My Hope For You

Cari and I chat, wondering, what is happening? What makes a white female police officer shoot a young unarmed black man in his own home? What makes a white male police officer shoot an unarmed black woman in her own home? What excuses any man for killing a transgender or homosexual person based on being “surprised” by the persons’ gender identity or sexuality? What makes a brown person more apt to be demonized based on their skin, regardless of their contribution to society, values, or morals? What makes any woman believe that a misogynistic, sexual predator, or abusive man is fit to fill any elected office in this county?

I wish we had the answers, but we don’t.  All I can offer is hope. I hope you have the opportunity to experience so many things you may never have experienced before.

I hope your white daughter brings home her black boyfriend, the boyfriend who challenges your views on what it’s like to feel safe in the world. The boyfriend who says that they must teach young boys in their family to raise their hands every time, regardless of the situation, even if the police have not yet screamed at them to do so. Especially when weapons have already been drawn on them for utterly no reason. Your daughter would instantly jump in front of the bullet meant for him, and your future black grandchildren. I hope you understand why.

I hope your son brings home his boyfriend, the one with an old soul who sees beauty in everything around him, but who has been bullied every day of his life and been disowned by his biological family. The beautiful boy who befuddles you with his gentle and kind spirit, the boy who exudes love and compassion even though he has yet to experience these things in his life. How does he know these exist, and how does he know how to give these to other people? I hope you see the gift he is giving you and family.

I hope your brown neighbor has a wife and children sitting in detention at the border waiting for an immigration hearing. I hope you know your neighbor well, and know that he is a good man who would do anything for his family or for you. He works hard and has told you his dreams for his children, which are simply to go to school and not be killed by the gangs in their country. I hope he mows your lawn when he sees you are tired and the lawn need mowing. He will, because that’s the sort of neighbor he is, and I hope you will do the same for him.

I hope you have the privilege of knowing a transgender person both before and after transition, watching them struggle with the fear, guilt, and shame they must slog through in order to simply live as the person they were meant to be from the beginning. I hope you have the chance to hold the hand of the most courage, amazing people you will ever have the privilege of knowing. And I hope you hold their hand in the most public of places so the whole world has the chance to know these people are beautiful, and real, and special, and belong.

I am so sad about what is happening in this country right now, so much fear and guilt and doubt, all seeming to build into misunderstanding and hate. I don’t believe hate comes first. Hate comes last. It comes out of not knowing another person. Not willingly understanding someone else’s lot in life, not believing them when they tell you their story. Thinking no one else can possibly have it worse than you, and that it’s someone else’s fault that you have it rough.

I do not know why it is so difficult for some of us to believe that other peoples’ struggles are equally difficult as ours, or more difficult, but for some reason we hold it against people who seek to shine a light on the injustice they experience every day. The injustice inflicted upon our brown and black neighbors; the violence experienced by our gay and trans brothers and sisters; the hateful remarks and attitudes continually thrown at our Muslim, Sikh, and Jewish friends. The list goes on. Needlessly, and remarkably, the list goes on and on.

I hope you are faced with love and compassion from those in your life who you have struggled to give love and compassion in return. Those who have surprised with the gift of unconditional friendship, who have left you completely and utterly speechless with their devotion to family and community.  Given the opportunity, these people will open your hearts to an entirely new world, one in which color and sexuality and gender and identity and ethnicity are not required to add up in certain way in order to make a person worthy of love and compassion.  I hope you see a world in which simply BEING is enough.

I hope you have the chance to see the world through the eyes of truthful people, whose hearts and minds are honest and true and loving and kind.

I hope you are touched by kindness and find it within your ability to return the kindness to anyone and to all.  Is that really so much to hope for, friends?

But you did change

When Carli came out to the world we did our best to help people understand that not much would really change. Certainly her outward appearance would be the most dramatic change but the characteristics that made up her being would remain relatively unchanged. Her hobbies would still be her hobbies. She would not forget how to fix all the things (she really can fix anything!) She would still enjoy tinkering on small engines and cars. But recently someone challenged us on this assertion, saying “you said she wouldn’t change but she did.”

I had to take a step back and really think about this. Had Carli changed more than I realized? What about me; had I flipped on my interests in response to all the other changes? Maybe I just didn’t see it because I was too close to the situation.

