Your Inside is Out 2.0

Just over five years into the life changing journey that I have experienced with my non-binary child, I have started to revisit earlier posts. They are from a time when we were in a different place than we are now.

I am sharing a post from April 2014, when my trans kid, Kris, identified as male and used he, him, his as pronouns. I am leaving it in its original form, with the only revision being my addition at the end. 

If you are unfamiliar with Kris’s story, you can catch up HERE

I originally wrote this entry 18 months ago. I find it interesting that time and a little perspective make all the difference.

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October 2012 “Your outside is in and your inside is out.” I don’t know exactly what John Lennon was referring to in the song Everybody’s Got Something to Hide… Whether it’s drugs, sex or spirituality, it doesn’t matter to me. Right now I can relate to the song. For quite some time I have been feeling like my outside is in and my inside is out. Today is one of those inside out days.

About 6 months ago, K asked if I would mind taking down his senior picture. It was hanging on the wall in between his brothers’ school pictures. I didn’t have a hard time with that. In fact, the picture had seemed like a sort of taunt every time I saw it. It’s a beautiful picture. K looks incredible in the picture. Yes, I could see where that might be a problem for him. His hair and make up are perfect. Lovely smile. Sparkling eyes. A gorgeous girl. Definitely not an accurate representation of my middle child, who was now a boy. I took it down. Now there was a blank spot in between my two other children’s pictures. And now instead of being taunted by the photo of the daughter who did not exist, I was being haunted by a blank space. That lasted for about 5 months. Every time I walked past that well, which was countless times a day, it seemed to mock me, the blank spot magnified. When someone came over, I was sure their eyes jumped to that empty space and what was missing. Finally I took the other pictures down as well and had a blank wall with nails poking out waiting for something to be hung on them. It was easier to look at that empty wall. It seemed really blank and took up more space than I remembered but it was definitely easier. When I mentioned first, the senior picture coming down and then next, all the pictures coming down to my mother and sister, both seemed to be upset by the idea. My sister got defensive about the “girl” pictures she had around her house. To both mom and sis, I repeated that no one was asking anyone to do anything. And the truth was, I wasn’t. I was just informing them so it wouldn’t be a shock when they came over. If they came over. Ever again. I wanted K to be comfortable in his own home. And I wanted him to be able to bring friends home, if he wanted.

I knew that there were probably other pictures that made K uncomfortable so I mentioned to him that in the future, we would be doing a whole house/all pictures overhaul. We would take everything down and then decide what’s going back up. That way, he could remove anything that caused him discomfort or pain. Was taking down these photos going to cause me some heartache? Sure, but I would get over it. And I told myself that, although my heart ached at the thought of removing those beloved photographs.

A few days later, something clicked inside me. I’m not sure what triggered it, but I knew that the time had come to tackle the pictures. It was time to move on. Before I could do that, I needed to do one thing. I went through our pre-digital camera photo albums and started scanning the “girl” pictures of K from birth on up. That was the cause of the inside out feeling. K at different ages evoked different emotions. The baby/toddler/preschool days filled my heart with love. The early elementary days made me smile. What caught me off guard (and probably shouldn’t have) was the early teen years. I felt like someone had stabbed me in the heart at the sight of my middle child with full make up and a woman’s figure. In my head, I know that’s what he looked like. It was such a sharp contrast to the boy who lived with me these days. Such a shock to the system to remember how girly my girl was. My emotions were all askew. I was mourning for the loss of my daughter once again. I was proud of the young man he was becoming. I was amazed at how much an ultra feminine picture taken 15 months ago could look so wrong. I was happy, sad, angry. All at once.

My goal was to take my special girl pictures and make an album. A sort of letting go project that would keep my memories safe and in a place where I could easily see them when needed. I told my mom about this, once again- not to cause pain or guilt or trouble- just as a warning. She replied almost angrily that she was probably going to take all of her pictures down. I just couldn’t win. Once again with the people that were expecting me to lead them in supporting me and my kids, I had done the wrong thing.

Once again, I knew that this was her issue and not mine but it just made me wonder if I was correct in my guess at her anger. Was I making my parents deal with something they didn’t want to face? Or were they embarrassed by K and ticked off at me for not nipping “this phase” in the bud? Or was it their inability to accept it and their guilt over not supporting us?

