the three of us – something we seldom get an opportunity to do.  We stopped in Newport, Rhode Island and gorged ourselves on fried clams with ice cream chasers while sitting on a deck overlooking the yachts and energy of the pier.  I found myself looking at people wondering if perhaps they were transgender since I had a new understanding that you really cannot tell…more than you might expect.

As I toyed with getting out of bed this morning (no one needed me to wake them up or make them lunch!)  I reflected on the notion that when camp ended for most kids it was just the moment it started for mine.  I think that pretty well sums up a lot of how things go for this kid (and her mom): being just a beat off.  I wondered if she slept all night in that (icky) cabin and if she will manage to brush her teeth even once in the trough that camps consider a sink.  I hoped that her social connections would come more easily given the fact that every girl in her bunk has a penis and shares many of the same thoughts, concerns and issues that she has.  But mostly, I lay in bed hoping that Jessie is having the time of her life.

p.s. I wish I had a picture to show you but, out of respect for the families and the kids who are stealth in their gender identity, no cameras are allowed at camp.  Again, just a beat off.

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46 thoughts on “And The Beat Goes On

  1. Thank you so much for sharing Jessie’s story! If all parents with similar children could be as supportive as you and your husband are, the world would be a much safer place. My parents were hateful and condemning and my coming out as a lesbian had to wait until I was 40…I’m now 63 but still get wistful when I think about what my first 40 years could have been. I can’t even imagine what it might have been like if I faced the challenges Jessie has with the family I was born into.

  2. So many thoughts. Email to follow.
    I was wondering if the family from the article would be there (I had seen the article before I knew you existed, despite the fact that we know a million of the same people).

  3. i smiled the entire way through 🙂 and was jealous you ate in Newport. that’s oh so close to me and now i officially want some fish and chips on a deck overlooking the water…

  4. I’m with Karen, you really do need to stop making me cry… the things is, I’m not sure why I am sitting here with tears in my eyes. Maybe it’s just knowing Jessie has such a wonderful family, maybe it’s in knowing there are now places where kids can just be themselves regardless of how they identify. No matter what, you are wonderful people and I am blessed to be following your journey.

  5. Julie, don’t fret over what some of those idiots on Huff Po are saying. Sometimes, the mere fact that those sorts of people feel compelled to express their ignorance only goes to make your case stronger, as the intelligent and open minded readers are actually becoming informed. It also serves to let those of us who need to be aware that there are still so many of those people out there who will jump to a conclusion and even attempt to cause harm to us emotionally.

    Anyway, I’d love to be a fly on the wall at that camp (one of many hundreds if it’s anything like the camps I went to as a child). I believe that I would hear much of the same conversation that goes on among adult transgender people, because the issues many of us have as adults go back to childhood. In fact, I have observed more than one adult who, in the process of transitioning, has had to go through stages of development, just as a “normal” child would, before coming to terms with her gender identity as an adult. Sadly, I know of so many who get stuck on one stage, and try to act and dress as though they are in their twenties, when they are actually in their forties, fifties, or sixties. Jessie is sure to gain valuable information at camp that will go toward a “normal” development (whatever “normal” really is). At any rate, she is learning to accept her own reality and how to live with it on a more normal time line than most of us old transgender women have.

    Are the counselors also transgender women and men?……Just wondering.

    Enjoy your “Julie Time” this week. You deserve it! xo, Connie

  6. I think you and your family are brave and beautiful. I hope I can be as loving, accepting and understanding to my boys as you have been to Jessie.

    Raising children in this world is a veritable minefield, you’re doing it right.

    As for the Huffpost trolls, forgive them their small minded ignorance. It is easy to spew vitriol when you are talking to imaginary people through a keyboard. If any of those people spent 5 minutes with you and your family I’m sure they would change their tune very quickly.

  7. Hi Julie—- just a quick note about my kids and bunk beds.. My older daughter always preferred the top at camp, so that she could have a little bit of her own space while, the younger, always wanted the bottom so that the kids would hang out on her bed. … I have always said that this sums my kids up in a nutshell! Hope Jessie is having fun at camp.

  8. That camp sounds fantastic. I wish there had been something like that when I was growing up.

    Your family totally rocks for supporting Jessie. There is no way I can express how important that is.

  9. This is so incredible, I’m tearing up. I’m not transgender and I don’t personally know any transgender children but this touches me. It’s so incredible that these kids can have a safe place to go and that gender clinics are popping up in children’s hospitals. I hope the world continues to move in the right direction and that no one will think twice about transgender people in the future. Accepting parents like you are making this a reality. Just thank you. 🙂 I’m 19, and it’s just comforting to know that transkids are getting the help they need. I can imagine that treatment will progress further by the time I have children, and it’s comforting.

