THIS WAY, TOWARDS BRAVERY
WHERE YOUTH ARE EMPOWERED.
THIS WAY, TOWARDS ACCEPTANCE
WHERE HUMANITY IS EMBRACED.
THIS WAY, TOWARDS LOVE
WHERE INDIVIDUALITY IS ENCOURAGED.
Born This Way Foundation launching in 2012. Join us!
THIS WAY, TOWARDS BRAVERY
WHERE YOUTH ARE EMPOWERED.
THIS WAY, TOWARDS ACCEPTANCE
WHERE HUMANITY IS EMBRACED.
THIS WAY, TOWARDS LOVE
WHERE INDIVIDUALITY IS ENCOURAGED.
Born This Way Foundation launching in 2012. Join us!
acceptance, activism, balance, community, gender identity, gender variance, inspiration, kids, life lessons, love, parenting, Philly Trans Health Conference, resources, self awareness, self expression, strength, transgender
Not yet packed, but anxiously awaiting my flight for the Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference tomorrow morning. Even though my workshop isn’t until Friday morning, I can’t wait to absorb as much as possible as soon as possible.
Did you see this line-up? It’s astounding how much we can learn in 3 short days, but I’m doing it all… including the yoga and meditation. I’m in. All in.
It’s funny, my daughter told someone recently that I was going to a conference and that I wrote a book. I was surprised because she prefers that we live relatively (almost completely) stealth so I probably produced a more than inquisitive look at her proud declaration. (Still working on my poker face truth be told…) Later I asked about it and she simply replied that she was happy that I was “helping people be better parents.” Whoa!!!!??
I wish that I could assume such a glorious job title, but alas I felt more comfortable clarifying that I ask questions and talk about things that might help parents along their journey. Simple. A take-it-or-leave-it type of thing. No pressure. But in her eyes, when she sees the cover of my book she’s constantly reminded of our talks about the parents who may not understand their child’s gender identity, or as she prefers to it as “how people feel inside”. She may ponder what life would be like if we didn’t listen to her or forced her to be someone she isn’t. That breaks my heart.
Even my son brought on the water works today. Bright and early, before 6am he chose to absolve me of my parental duties by telling me that he “forgives me for missing his graduation” and gave me an enormous hug that made me wish that this was my wake up call every morning. Mind you, he is graduating from preschool, which is huge for him and totally important. I get that. Still.
I start to tear up when I think of connecting with others this weekend. Why? Maybe because I feel the emotional weight of families who struggle with issues surrounding gender expression. I was there just a few years ago, not knowing where to turn or how to help. Life looked condensed in a way, with fear closing all the doors I wish were open. That was then.
Today we are free. Not completely transparent, but living and standing in our truth day in and day out. And I have so many people to thank for that. You know who you are – you beautiful, courageous, loving, loyal, open and supportive friends who have stood by me even when my brave disguise had worn thin. You’ve lifted me, carried me, soothed me and inspired me to do more for all of the families, like ours, that want to live genuinely, no matter what that looks like. I’m eternally grateful. And blessed.
“Whenever anything bad happens you just reinvent yourself, Jen. You always have and you always will,” a friend told me a few months ago and the words just kind of stuck in my head. Not the type of phrase that remained in my constant playlist of thoughts, but one of those concepts that you shelve for a while like cloning, water contamination or whether I’ll ever fix my front teeth, then when a free moment comes around like when you are brushing your teeth or putting new sheets on the bed you dust it off and take a fresh look.
Today while sorting laundry his words danced across my consciousness like opening credits in a romantic comedy and I quieted my thinking long enough to evaluate what it meant to me. It’s true in the past I’d reinvent myself. My job hit a plateau and poof! I’d have a better one. A boyfriend broke up with me and chop! went the hair. Bored with my apartment and voila! I’d be in a cuter place across town before the month ended. A friend makes a snide remark (like I wouldn’t fit in her skinny jeans even if I tried… not like I remember that or anything) and snip! went the ties that bind us. Yes, I could stop dead in my tracks, switch direction and forge a new path without a moment’s hesitation. Yes, I could pick myself up and change the scenery. Yes, I could run and hide and pretend nothing happened. But it did.
When my friend of many, many years said this, I think he was trying to compliment me, even comfort me that I didn’t need anyone else’s help. I would be just fine on my own no matter what because I had this fabulous quality the way he spoke about it. Always-have-and-always-will type of thing. A couple years ago I might have beamed with pride at hearing that assumption about me, but today it leaves me hollow, like a dingy, vacant apartment with little bits of packing tape on the floor and empty, bent hangers in the closet. Just pick up and reinvent myself now? Me?