“Everybody’s got something to hide except me and my monkey.” ~John Lennon

April 2014  I’m happy to report that after my picture overhaul, K sorted out all the pictures into two groups. There were quite a few that we could display if they were black and white. Removing pink or purple made all the difference. Yes, there is a gaping hole of about 10 years when K’s pictures are just too girly and we don’t display those. But it really is okay. I love the pictures I have out. Little 2 year old K wearing his big brothers windbreaker, jeans and hair swept up in a baseball cap- that’s my little boy- the one that was always there, trying to get out. I showed my mom those pictures and said, “See, he was there all along. These are K.” I’m working on a scrapbook. It’s therapeutic for me to remember little snippets of that little girl and I have realized that I don’t have to let her go. I had a daughter for 18-1/2 years and I’ve had a son for 2-1/2 years. But I’ve had my middle child, K, for 21 years.

February 2017 It’s hard to believe that Kris will turn 24 soon. Much has happened in the 22 months since I first published this post and the 3-1/2 years since I began writing it. While Kris is still searching to find their comfort level in expressing who they are, they seem to be settled (and more at peace) with identifying as non-binary and using they, them, their pronouns. Their gender expression is strictly feminine, and often they are taken to be a young lady. (And Kris assures me that this is fine.)

A few months ago, Kris asked if we could find a picture that accurately represents who they are up on the wall. This would be the wall where my children’s school pictures were displayed, with the final photographs being their senior pictures. In the Great Photo Purge of 2012 I struggled with a replacement and finally Kris provided one of his abstract self portraits. Not having a studio portrait of Kris that compared with my sons’ senior pictures, I asked Kris how they felt about the senior picture going back up. Kris agreed that it was the best option and I dusted off Kris’s senior picture and placed it back on the wall. I will admit that I do a slight double-take at times, not expecting to see it there but it’s nice to have it back. Especially since in the picture, 2011 Kerri looks exactly like Kris does now.

All of those photographs tell Kris’s story. If I was to lay out a smattering of pictures of Kris spanning the last almost 24 years, I would see my baby girl who grew into a spirited toddler and precocious preschooler who alternated between begging to take ballet and wanting to do whatever her big brother was doing. I would watch Kerri’s energy and personality merge with her determination to become a pre-adolescent finding a way to survive. My heart would swell with pride and ache with sorrow at the teen years when Kerri was battling to make it through and somehow managed to accomplish so much that I’m proud of. Then I would reach when Kerri came out as transgender and transitioned to Kris. And I would marvel at the last five years and how far Kris has come, pulling together all those fragments from the pieces of their life leading up to this point to become the person I have always known they were.

Kris

Daily Prompt: Recognize

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It’s funny how things can change in a split second. One second you think you know the world you’re living in and just like that- it has changed.

That is exactly what happened when my middle child, Kris, came out as transgender. If you aren’t familiar with Kris’s background, you can read about it HERE to catch up.

Not only was I trying to understand what was going on with my kid, but I also had almost every person in my life reacting to this news and sharing their every thought, feeling and opinion on it with me. Needless to say, it was overwhelming and didn’t leave much time for me to deal with my own stuff.

In what seemed like the blink of an eye, but was actually a much longer process, we weeded out, pared down, lost and reshaped our family dynamics. When all was said and done, our circle of trusted people was very small.

As a mother, I absolutely refused to surround Kris with people who were not fully and openly supportive of him as he transitioned and/or figured out who he was. Regardless of how “okay” he seemed on any given day, I knew that he was at risk. I knew that with every text he sent me that expressed how he truly felt about himself and the world, there were millions of those thoughts swirling around in his head.

And just last week he had texted something that made my heart miss a beat. As I was texting back “Do I have to call 9-1-1?” I was moving around the house, mentally planning on how quickly I could get to him…… (I panicked but it made me realize how close to the surface that constant fear lives inside me.)

Our lives took on a different feeling and we got used to being a small tribe. We did not tolerate transphobic and homophobic people.

We knew who we could trust- or so we thought.

And then— just like that—– from inside our circle, Kris was attacked. By one of our own. As the conversation, through text, unfolded, Kris was sending me screenshots.

