First Hair Cut

When a family is transitioning there are so many firsts….first time in the appropriate restroom, first time trying on the correct clothes, first manicure, first time walking in high heels, first time wearing lipstick in public, and the list goes on and on.  Even though Carli has been living full time for 7 months she is still experiencing new firsts. Last week she had her first feminine hair cut in a salon. And she is beautiful!

Carli’s stylist took her time, making sure she understood Carli’s long term goal for her style.  She was kind and patient, explaining everything she was doing and teaching Carli how to style her hair at home. She told Carli if she just wants a refresher on how to style it, come back in and she will go through it with her again.  Everyone in the salon was so warm and accepting, we couldn’t have asked for a better first hair cut experience.  Carli left feeling pampered, confident, and beautiful.  Most importantly, she felt accepted by every single person. This is how all transgender people should feel after every “first.”

More often, however, firsts are fraught with anxiety and fear, sometimes for both of us. I vividly remember the first time Carli walked into the women’s restroom by herself. Up until that point I always accompanied her, and to be honest I did sit right outside the door, probably looking like a stalker myself, feeling more than a bit anxious and ready to jump into action if she was being harassed. What would that woman who walked in behind her say to Carli? Would she yell at her to get out, cause a scene, call the police or store security? We knew I wouldn’t always be there so both of us had to takes steps to overcome the anxiety and move past the fear. The anxiety has eased over time, but still occasionally sneaks up on me, especially when we are visiting new places.  The fear is still there, just beneath the surface, but as I’ve said before we refuse to give in to it and force Carli back into hiding.  Instead we allow it to simmer quietly, using it to our advantage to remind us to maintain a healthy awareness of our situation at all times.

Another memorable first for me, Carli and I telling her story to her new primary care physician during her first appointment at the recently established local transgender health clinic. I cried when I told the doctor that I fell in love with Carli all over again as I watched her emerge from 50 years in hiding.  Even the doctor was a little misty eyed.

The first time Carli visited me at my office, my coworker’s reactions were overwhelming.  They welcomed her literally with open arms, accepted her unconditionally, wrapping us both in warmth and love. I’m not sure if these people truly understand how deeply they’ve touched us, or how much they are appreciated. To them it was a logical, simple act of acceptance but to us it was……and continues to be…..a gift for which we can never adequately express our thanks.

As parents we treasure our children’s firsts, documenting each step, each new tooth, each newly mastered skill religiously in photos, videos, memory books, and we eagerly share these with our friends and family.  Watching Carli experiencing each of her firsts feels very much like this for me, but with one heart breaking difference.  Many of Carli’s firsts were experienced before she could live openly and authentically, so she didn’t get to share these with other people, we had to keep these precious moments between us.  Like the first time she sat on the patio wearing a dress, enjoying the sunshine on her face.  Alone. I watched her, cried, and I was simultaneously overjoyed and heartbroken. To see her so happy flooded me with joy, but knowing that she missed 50 years of joyful moments is crushingly sad.  This image left a permanent mark on my heart.

There will be many more firsts, but never again will Carli have to keep them a secret. This is how all transgender people should be allowed to live.  In the open, sharing the excitement of new experiences with friends and family.  Not in hiding, avoiding the sun.

How Many People Make A March?

Overwhelming, peaceful, profound..
Overwhelming, peaceful, profound..

We didn’t attend the Women’s March in Indianapolis last Saturday, although we had every intention of attending when we woke up that day.  An unfortunate emergency home repair found my wife, Carli, in the crawl space for several hours instead. She can fix anything!

Attending the march would have been a challenge for us; neither of us are fond of large crowds, but we wanted to do this for all the reasons anyone else wanted to march.  Women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, underrepresented minority rights, basically ALL human and civil rights are legitimately being threatened by an administration we do not understand.

Living in Indiana we are acutely aware of what Vice President Pence believes and we’re frankly terrified of what might come in the next four years.  However, we decided early on that we would not let this fear overwhelm us or drive Carli back in the closet.  She is truly, deeply content for the first time in her life.  No one is going to take that away from her, or me!