The concept is utterly foreign to me if I am honest with myself, but perhaps I’m not expanding my thinking far enough. Just maybe each time I scrapped where I was I simply moved closer to being who I really was. Instead of thinking that I put on a new disguise, like I lived my life incognito in some weird way, maybe I can see how each decision navigated the course toward finding the real me? Deep in my heart I believe there is a divine time, divine order in constant control. Whether I resist or not is up to me. My actions are up to me. Still, does that mean that I am forced to shift gears when things go sour? Or do I have the power to ride the wave of challenging times with complete surrender? I think I’m growing up.
Let’s face it. It would have been easier to chuck everything and move when Hope transitioned two summers ago. No doubt about it. If I was the one-trick-pony my friend alluded to than I would have reinvented us somewhere else and started over, right? I’m not saying that moving fixes every single hurdle, it doesn’t. Nothing does. But it does give the chance to have some breathing room. Despite myself the thought never crossed my mind to leave our city and go where no one would know us. If anything I was on auto-pilot digging deeper to keep things grounded and normal and real.
Maybe that’s a signal of me outgrowing my more impetuous reactions and quick-fixes or better yet, not needing to chart the course in search of myself. I’m here. And I’m handling my problems moment by moment, not by changing my surroundings either. In the end I think my friend was partly right, no matter what happens I will be okay. Not because I can change directions and start fresh, but because I can stand still and just be me.
Every moment for the past 40 years has been rapid, like I’m navigating wet stepping-stones set too far apart across an angry current, and you just know the bone crushing waterfall waits around the corner. You can feel it. Adrenaline pulsing, mind racing activity focused on sheer survival. I’ve always been able to quickly stay the course and hop back and forth across the slippery banks of pain and pleasure. But what about happiness?
When Hope transitioned almost two years ago I had to stop staring at my feet and let go of where I thought I was headed. My inwardness (my extroverted disguise) was challenged for the first time, despite acting as a mother for almost 6 years and I needed to let go. I jumped, sailed down that river and across the bend to meet that watery cliff… and off I went.
I’ve been falling these past two years, and sharing that lovely suspension with you. In that time I’ve caught my breath, used my voice and even lifted my self-imposed veil of secrecy. I’ve been the mother and the person I’d always hoped I could be. Meaningful stuff. And, like every journey, you never stay in one spot for too long.
Last week I felt the whoosh, like when you nervously dive off the highest diving board and finally ignite with the water below, and I had to make another choice. Stay in the dark bliss below the surface where you can hide or rise up to face what lies above in the light. Tempting as the coziness below feels, I am destined to ascend. To move on. Hope and Will show me that every day, their resiliency and raw courage radiating with each smile. I’ve made it. I jumped and I survived. Now what?
“Allow yourself to be needy Jen,” my Reiki Master told me this weekend, “Other people, I tell them to be less dependent on others, but you? You do just fine all by yourself.” And it’s true. I’d rather crawl into my comforting seclusion than have to work out life’s complexities with others. It feels weird. I wasn’t raised that way. I was trained to be fiercely independent, strong to a fault and so resilient it scares people, but that’s not taking me to the next level spiritually. I’m not in this world alone, and I don’t want to be. I want more. I need more.
So for the first time friends are hearing that I need them and it feels good. I guess I always thought that if I asked for what I needed that no one would listen. Back then I didn’t have enough love for myself to even try. Most friends have generously opened their arms wide to embrace me, accepting me for who I am right now – imperfect and completely honest. Others lost my phone number (and email address) when I showed my first sign of weakness. It stings a bit, but when I look around at who is left I see that I am blessed. I am loved. I am whole. And I can move forward with my heart and mind wide open.
“What if she just starts feeling like a boy again?” they inquire, usually with a look on their face that stresses that what I am about to say is critical for their piece of mind. Sometimes the questioner impatiently puts their hand to their chin and squint their eyes as if that makes whatever comes next easier to swallow. Other times they lean in with urgency or lean back with a chill and fold their arms tightly to their shoulders bracing themselves with a self-hug, as if what comes out of my mouth next is some seriously classified information. Regardless of the style, the folks that ask this question are more often than not hinged on my answer.
I have to admit here that I do not have a poker face. If you know me, you’ll start laughing here. It’s true. After dozens of failed attempts at stifling my extremely expressive facial expressions (and throw in hand gestures for good measure) I’ve just come to accept it as a part of me. What can you do? What you see is what you get with me, for better or worse.
