Ambi-freakin’-guity

Hardly a day goes by that something doesn’t unexpectedly pop-up in this still new world of raising a child who identifies as transgender.  Yeah, you would think I would have learned to stop being surprised, but, alas, I have not.   Sometimes it is something banal like those stupid pink curlers.  Other times it is more profound…like a phone call I received better than ten days ago which I have still not managed to fully get my head around.

It was the Friday before February vacation (aside: didn’t the kids just have a vacation??) when the phone rang, the caller i.d. stating it was Jessie’s school.  Just as an elementary school kid goes ashen when told, even if they have done nothing wrong, that the Principal wants to see them in her office, I, too, had a visceral (not to mention physical) reaction.  I instinctively knew that Jessie was okay (mostly because she wasn’t even there, having left earlier in the day to hit the road with Rich for a few days in the snow) yet knowing as much did little (okay, nothing) to alleviate my stress.  The Principal was calling and it was not just to shoot the shit.

We spent a few moments catching up with one another and learning how things were going in each of our worlds.  (Well, I guess you could say we did shoot a little shit.) But I was still curious as to what the call’s agenda might be so I absent-mindedly opened up “Bejeweled Blitz” on my computer to distract myself, if only a little, from whatever was about to go down.  (I have come to realize that the repetitious nature of the game does wonders for calming me down…hey, whatever it takes!)

Dr. B. has done everything in her power to make Jessie’s transition and school experience as seamless and normal as possible by fully, professionally and artfully embracing the myriad challenges in having a child in your school identify as transgender.  As such, she has taken on all sorts of initiatives and programs to ensure that not only her staff, but the administrators of the entire school district are as educated and accepting as possible in all things transgender.  I’ve greatly appreciated it.  Little did I know, however, that I was about to be asked to put my money where my mouth is…and I’m not sure I’m ready.

She began the conversation by acknowledging that Jessie (and George) has long had an Individual Education Plan (IEP) which addresses her struggles associated with dyslexia.  As such, she is a very well documented child and has a thicker file in the school than the average kid.  Immediately upon her transition the staff was diligent about scribing the narrative portion of all reports, notices and announcements, with her new chosen name of Jessie.  The top of the page (read: the official part) includes her school identification number and remains associated with her legal name: George.  And now, just barely a year later, Dr. B. is offering to change the official name to Jessie and, gulp, change the gender marker to female.  I admit to being caught off-guard.  Of the long list of issues that have shaken me up, the discrepancy in names (in this context, that is) has never bothered me.  In fact, I recall that the first time I saw “George” on the top and “Jessie” in the text, I got a little choked up; I actually took comfort in knowing that this was somehow still the same child. It felt surreal.  It felt bizarre.  It also felt like an appropriate segue into whatever we were diving into.  And now this?

Stop!

As I sat in the chair, getting my ass kicked in “Bejeweled Blitz” (that happens when your eyes fill with tears making it impossible to see the screen – or anything, for that matter – clearly) I was speechless.  A part of me wanted to say, “How wonderful!  You can do that??” while another, slightly (okay, much) louder internal voice screeched, “No!”

And then I felt guilty.

Why wasn’t I embracing this?  Why did I feel nauseated and fearful?  And why have I not told a soul about this until now?

When Jessie first made her announcement and subsequent (not to mention immediate) transition, she asked me daily if we could go change her name legally and, as she planned it, go directly from the Social Security Administrative offices to CVS to get hormones.  Yes, it was that uncomplicated and literal to her.  I would gently suggest to her that it was not quite so simple and that we would work together with (many) professionals and everything would come in due time.  Interestingly, she has mentioned neither changing her name nor the administration of hormones in months.  And I, taking her lead, have not brought either issue up, either.  Perhaps that is part of the reason this offer from Dr. B. sent me reeling: we have a new normal, one devoid of discussion of things the likes of name changes and hormones.  I guess I had almost “forgotten”.  Sort of.