We started to feel guilty about not attending the march, but it occurred to us that perhaps we might have been just two more faces in a crowd of friendly, like-minded individuals.  Was this going to do anything more than make a statement that might resonant for a couple of weeks and then be replaced in the media by the next argument over policies, legislation, or poorly worded tweets by the Commander in Chief? While we truly want to be part of the wave of social change, perhaps there was a way we could do this that would touch people other than the friendlies we would have mingled with at the march.  They already know us and our community after all, maybe this is equivalent to preaching to the choir.  We don’t care to have our faces on tv, we aren’t very creative when it comes to making signs, and megaphones are terrifying. So, what did we do?

We went to a food festival, of course! We spent 4 hours strolling from booth to booth, most of them staffed with people from right here in uber-conservative Trump/Pence loving Indiana. There were “make America great again” hats on several heads.  I wore my safety pin and #i’llgowithyou pin.  We tasted everything from rhubarb liqueur to gin, cherry chili beef jerky to corn chowder. We sat with a mother and her teenage son who were enjoying brownies and gumbo. We learned how tequila is made and were amused by the elderly couple who were sneaking extra little tastes during the demonstration. We chatted with dozens of people who may or may not have interacted with a transgender person before in their lives, that they are aware of at least.  Not once did Carli get misgendered.  Yes, there were some sideways looks thrown around and we really have no way of knowing if people guessed Carli is trans or not, but chances are pretty good that a 51-year-old trans woman who is in early transition is fairly easy to spot yet.  Overall, we were treated with civility and courtesy.  And we had a marvelous time! Every person we interacted with is another person who may have left that day thinking that trans people are A-okay.  They aren’t freaks of nature, or fanatics, and they can have spouses who love them more than life itself, the way I love Carli.

My question then becomes, how many people does it take for it to be a march? 500,000 in Washington, D.C. or 30 in Antarctica or 2 at the fairgrounds in Indianapolis?  Carli and I were kept from participating in the organized march but did we all accomplish something important, something with the potential to change the world even if it’s just one person at a time

?  I like to think we did.  

Look Around Moments

 

opal-sleeping
Opal covers her nose when she sleeps

I had to get this written down before my day kicked into high gear, so this is a little choppy, simply a stream of thoughts and emotions.

Remember to look around.

This morning I was gifted more reminders to stop and look around at all the good surrounding me. Carli didn’t jump right out of bed today, she could sleep in a little bit since she had a doctor appointment later in the morning.  Look Around Moment #1:  Carli has a primary care physician who specializes in transgender health. She also has access to health insurance that pays for hormone replacement therapy, counseling, and speech therapy. Carli sees her primary care physician every three months. Look Around Moment #2: Carli has a job that provides sick leave and vacation days so she doesn’t lose pay every time she sees one of her health care providers.

As I was getting ready for work myself, I looked across the room and just couldn’t resist crawling back under the covers for just a few more minutes.  Looking over at Carli, cuddling Opal who has her cute little head laying softly on Carli’s cheek…Look Around Moment #3: The human being sleeping there, curled up with a puppy, is simply amazing.  She is kind and gentle, brave and strong, and her heart gets bigger every day.  I love her more every day.

Checking my phone I see the text messages our sons sent me last night. Look Around Moment #4: We have two intelligent, kind, resourceful, loving sons who we talk to almost every day.  There are no parents more proud of their children than we are of ours.

Hopped in my car to leave for work and when I started it the rattling noise it was making yesterday was gone.  I spent three hours at the car dealership yesterday to figure it out. They were attentive and helpful and didn’t charge me for the visit. Look Around Moment #5: I also have employment that allows me take care of car troubles or other necessities when they pop up instead of having to wait or work it around a difficult schedule.

My family is far more fortunate than many others.  Careers, family, health care, housing, all things we sometimes take for granted are only a dream for so many people. We are privileged and we recognize this privilege comes with great responsibility. We do our best to call out racism, misogyny, bigotry, inequality, and hatred when we see it.  We advocate for people whose voices are frequently ignored, knowing that our privilege opens doors that are unfairly closed for others. We make our lives as transparent as possible so others may see that relationships can stay intact and evolve after a partner transitions. But in doing all of this I feel like we forget to look at each other sometimes.  We forget to acknowledge the joy and beauty that is right in front of us because we are intent on fighting against a massively flawed system and a society that appears to be rapidly moving in the wrong direction.  We forget to look around.  This morning I looked, and I love what I see.