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Was this for real? When I saw this text, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was reeling, standing there in shock, and I could not imagine what Kris was feeling.

I have to give Kris a lot of credit because his responses were amazing. Although he was feeling betrayed, hurt and attacked, he never lost his cool. His texts remained rational and relevant to the conversation. At that point, I can’t say that I would have been able to do the same.

 

Until the exact moment that Kris sent me the first screenshot of this conversation, I would have sworn that there was no one in the world that I would tolerate saying these things. And then this happened. And it was probably the ONLY person, due to circumstances beyond my control, that I couldn’t cut lose. text2

I did not speak to LC, other than when necessary, for days. I was afraid of what might come out if I was to try to talk about this. There were people who were no longer part of our lives having said or done a lot less.

I shared this article on Facebook, hoping to reach some inner part of them. –If I Have Gay Children (Four Promises From a Christian Pastor and Parent) by John Pavlovitz. It’s a beautifully written article and I thought maybe by reading it, they might take a closer look at what they were saying. Instead, to my horror, LC shared the article with a challenge for people to have the courage to speak their minds on this matter…..to support their homophobic platform. After a few more homophobic posts, LC deactivated their Facebook account.

This person could not understand why everyone (in our small family unit) was mad at them and why no one was speaking to them. And they were quite offended that terms like homophobic and transphobic were being tossed their direction.

I’ll be honest with you. I shut down and closed ranks. I only spoke to my children and my husband. I didn’t trust anyone except my four people. I can’t go into the details of why it wasn’t as simple as cutting this person loose (after giving them a very thorough tongue lashing with a side of raking over the coals). I had conversations with both of Kris’s brothers and as expected, they are furious. Michael and Andrew are very protective of Kris. Andrew is Kris’s best friend and Michael takes his role as the oldest sibling very seriously. (I am so freaking lucky to have such loving and loyal kids!)

I’m not protecting LC’s privacy but that of one of my four. Please trust me when I tell you that this would make a great movie.

Kris and Andrew, my college kids, are away at school but due back for spring break so it was up to those of us who were here to talk to LC and get an idea what they were thinking. Did they really believe the things they said? Did they actually have a problem with Kris being transgender? And how the hell were we going to figure this out? Regardless, this person needed to know that Kris would be Kris and never again asked to be anyone or anything else.

I’m sure I can guess what you’re thinking. That talk must have been a doozy! Did I tear their head off? Shake some sense into them? Did anyone storm out of the room? Nope. That’s it. Just nope. LC said very little, did not seem too apologetic or the least bit remorseful. I explained why this entire incident was so harmful for Kris. They did say they supported Kris and didn’t mean for all of this to happen but when asked about the texts and the Facebook incidents, they remained silent.

I’ve given this much thought since we had that “conversation” with LC. I walked away from it feeling that nothing was resolved. That is because it would have required something from LC that was not coming. I’m not sure what I expected and I’m not sure what would make things better.

I do know that Kris and Andrew will be home in a few short weeks and we will all be sitting down once again to talk about this. LC had better step up. And I continue to be angry and frustrated and fed up.

To be continued…

jane howard

 

Park Days

I remember being at the park with the mom’s group I belonged to at the time with my two kids. Andrew wasn’t around yet. Michael was probably just under 4 years old which would make Kris around a year and a half old. Every week we would join the other moms and kids at the park.  For me it was a lifeline to other moms who were in the trenches along side me.

It was no small feat, facing that outing. It required great planning. I had to make sure our blanket was clean- and still in the car. I had to make sure I had a large supply of snacks and water bottles and a little juice. (Too much juice just bought you countless outings to the porta-john- and if there’s one thing I wanted to avoid, it was visiting there at all.) We needed sunscreen and bug spray, wipes, paper towels, changes of clothes, bandaids, diapers for Kris. The list was endless, or so it seemed. And after loading up the car and taking one last trip to the bathroom, we would head out for a morning with our friends.

We all looked forward to going to the park. Michael and Kris had many playmates to choose from, in addition to the playground equipment and exploring the grassy area, trying to climb the trees, digging in the dirt. And the best part of all is that I got to see the other moms. We sat on our blankets, swapping war stories, sharing advice and new discoveries while keeping an eye on our kids. Park days were the best!

