Tag Archives: Parenting

Exile

TransitionCrop

ohhhhhhhhh……aaahhhhhhh…..aaaahhhhhhhhhhh…cough, cough….sob…sob…

it went on and on. I tried to cover my head with my pillow, but I could still hear the moaning and sobbing. I understood what she wanted. Someone, anyone to come comfort her. Cough, cough, cough…. then a bit of silence. Maybe she fell asleep I hoped? Then a minute later, ohhhhhhh….sob…sob…aaahhhhhh. I was so tired. I’d been at school all day then a two hour swim workout after. I was exhausted.

I got out of bed wearing only my pajama bottoms as was our custom. At ten years old I would only wear a PJ bottom. Somehow to my three brothers and I this represented our growing maturity. My room was furthest away from hers and I wondered how come none of my brother’s seemed to have heard the moans. I walked around through her doorway and peaked in. She looked up from her bed. “Jer-bear?” “Is that you?”She asked in the dark. “It’s me.” I said walking over to her bedside. I looked down at her as she lay there holding her chest. She was so frail, thin and sickly. Almost bald, her skin paper-thin and gray with oxygen tubes coming out of her nose. “Sit here” she said patting the bed next to her. I turned slightly and sat with my legs dangling towards the floor. Her bed was the sort you would find in any hospital. It had the bars on the sides that could be raised or lowered and even had wheels in case she needed to be moved. She rested a hand on my arm. “Such a nice swimmer body” she said smiling. “Are you OK Mom?” I asked. “Oh yes sweetheart.” she said as if nothing was wrong. The stacks of pills on her bedside table, the filled ashtrays, empty glasses of bourbon and the twin five foot oxygen tanks told a different story. She was in constant pain and had been the last 6 years or so since she’d had a double-mastectomy followed by radiation and chemotherapy. She’d had her adrenal glands removed too and had a permanent open wound in her chest we changed the dressing on every night. The skin wouldn’t heal anymore and her bones were like swiss cheese from all the radiation, small fragments of which would occasionally appear in the wound and have to be removed. All of this she dulled with a crazy combination of narcotics and Jim Beam. Each of my brothers knew how to mix her drink. A tall water glass with two ice-cubes and a splash of water. “Why aren’t you sleeping?” she asked. I wanted to say, “you know very well why” but I couldn’t. I felt so bad for her lying there all day and all night alone like she did. We were the only break in that monotony when we arrived home from school in the afternoon and then again later when we would each come in to kiss her goodnight. For all of this it didn’t seem strange to me, she had been like this almost as long as I could recall.

There was a time in my dim memory of a different woman. She was tall, blonde and statuesque. She wore mink and smelled of expensive french perfume. I rarely saw this mother though. That one usually left us with our nanny, Gloria. We only saw her as she left for glamorous outings with my famous plastic surgeon father. Later we might hear them drunk and fighting. She screamed for us then as we cowered in our beds. “Help me boys!” she would call as my father beat her but none of us responded. At 3 or 4 years old there wasn’t a lot we could do. I know my older brothers had each finally confronted him but they suffered for years listening before that. The mother of this world was exotic far off and mysterious like a tragic Queen. Sometimes she was”ill” and we wouldn’t see her for weeks. Then just as suddenly she was back joining us on Sundays for church in her pencil skirts, red lipstick and heels. Outside of church she was never without a cigarette held elegantly in long manicured fingers. The only place we went as a family then was Mass. I had six siblings but the older three no longer joined us. They were separated from the younger four of us by a gap of eight years. We rarely saw them anymore. They were off in college or busy with friends. More often than not the other three younger brothers and I were shepherded around by our angry nanny. She resented us for being privileged and white. Two things the young overweight black woman from rural Georgia was not.

But that fabulous mother was from another mythic time in a fairytale past. The one I sat next to longed for those days but her fabulous King husband had abandoned for a younger princess to adorn. They apparently even had a new set of children to fill their new kingdom although I’d never met them. The mother I sat next to would often regale that man for leaving her exiled and broken. She would cry bitterly calling him a fucking asshole or some other words I had been schooled in church to never use. Sometimes this mother would get up from her bed and dance in a narcotic and alcohol fueled memory of wonderful outings shared in former grand ballrooms with my father. She told me what a great lover he was and how he had swept her off her feet. Like Mrs. Havisham in The Dickens novel, Great Expecations it was as if time had ended when her husband left. The music had stopped and the guests had all left. Now it was just the 5 of us in this echo hall of past grandeur. My mother and my 3 brothers.  I was number three. I had one younger brother who knew even less of the past than I did. The older two each knew more and I think were more injured for its memory.