When we were newlyweds Carli was always working on some project. She is a skilled woodworker and has all the tools. She builds beautiful garden furniture! She has rebuilt more car engines, carburetors, lawn mowers, and garden tractors than I care to remember. We didn’t buy a new lawn mower until she got orders to Korea and I insisted she leave me with a self-propelled push mower instead of the rescued and repaired mower that worked but took some finesse and brute force to use.

In the 31 years we’ve been married, we’ve hired contractors just 3 times for home repairs or installation.  We hired a guy to install new vinyl siding on our house in Utah…well, actually the guy was driving by our house, had extra siding on his truck and he thought our house was in desperate need of new siding. He was right.  There was no way we could tackle putting a new roof on a 3,000 square foot single-story house. That was a big check to write but it had to be done and we are fortunate to be able to hire that out. Most recently, installing a new gas fireplace and necessary chimney flue required licensed professionals. Don’t knock the trades, people! These professionals are highly skilled and do important, necessary work!

We’ve done all other home improvements ourselves, learning how to do it all as we went along. Remodeling kitchens and bathrooms, drywall, electrical, plumbing, painting, finish carpentry. When the garbage disposal sprung a leak while Carli was gone, the boys and I crawled under the sink and figured out how to replace it.  We’ve learned it all.  Carli taught herself how to fix the vehicles, she didn’t have anyone to show her how to drop the transmission out of the truck while it was sitting in the driveway in base housing. We crawled under the truck and figured it out.

I remember working for hours and hours on complex cross-stitch projects to give as gifts. I made the boys clothes when they still little enough to force them to wear something handmade, back when it was still cheaper to make it than buy it. They had some darn cool handmade Halloween costumes!

Many of things we have done over the years we did out of necessity. When we were younger we didn’t have money to hire auto mechanics or plumbers. We couldn’t go out and buy a new lawn mower just because the old one started smoking. We had to fix things, there was really no choice. It was luck that Carli had a knack for it and that she didn’t hate doing it.

When I was confronted with the statement that Carli had indeed changed and I started thinking more about it, perhaps she and I both had changed more than we realized. I still had doubts about what caused the changes but we couldn’t deny the fact we didn’t enjoy certain things as much as we had in the past.  We no longer enjoy crawling around on our backs under cars or sinks, but did that have anything to do with her transition? Or was it just that we have gotten a little older and it’s harder to get back up? Being under pressure to repair a vehicle that is needed to get to work or fix a drain that is leaking all over the kitchen is not fun. I have 100 cross-stitch patterns I would love to make, but I simply lack the dexterity, eyesight, and hours of interrupted concentration required so it’s become more frustration than enjoyment.

There are some things that serve to trigger unpleasant emotions for Carli, mostly things that in her mind she associated with hyper-masculinity, but from what I have observed she has reckoned with those emotions and is not as easily triggered by these things now.  She is learning, as I believe we all must do, that activities have no gender. If you like to do something, do it.  If you don’t like it and it can be avoided, don’t do it. If you like to do something but no longer have the physical capacity or time, perhaps it is okay to let it go and move on to the next thing. Right now we would rather be covered in garden dirt than grease, although we have 1966 Mustang in the garage that needs some serious TLC over the winter.  We aren’t done with grease just yet!

 

31 Years

Thirty-one years ago today Carli and I were married in a tiny church in Port Austin, Michigan.

We don’t have a video of our wedding, but here is a link to our 30th anniversary vow renewal ceremony… 30th

When I tell people we’ve been married for 31 years I usually get a variation of essentially the same response. “Wow, that’s a really long time. Not many people stay married that long anymore. You should be really proud of staying together that long.” We are proud I suppose, but that’s hardly the first thought that goes through my mind when thinking about the life we’ve made together. Nor are we trying to be boastful when talking about our marriage in successful terms. We’ve worked at our marriage like most couples have, pushing through our own unique challenges, fortunate to have grown closer rather than farther apart.

When I started this blog it was with the intent to demonstrate that marriages and families can and do survive transition. Marriages can and do survive a lot of tumultuous times, with or without one spouse being trans. So what do you think makes a marriage last?

I’ve heard people say you have to learn to compromise, that’s the secret to a long marriage.  I disagree. Compromise means that no one wins; everyone has to settle for a level of disappointment in whatever disagreement they’re up against.  Compromise would be me telling Carli that she could dress in women’s clothes but only around the house, never in public. This wouldn’t have been a solution, it wouldn’t have helped Carli live authentically and it wouldn’t have helped me learn to be a true ally.

