Here Goes

It’s been awhile but here is a “straight from my heart and unedited” post regarding last week’s episode of Survivor: Game Changers.

In case you are not familiar with this-

On last week’s reality show- Survivor- one contestant outed a fellow tribe member as transgender during tribal council. If you google it, I’m sure you will find videos and articles galore. I just can’t share a link or the video. I can’t.

Occasionally something comes up that I just need to say.  I need to let the words flow and I have to let them just land. As a writer, I tend to do a ton of editing and proof reading and re-reading……but when one of these posts comes up, well, I listen to my heart and I let them be. Of course, if I had shared the video, it might be easier to follow my ramblings but I really can’t do it. I went back and began watching the segment for a second time and I couldn’t finish.

As you may or may not know, outing a transgender person is wrong. It’s bad. You don’t do it. NEVER! There is absolutely no context in which it might be okay to do. The only person who has the right to share that very private thing is the person himself or herself.

As I sat watching Zeke’s reaction to being outed on national television by someone he might have trusted or at the very least thought he had formed a connection with, I recognized that look on his face. I have a trans kid. And although I have not been witness to them being outed unexpectedly, I watched my child at more social functions than I want to remember with a similar expression on their face. I recognized the tightness in his shoulders, the clench of his jaw, the checked out look in his eyes.

Zeke always knew that there was a chance he might be outed. Every transgender person who is just trying to live their life runs that risk. And I myself cannot imagine living with that- always wondering if today would be the day that someone would say something- and then how would people react. Because people always react- even when they don’t. I’ve witnessed that more times than I can count.

My heart aches for Zeke. It aches for anyone who is trying to live and finding themselves in a world that has all of these antiquated gender roles and stereotypes and expectations placed on them by society. I’m fairly certain that Zeke will be fine. I sincerely hope that he is fine and that this does not cause him to lose people in his life. I know- if he had people in his life that cannot be part of his life upon finding out that he is trans, then goodbye and good riddance. But the thing is, he will take a hit that won’t be easy to recover from. Once again, I can fall back on the experiences my kid has been faced with. The world can be an unfriendly place for transgender people. My kid is grown up so I have no control over the people they come into contact with or how they are treated. And as my child is in a different place than Zeke- being non-binary- their experience in more recent times is also very different than it was when they transitioned to male back 5 years ago.

But outing Zeke was not the only thing Jeff V did that night at Tribal Council. He made a conscious choice to use Zeke being transgender as evidence of Zeke’s deceitful nature- painting him as someone who could not be trusted because after all he was keeping his transition a secret. That was adding insult to injury. Each and every part of a transgender person’s transition is private and theirs to decide if they want to share. It does not imply that a person is deceitful. Quite frankly it’s no one’s business if a person is taking hormones or has had surgery.

There are many people who know little about what it means to be transgender. They don’t understand. Some are afraid of what they don’t understand and that fear drives them to act in some pretty cruel ways. They don’t realize how deeply their words or actions wound. (I want to think that they DON’T realize, because to willfully hurt someone like that- well, ask Jeff V how that worked for him right now?)

There are people who look through transgender people. It’s like they don’t exist, as if by being transgender, they have lost their right to be recognized as a person. Once again, I’ve watched it happen to my child. It might be worse than those hurtful words or cold stares- I don’t know. I just know it chills me to my bones, makes my blood boil and causes me to not be able to sit still and do nothing. And yet, I have had to do nothing when it happens to my child. Why? Because if I was to confront any of these people for looking through my child, as if they don’t exist anymore, I would probably do bodily harm. Unfortunately my kid has grown used to it and shrugs it off. I can’t. And now because Jeff V was willing to do anything to stay in a game, Zeke runs the risk of becoming invisible to people he thought he knew.

And since I brought him up again- Jeff V- the villain. Did he mean to hurt Zeke as terribly as he did? I don’t know. Did he know that what he was doing was wrong? I believe so. Did he realize that he had crossed a line? Maybe, maybe not. But he did think his strategy through so at some point, I find it hard to believe that it did not occur to him that what he was planning on doing was VERY BAD.