“Okay,” I reply and then I just stop. My friends have reported that I usually say this rather quickly, with a smile, one raised eyebrow and a slight shrug. You can imagine the responses…
“What do you MEAN okay?”
“What’s OKAY about that?”
“No, but what are you going to DO?”
It’s about this time I slip into caregiver mode, a “shhhhh… there, there dear…” vibe seeps out of me as I recognize that this person in front of me needs more. More than my okay-ness with my child’s gender identity. More than my casual attitude toward our lives shifting drastically in another direction. More than my quiet acceptance of the future. More.
That’s how some very long and very meaningful conversations begin, with well-intentioned questions, and I love it. The dialogue opens up channels of thought, for both of us. Talking always takes us to the next step. I’m not saying it resolves everything. We may get to a place where we disagree more than we did before, but it’s a jumping off point. That’s exciting stuff to me. I guess that’s why I like to do talks and open the floor up for discussion, to hear people’s thoughts. There is so much out there I’ve yet to learn and I feel ready.
“None of us know what will happen next,” is usually what I return to when I’m talking with someone who wants me to shine up my crystal ball. It’s a fact we can all agree on and relate to, even if it feels foreign at first. It’s an aspect of parenting that we all face, no matter what our family looks like. Parents cannot plan out their children’s lives, no matter how hard we try. If we work like hell to shape them into what we want, we will most often fail. Children are not under our control. I see parents as guides for life. Be ready for your camper to go off course once in a while, it’s their journey.
Inevitably life will take its course and we can hop on the ride or sit by the sidelines planning our next move for eternity. Ditch the map! Enjoy, make the most of it and if you can, share love along the way.
Click here to read the latest review of my new children’s book Be Who You Are. Many thanks to Ami Kaplan at TGMentalHealth.com for her insightful and supportive feedback. If you know anyone who could benefit from our message, reach out and send a link.
The book is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, AuthorHouse, and over 20,000 book retailers. Please share your reviews here or on the sites where you purchased your copy. Every little comment helps send the message of love, hope and support out to the world.
Palms sweating profusely I handed my license and the plane tickets to the TSA agent as we all stood obediently in front of The Decision Maker. One person stood between us and the body scanner or the infamous pat down. I could hear the snap of latex gloves as we waited for what seemed an eternity.
Sure, our compliant smiles said “We are a totally normal family who doesn’t pose a threat to anyone… Really!” but the agent’s face twisted and turned as he went rifled through our paperwork, eyes darting from the details on the page to each one of us with a burning look of authority. Our smiles became forced and then it just plain hurt to maintain them. Still, we struggled with equal intensity to look like your typical, unassuming family who just wants to get through airport security without incident. Guessing from the way I felt like I was going to pass out, I think we were holding our breath, too.
“So little man, what’s your name?” said the agent, his eyes fixed so intensely on Will that I thought my son might catch fire.
Without hesitation, Will blankly replied, “Tony.”
Our heads snapped to glare at Will who was not smiling, mind you, but rather looking as bored as bored could be. Tony? Oh, Tony Stark… Iron Man. In that moment I forgot that Will had signed his schoolwork as Tony. Little writing samples, holiday ornaments and artwork all reflecting the wrong name, but now? Now when we are trying so hard to walk through this situation unscathed.
“Damn that Tony!” I thought, “He’s going to get us thrown into the scanners quicker than you could spell bomb scare.” The agents eyes scanned the paperwork, probably wondering if he should check an Amber Alert for this cute, missing Tony.
“This isn’t the person you should joke with,” Hope leaned into whisper, but it came out like a shout. Kind of like when my mom tries to talk in church. “This is serious.”
Under his breath a barely audible “Will” came out and I was sure we were sunk. Get ready for a cavity search and a discussion with the police. Now I didn’t give a second thought to Hope’s transgender status in a body scanner. That was nothing. In that moment I was way more concerned with how I’d convince the TSA that Will was not Tony. Isn’t that how life pulls a switcheroo on you? You prepare for one thing and end up dealing with another.
All of the sudden my paperwork was beneath my nose and an arm ushered us to the conveyor belt near the rest of the busy travelers. As I walked in disbelief I glanced back to the agent who had moved on to the next person like nothing ever happened. He let us go! I mouthed a “thank you” to the back of the agent’s head and closed my eyes as I removed my shoes and released my stagnant breath in a heavy sigh. Thank you.
