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!

 

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.

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.

 

Letter to the LGBT Community on our 30th Anniversary

Dear Friends,

You were there for us when we needed you most. About three years ago we took our first tentative steps into a community we knew very little about, unsure, more than a little scared.  And there you were, waiting for us with open arms and open hearts. We are still in awe of your strength, and your fearless ability to live your lives out loud, never backing down and never compromising. We admire your loving relationships, and you validate ours.  You made us feel welcome, like we had a place to belong. You helped us map our future and reassured us that we could indeed move forward together as Carli and Tracy.

We celebrated our first Pride event in June 2016, marching side by side with the first transgender unit in the history of the Indy Pride parade.  We choked back tears of joy as we walked, holding hands, hearing nothing but love, support, acceptance, and encouragement all around us. It was a life-changing event for us.  The next day we woke up to the news of the Pulse shooting.  There was no holding back the tears.  The grief was overwhelming.  49 people, simply living their lives out loud, gone out of pure hate. So far in 2017 there have been 27 transgender people murdered in this country.  It could be anyone of you, our dear friends. Or our son and his partner. Or us.  Yes, we woke up that day and we continue to be “woke” as the cool kids might say.

You, friends, continue to keep us woke about LGBTQ rights, women’s rights, the relentless tragedies that continue to besiege people of color.  You care about everyone who struggles to be seen, everyone whose rights are still not a foregone conclusion.  Your compassion knows no bounds, and you strive to make the world a better place for everyone.  You are quite simply remarkable. Thank you for being there for us, for all of us.

In love, gratitude, and appreciation…………Carli and Tracy

I Call BS

Every time there is a national crisis of some sort people turn out in droves loudly proclaiming their love and concern for the population effected by the tragedy. Hurricane Harvey is just the latest.  Hurricane Sandy, the Sandy Hook massacre, the Oklahoma City bombing, 9/11. The list goes on and on, and in each instance people donate money, they send relief supplies, they cry what they profess to be real tears for people who are hurting and in desperate need of help.  I CALL BS

Today is the first news cycle that was not lead by videos of Hurricane Harvey.  What was the first video? The president of the united states claiming “we love the dreamers, we love everybody” all while making the decision to end protections for young people protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival – DACA – act.

Let me get this straight.  You love them but you want them to go “back” to countries they do not remember, where they have no family, they do not speak the language, and have no means to support themselves.  That doesn’t sound like any love I’ve ever experienced and it’s certainly not coming from a place of compassion or concern.  How many DACA kids do you suppose are helping rescue hurricane victims? How many DACA kids do you suppose are up to their necks in debris and devastation left from the storm, but they’re at their neighbor’s houses helping with the clean up? These kids are allowed to work and required to pay taxes, but they get nothing in return.  They don’t qualify for any social services, they don’t get “hand outs” from the American people.  They give far more to this country than what we give them in return.

Thanks for helping.  We love you, now go away.

How about that ban on transgender people serving in the military?  The administration and a lot of flag-waving Americans claim to be “friends of the gays” using the phrase “the gays” as a catch-all for the entire LGBTQ+ community, but transgender people are clearly too much of a drain on military so they must go.

What a load of crap. I won’t even attempt to lay out the real cost of being transgender on the military, or compare it to the waste, fraud, and abuse that is rampant in this administration.  Others have done that already.  It doesn’t seem to matter to those making the decisions that the cost of caring for transgender servicemembers is astonishingly miniscule in the grand scheme of budgetary expenses.  This ban is borne of pure hate.  There is no way to spin it to make it sound remotely responsible or compassionate.

My transgender wife honorably served in the United States Air Force for 20 years.  She did not have the option to live authentically at that time. It’s speculation, but I believe those 20 years would have been so much easier for her had she been allowed to serve openly.  Haven’t we learned this lesson by allowing people to serve regardless of their sexual orientation?  Here is something to consider, United States of America……….there will soon be NO eligible young people willing to serve in the military. If we don’t wake up and accept that our young people have the expectation of being accepted for who they are, our military ranks will continue to dwindle to dangerously low levels of operational readiness.  Good luck dealing with the crazy loon in North Korea!

Let’s talk about what it means when our police take the oath to “protect and serve.”  What does that look like for the citizens who rely on law enforcement?  It looks very different for me as a 50 year old white woman than it does for a 25 year old black man. White men taking oaths to protect and serve making jokes about “only killing black people” when making a traffic stop.  Jokes like that are never innocent and certainly not funny.  That statement tells a lot about the person’s true character and judgement.

Are we a country that truly believes in civil rights?  Well of course we are, right? We settled that a long time ago when we let Black people drink out of our water fountains and sit next to us on the bus.  We white people have done our part.  It’s all good.

Nope.  Not even close to being a country that actually CARES ABOUT ALL PEOPLE.  People who enjoy their civil rights are still actively trying to steal them from others.  My civil rights are far more important than your civil rights.  If you get more rights, mine will be diminished.  You will steal mine so I’ll make sure you just don’t have any in the first place.

BS BS BS!!!  Civil rights don’t run out like milk and bread the day before a snowstorm.