Enough about him

I would like to talk about Zeke’s tribe mates. How incredible were they! Their outrage, cries of anger and distress, support of Zeke…. all of it. I studied all of them as the scene played out. Tai and Andrea were immediately upset, crying out and calling Jeff V out for his actions. Debbie and Sarah were slower to speak but also expressed their feelings. And then there was Ozzy. See, my husband and I have been watching old seasons of Survivor and we recently watched Ozzy’s first time on the show. He’s grown up a lot over the years and I was curious about his reaction. He tends to be pretty calm and cool, and as he was not reacting, I was wondering…. Ozzy is a quiet guy so as is the case with most quiet people (see me raising my hand), others make assumptions based on absolutely nothing instead of just asking. I wasn’t sure what he was thinking. And then I heard his voice and he weighed in. Zeke’s entire tribe was on his side.

If the real world can be an unfriendly place for transgender people at times , the internet can be merciless. Small people get very brave hiding behind a computer screen. I read people accusing Survivor of staging it- that the entire thing was a carefully scripted ratings grabber. These people aren’t actors. And that chaos at Tribal Council was genuine. There are some things you can’t fake. Zeke’s shell-shocked expression, Jeff Probst’s face (and if you are a Survivor fan- you know that he’s Mr. Cool- even he was shocked and appalled at Jeff V’s words).

This episode shook me to my core. It dredged up emotions that I hadn’t felt since the early days of Kris coming out. It woke the protective mom in me and I wanted to hug Zeke and do battle with Jeff V.

But it also did something else- we are a long way from late summer of 2011 when Kris came out to us. We have gone through so many highs and lows. We have lost people and gained people. To some people who  might not have been present for the past nearly 6 years, we might appear to be only slightly changed by time and nothing more. I realize that 2017 Kris looks very much like what 1993-2011 Kerri might look today and nothing like 2011-2015 Kris did. And yet watching that episode brought all that we have been through with Kris back to the surface. It reminded me of how many people I have had the pleasure of meeting and adding to that special list I call friends. It showed me how much I have changed personally- how I came into my own as a person through Kris’s journey.

And it made me the Kat that I am today who is going to add a few tags and a category to this post and press that Publish button without looking back.

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.

Image

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

Five Years

Thanks to Facebook I was reminded that it was five years ago since my last family reunion. Nothing about this meant anything to anyone but me.

And for me, this little tidbit was a life changer.

See, five years ago was the last time most of my extended family saw my children (save the ones who I’m friends with on Facebook who pay attention to anything I post- making that number pretty small). Michael was 21, Kris (formerly Kerri) was 18 and Andrew was 15.

Just days following that family reunion, Kris came out to us as transgender- identifying as male, not the female. Since that day- which was a major turning point in all of our lives- we have embarked on an amazing journey.

We experienced name changes, pronoun changes, wardrobe and appearance changes. We saw the effects of testosterone as Kris transitioned. And then we found out what remains when T is no longer taken. We updated a license, social security, insurance and other various documents/cards with a new name and/or gender. Our relationships with each other as well as outsiders was put to the test. While I’m happy to report that our inner group of 5 remains strong, we lost people along the way. It’s unfortunate but we know who the genuine people are in our lives and we know who will be there when the chips are down. That is a gift that is most precious.

And to the casual outside observer, say someone who isn’t really paying close attention, if they look at my Facebook page today, they see Kris (who some might remember as Kerri, some might not even notice that the name changed 3 times) 5 years older than our 2011 Kris/Kerri. If they are unaware, they will have no doubt that Kris is a girl. A woman of 23 now. And they will be wrong.

My relationship with Kris has transitioned as Kris has transitioned. These days it closely resembles what it might have looked like if Kris was still Kerri and was not transgender. Bras and feminine products are on our shopping list. Kris asks if I have red nail polish or for my opinion on their eyebrows. With only a few minor exceptions, Kris’s gender expression is female. Their gender identity is non-binary. Things are calm right now.

As for me? Well, I’m in a different place now. I’ve gotten used to seeing Kris dressed as a girl. I’ve become so accustomed to it that photos of Kris as a boy seem like long ago. I have adjusted to the name change for the most part. (Kris will remain Kris in my blogging- which is how I know that I have accepted their new name. In my head and in my writing the new name is the first to pop out and I have to correct it to Kris.)