“Want to watch a movie with me ber-ber?” she asked. Tired as I was, I agreed. “The life of Henry the Eighth is on at ten.” “Masterpiece Theater!” she said with some excitement. “Great Mom.” I answered crawling up next to her in the hospital bed. She lifted the remote and turned on the televison. “You’re going to learn a lot.” she said looking down. “I know Mom.” I answered back. I loved being with her and although I was tired, she was right. I learned a lot on these nights but most of it had nothing to do with the show on TV.

 

Judgement

Kids_Today_sm

Lately I’ve become more aware of being judged and people who feel free to dispense their judgement on others. Some do so from some sort of ethical or religious authority that they use as justification. Others more ignorantly just pass judgement from an arbitrary sense of what “should” be. What I find most remarkable is that these same people do not hold themselves to their own standards or pick and choose which portions of their dogma to adhere with. It’s also amazing they don’t realize that even as they hand out their condemnations and guidelines for being proper they begin building a very confining prison for themselves. “People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones” is an old adage that often comes to mind. When one draws too many boundaries around right and wrong behavior it becomes very tricky not to step over those lines themselves. Their lives and those around them become filled with unnecessary rules and restrictions that only serve to distort and pervert our normal state of joy.

Fundamental thought comes in all shapes and sizes and from what I can tell the consequences of it range from damaging to lethal. Guilt and perversion are very typical side effects. How many more times to we have to watch some televangelist ask for forgiveness for a liaison with a prostitute or drug dealer? People only turn to these avenues when they have no access to joy through safer and healthier routes. It could be argued that much of the violence and drug abuse we witness in the world is a result of people’s joy being blocked or taken away. I have witnessed this very thing in my own life.

Formerly as a closeted Transgender person the only way I could express my gender identity was in a night club. Generally these were bars or Drag Revue locations in seedier parts of town. I was fortunate in that at least I had one relatively nearby. Many of my Trans sisters in particular had to travel hundreds of miles to find a safe place. By “safe” I actually mean safe inside. Outside many of these clubs, Gay bashers looking for kicks or sexual predators looking for an easy target would frequently be some of the very real dangers one might encounter. I can’t tell you how much my life has changed since I’ve been able to come out. Not only have I benefitted but everyone I am involved with has as well. I no longer have to hide such a huge part of myself and can be more included and happier participating in others lives in a positive way. My intimacy is no longer searched for on kinky websites but among others who are out in the world expressing themselves openly. This ability to seek and find community or a partner in a more healthy and open way results in less victimization. When we aren’t singled out, discriminated against and targeted we feel more joy and experience higher self-esteem.

So what do the “judgers” get out of looking down on others? I would have to imagine it gives them something or they would be less likely to do it. My impression is that this need comes from their own low self-esteem. It is very typical for children who feel badly about themselves to try and show others how much better they are by putting their peers down or bullying them. If one’s self esteem hasn’t improved by adulthood perhaps it makes them feel better to occupy some moral high ground so they can look down on their lesser neighbors in a more acceptable way. I imagine they were put down or shamed for something they did as a child or as in the case of the Televangelist be hiding something and are over-compensating for it.

Whatever the case, it would be hard to ignore that judgement of others  creates nothing beneficial for anyone. Wasting time wagging your finger or looking down your nose will only limit the boundaries of your own joy and that of others. Rather than wasting our time creating unhappiness why not open our hearts to others and remove the arbitrary boundaries to our joy? We should look for commonality with each other rather than what separates us. If our ideologies and societies are more inclusive than you will find less people pushed to the extreme boundaries searching for their fundamental needs and rights. People will need to escape less, participate and contribute more. I believe there was a great man who said, “Judge not lest Ye be judged.” Perhaps it’s time we listened to him.