Not done yet

sewing-machine

When Carli went full time in July one of the first things she did was empty her closet of all the boys clothes, other than a couple of androgynous shirts she has to wear on occasion for a handful of people who have yet to fully accept her for who she is. (That’s a story for another day.)  I remember the relief on her face as she packed away the remnants of that person she never really was, filling her closet instead with pretty blouses, skirts, and feminine pieces that fit her personality and style much better! Boxes and boxes of clothes were piled in a spare room, waiting to be donated to local charities.  As we went through them months later we realized that many of the shirts were just old work shirts or casual shirts with lots of wear on them.  They simply weren’t in good enough shape to donate.  The only reason Carli had kept most of them for so long was because she simply hated shopping for new boy clothes.  They never felt comfortable to her so she avoided purchasing anything new unless she absolutely had to.  So, what to do with a bunch of worn XL men’s shirts?

Make a quilt, of course!  A coming out quilt!  A way to pay  homage to a beautiful person who doesn’t have to hide anymore, but who did the very best she could while hiding.  It’s not done yet; this project is time consuming, frustrating, and there is no guarantee the quilt will turn out anything like the picture I have in my mind. I was meticulous with my measurements, cut every tiny piece with precision, and still ended up with pieces that aren’t perfect.  I sew them together and sometimes have to rip them apart and try again.

Seems a lot like life in general.  You take what you are given, piece it all together, and hope that it turns out okay. Sometimes things go a little sideways and you have to make adjustments before you can move on.  You learn to overlook small flaws, accepting that it’s okay to be less than perfect.

Less than perfect definitely describes my quilting ability. I’ve only put together a couple of quilts before, nothing fancy or special.  But this one is very special.  I am transforming Carli’s old boy clothes from something she hated to touch into an heirloom we can cherish.  The pieces of material she was required to wear because of our flawed concept of gender are assembled into a functional, beautiful quilt that will last a lifetime.  The quilt also has tiny pieces of new pink material stitched alongside the old blue stripes, denims, and plaids, blending old with new.  Carli’s previous life in hiding is being acknowledged, hopefully in such a way so she knows I loved her then, even though I didn’t know she was in hiding. And I love her now.  The best parts of the old Carli blending beautifully with the new Carli.

I’m using Carli’s grandmother’s antique Singer sewing machine to piece the tiny two inch squares together, deliberately forcing a needle to make tiny holes in the fabric so it can be stitched back together with fresh white thread. I have an intense sense of nostalgia using this particular sewing machine. It’s almost like I can feel extra love being channeled into every stitch. Call that goofy, I don’t mind, but remember I also use Carli’s grandmother’s antique stove to do all of our canning.  I swear it makes the food taste better! Using this sewing machine and stove reminds me that we can still be connected to our past while we continue to move forward.  We take pieces of our lives apart that aren’t working anymore and put them back together in a way that makes more sense, more beautiful, more useful, more authentic. Sometimes other people or circumstances force the pieces apart and it’s not always what we wanted, but we still pick up the pieces and put them back together our way.

It’s not done yet but the quilt will eventually be finished. When do you suppose people are “done?”  Do we get to a point in our lives where we think we are done, we have nothing to learn or change, no room for growth? What about our country? Did we think our country was “done”; that we shouldn’t expect big changes to happen anymore, good or bad?

Nope, not done yet. I think we’ve only just begun.

I hear you, Universe!