One morning stands out in my memory. It began just like any other park day. One by one or sometimes in pairs, moms arrived. Depending on the ages of their children and how light they packed, they might bring the kids out of the car first, asking the other moms if they could keep an eye while they unpacked their car. Others, like me, were determined to do it all in one trip- kids, blanket, bags and all.

This particular morning I remember this mom, Cathy, who did not travel light, taking 3 trips back and forth as she brought food, chairs, blanket, bags and toys. Her children, Eric and Ashley, were the same ages as mine and Michael loved playing with her son. As she brought the kids up along with a bag and blanket, Eric ran off weaving in and out of swings in search of friends. He almost collided with a younger child who had come down the slide and skidded to a halt when he found Michael, giving him a friendly shove down. Cathy reprimanded him, reminding him to be careful around the smaller children. Before she had even completed her 2nd trip, Eric was throwing dirt. Cathy told him to stop throwing dirt as she was walking up with the chairs. Her back was barely turned before Eric had bent down to grab another handful. Michael had caught my eye as he had also squatted. All it took was a menacing, “Michael” from me for him to straighten up. Michael was no angel but he knew, as did Eric, that throwing dirt was not allowed.

The rest of us moms all sat on our blankets, failing miserably at holding a normal conversation, as Cathy walked back up. She set down the diaper bag and this time as she took in Eric, both hands full of dirt, arms raised, the weariness that lined her face was obvious. We stumbled at conversation while she gave Eric his first official warning. Then she uttered the words we all avoided like the plague. “If I have to warn you one more time, we are leaving.”

Yes, she went there. She had issued an ultimatum. I think we collectively held our breath.

Eric considered her threat and his arms slowly lowered, his hands opening to drop the dirt.

We could breathe again. The moment had appeared to pass.

Cathy unpacked her belongings, set up the kids’ little chairs, smoothed out her blanket and sat back, ready to join in on the conversation.

And then it happened. Without warning, Eric scooped up a handful of dirt and flung it at a passing toddler.

Time stopped.

I will never forget the defeated look on Cathy’s face. She couldn’t look any of us in the eye. I’m sure she was fighting back tears. She sighed and got to her feet. She slowly began the packing up process, folding the blanket and chairs, placing food and drinks back in the bag, gathering up toys. She turned our direction as she loaded up everything for one trip and asked, “Could you please keep an eye on them?”

We all nodded and/or murmured our consent.

And as she trudged back to her van, arms loaded, a cry arose from the playground equipment. It was coming from Eric, who had just realized what was happening.

A very resigned but determined Cathy scooped up little Ashley, who had never quite made it onto the playground area, and grabbed Eric, whose cries had escalated into screams. As Ashley realized that she was not going to be playing today, her sobbing joined her brother’s.

We sat in silence until the cries were muted by the closing of the minivan door and we watched Cathy back out of the parking space.

We talked quietly of how much we respected Cathy for following through on her threat. We felt awful for her. We knew that she had been having a rough time with Eric. Like most of us who had kids over the age of 2, 3 had been a much more trying year than 2 could ever be. We did not judge Cathy or the choices she made. If anyone had needed that morning out among her people, it had been Cathy. On any given day, one or more of us WAS Cathy. Although our parenting styles varied as much as our personalities, we still shared a common bond- that of being women who chose to leave their professions to raise their children. We did this at a time when being a stay at home mom was not valued as much as it once had been. Parents who worked did not know what it truly meant to be home with your children full time, or maybe they did and that’s why they worked. 😉  We were each others’ lifelines.

The next week when Cathy arrived at the park with all of her stuff, she brought a much 1 week wiser Eric who had learned that there are consequences to your actions. Or maybe he just learned to not get caught throwing dirt. Regardless, we greeted Cathy with a warm welcome back and sat back and listened as she shared the recounting of her week. We shared some of our own horror stories and frustrations and we felt the tension melt away. We were among friends who understood, not only because they were caring, empathetic people, but because they had been there too.