 

 

The Bride

Married

My feet don’t feel like they touch the ground as I walk along the luxuriant green grass of the Courthouse Sunken Garden escorted by my tall handsome son. At 25 he is the picture of manhood. 6′ 6″ and well-groomed he wears an elegant navy suit as if he was born to it. At 6 feet now I feel substantially smaller as I negotiate my way towards the altar in the long beautiful mermaid style wedding dress trying not to trip or stumble over the hem. The sun is warm on my face and I’m happy for the light, cool jasmine scented breeze as I approach the lavender fabric of the aisle. Two steps up a small set of stairs and I’m traveling between the smiling faces of good friends, family and new acquaintances. I return the smile easily catching a few faces momentarily longer than others. We arrive at the altar my son deftly lets go of my arm and I mount the three saltillo tile stairs holding the dress hem up hoping once again to arrive without mishap. My partner’s three children flank me on my left and my three children are fanned out to the right as I climb the short flight. Finally I take the last step and look over at my partner already there with her dazzling smile and sparkling eyes lit full voltage. Our wedding officiant looks over and smiles warmly. “We made it.” she says softly. “Take a deep breath now.” How wise I thought. I needed a breath. It has been a very, very long journey to this place. To be standing here in front of over 100 people with my partner and our children wearing a gorgeous long trained wedding dress and feeling this good could not have seemed more improbable even a few years ago.

The last 24 months since my transition have been a warp speed learning curve after a life time of being unhappily male. Depression, fear, despair and hiding were my constant companions. For 52 years I lived a double life. Sometimes my female side was closer to the surface and sometimes it was so deep that even I thought I had managed to bury it. Those burials sometimes lasted days, sometimes weeks, sometimes years. As a small child it was right there. I felt open and expressed myself as any being would before the shaming began. Every time I encountered disapproval, annoyance, laughter or derision my armor and need to hide became denser and more intense. My early childhood was filled with shaming and both verbal and physical abuse. I learned to hide and hide well. I cultivated the ability to cover my tracks expertly even changing my persona to a more stoic and male facade around age 8 when my family moved to a new town. I kept the girl me under cover for the next 11 years not telling a soul even as I borrowed my mother’s and then my sister’s things. I learned to carefully put them back exactly as I had found them. There were many near misses in a house with three brothers when I thought I had precious time alone. More than once I found myself sprinting to the restroom wearing a dress and make-up carrying my male clothes with me.

I was fortunate my first love accepted my feminine side happily. We dated for 2 years in High School and I finally shared “Jennifer,” later “Genivieve” with her when I was 19. We moved in together before my eighteenth birthday and I immediately began borrowing her things. In our Prom picture I looked almost as feminine as she did and certainly tried on that pretty dress she wore afterward! I began to trust her more and more and finally shared my secret one afternoon as my body shook convulsively with raw fear. Now I know those symptoms to be PTSD but at the time I just thought I was ridiculous and felt embarrassed. Instead of anger, laughter or disappointment she embraced and hugged me. She loved having a new girlfriend. As it turned out the whole sex thing was a chore and she preferred to do my make-up and go shopping anyway. Unfortunately I’m not designed to abstain so I had to say goodbye.

During the next 5 years my female side came and went according to my circumstances.  Mostly went. I had few means being without parents and often had roommates or difficult living circumstances. Initially I didn’t know there was anyone like me in the world.  Later I began to see “female impersonators” on a talk show or a “cross-dresser” in a tabloid story. These were deviant denizens of alleyways, Gay bars and nightclubs. People in the sex or entertainment trades but only in places equally strange people frequented. I couldn’t be one of THEM could I? At first the idea seemed horrible like realizing you were the Wolfman or Dracula. Later I began to realize I might have something in common with them. By the time I sorted out who I was I was married. At 25 I married a woman who found my female side repellant. She had married a man after all, not a freaky pervert who wore women’s clothes!  She knew only what most people did at the time just as I had before. I learned more because I had a need to find out.