universe-love
Three things happened yesterday that made me think perhaps the universe is trying to tell me something.  Two affirming personal interactions and one profoundly moving presidential address all occurring on the same day.  All of them with a common message that speaks loudly and clearly to my heart, making me more committed than ever to continue telling you about my life with Carli and the love that we share.
There was a retirement party at work yesterday so there were quite a few people on campus who I don’t get to see very often.  We shared stories and laughed and enjoyed each other’s company.  As one person was walking out the door I shouted to him, I needed to give him something to take back to his office but I never get to see him.  Great timing! While he was in my office he asked if he could talk to me about something personal.  Of course, let’s close the door and chat.  He asked if Carli would be open to speaking with his church congregation about her experiences as a transgender woman.  They are a small congregation and want to know how to support the transgender community, but they have no transgender members. They have no transgender members.  But they want to gain understanding, and help and support anyway. This request touched me deeply. These people have no dog in this fight, but they still care and they still love.
Another person in attendance was a colleague who retired a couple of years, before Carli came out to me.  I haven’t seen this person since he retired but he was a great mentor and friend while we worked together.  He would often tell me, when seeing me frustrated or angry and ready to hang it all up, “Hang in there just six more months.  Whatever it is, it will have passed by then.”  He was always right, 100% of the time and I use his calm perseverance as a model of how I want to live my life.  The first words he said to me yesterday were “you look so happy.”  Of course, I had to tell him WHY I was happy.  He assumed it was something at work and he was fairly stunned when I revealed the real reason I am happier now is because I have a transgender wife in place of a sullen, sad, sometimes angry husband. We spoke at length, he asked logical questions, and I provided the usual responses. I told him Carli and I had briefly considered leaving the state for a more trans-friendly place, but we quickly dismissed this idea.  If we left, ran away, we could no longer be part of change. We felt then, and even more so now, like we have a responsibility to tell the transgender story in order to open hearts and minds but much of the time we simply don’t know how to do it.  My dear friend said had he read this story somewhere in a magazine or online, or watched a program about it, it would have been easy to brush it aside with little thought.  But because I looked him in the eye and told him the story personally it touched him deeply, it touched his heart.
Then, last night Carli and I watched President Obama’s farewell address.  Yes, friends, I cried a little but not because I will miss his presidential presence (although I will), but rather because he said some things that spoke directly to my heart, reinforcing what my friends said earlier in the day.  If you have something to say, say it.  In person.  Face to face with friends, acquaintances, and total strangers.  Run for office. Be involved.  Care for one another. As a citizen of this country we are obligated to continue on the path toward true equality.  It is fundamental concept that our country was built upon. These three events colliding on one day so completely overwhelmed me with the possibilities at hand, the evidence of a loving society right outside my door, how could I possibly ignore this sign? So today my energy is renewed, my faith in humanity once again inching upwards, and my storytelling has just begun.
Much love, friends. We’ll talk again soon.

With Resolution

hearts

Resolution

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions because the word and the action have been diluted by overuse and the almost universal failure of people to keep doing what they resolved to do.  However, with 2016 being the most unusual year I’ve experienced in my lifetime I feel the need to go into 2017 with resolution.

Starting the year “with resolution” is not the same as making a New Year’s resolution.  I won’t make hollow promises to lose weight or exercise more or write more handwritten letters or turn off my cell phone more often.  I’m talking about being resolute in what I believe, advocating for people and causes, doing whatever I can to make a positive difference amid the ridiculousness that is going on in the world. It was the collision of several events that created a spark of energy, making me feel a responsibility to humanity in ways I had not before.

Love is love

2016 brought the beginning of my new life as the wife of a transgender woman.  Grief over the loss of my husband turned into gratitude for having gained a happy, healthy, confident, strong, beautiful wife. June 12 was arguably the best and worst day of the year, the day we were overcome by the outpouring of love and acceptance we felt as we marched in our first Pride parade, walking with new friends who welcomed us into the community without reservation or judgment.  We choked back tears listening to the crowd shout messages of love and encouragement; we laughed out loud when we realized the police were blaring their sirens at the corner to drown out the bullhorns booming with hatred wrapped up in misdirected religious fervor.  It was a life-affirming event, for both me and Carli.  Later that day we watched the horror unfolding in Orlando, the worst mass shooting in United States history, and we were again overwhelmed with emotion but now with a deep, crushing sadness at the loss of so many people in the LGBTQ community, many of them Latinx.  The realization that this community, the group of people who have shown us unlimited love and acceptance, had been deliberately targeted by a disturbed young man to be murdered in the name of making some strange, twisted statement. This could have been any one of us.  Our son or his friends.  We went from extreme high to extreme low in the matter of hours, and suddenly the sense of belonging was accompanied by a terrifying sense that we were now members of a unique club that might forever be targets of hate and violence.