Time flew by as I folded little clothes and spread outfits across my bed. Packing for a trip might be tedious for some, but I love the organization of it. A joy. Suddenly, still lost in thought, my hands dropped the suitcase.
Body scanners. The buzz about our airport getting the x-ray machines whirled around my brain. What does that mean for Hope? Her ticket has her chosen name on it and we’ve never had any trouble traveling before, but what happens when she walks through a scanner and her anatomy doesn’t match her gender presentation and name? Would we be pulled aside? Would they separate us? Would the paperwork I carry from our therapist and pediatrician satisfy them? I’ve heard that if you decline the scanner, you automatically get a pat down by TSA. Not the option my private daughter would feel comfortable with either so what are our options?
Each scenario played out differently in my brain. Best case – maybe it wouldn’t be an issue? Perhaps she’d confidently walk through the scanner like everyone else and that’s it. Alternatively she could walk through and they could question her identity. I rehearsed my responses. I’d quickly provide her paperwork and they would accept it. Hope might be aware of it, but I could prepare her for that. Just as easily though, they could make a big deal of it. Would they? Do they? The possibilities seemed to spring from one side of my reasoning, the more logical side, to the more desperate, fearful side and then back again.
Each day brings new challenges. Yesterday it was how to find a ballet leotard that didn’t reveal too much. Today it is explaining body scanners to my kids. Tomorrow it will be something different. We can’t complain, really. Everyone has something that they have to work at or cope with. Everyone. Still, my heart feels heavy for every person who has to share their private struggles openly with the world, like my transgender daughter.
It’s not just the way people “read” her in terms of her gender, but the severe disconnect in her life, similar to other trans individuals. In many cases their birth certificate doesn’t match their chosen name. Their gender marker is wrong on their license. They have to explain their transition daily to just about everyone from the dentist’s office to the mail carrier. They have to educate family and friends about how they truly feel. Their body doesn’t match their brain. And it’s mostly public, right out there for everyone to see. Just imagine the courage it takes to pursue the life you know to be true. How much fortitude, perseverance and tenacity it takes to eliminate the disconnect. I’m continually inspired.
As I zipped the bulging suitcase shut I repeated a little mantra that goes like this… I stand in my truth. Every word and action will be there when I need it. As long as I have my breath I can handle any situation. And I repeated it until I believed it to be true. And it is. Whatever challenge arises, I know I have what it takes to figure it out, to keep the kids safe and to be true to myself. That’s all I need.
acceptance, activism, balance, community, coping, education, family, fear, friends, future, gender fluid, gender identity, gender variance, healing, hiding, inspiration, joy, kids, love, self awareness, stealth, strength, transgender, transition
I’m thrilled to announce that Be Who You Are is finally available for purchase!
Such a long lesson in patience my friends, but isn’t that the way life leads us where we need to go? Recently I met with a lovely reporter who interviewed me months ago about the book and commented that I seemed much more at ease now. I had to admit to her that I didn’t know how I’d feel when the book was released. Would I summon the courage necessary to charge forward and spread this powerful message? Would I feel exposed on some basic level and feel paralyzed to move forward? I didn’t know. I was still thinking.
On one hand I feel like a warrior, ready to talk, discuss and educate, even with those people who do not agree with our perspective. On the other hand I feel like it is a giant leap, especially when I try to keep our real names and identities unknown. I think most families with gender non-conforming kids, especially those that have transitioned may feel this way. Visibility vs. Invisibility. Ever since Hope’s transition and I started writing this blog I have stepped back in many aspects of my life. I needed to. I abandoned my former career, a certain level of notoriety and even some friends that made my social circle as wide open as I wanted. I went from being in the center to walking away. Gladly.
During this time I’ve done some serious soul-searching, seeking awareness, even enlightenment, as I open myself to every single thing that scares me. While keeping my children safe was my primary focus during the hiatus, I think I took the chance to get away myself, just to think. I look back at all those mornings on the beach this summer when I watched those two carefree souls frolicking and splashing. I know now that I was gearing up. I was charging the battery. Getting strong. All that together time made us closer than ever and we needed it, probably more than we’ll ever know. I needed to be quiet in my thoughts for some time to really feel through what it was that I was after. Define what I was called to do.
Now I sit on my living room couch gazing at wood in the hearth just begging for fire. I feel like that wood, ready for the spark. Ready to begin. I know what I’m after – to tell our story, to raise awareness, to make this world a better place for my children and all children. I’ve had my time to think and rest, and now I’m ready to get to work.