After a pregnant pause, I realized I had to respond somehow.  Here Dr. B. had extended herself, not to mention this epic bestowal, yet I was speechless.  Thankfully, she knows me well enough to have anticipated the, dare I say it?…ambivalence and offered up the next words: “we can always change it back.”  And that made me feel better, but not well enough to give the go ahead.

Early on in our meetings with the psychiatrist who specializes in gender issues, it was pointed out that 80% of children who identify as transgender while prepubescent will change their minds.  (Freak-out worthy statistic, am I right?!) It was further explained that in the literal mind of a then ten-year old, “if I like girl things, I must be a girl” is not just a concept, but a reality.  The shrink’s final words, from the first time we met, implored us to figure out a way to “tolerate the ambiguity”.  I went home  that day and wrote this blog post: https://georgejessielove.wordpress.com/?s=chronically+ambiguous&submit=Search

That was nearly a year ago, and, I am sorry to report, that I still don’t know if I can tolerate it.  I am beginning to notice, however, that a (not insignificant) part of me seems to be at ease with it somehow.  Perhaps having both “George” and “Jessie” on her school documents somehow keeps me, in a crazy-ass kind of way, grounded.  In my (off-kilter) mind it actually illustrates the ambiguity of the entire situation which, for now, is working for me.

When Jessie, who is the captain of this ship, wants to put down anchor, I will be there alongside her to hitch her to a mooring.  Until then…we will stay adrift on this one.  Thanks anyway, Dr. B. (For now.)

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Stupid Pink Rollers

It might have been the lousy post-haircut blow out.  Or maybe the threat of another N’Oreaster.  It could also have been the fact that I shut the tail of my light-colored sweater/jacket in the door of the car and did not notice it until twenty filthy miles later.  Perhaps it was the discovery of a crack in the bumper of my car (which I swear I did not cause).  Most likely it was the hot curlers.  Yep, I am pretty sure it was the curlers that sent me spiraling down.

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When Jessie and her friend Sarah were, with my knowledge (my encouragement, even), coiffing one another, the curlers bothered me not a whit.  The visual of Jessie’s overly curled tresses didn’t do it, either.  It was when, after Sarah had left, (generously leaving the curlers here for Jessie’s pleasure) and I was invited (without the option of graciously refusing the request) to the bathroom to watch Jessie transform her hair from straight to curly that I felt it wash over me.  Anguish. Distress.  Sadness.

I am not proud.  I feel guilty even acknowledging that the visual of my male born daughter joyfully working with hot pink curlers shook me to my core.  Her obvious glee upon removal of each clip freeing the curl should have made me happy for her.  It did not.  It felt like a crushing blow to my chest.  And I feel horrible for my reaction.

It was so utterly girly, so unabashedly female and so hard for me to watch.  A (fairly significant) part of me wanted to slide my arm across the bathroom counter, knocking the pink tubes to the ground in a flourish.  I fought the urge to pull the plug out of the wall and disallow their use at all.  And, after serving as a model with half my head rolled into clips, I consciously rammed my shoulders down from my ears attempting to put them back in their proper spot.  Oblivious to my inner turmoil, Jess commented on how fabulous my hair looked curly (not to readers: I have naturally curly hair) as she circled around me in a (vain) attempt to curl the other side.

I couldn’t take it anymore.  I needed to be out of the bathroom, away from the insanity and, ideally, in a corner somewhere sucking my thumb.  But, alas, that was not to be.  I took a deep, cleansing breathe (the one thing I learned in childbirth classes) and announced that this model was officially off the clock as I made my way out of the confines of the bathroom, seeking breathable air.

Interestingly, my departure coincided with Jessie’s boredom with the project.  Within moments of my descent to the safety of the family room she was at my heels, having combed out the curls of only moments before.  Her mood was just as I had left her, and she was none the wiser to my mini breakdown.  Happily watching television, munching on a Creamsicle with hardly a trace of curls remaining, Jessie remains oblivious to my personal crumbling.  For that, I am grateful.

I never know what it going to trip me up or send me looking for the nearest sedative.  Who would think that something as benign as stupid pink hot rollers would be my undoing?  Lesson learned…the hard way.

Note to self: I can do this.