Compromise would have been Carli supporting me in pursuit of a Masters degree, but not in pursuit of a Doctorate. That would have been half-hearted support, and likely would have had me justifying not pursuing the PhD by telling myself I wasn’t smart enough anyway, even if that thought never crossed Carli’s mind. Although it might have been easier on everyone as far as lost sleep, frozen dinners, and tables covered with endless piles of research papers for years!

What about learning how to argue? What is that supposed to mean? As a society we’re quickly losing the ability to intelligently debate issues over which we disagree, but we are darn sure good at arguing for arguments sake. Perhaps over the years Carli and I learned to simply skip over those things we disagreed about and jump right to what really matters. The issues that matter cannot be addressed through arguments, but require compassion and understanding. By the time Carli transitioned, we were very good at getting to the heart of issues through dialogue.  Really talking WITH each other, not AT each other.  Listening more than talking.

At the end of the day we don’t have any magic advice for people about how to make a marriage last. We don’t profess to be perfect in way, shape, or form. But we can say that marriages and families can and do survive transitions. It has nothing to do with the art of compromise or solid arguing techniques, but rather the openness of heart, mind, and soul. It has everything to do with loving each other enough to build each other up instead of constantly tearing each other down. It has everything to do with stopping on the side of the road to watch a beautiful sunset together. It has everything to do with celebrating the shared life we’ve built together.

Happy Anniversary, Carli.  31 years isn’t nearly long enough. Let’s do this forever! I love you!!

We Voted

 

This will be a pretty short post, friends.  I just wanted to share a few thoughts on yet another challenging election cycle. Carli and I actually voted a couple of weeks ago, but the polls just closed a couple hours ago.  So many things will not change, though, regardless of the election results.

We are under no illusion that there will be some giant blue wave sweeping across our staunchly red state, but that doesn’t mean we have no hope. We know many like-minded people are living around us.  There are children and young adults waiting in the wings for their opportunity to stand up and be the change a few adults are struggling to bring to fruition.

We know our candidates might lose, but that doesn’t mean our support for their positions wane. We will continue to advocate for all the things that touched our hearts.  Immigrants. Women. LBTQ people. Education. The very planet we need to survive.

We know more hate pours out of people everyday, people who would seek to terminate any right of existence for trans people, but that doesn’t mean the hate outshines the love.

To my ally friends, please take care of your trans loved ones. They need us now.  They need us to hold their hands in public. They need us to tell people how much we love them because they are brave, extraordinary people. They need us to advocate for them every chance we get, for their health care, their employment rights, their right to use a public restroom, and the very right to exist. Amplify their voices.  Stand beside them to show we are on their side all the way.  Stand behind them to show we have their backs and are there to prop them up should they waiver. Stand in front of them to shield them from harm.

Yes, our LGBTQ family and friends need every one of us right now.  And they’ll still need us tomorrow.

So Much To Care About

You can’t get away from it. Every radio program, every TV station, websites, social media, newspapers, EVERYWHERE YOU TURN!  Bad news.  People suffering in so many ways, and hateful words spewing out of the mouths of leaders, elected officials, so-called clergy, neighbors, friends, even family.  How do you decide what gets past your defenses and what glances off your well-worn armor? How do you decide what to care about and what to ignore? How does a person sleep at night when they think it only matters if it hurts them personally, but not if it hurts someone else?

Thinking back, I realize with no small amount of shame that I used to fall into a terrible pattern myself.  If a human situation didn’t effect me I didn’t think it was important enough to care about, or even worse, there was something wrong with the people who were suffering.  They somehow let themselves be put in those situations so it was their own fault they were suffering.

I wasn’t homeless, so it was easy to look down my nose at people living on the street.  Get a job, I remember thinking to myself.

I remember believing that if you lived in the United States of America that you should learn to speak English.

Dressing that way, what did you expect to happen? All the guys will see are your boobs!

I remember playing games on the playground with names I can’t even bring myself to type on the keyboard now, full of racial slurs, homophobia, and hatred of what I did not know. I just knew no one else seemed to have a problem with those games. It wasn’t until we had a Black family move into the school district that those games suddenly felt wrong but I couldn’t pinpoint why.

Surely you could decide not to be gay, right? And cross-dressing was odd, fun to play along with, but nothing you really wanted to talk about.