The next day we attended a memorial service for victims of the Pulse shooting.  Among other speakers, we heard a Muslim community leader express the same deep sorrow we all felt.  We were in awe of her strength and courage, to stand with us in mourning, side by side in support and true fellowship.  Later we listened to Lin-Manuel Miranda accept a Tony Award for Hamilton, saying “love is love is love is love is love….”  These words brought it all together for me.

People are people

Of course, the Pulse tragedy was just one in a long series of events that define 2016.  There was a tidal wave of violence based on fear, racism, ignorance, and political slant.  I don’t care what you look like, where you live, how or if you worship, what you do for a living, who you love; I can even look past the fact that you are not a dog lover.  As a fellow person, I am on your side. I refuse to be afraid of you and will not give you any reason to be afraid of me.  I will not assume you are a criminal based on the color of your skin, your manner of speech, or the fit of your clothes.  I will treat you with kindness, respect, and consideration.  I will assume you will treat me with the same.  Someone will surely try to take advantage of this approach but I’m smart enough to know it, and not afraid to keep trying.

What I cannot do is “unite” with people who are deliberately disrespectful, people who wear ignorance as a badge of honor and use it as an excuse to cause harm.  The electoral college elected what is potentially the most destructive administration in American history.  I say “potentially” because I can’t predict the future but based on track records, past words and actions of administration picks, we have legitimate reason to be concerned about LGBTQ equality, education, the environment, and foreign relations.  I cannot stand by with a “wait and see” attitude, nor can I just let someone else fix things.  It’s time to own up to my responsibilities to humanity, to do what is within my power to do.

In 2017 I will, with resolve, speak out on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves, or whose voices are ignored or minimized.  My legislators will get to know me and will witness the love that exists among my LGBTQ family and friends.  I will call out hatred, bigotry, misogyny, racism, and transphobia when I see it. I will intercede, interrupt, redirect, discuss, educate…whatever it takes to support, protect, defend, and uplift.

In 2017, I will, with resolve, expect my wife to receive as much respect as my husband did, and I will no longer accept anything less, from anyone.

When you think about it, my message is strikingly simple at the heart of it.  People are people.  No one is more important or less important than anyone else.  Love is love; not only do we deserve love, we thrive on it.  Love. People. Love.

May 2017 bring you sheer, utter joy and peace, dear friends.

366 Days of Gifts–(2016 was a Leap Year)

christmas-tree-2016

Christmas 2015 was the start of a dramatic, emotional, magical year for Carli and me.  The day started early, just the two of us drinking coffee and exchanging gifts.  We would spend time with the kids later that day, but it was important that we have a couple quiet hours to ourselves first.  You see, no one knew Carli yet so no one could see the gift I gave her. I’ll never forget her face or the joyful tears we cried when she saw the delicate, feminine flower ring in the little box.  It was her first piece of women’s jewelry.  She beamed when she held up her and admiring the little silver flower, it was magic!  I think we both cried again when she had to take it off as the kids were coming in the door for Christmas dinner.

Christmas 2015 was also the day we told our oldest son that his Dad is transgender.  I remember sitting in our living room after everyone else was gone, Carli trying to read from her well thought out notes so she wouldn’t forget something important to the story.  She wasn’t very successful following her notes, the words sticking in her throat as her jaw quivered and the tears came.  If I remember right, I poured more than one glass of bourbon for each of us.  Andrew was patient and kind but he wasn’t going to let her off the hook.  He said he had all night, he wasn’t going anywhere and he was going to make Carli say the words.  He knew exactly what she was trying to say but he needed her to say the words out loud; he needed to hear them from her mouth, from her heart.

Up until that day I was the only one who knew Carli, besides a handful of people we met at a now much beloved trans support group and our therapists.  Carli had spent the entire year hiding her identity from everyone but me, and I spent the entire year carrying her secret.  It was exhausting for both of us, but all I had to do was keep my mouth shut and be supportive.  What Carli was doing was much, much more difficult.  She fought with this alone for years, not able to share with me or anyone else what she was feeling. It’s hard to describe the weight that was lifted that Christmas Day.  We were finally on our way to truly being out together.  But—we were on the road now that had no exit. There was no turning back, we couldn’t take the words back and pretend Carli was just passing through.  Carli was finally out and here to stay.