Aiden Jay

I received this comment in response to my last blog, “Yo, Jane Doe” and had to share.  I did not approve it in the comment section because it so clearly deserved more legs than that.  It is entirely self-explanatory.  And fabulous.  Be sure to click on the link to see the video!  Meet my newest idol: Aiden Jay

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Submitted on 2013/02/17 at 4:43 pm

I am writing because my mother is an active follower of this blog and as a mother of a transsexual teen (ME) herself she has found comfort and understanding in the posts that she has read. This “Jane Doe” as they call themselves is a coward, but much more they are hypocrite. They call you out on the way in which you help others to accept their child, while telling you exactly how you should accept your own? That just doesn’t sit well with me as I am sure it didn’t with you. My mother, has spent the last 6 years supporting me and actively standing by my side to ensure I am safe and turn into a good man. While I choose to live my life without being stealth, I believe it is the parents purgative how they choose to share the information about your transition with others, especially in order to help others. The things you have posted, the stories you have told, and lives you have changed are important. As a transsexual man whom lives his life openly everyday and has the support and love of his family, I commend you and your daughter for your openness and for allowing people to look into your life, in order to help.
Although I understand why you wrestle with these ideas, rest assured that you are doing a very good thing.
I will leave you with one last piece of information: The transgender community often discusses how terrible it is that we are not only judged by those whom watch from the outside, but we judge our own members every day. We make people feel like they need to fit into a mold in order to be completely male or female and that they need to follow certain steps in order to transition and those who choose to not follow the same steps are viewed in a very different light. It is terrible that this kind of judgment is being portrayed in our accepting parents as well. You chose to love your child no matter what and help them to be the best they can be, no one has the right to tell you that you’ve done anything wrong.

http://abclocal.go.com/wabc/story?section=news%2Finvestigators&id=8994691

After watching the link, and before publishing A’s comments here, I emailed him.  Here is our exchange with my notes in italics, his in boldface:

Hi Aiden!

 Thank you for reading my blog and for your incredibly thoughtful comment.  I would love to share it as a blog post along with the link to the wonderful story about you, but wanted to be sure you were okay with it before I did so.

 Curious: How did your mother find me??

 Please keep in touch.  You are my idol.

 

Unfortunately my mother is asleep but ill be sure to ask her and get back to you! 

 I would be honored if you were to share my post, I hope you know that I believe you are doing an incredible thing and no one should ever tell you other wise! 

My Facebook is Facebook.com/ayejaykap I hope you’ll take a look at what I am about! I have so much to be proud of and it looks as though things are about to start going really well for me! It is my duty to help those who are not yet strong enough or old enough to help themselves! Thank you for making my job so much easier! 

Awesome.  I am rushing off to work this morning, but likely post something later on today and will keep you in the loop.  

You, my friend, are a rock star!

 p.s. So is your mom.  I love her “admission” (for lack of a better word) that this is scary to a parent…but we rabid moms will do anything to support our kids, scary or not!

That’s awesome! And yes, my mom is incredible! She has never stopped doing everything possible to make my life better, but she does the same things for my brother and sister, who are societies vision of “normal”. I just got lucky to have an incredible mother! Just like your daughter!

This is the second kid (the first being one Cameron Cole) who has touched my heart with their words, their strength and their awesome moms.  I’ve not had the pleasure to meet either one of them personally but am confident that they are both fine young gentlemen that anyone would be proud to call friend.  So take that, Jane Doe.

p.s. Before Jane (or anyone else, for that matter) considers ripping me a new one for publishing this information about Aiden, rest assured, I ran everything by him prior to publishing.

p.p.s. If you happen to run into Aiden or his mom, give them both a big hug for me, would ya?

Yo, Jane Doe

It took nearly 130 posts and over a year, but I finally got a negative (nasty, actually) comment on this blog.  It is the first one (of the 3,000+ I have received) that I have elected to leave unapproved and, therefore, unseen by the general readership.  Not surprisingly, it came from a Jane Doe.  No, literally, she* took the time to create an email address of janedoe@googlemail.com before letting me know that she believes me to be a misguided and poorly-taught-by-my-parents parent (sorry, Mom) and that what I am experiencing is “nothing special”.  She knows, after all, because she is also parenting a transgender child and, therefore, is the authority on how to do things correctly while I, it seems, have mastered doing them incorrectly.