Recently for the first time I sat at a table talking with other parents of transgender children. There were five us. Other than one fleeting conversation 6 months ago, I had never had a live conversation with another parent going through the same thing I had been experiencing for the past 4 years. It was so nice. Although I’ve always known I wasn’t the only one with a transgender kid, I was sitting there thinking, I’m not the only one. As one of us spoke, the rest nodded their heads, not just nods of sympathy, empathy, compassion but nods that said, “Yes, I know exactly how you feel. I feel/felt/experienced the same thing.”

And I was reminded of those long ago days, sitting on my blanket, talking to other moms. This connection with other parents is priceless.

Park days were the days that got me through. They were the best.

They still are.

And There She Was

When I found out that my child was transgender and not my daughter but actually my son, it took some time to wrap my head around it. I went through a sort of letting go process. Although so much of my child’s true being remained, as testosterone, a new name and pronouns and appearances took over, I was forced to let go of the idea of having a daughter. And I had to let go of my daughter.

Each person’s journey is unique to them and their circumstances. Some parents of transgender children adapt easily. Some resist the process, embrace denial, hold onto the child they thought they had. And then some fall somewhere in the middle. I like to think that many of us fall in that middle place- transitioning as parents while our children transition to reflect their true selves. I love my son but I missed my daughter. On a good day, I was torn. Feeling guilty for missing the daughter that never was, as if it took away from my feelings for my son. It took me some time to get to the point where I accepted that it was okay for me to feel this way. I had spent over 18 years building a relationship with Kerri and in the blink of an eye, it was all gone. What I had not realized was that underneath the mother-daughter bonding that we were so busy doing, there was also the basic mother-child relationship that remains regardless of what name my child goes by. Somewhere along the way, I came to accept that Kerri was gone and I let myself miss her.

When I first began getting “feelings” of Kerri being around, I was confused and did not mention it to anyone. I knew what they would think- that I wanted my daughter back or that I was wishing Kris was Kerri again or something along that line which would require me to explain (summoning up my patience with every fiber of my being) that Kerri wasn’t real….that she existed only in the context that Kris needed her to in order for him to survive. I didn’t want to place doubt in anyone’s minds regarding who Kris is. In some respect, it had been an uphill battle getting people to accept Kris as a boy. As it is, we still have people who refer to Kris by his birth name and feminine pronouns.

So as flashes of Kerri appeared, I shoved them into the background and carried on until I found out that Kris was no longer on testosterone and those flashes were not my imagination at all. As the last few months have unfolded and I learned more about what it meant for Kris to be genderqueer, non-binary, gender nonconforming (any or all of these) I grew used to those fleeting glimpses of Kerri and they didn’t sting quite so much. I was the only one who saw those subtle changes and rare sightings, probably because I’m the mom, right? That was fine with me. No need to give anyone cause for further use of wrong name/pronouns.

And then the other evening I was out with Diane, one of my best friends. I was in the middle of sharing some Baby Beej story when my phone screen lit up indicating a text from Kris. I continued talking while I opened the text but the words died instantly at the picture filling my phone screen. He had sent me a picture of himself in his Halloween costume. He had dressed up as an okapi- because hey, why wouldn’t a person want to be an okapi? The reddish-brown body of a deer with striped zebra legs and cute ears……

AND THERE SHE WAS.

Not the daughter I had let go of at 18. No, this was Kerri 4 years older- almost 23 years old. The only part that was Kris was his glasses. The rest was the daughter I had not seen in over 4 years. Not a glimpse. Not fleeting. Just pure Kerri looking back at me. I closed the text and continued to Beej story. My dear friend graciously ignored my misstep and let it pass.

That picture marked a turning point for me. It helped me pass a milestone in my acceptance of Kris as genderqueer. It made me realize that I might see more of Kerri and that was also okay, that Kerri is still part of Kris and this is what makes my kid so freaking unique and awesome and brave and wonderful! Whether he is dressed as an okapi or so non-binary that a person can’t gender or misgender him, he is one step closer to expressing his true self.

And as for me and those “Kerri” days, I can feel a little sad and a lot happy that he’s here and he’s my kid. I am truly blessed to have been given the gift of knowing my child WAY better than most people know theirs. His true spirit and nature and essence and being just radiate from him. How cool is that!!!!!