As we approach Christmas 2016 I consider each of the last 366 days with Carli a gift.  Each day brought Carli into an ever brighter light and watching her embrace her authentic identity is akin to watching a child take her first steps, or tie her shoe for the first time, only on a grander, more adult scale.  The sense of wonder and freedom was profound, and a joy to witness.  Carli would come out again and again and again during 2016, each time lifting another weight off her shoulders, each time reinforcing for us that we were on the right road.  Some days were better than others; some people took the news better than others. But through it all Carli not only remained resolute and steadfast, but grew stronger and more confident. My heart was in my throat as she left for work the first time after having come out to her co-workers in an email sent on June 29. I wanted to hold her hand as she walked through the door and ward off any bullies but this was her experience to own.  As it turned out, I had no real reason to fear as her co-workers have been remarkable in their acceptance of her.  To this day, I still have an intense desire to protect her and I suspect this desire will never diminish, even though I know she is perfectly capable of protecting herself.

We continue to be stunned by the love and respect we experience, even after the stunning, terrifying elections in November that emboldened mean-hearted people to act out in ways they never would have before.  To these people, I say you’ve met your match.  Carli and I, and all the amazing people in the LGBTQ community are here to stay, and won’t be silenced again.  You can count on us to stand up for each other and to speak out when we see you being deliberately hurtful. We see you.  Now see us.

I don’t know that we would have witnessed the power of the human spirit or the love that exists in the hearts of people we barely know had Carli not come out to Andrew on December 25, 2015.  She could have chosen to stay in hiding, not telling anyone, continuing to carry this burden right into the grave with her.  She could have chosen to remain a silent witness to the injustice and hate. I am grateful she chose otherwise, I am grateful she chose to give us the gift of herself, letting us get to know who Carli truly is for our lives are dramatically better for it.  This Christmas Carli can open her girly presents with everyone in the room, too!!  As she said to me this morning, it’s our first Christmas.

Happy Holidays, dear friends.

So Much Love In One Room

graduation

I work for a community college and it’s a special time around here.  For the last two days we have been celebrating winter commencement.  Hundreds of students learning how to wear academic regalia, one of their final lessons on our campus. (Regalia can be quite complicated!) They arrive with their families and friends in tow, everyone excited and happy and bursting at the seams with pride and joy. These students have worked for years, many of them having given up on education in the past, not really expecting this day would ever come.  But here they were, walking across the stage as their name was called, clutching a diploma as they shake hands with dignitaries and have photos taken.  It’s always emotional, stressful, and rewarding.  This year it was made more stressful by an overnight ice storm, but everything went well despite the curveball Mother Nature threw.  Fortunately for me, the ice brought an unexpected opportunity to witness the sort of goodness in people that gives me hope.

Carli being Carli, she wanted to drive me to commencement because of the weather.  She knows I am perfectly capable of driving myself but she wanted to take me in the truck instead of me driving my little car on the ice.  I’m fine with that, I think it is sweet that she cares for me this way and that she is willing to give up part of her weekend to tote me around, waiting patiently as I run all over the building assisting graduates and commencement guests.

I felt guilty leaving Carli alone while I ran up and down the stairs, radio in hand, ushering late arriving guests to their seats and anxious graduates to their designated spots. Some of my colleagues know Carli personally but most just know of her through me.  When I mentioned to two of my colleagues that Carli was alone in room 120 while I was working, they promptly marched in and sat down with her, spending time just chatting, laughing, and generally having a nice time.

Carli picked up some lunch at the student run café, and everyone there treated her respectfully, just as they do any other guest.  As I was swinging by I overheard the student working at the counter call out for “Miss Carli” when her order was ready.  Hearing her name always makes me smile.  Lunch was delicious, by the way.  I don’t know what that dessert was, but oh my goodness!  Good job, students and faculty!

After the last diploma was handed out, I met up with Carli in room 120, which was now filled with happy graduates, family members, and proud faculty.  Many photos were being taken, many happy tears wiped away.  One faculty member I hadn’t seen in ages approached us and had some very kind words for us.  She had never met Carli, but we all chatted about our gardens, zucchini lasagna, and food preservation like we were just three old friends catching up with each other.