She further accuses me of writing for “you and your own acceptance” as if that is the worst thing I could ever do.  I own it.  I am a person, not just a parent, and need support and, well, yeah, acceptance.  Clearly Jane is a better person than I since she is able to fly solo on this crazy-ass adventure while I have not.  Props to her?

The only line she scribed which I will admit (briefly) tripped me up was her closing sentence: keep it private and don’t make a spectacle of your child…..it will come back to bite them. Okay, full disclosure: this is something I grapple with every time I hit the “publish post” button.  I have discussed it out loud and in my head, the latter usually in the middle of the night.  I have considered the positives and negatives associated with sharing our story as intimately as I have. (Now might be a good time to make myself feel better, er, let y’all know that there is much to our story that I do not share on these pages.  There are many experiences and events which have not made it to the blog…some of which are doozies.  I do, it is important to note, self edit more than you might think.) Here is an important piece of the puzzle: Jessie is not stealth.  She does not keep the fact that she is a girl who has “boy parts” a secret.  In fact, she is the one who tells new acquaintances with her head held high in the process.  She knows all about the blog and has even been known to offer up suggestions for entries.  I am taking her lead.  Am I finding a degree of support and acceptance in the process?  You bet I am.  Is this experience as a parent (as a person!) “nothing special” as Jane suggests?  Are you kidding me??  It is a huge deal.

I know nothing about Jane Doe.  I do know that she did not have the inclination? courage? wherewithal? courtesy? maturity? balls? to identify herself whilst she stood upon her soap box and chastised me for my choices.  Had she opted to criticize me without hiding out behind the veil of secrecy that is inherent in her very email address, I would have approved the message and thanked her for her opinion.  Had she respected me for being a less private and more open person than she, I also would have approved the message. (That sounded more judgmental than I intended…but can think of no other way to say it.  I am a very open person.  It is just a fact.)  And had she shown the compassion that any other parent of a transgender child owes to their like-experiencing compatriots, I would have approved the message.  But, no.  She did none of those things.  Instead she lumped herself onto the top of the heap of haters that troll the internet and cast aspersions anonymously.  Up to her to do so, up to me to not approve.

The logical question now, then, is to call me out as to why I am giving any credence to her comment by dedicating an entire blog post to it.  Fair question.  It feels somehow disingenuous of me to know that I am being called out and choosing not to publish it on the blog. I am sure that Jane is not the only one who feels that I suck for one reason or another.  There are probably many Jane Does out there horrified by what I share, but I pride myself on being open and honest and will not allow myself to be derailed by a nameless, faceless Jane Doe.  Truth be told, I made the decision for me and for my readers.  I made it so as to not sully what has become a positive and supportive spot for so many people, most of whom I do not know.  It is a place where people have shared their own experiences, struggles and triumphs with the transgender (and gender variant and non gender variant) people in their lives.  There is criticism and judgment aplenty in the big world out there…who the hell needs to find it on a blog?  And, given the fact that I am entirely certain of nothing in this world, it gives me a little bit of a warm and fuzzy feeling that my blog is something I have complete and total control over.  So there, Jane Doe.  Send me a comment with a real name and a non-judgmental angle and I will happily publish it.  I will even discuss it with you. Do not get all high and mighty…I don’t respond well to that.  And neither do my readers.

 

*I am not sure why I am referring to Jane as “her”…”she” may be a “he” or “she” may be somewhere on the gender fluidity spectrum and not care to ascribe to any particular pronoun.  Who knows?  More importantly, who cares?