My first discovery came by going to an Adult Store cross-dressed in public for the first time. Going in had been a monumental challenge. I stood across the street for half an hour getting up the nerve. After looking through rows of publications in the “Fetish” section I found some magazines that featured Cross Dressers. I went to the counter and nervously bought them. Once again I was shaking with fear and tried not to speak at all and give myself away. The male clerk took my money and said, “you look nice.” What?? I was shocked. The thought of someone thinking I looked good at all this way never entered my mind! Once safely home I opened the magazines. I found a “Cross-Dressing” group advertising in the back of one and went to a meeting. I had to drive 200 miles and go to a run down hotel conference room under florescent lights to sit with men like me in bad drag but it was a beginning. I couldn’t believe there were others who shared my curse! That meeting led me to a club in Studio City where I met more “cross-dressers” as we called ourselves at the time. Even we hadn’t a clear idea of what we were. At the club I met the first people I’d seen who had “transitioned.” I was stunned. Was it possible for me I wondered? I had to take a good look at myself. At 27 I was 6’2″ had a square jaw and was covered in body hair. The people who had transitioned had started out very feminine. Small slim people with little facial or body hair. I was dark and tall with a blue beard and 5 o’clock shadow by noon. My beard connected to my chest and back hair. If I didn’t shave I resembled Sasquatch or a Wookie more than a woman. In a dress I had to own I looked strange.

I went to therapy and worked on the marriage. We had children and I made a promise to myself then to be their Dad until they were adults. I knew some in what I came to know then as the “Transsexual” community who came out to their children and it had been a disaster. The world still didn’t know what we were and even the Gay community wasn’t very fond of us. If you didn’t look “passable” you would be a pariah. You would lose your job, your friends and your family. I saw this happen to people I knew. Their only option became the sex trade and generally that led to drugs and a quick descent into a very short hard life. I loved my children too much to put our relationship at risk. During the next few years we moved to a new town with a new job so my son and daughter could have a better quality of life. I left my Trans friends and connections behind but knew my female side wasn’t really going anywhere. I cross-dressed at night alone while my wife and children slept. I often worked on side projects while wearing a dress and make-up outside in my garage studio and kept all my female things in our extra room.

I knew our life was out of balance and it finally imploded. My wife left me for someone else after a year long affair citing my deviant behavior to anyone who cared to listen. Humiliated again and on my own but now with two small beings I felt the door to my dream close. The pain of such a traumatic rejection and the question of my worthiness as a parent pushed the female in me deeper than it had ever gone. I cut off my long hair and put on weight. I wanted to be as physically male as I could. I gained 25 pounds and my hair began to recede. My body hair was thicker than ever and I dated the best looking women I could find to prove that I was all man. I became an elite swimmer and a more aggressive surfer pushing my limits physically. No one could doubt outwardly that I appeared the macho stud in every way.  I had my children every weekend and and took my father role model position very seriously. I adored my children and wanted them to be whole in ways I wasn’t. They weren’t to blame for my shortcomings and I was determined to not allow it to affect them.

For the next 10 years as they grew into teenagers I played that role as best I could. My forays into my female side were brief and I kept only one simple dress and a pair of shoes. I thought looking in the mirror in those years my dream was as likely as my chances of becoming an astronaut and landing on the moon. I went through multiple relationships often with painful acrimonious endings. If I shared it would inevitably result in the same insults and often threats to “out” me. My children grew up and needed me less and less. Eventually they preferred living in one house and they moved in full time with their mother. Suddenly I had space and time again and my thoughts wandered back to my dream. I had followed developments in hair removal, hair replacement and hormone therapy. Transgender groups existed now and were available on the internet. There were still few who had transitioned and no real protocol for doing the path available anywhere. I decided to start with what I could do and see where it took me.

I had my body hair lasered off when I was 45. This began a series of treatments that spanned the next 5 years which included 3 hair transplants and the beginning of electrolysis. With a smooth body and my hair more or less back I took pride in my body again and continued swimming and losing weight. Later I started hormones. After years of searching I found a website that described the male to female hormone regimen. Not too long after I located an online pharmacy where I could buy them. I started on low doses of oral Estrogen and a male hormone blocker. My skin began to smooth, my hair thickened and my body softened. I loved every step and found a deep well of happiness inside that I hadn’t known existed. Eventually there was only one step left to transition and I resolved to take it. Facial feminization had evolved into a known specialty and there were perhaps a dozen surgeons in the world who were on my short list. Fortunately I had started a small business a few years earlier which was finally providing enough income for this expensive surgery. After interviewing all the doctors on my list I picked one and put down my deposit.