As we were leaving the building another colleague stopped to say she and her family follow our story, they’re on our side and always pray for us.  This colleague never met Carli in person before that moment, but she already cares for her and supports us on this incredible ride through transition.

Today I celebrate two of my favorite things……the accomplishments of our students and the friendship of my colleagues.  I watched a graduate break down in tears, clutching his diploma to his chest.  He said it took him 12 years to do it, but he didn’t give up.  I see a parallel in Carli’s path; it took her a long time, too, but she is now clutching her authentic identity because she never gave up.

This is why I love my work and where I work.  I draw strength from witnessing the persistence of our students. My faith in humanity is renewed daily by the simple acts of kindness and generosity of spirit exhibited by my colleagues and friends. I watched as my wife was embraced, respected, and loved just for being herself.  I helped a family be present to watch their loved one receive his diploma; they didn’t have enough tickets for the whole family but we made it work anyway and they were so grateful.  As they were leaving, one of the women in the family stopped to say thank you again. As she stepped down the stairs, she turned and said “there was so much love in one room.”

I agree. I wholeheartedly agree.

Finding Our Voices

megaphone

Does anyone really like the sound of their own voice?  I sure don’t like mine, never have, even when I used to sing as a kid and young adult.  Even though I have never liked my voice it’s never been a source of emotional distress as it can be for transgender women.  Carli is almost always appropriately gendered by strangers in face to face interactions but is misgendered 100% of the time when speaking with strangers on the phone.  This has been wearing on her even more lately, so she is going to speech therapy now and is determined to find her Carli voice.

While Carli is quite literally finding her speaking voice, she is also finding her personal voice.  She came out to the world on June 29 of this year and has since been slowly, gently, helping people get to know the real Carli.   Recently she has started consistently correcting people who slip up on pronouns or use the wrong name.  She says it’s been long enough, the time for free passes is over.  She is finding her voice!

Once Carli gave me the go ahead I started sharing our story with anyone who would listen.  I am sure my friends are tired of hearing me go on about transgender issues and equal rights and bathroom bills and shopping experiences and makeup and on and on and on……….I didn’t think I had any problem finding my voice!  That is, until the election on November 8.

Suddenly I felt like my voice didn’t matter, it was too small, that sharing our little love story wasn’t enough to prevent the world from falling to pieces.  The ignorance and hatred expressed during the campaign were sure to be followed up with mirrored behaviors, possibly even with amplified intensity. Is it going to be enough now just to talk to people about how much we love each other and to be an example of what is possible when people are allowed to be authentic? I want desperately to find a bigger, louder, stronger, more prominent in-your-face kind of voice that will carry our message of acceptance, love, and quest for equality to the far reaches of our country!!

Okay, how do I that? Really, I’m open to suggestions here.

I can tell our story, but there are limitations.  Does anyone care about the positive spouse/girlfriend/boyfriend experiences?  We hear a lot about the tough relationships that ended because of transitions.  In this media climate, the dramatic stories always seem to get the most attention.  I will not lie and say it’s been simple or that we haven’t hit rough spots.  But we simply do not want to dwell on the negative.  Constantly pointing out flaws and faults does nothing to heal hearts or help people see the value in equality.  That’s not the voice I want to share.

Carli and I have a wonderful circle of supportive friends.  They’ve been patient and kind, listening to me rant on about everything transgender.  They’ve read my stories and made the most lovely, thoughtful comments, expressing their love and support at every turn.  My family has been wonderful, choosing to believe in us even though it is hard to understand.  In the grand scheme of things, though, my voice isn’t carrying very far.  My voice isn’t bigger, louder, stronger, or more in-your-face. Yet.

The pitch of Carli’s voice is changing with practice.  She is sounding more feminine, beginning to sound like the woman she truly is.  Her strength in being visible and gently requiring respect is growing. She is finding a way that works for her.  I need to find a way to change the pitch of my voice, to make it carry all the way to the lobby, past the last row of seats and out to the street.  I don’t want to change my message at all, being out together is possible and beautiful and I want everyone to know it!  I just want to up the intensity and expand the reach.  I don’t know how to do this yet, but I will figure it out. For a variety of reasons, I can’t be the one standing on the steps of the capitol building with a bullhorn, but there are others who fill this role beautifully.  Perhaps Carli and I will find a way to combine our voices with others in the community, creating a chorus that cannot be ignored or legislated out of existence.