 

 

 

 

Best days of my life? Round II

Below is a post from exactly a year ago.  I don’t often go back and re-read pieces I have written, but I was curious as to where my head was a year ago.  Interestingly, I could have written this all over again today.  No, things are not settled, in fact, many things are even less settled than they were way back in February, 2012.  Everyone is a year older and has the war wounds of a year of turmoil to prove it.  Harrison is nearing the end of his senior year (and has a full-blown case of inoperable senioritis), Jessie has longer (but not long enough by her standards) hair and a wardrobe that would be the envy of any eleven year old girl you might happen to meet.  Rich and I have separated (it has been several months at this point) and are establishing a new normal which is working for everyone.  We did not split because of Jessie.  In fact, it is one thing that we are very much on the same page about.  His support of her and her decision has been exemplary; some readers might recall that he was the one who took her, on more than one occasion, to the American Girl Doll store to load up on accessories for her dolls.  On Saturdays.  Even when she was still George.  And didn’t complain.  We’ve done something right because Jessie, thankfully, doesn’t blame herself for the split.  Nor should she.   Our issues are our issues…not her’s or Harrison’s. 

We are all on this adventure together.  We have better than a year under our collective belts and will try, like hell, to indeed make these the best years of our lives.

xo

About a year after I had finished my run-in with breast cancer, Tony Snow (the former White House press secretary) returned to television for the first time since having been diagnosed with colon cancer.  It was a school/work morning and Rich and I were trying to get ourselves and the kids up and out the door.  “The Today Show” was on and we were half listening to the interviewer when he asked Tony for reflections on what he had been through.  He responded by saying that it was “the best year of his life.”  Rich looked at me and asked me if I knew what he meant.  Indeed, I did.

Whether it is cancer, or a death or a divorce or a little boy announcing that he is really a girl, difficult life experiences have this crazy ability to turn logic on its ear and prove to be wonderful times in one’s life.  Sounds insane, I know.  But, having had my fair share of trying times, I can honestly say that with each crisis, once the hysterical part of it has passed, I am a little bit better for it.  I am a little bit stronger and have a whole lot more faith in mankind.  Would I wish for any of these things?  No fucking way.  But in a strange and beautiful way, I wouldn’t take them back, either.

I always thought that feeling this way was peculiar at best, morbid at worst.  Not really a glass half full kinda gal, it isn’t necessarily my nature to find the positive in any given situation.  It is easier to get caught up in the fear, anxiety, anger and “why me?” than to see the upside of things like facing down a bi-lateral mastectomy  just days after my father-in-law lost his battle and my father was en route to losing his.  I could have opted for a complete shutdown when I landed in the hospital with a herniated disc in my back which provided me with what I can easily say was the worst pain imaginable.  And when George came to us to tell us that he felt that he was a girl, it would have been simpler to keep it to ourselves, go underground as best we could and simmer in the angst that any parent would feel when their child makes such a major announcement.  But, when you see the love, support, encouragement and strength that the people in your life are willing (no, not willing, but eager) to share with you, it results in a paradigm shift that can only be fully appreciated during well, a crisis.

Like many people, I am not particularly good at asking for help.  It used to be a source of pride for me – an indication that I was a strong and capable woman.  And then I got sick.  My family and I needed help with the everyday crap that doesn’t go away.  We needed dinners, and drivers and shoppers.  Once I acquiesced, it was mere hours before a cooler was outside our door and a sign-up list was fully populated.  We were fed, driven and attended to for weeks and weeks and weeks.  It not only saved us in the day to day, it saved our spirit, too.  (It also served to add several pounds to my midsection – a few too many delicious lasagnas with brownie chasers!)

Right now, no one (thank G-d) is ill.  No one is physically compromised.  We are, however, emotionally spent and mentally exhausted, yet not struggling.  We aren’t struggling thanks to the undying support we have gotten from family, friends and even strangers.  Those who approach me (even those who do so tentatively) are ready to lend their support in any number of different ways:  maybe it is by forwarding an article or sending a gift certificate (go Justice!  go Clairs!), or passing along clothing their daughters have outgrown…it doesn’t really matter.  What does matter is that everyone, to a person, has reminded us that we are loved.  And, any time you know you are loved is always a good contender for “the best year of your life”, no?