About the same time I decided to make the big leap I met my partner. She and I had been dating other people with her ex being a trans woman friend of mine. I was gun-shy at first fearing my path would be derailed again or that I would find myself disappointing another person. I really liked her and agreed to allow her to “court” me. Within a few months we were in a committed relationship and I knew I had found the love of my life. We had more in common than I could imagine. She was a gifted elite cyclist, a professional potter and a mother of three children the same age as mine. She had been challenged by gender roles her entire life but from the other side. She was a male spirit in a female “earth suit” as she called it. She had known me from afar for years and fate had finally brought our paths together.

I let the breath out and looked across at her again. What a miracle I thought. To be here with my adult children supporting me getting married to the person of my dreams in a beautiful location wearing my fantasy dress in front of more than 100 of our friends and family. It was really happening. I took another breath and took it all in. Very few in this audience I realized see me as anything other than a tall athletic woman. I couldn’t begin to explain what it has taken to get here. The 54 year journey had been long and I lost hope many times, but in the end it made this moment of being the bride that much richer.

 

 

 

 

 

Identity

Haleiwa_Barrl

The waves are perfect today. Head-high, clean, glassy right-handers peeling down the point. This spot only breaks in the Winter and then only rarely. This and the difficult access keeps the crowds down. Usually I see the same people in the water over and over. Mostly more mature surfers, lots of women and local kids just getting started. Today there are only 6 of us out and more than enough waves for everyone. The rides are a quarter mile long so every paddle back up the point is a long effort returning to the take-off spot. My adult daughter is smiling broadly as I arrive from another such journey. “Beautiful wave.” she says as I approach. “Yeah, phew!” I say sitting back up on my yellow and white Harbour 9’6″ longboard. “Yours was really nice too.” I return. She is riding a much shorter board so has to work harder for every wave. The short surface of the smaller board fighting her as she paddles the less buoyant craft. “You got a few good pumps down the line.” I add. She smiles her beautiful smile. Large white teeth, white blonde hair and fair complexion, she is like a Winter Goddess I think to myself. Always so comfortable in the cold water she lounges easily next to me in the 60 degree ocean. “Wow” look at that set!” she says excitedly pointing to the West as another perfect group of waves come marching in. We both begin paddling again up the point in the direction of the oncoming lines. Further out a single male surfer turns to catch the first of the over-head swells as it feels the bottom and begins to break. He paddles into it hops up smoothly and slides down the face angling in our direction. He races towards us as we take the whole scene in. There are 3 more waves behind this one and the lush green trees that line the point silhouette against a luminous stormy sky. An image we both feel burning into our memories. We clear the wave just as he wooshes by. My daughter gives him a hoot, feeling the contact high from the beauty we have all just shared. The next wave turns towards us and begins to stand up. My daughter is just in front if me and spins to catch it. I am filled with joy seeing how expertly she judges the wave’s position and her own, adjusting her paddling speed and direction to be in just the right place to catch it but not be caught by it. “Woo-hoo!” I shout as the wave rises up under her, her board suddenly lifting like a bucking horse its tail coming up and its nose down. She lets the nose drop and pops her legs under her as it falls away landing her feet on the deck of the board just before it careens end over end. She redirects the energy across the wave and slides away down the point another big smile spreading across her face. My eyes follow her like they have so many times before as she learned the skills necessary to be here now. Everything so much the same but then again so different. She is an adult, I can speak to her as a peer now in the water whereas before I was her parent and instructor, lifeguard and father. I am still her father however no longer in that male body. Today I sit in the surf line-up as a woman with my grown daughter after so many years as her male parent. The experience a completion of a long journey finally realized on my own part and hers.