I could go on forever, but I have to end soon or you will stop reading.  One final thought, knowing this last paragraph is directed mostly at people outside my community of  truly compassionate friends, so share widely if you would……

Keep your teddy bears, keep your canned goods and diapers, keep your cash and blankets and clothes you’ve dug out of your closet.  Don’t fly the flag in your yard.  Don’t bother placing your hand over your heart during the National Anthem or singing the hymns in church on Sunday. Don’t bother “giving until it hurts” unless you have searched your heart and find compassion for ALL human beings, love them for who they are rather than who you want them to be, are more concerned about their well-being than what you can get from them.  Keep all your gifts given out of some false sense of patriotism and compassion because it’s been proven time and time again that none of that compassion, concern, and love for your fellow man lasts for long.  It’s temporary to make yourself feel better.  It flies out the window the next time somebody refuses to serve a gay couple because of deeply held beliefs, or an unarmed black man is shot for walking down the sidewalk at the wrong time of day, or a statue of slave owner is moved out of a place of reverence.

I hope some day I can stop calling BS.

Old Furniture

I have refinished quite a few pieces of old furniture, and an entire kitchen full of oak cabinets. Every time I go through the process of refinishing a piece of wood I am struck by the parallels that can be drawn between the lives of people and the lives of wood furniture.  Okay, so this might take some explaining, so bear with me.

Take this old bookcase for instance. It had been abandoned when we acquired it, dirty, neglected, but Carli and I saw so much potential in this piece.  Its life was not over by any means, so I set out to discover what it should be doing with its life now.

When I start refinishing furniture, it usually begins with applying a chemical stripper to remove the old paint and varnish. I always use the mildest stripper I can find so I do as little damage to the environment and the wood as possible. Perhaps it’s silly, but it’s always hard for me to wait for the stripper to work, I am anxious to see what is hidden under the years of old finishes and paint. I never know what the wood will look like.

Uncovering the wood gives me the first glimpse at the life the piece has lived.  There are usually scars, worn patches, sometimes haphazard repairs made by previous owners. The scars tell stories of how the piece might have been used, worn spots where a child might have pulled a beloved storybook off the shelf night after night, asking their parent to read it just one more time. Or maybe the scuff marks are from heavy repair manuals for a car that has long since been hauled to the salvage yard. The gouges on the top where something sharp and heavy may have been dragged across the surface by someone who had little concern for the well-being of the piece. Until I remove the layers of paint and old varnish I can’t see these scars and wear. They are hidden from view but they remain, ever present. We may not see them but the piece of furniture feels them every day and cannot forget about them because they have contributed to what the piece is today.

Isn’t this how people often deal with their own scars and perceived flaws, cover them up so the world thinks they are undamaged? Don’t we often filter what others see out of fear of rejection, caring more about not hurting other peoples’ feelings or not being a disappointment than about our own well-being? Rarely do we embrace our scars because they remind us of the pain we felt in acquiring them, but they are a part of us and they helped shape who we are today.

So I set about uncovering the true nature of the bookcase, the varying shades of wood, differing grain and textures. Every nuance that makes this piece unique.  I sand as gently as I can, not wanting to cause any more damage, just bring out the natural beauty of the piece.  This bookcase was obviously made to be a work horse, utilitarian, with no intricate details. Much of the piece is easy to clean, but it has patches that need extra stripping and sanding. Isn’t this, too, like people? Sometimes our sadness or pain can be wiped away with a hug and a gentle touch, and other times it takes a lot of work. We have to go back again and again, facing our fears and scars over and over because they run so deep.

My philosophy with refinishing furniture is always to let the character of the piece speak out loud. With this bookcase, I didn’t even use stain, the color variations are so beautiful and the scars and watermarks make it come alive. All it needs are a few coats of protective finish.  Speaking for myself, I could use an extra coat of protective finish from time to time. Sometimes mine wears thin in places, too, leaving me vulnerable to cracks and dents and chips from whatever life drags me through.

I always use the best quality brushes and finishes I can, giving the furniture layer after layer of protection from further damage and extending its life. The brushes I use are expensive and it takes a lot of time to care for them properly.  It can take 20 minutes or more to clean a single brush, and it must be thoroughly cleaned in between each of the three coats of finish but the investment is well worth it. People need the right tools, too, when learning to live openly, embracing their vulnerabilities.  In this way, I see health care providers, mental health providers, friends, and loved ones as analogous to the tools I use on my furniture.  They are critical to our continued health and well-being, but they, too, must be treated well.  They must have their own protective finish that helps prevent them from being scarred themselves in the process of helping others.  Your friends and loved ones need your attention, just as you need theirs. Sadly, not everyone has access to care they need, or are lucky enough to have understanding loved ones to help them through. They are left to care for their finishes on their own, with few tools and little guidance or support.

And here it is.  The bookcase is finished, reassembled, with a fresh purpose.  It is ready to hold a particular set of books that make us think about a dear friend we lost many years ago. Each time we look at this bookcase we will think of George, his crazy sense of humor, his loving friendship, the way he challenged us to grow, and we will remember how grateful we are to have known him.  We’ve held on to these books literally for decades, searching for just the right piece to hold them.  This little bookcase is perfect, with its true nature on display for all to see, with all its flaws, proud of the life its led and ready for more.

Carly has shed 50 years of old paint and varnish, uncovering the beautiful person she was always meant to be. I tried to help her through this refinishing process, using the right tools, alternately handling her with kid gloves and elbow grease.  She continues to reward me each day for the time we’ve invested in each other, sanding, protecting, polishing, and always letting each other shine in our own beautiful, dented, scarred, wonderful way.