Bigger, louder, stronger, in-your-face voices.  We will find them.

Patience is a virtue, I guess

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I can be very patient.  Really.  I am patient when waiting for a table at a restaurant or when standing in line watching an overworked cashier doing their very best to be efficient and helpful.  Life is too short to get worked up about sitting through a red light twice or having to wait a few extra seconds for the chip reader to read my debit card.  These are minor inconveniences that do not constitute a crisis; however, it is difficult to continue being patient when it comes to acceptance of diversity.  I’m holding on to the knot at the end of my patience rope with one hand when it comes to this.

My little family is incredibly diverse; we are a microcosm of America. Transgender, gay, black, white, Christian, atheist, Mexican, college educated, high school graduates, Democrat, Republican, military veterans, and the list goes on; we have a lot of diversity check marks sitting around our holiday tables.  It’s incredible to watch these unique individuals blend into a beautifully open-minded, loving, generous whole. So why is it so hard for others to be accepting and open-minded? What can we do to help people recognize the beauty that comes with diversity? And for me, how can I grow my patience rather than become frustrated by those who seemingly refuse to try?

For me to strengthen my patience I should better understand people who are unaccepting.  I have a theory.  I think maybe some people don’t even try to be accepting because that means they would have to admit they have been wrong all along.  Or, maybe people are afraid that accepting diversity would mean they would be losing something that they use to define themselves.

Let’s think about those people who simply don’t try.  Is it possible these people don’t want to acknowledge they were wrong in their beliefs and refusing to express acceptance is their way of avoiding having to admit they were wrong?  At one point in human history mankind thought the Earth was flat.  They were wrong, big deal.  Humanity got over it and stopped being afraid to fall off the edge of the Earth.  Since then people have learned to accept a lot of things that were once unheard of.  White people marry people of color.  Gay people have children.  Transgender and non-binary and intersex people exist.  For real!  With this group of unaccepting people, I try to be gently persuasive, try to follow Carli’s lead because she is the queen of patience in this area! We try to be an example, talk with them face to face since seeing is believing.  We hope they will see that turning a blind eye to reality doesn’t make them right, it just makes them seem deliberately hurtful.  Being right shouldn’t be more important than being supportive, loving and kind, should it?  It’s a marathon of patience, slowly, gently, subtly proving through mere existence and visibility that diversity should be celebrated instead of hidden or ignored.  It’s exhausting, and I do rely on Carli and our many friends who continue to encourage patience.

The second group of people are the ones who frighten me.  This group knows they are on the wrong side of history and are blatant about not caring. They care only about themselves and their way of life, afraid that letting diversity thrive will mean the end of their comfortable, familiar existence.  If they accept gay marriage it would destroy the foundation of their own marriage.  Because they can’t personally explain what it means to be transgender it can’t possibly be real; it’s just a bunch of sick men running around in women’s clothes.  Children from interracial marriage are diluting the gene pool.  All of this is preposterous but there is no arguing with this type of ignorance. Their stance is irrational and how do you have a rational discussion with someone who seriously believes that sexual orientation can be flipped on and off like a light switch, being transgender is a lifestyle choice like living on the lake rather than in the city, or interracial marriage is against nature? I have no patience whatsoever for this group of people, but I am terrified of their far-reaching influence on the future of our country as well as the very physical safety and well-being of my family and friends.

There is a third group of people I truly admire and this group gives me hope.  This group readily admits they do not understand. They don’t get what being transgender means and they might still do a double take when they see an interracial family.  But instead of shaking a finger at my trans wife or gay son, lecturing about turning their lives around and getting back to “normal”, they embrace them and say “I don’t get it, but I love you, and that’s what matters.”  Even though they can’t quite see over the horizon and the world still looks a little flat, they are willing to give the explorers the benefit of the doubt and accept them at their word.  For them, humanity wins over false righteousness.  Love wins over hate. Acceptance of diversity is a work in progress for them but they are working at it with diligence.  For these people, I have all the patience in the world.