The shame that burns my face with a bright red flame never dies. I was that person and I have to own it.  But what changed? What happened to me in my life that has me thinking in such dramatically different ways now?  Well, I don’t have an easy answer to that other than I grew up and lived life, met so many people and soaked up experiences as I went along that completely altered my way of being.  It had been easy to go with the flow of the majority I was surrounded by, to blindly follow the bright colors of the flag, to hold others to a different standard based on nothing but uneducated myth and opinion.

Thinking for myself, opening my heart, becoming educated, learning empathy…….those things were hard, and they remain really hard.  So many things to care about now! How can a person care about everything all at once?  Homelessness, the opioid crisis, food deserts, cancer, veterans, LGBTQ rights, immigration, animal cruelty, climate change, sexual assault, misogyny, elections, police brutality against young black men….the list goes on and on and on.  My heart hurts in exponentially more ways now than it ever did before. Wouldn’t it have been easier to stay in the dark? To shield my heart from the inevitable pain that grows out of empathy?

I look at the people living their lives without any concern or care for another living thing and I have to believe it is pretty hard to stay in the dark like that. It has to take a toll on a person’s heart. Where empathy causes pain because it swells the heart with love, disengagement and hate causes pain because it shrinks the heart and creates a darkness that surrounds the soul, blocking any warmth or light.

So much to care about, yes, but you can care about ALL of it! Don’t pick and choose one over another based solely on your own experience. Care about the immigrant even if you’ve never had an immigrant to your house for dinner. Care about climate change even if you don’t understand the science. Care about the victims of sexual assault even if you’ve never been assaulted. Care about transgender people because they are real, even if you think you don’t know any trans people (statistically you do, though, just so you know.)

Care.  Care about all of it, be okay knowing you can’t fix all of it, but do what you can as often as you can.  For some of us that means we talk a lot, trying our best to educate and change minds and open hearts. For others it means running for public office, or marching on the capitol or raising money for a cause.  Whatever it is you are doing because your heart is swelling with love and desire to help, keep doing it. And then do more. Your heart can take it.

 

It’s Coming Out Day

Today is National Coming Out Day! A day to celebrate and raise awareness of LGBTQ history and issues. A day to recognize the courage of people who knew coming out was not only risking the loss of friends, family, employment, and housing, but also risking personal safety. A day to honor those who came before and lost everything, sometimes their very lives, to pave the way for future generations.

I have personally never come out, I’ve never had to.  I have never felt the fear of telling my family something about myself that might shatter them to the core. Nothing in my life has caused my family to think I needed to be “fixed” through conversion therapy.  My family never threw me out on the street when what I needed most was their support, love and understanding. There has been nothing about my existence that others felt so threatened by that might cause them to loathe my very being alive.

My family was likely pretty disappointed in me when I told them I was going to be a single parent at 18, but not once did they threaten to kick me out, disown me, drag me to damaging therapy, or threaten me in any way.  I was then, and continue to be, the luckiest damn person on the planet to have been born into this particular family! Nope, that experience doesn’t hold a candle to what our many of our LGBTQ folks have experienced.

I’ve never NOT felt loved.

Lately I’ve had the chance to interact with some pretty remarkable kids and their equally remarkable parents.  The kids have already summoned the courage to come out to their parents and in some cases their entire community circle. They hold their heads high, but their vulnerability is palpable. These kids are innocent but wise, playful but reserved, eager but cautious. The parents have wrapped their arms around their kids, trying desperately to balance the fierce instinct to protect them while helping them embrace their unique being and live out loud. They’ve renewed my faith in humanity and buoyed my hopes for the future.

As Carli was coming out to the world I was there to love and support her. I proofread her coming out letter to family and the email to her coworkers. I walked beside her the first time she went into the women’s dressing room at the department store. I helped her pick out lipstick and eye shadow, even though I really know nothing about make up at all.  I held her hand tight while she told her parents what she knew would shatter them to the core.  But it was not my coming out, it was hers, and I was her witness.

I am grateful for the opportunity to stand beside Carli as she summoned the courage to do the impossible.  I am grateful for the chance to interact with the kids who hold the future in their hands and hearts.

Because of those who had the courage to come out decades ago, and those who have the courage to come out today in what is a very scary world, coming out won’t always be remarkable, it will just be beautiful.