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.

 

Are You a Lesbian Now?

rainbow flag question mark

If I had a nickle for every time I was asked this question, or every time someone wanted to ask this question, I would have a lot of nickles.  The easy answer is no; Carli being transgender does not mean I magically shifted my sexual orientation. While I can understand people being curious about how this works, I cannot imagine actually asking the question.  Would you ask any other random person “do you sleep with men or women” in the course of every day conversation?  Probably not, but yet partners of transgender people are routinely asked this question, as if modifying our sexuality must be required to maintain our relationship. As hard as it may be for some to believe, it is not required and we are doing just fine, thank you very much. I cannot be lesbian anymore than Carli can be male.  None of us choose our gender or sexual orientation.  We feel it, we know it. It’s just who we are, deep within and no amount of guilt, fear, intimidation, legislation, or violence can change it. Many people feel forced to suppress who they are, hide away, refuse to acknowledge their true selves in order to maintain so-called peace in the family, to get or keep employment or housing, or literally as a means of survival.  But this does terrible damage to a human being and decent people do not request others to be someone they are not.  I can’t just stop being a white cis-gender heterosexual woman and no one is likely to ask me to. Why would anyone ask Carli or any other LGBTQ person to be someone they are NOT?

I’m not a lesbian. As a matter of fact, I am NOT a lot of things.

Black
I can’t dance
A good singer
Religious
Tall
A fast reader
Poor
A cancer patient
HIV+
A political refugee
A grandparent
Medical doctor
Homeless
Truck driver
Transgender

I cannot speak on behalf of any of these people, but I appreciate their lives, their talents, their uniqueness. I cannot share their experiences to such an extent that I fully comprehend how they feel, but I care deeply about their experiences. I cannot contribute to society in the same ways these people can, but I am grateful for their contributions. I cannot understand what it’s like to be in their shoes, but I can pay attention when they speak, hear their truths. I hear them and believe them. I cannot BE them, but I can stand WITH them.

Most of you are not the cis-gender hetero spouse of a transgender woman. You cannot fully understand what it’s like in my shoes, but you can pay attention when I speak, hear my truth.  You can choose to believe me when I say that it is indeed possible to be in a happy, healthy relationship such as mine and Carli’s.

When Carli was beginning her transition I couldn’t relate to anyone, I knew no one who was standing in shoes similar to mine.  It was lonely, I carried a weight with me and a shadow followed me relentlessly. But I did have friends who listened when I spoke, they heard my truth and believed me. They didn’t have to totally get it, they just stood beside us and continued to love and support us through something that was completely foreign to them.

So, while you may not be trans, black, poor, homeless, in peril, addicted, and the list goes on, you might be exactly who a person needs. Your compassion does not need to be accompanied by shared experience. Sure, it was a tremendous relief for me to meet other wives of trans people, knowing they have walked a mile in my shoes.  I no longer felt alone on this fantastic journey, they gladly took me by the hand and walked beside me, reassuring that I was on the right path. These individuals will always hold a very special place in my heart. But the reality is that the vast majority of my daily life is spent with people who do not have this shared experience.  This makes their upfront compassion and continued support even more appreciated and precious to me.  They were there when I needed them, filling an important need to be seen, to be allowed to show vulnerability in the face of uncertainty.

Never judging.

Always compassionate.

You may not be a lot of things, but you can be compassionate. You can be supportive. You can forego judgment. You can walk beside……….