My subconscious is another story. Kris’s pronouns are they, them, theirs. My pronouns for Kris are so inconsistent. Hes and shes are interspersed with theys- sometimes all in the same sentence. In my thoughts shes are lurking around every corner. I understand that seeing Kris as a girl is triggering those feminine pronouns. But I also feel the internal struggle with wanting to have a neat little package tied with a bow- and I know that I cannot have that. My head understands that there is not a special word that equates son or daughter in non-binary but my heart yearns for it.

I’ve lost my place in my support groups as well. I’m no longer the parent of a child who transitioned from female to male or identifies as male. While I have the experiences of the last five years. I do not know anyone who has a child who is non-binary with their gender expression matching the sex they were assigned at birth. In some circles Kris isn’t considered transgender. I read the posts and attend the meetings and support anyone I encounter who is struggling with their trans kid, but part of me feels like I no longer fit in. I seem to be surrounded by parents celebrating their children’s transitions, surgeries, name changes…… I’m so happy for them. (And confused for me.) I am sure that these wonderful people will continue to be supportive- even if I feel like I don’t belong here. I know this because these are truly the most amazing people in the world- supportive parents of transgender people.

I’m uneasy right now. In other parts of my life I am facing challenges that might make my experience with Kris look like child’s play.

Everything happens for a reason, right? Well, I know I have at least one friend who doesn’t really believe this. (And she knows who she is- if she reads this… which I hope she will because maybe it will help her to understand part of my silence lately.)

The past five years presented me with the biggest challenge of my life (or so I thought). My world was turned upside down and continued to be so for probably four of the five years. And it might be that this journey is not over yet and this is just an ebb…. waiting for the flow to return. But maybe it is not. And maybe the last five years was preparing me for what lies ahead.

One thing is certain. Wait, maybe two…… three.

  • I learned that I am much stronger than I ever realized.
  • If you truly love your child, it doesn’t matter what their name is or if they wear a dress or not. You just love them.
  • The LGBTQ community is truly AMAZING.

So as I post something to Facebook, there might be friends who look at my latest posts and think, “Hmm, not much going on there. Kids are growing up. Cute little boys. She looks older….” But the ones who know, will know. They will understand the significance of the picture I shared today. They will be familiar with the journey that got me to this place, some coming in part way, some dropping in and out, and the special ones who have been with me every step of the way.

I’m not sure what the next five years will bring and while I continue along Kris’s road, another path has joined our family’s path. I’m anxious, unsure if I’m truly up for what we will be facing, but I felt this way before….five years ago. And I’m still here. We’re all still here.

 

It Isn’t Easy

When my middle child, Kris, still went by Kerri* I had a rambunctious, feisty, strong-willed little girl on my hands. I could always tell when she was preparing for a major step towards independence. She acted in a very specific way that is difficult, even to this day, for me to describe. I can only liken it to her holding onto my hand as tightly as she could, as if she was afraid if she loosened her grasp in the slightest she would lose contact with me instantaneously. Meanwhile, with her free hand she was pushing me away with all her might. 2004As a parent, it was hell to experience. I couldn’t help, I couldn’t hold on and I couldn’t let go. I had to just be there. And I always did my best to be sure that K knew that.

In 24 hours we will be taking Kris to college, setting him up in a campus apartment with a roommate he has never met.

He is 22 years old. This is the third time he is leaving us. Those two sentences should be telling me that a. he is old enough to do this and b. he has experience living without us…18 months to be exact.

Still, I’m worried. And this goes beyond your average “kid going to college” mom worry. You would think I would be used to this but I’m not. I’m not sure that I will ever stop worrying. K and mom

This first time Kris left was when he entered his freshman year of college. He had come out to us as transgender just weeks before. It was the worst nine months of our lives.

Time number two was last year when he was in the Disney College Program. Kris suffered major anxiety throughout our drive resulting in me panicking in a major way about my ability to leave him there. He landed on his feet….sort of.

And now, as the clock winds down and we find ourselves closer to that time when I will have to hug him and walk out the door, I can feel it happening yet again.

The tug on my hand, the pull on my heart. He will be okay. I know this. It doesn’t make it any easier.

January 2014

*When it comes to pronouns, it can be a tricky thing in the transgender world. Early in this journey, Kris and I discussed which pronouns he felt comfortable with us using when referring to him during his “Kerri” days. With some trial and error, we decided that using feminine pronouns when talking about Kerri felt like the best fit. Kris’s reasoning is that at the time that he was Kerri although he knew he felt more male, he was living his life as a girl.