As my children approached adulthood it became clear it was time for me to begin considering my own identity. I had spent all my energy safe-guarding them and nurturing their selves even as my own slowly drained from me. The more realized and conscious they became the more apparent my own stunted self was revealed. I had been living a half-life, always knowing there was someone inside whom no one could see. Every experience done as a voyeur, knowing I should feel more but always looking at it through a veil that separated me from the direct emotion. Having children broke through that initially. The profound moment of watching your child arrive still gives me chills and woke me from my sleep. They became the most precious things in my universe and my all consuming meaning. At the time they arrived I was married to their Mom and began to imagine a traditional family life. Perhaps this visceral connection to someone other than myself would be enough for me to let go of the constant awareness that I was not whole. Painfully and perhaps mercifully their mother could not live that broken reality and we parted ways as intimate partners but not as parents. I fought to be near them at times feeling short changed as their father but understood the deep need young children have for their birth mother. I became a weekend-warrior. I spent very Saturday and Sunday with my children for 5 years never taking one off. I worked the other 5 days but felt such a strong bond that I needed it as much as they did.

All was well or so I thought. I attempted other traditional male-female relationships but I could never get past the veil and my incomplete self. I dated multiple women, some met my children and some didn’t. Some I told of my incomplete self and others never knew. Some bitterly condemned me when I shared and others empathized but left anyway. None could live with someone who was only half present. As my children became teenagers I saw them less. I attempted to bridge the widening distance from my children by teaching them to surf and sharing my joy of the ocean. When my son turned thirteen I realized he needed a father to show him how to be a man. He wanted to feel special as a boy who could have his own unique time with his male role-model. My daughter had her Mother already. They shared experiences my son was not privy to nor interested in. He was all boy and wanted to feel that we had our own things and activities. He needed to bang his shield and spear together and I had to show him how. I began taking him surfing. We started with the easy spots and the smaller days. He devoured the experiences eagerly. Often we would get up before dawn and school to arrive at the ocean just as it was getting light. After dozens and dozens of surf sessions he slowly improved. I watched as his self confidence blossomed his body grew and began to display the lean muscles of a young man. This confidence spread into school and other areas as he started wrestling and playing football. He embraced the toughest male sports loving and reveling in activities I used to cringe at. By the time he was 18 he was a supremely confident Alpha male. It seemed whatever we had done had gone right.

My daughter I picked up again, perhaps a bit late after realizing she needed that same male influence. We suffered through a more difficult adolescence together. She trying to figure herself out in a world significantly more hostile to young women than men and I struggling with my own growing pains. I pushed hard trying to keep her near hoping she’d feel the love of the ocean as a grounding force in her life. Her strong intuition seemed to know I was hiding something. Her Mother worried I was harming her in some unconscious way. I felt my day of reckoning approach even as the waves come relentlessly across the water. I finally shared my struggle and split identity to my daughter in a therapy session when she was few weeks shy of her 18th birthday. I had always hoped to wait until she arrived at the that magic adult number to somehow preserve her childhood from my own complications and had nearly got there. Her struggles made it seem more imperative to finally be honest and let her in on who her father actually was.

Initially there was disbelief. This grizzled, athletic very male father was in fact a woman? I can’t even imagine how strange that must have been for her to wrap her mind around. My heart broke to disappoint another woman, but this time the single most important one of my life. I felt myself fall from her esteem. I, like every parent had the sudden descent from the Olympian pedestal to the shattered reality of a common flawed mortal. I pondered her mother’s need to help in the crash even as I knew of its inevitability. I shared with my 21 year old son, now a 6-foot-six heavily muscled man a few weeks later. He embraced me now towering over me and said, “I love you no matter what Dad.” Tears rolled down my cheeks at those words. The fear I had held so long at this moment dissolving on the shoulder of my beautiful child.

He has held onto that position even though I know there has been struggle for him to comprehend it. We surf less since he has graduated college and lives in another town with his fiancé but my daughter has recently returned. In the interim she has found her understanding of her world and herself and how I fit in it as a woman. In some ways she has become my mentor. After all ironically she has lived as a woman longer than I. She arrives from her long paddle back after her last wave with a huge bright smile. “Gorgeous wave!” I say as she sits up next to me. “Yeah, thanks Dad.” she grins. Just then the man who caught the wave right before hers paddles up. “You ladies still killing it over here?” “Oh yeah!” I respond. “You know it!” He gives me a big smile stopping for a moment to chat. “Girl Power!” I hear him say as he paddles off. My daughter and I look at each other and laugh out loud. “You have no idea!”