I’m not going to lie – this ain’t easy.  At every turn lurk surprises, successes and failures.  I have no idea how this is all going to play out but I do know that everyone in my family, perhaps my life, will be different (read: better) for it.  There are moments, hours, even days that I pray for a rewind to life before (such as it was), but I know, deep down, that I will someday be able to look back at this and be grateful for the lessons learned.

Good Mom

I am a good mom.  My children know that they are loved, supported and cared for.  They know that they can come to me with anything and that there is nothing they can do that would ever make me stop loving them.  I have striven to strike an acceptable balance between kvelling about and embarrassing them (although it sometimes requires a tweak here and there) and am confident in saying that they both know that I’ve got their back.  I am a good mom.

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This weekend I met a way-bettter-than good mom.  She fits all the aforementioned criteria and then some.  Her (not real) name is Anne.  She is a foster mom; seeking permanent guardianship of a delightful young lady I will call Topaz.  Topaz adores Anne and Anne adores Topaz.  They live together and, despite having come from different worlds, they both want to keep it that way.  Topaz doesn’t come without baggage.  (Who does?!) She is one of several siblings, all of whom are living apart from one another.  Her father has served time in prison; for what I am unsure.  I am fairly sure, however, that it doesn’t much matter.  Topaz, at the ripe old age of eleven offhandedly commented that “he gave up his rights to me the first time he went to jail” with far more matter-of-factness and far less disdain than one might suspect.  It was the only life she knew.  Her mother’s issues are unknown to me, but I am quite sure that Topaz knows all about them.  She’s just that kind of kid: wise beyond her years and grateful for her second chance.

Anne and Topaz have only been in one another’s lives for two or three years.  Topaz left behind a rural home and moved to a hip, urban area; a move which was not without its challenges.  She misses the wide open space and life in a house full of siblings, who, despite their father’s challenges, are her family.  Given the warmth, love and trust so evident between them, it might never occur to you how fraught with complications this relationship could be.  In fact, despite the total lack of “family resemblance” I assumed from their interactions with one another that this was a lifelong mother/daughter relationship.  In fact, it wasn’t until Topaz called out to Anne by her given name that I even began to wonder.

Midway through Anne’s narration of their story, Topaz mentioned (again, offhandedly) that Jessie (who had been a guest in their home for the better part of the afternoon) is transgender.  Then, not surprisingly, the conversation turned to our story.  Anne was completely unfazed by the announcement (love people like her!) and asked the sorts of questions one might suspect.  And then she did that which makes me bristle: she told me that I am a great mom.  Well…this nearly set off a smack down.

“No!” I protested.  “It is you that is the great mom.  I was thrust (or hurled, tossed, thrown, catapulted) into being a good mom for Jessie.  I really had no choice (trust me, it isn’t that I am so wonderful…) while you, armed with the knowledge of how wildly complicated Topaz’s situation was (and continues to be) jumped in feet first and took it all on.”

Truth be told, while I fully embrace our story, our issues and our situation, I am fairly certain that I would not have actively sought it out.   And, yes, I know that there are enough “Great Mom” medallions to go around, but I still contend: Anne wins this round.

There are lots of great moms out there who have made far greater sacrifices and faced far more enormous challenges than I have and I am fortunate enough to know many of them.  Among the many, many moms I know (some only virtually) I cannot think of a single one who isn’t facing down one kind of challenge or another.  Some are doing it with great support, others with less.  Some have a lot of money to aid in their battles, others do not.  And some are “out there with it” (that would be me) while others choose to be more private.  I am not doing anything that 99% of other mothers would do for their children, I just happen to blog about it.  I am a good mom.  I might even be a little better than good, but so, too, are most of the other moms out there just fighting the fight, doing the dance or holding up the protective armor.  Doesn’t much matter as long as well all remember my mantra: you can do this (no matter what it is!).

P.S. There are so many awesome moms out there that I dare not even attempt to mention by name, alias or even initials because I am sure to miss someone…but it is a pretty safe bet that if you are reading this you either are a great mom or had one (I know I did) and if you didn’t, I am guessing you will shatter that pattern right about now.