  10. They might be beating you up over on Huffington Post but I found your blog as a result of what they published on August 20th. As a result, I spent a couple of hours reading most of your old blogs (with tears in my eyes) before going off to work that night. So many thoghts of what might have been, but I spent my childhood thinking about Christine Jorgenson and her surgery over in Sweden which shows you how old I am. If only I could have told my parents when I was that young but times were different back in the 1950s. I have a feeling my younger sister knows but I have never said anything to her. I never fully accepted until I was in my 50s that I am transgender and now at age 67…well. However, I can look back at life and say I don’t regret much (except getting married twice…)

    Your comments about the camp brings back memories of when I was going to boys camp. I had good times (relatively speaking) but, looking back, I realize that I was really like a fish out of water there, being a stealth girl in a boys camp. Your description of the camp reminds me so much of the camp I went to in northern lower Michigan. Good lake, bunk beds, no electric in the buildings other than where we ate, the bathrooms with no partitions in it — just a big open room with no privacy. I always felt so embarassed in there.

    Now that I have found your blog, I expect to be reading it every day, albeit with a touch of envy. And I love the name Jessie. When my son and I found each other last summer after 42 years apart, I discovered I have a 17 year old granddaughter named Jessica, Jessie for short.

    Jane

    • Stories like your’s touch and break my heart at the same moment. I only hope that wherever Jessie lands it is a place that she can find happiness and content. I am so happy that you found me, too!

  11. At dinner with my mom who read your post 3 times today. Still wiping up the 3rd round of tears. So beautiful. Best blog yet. Hope she has the best summer ever! Any chance she’s in a pink bunk?! (:

    • Love to you both. Alas, the bunk was not pink but I know that of which you speak! I hope that she is having as wonderful time this week as she seemed to be having when we left on Sunday!

  12. We are all the same stardust, but forget it over and over. It’s wonderful, beyond when kindred souls find one another & can experience love, support, unity. So glad this camp exists! I hope it’s an inspiring week for everyone!

  13. Julie:
    What a wonderful and happy post to read, I had smiles and tears all the way through. I am going to bet that you will also take a month to come back down to earth after Jessie returns home from camp. Cool Beans.
    And this bit is just positively awesome!
    “Just as I was driving into a world I can never completely understand, she was leaving a world that doesn’t quite understand her and heading into one in which they do. That is something that you and I have the luxury of living in every day.”
    No truer words have been written in the subject; no one can really understand how it feels to be trans unless they are trans themselves. Which is why I think so many people struggle to understand and accept it, why so many chose to bury their feelings and try to fit into society’s unwritten laws only to discover that its impossible to be a round peg in a square hole until later in life and why there are so many sad stories out there like some of what you all heard during that super-cool parent’s support meeting.
    Anyway I am glad drop off went way better than you thought and I hope pick up day is just as wonderful. Enjoy your week because you know Jessie will be, and take the time to relax and unwind.
    All the best,
    Paula

    PS. Please don’t even give it another moments thought about what people are saying over the Huff-post article. You are doing the very best job a being an awesome mom to a special kid while dealing with some very complicated and confusing issues and emotions. This is your ride and you are in the driver’s seat and they very well can just go and screw off, I’ll bet they wouldn’t be half as good at either. so don’t pay them any mind.

  14. Julie, this is an incredible blog – and yes, had me with many tears – for your compassion, understanding, and Jessie getting to be herself in an environment with peers!! While many of us may not have transgender children, your words about Jessie are kind and considerate of who she is, and becoming. You and Rich are doing what alot of people can’t do, give her the room and chance to grow and explore – and being understanding. Also, I have to say kudos to Harrison on accompanying you all on this journey and taking a trek to get Jessie settled at camp. I admire you all.

    P.S. – My dad, who is now 84, drove a tractor trailer all his life. When he was in his early seventies, one of his very good friends revealed that he was going to have surgery – to become a woman!! This 6’4″ burley man – named Lester, slowly made the transformation to Leslie. It was amazing to listen to my dad talk about “her” and they all excepted her in a kind and loving way. I guess I was mostly amazed as these were men that had worked together most of their adult lives, meeting for coffee on occasion and sharing stories and never knowing that Lester really yearned to be Leslie. Of course, this is not a total surprise as I’m sure this was a group of men you might not feel comfortable sharing such news with. But I was proud to hear the stories later and know Leslie joined the group in her new transformation, and no one thought the less. When we all asked my dad why, he just said, ” I guess he was never happy being a man, and now she seems happier.”. I asked how their coffee gatherings had changed, and he felt it really didn’t make a difference – Lester/Leslie was the person they had always known!!

  15. Another tear jerker Julie. Harrison’s response was priceless. Of course I’m still catching up and so I say as time continues on things will become… normal. Jessie is a girl and there will come a time when you have to think back hard about George as all you will know is Jessie.

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