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.

On Friendship

Friend and love.

These words have taken on a meaning that, in my eyes, has diminished their importance. Everyone is a friend. We love everyone. The words just glide effortlessly through our lips as easily as “hello” or “how are you?” I don’t use those words so lightly. 

I admit to having different levels of friends. Some might be more casual. Some closer. Some might fluctuate. And before you start thinking that I have some elaborate system of classifying my friends, you can stop right there. (I don’t have that much free time on my hands!) 

I am extremely blessed to have a small group of very close friends- my best friends. It’s strange for me to have more than one friend that is that close. For my entire life, I had one best friend and quite frankly, had no need for anyone else. It was a flawed practice. It isn’t fair to put that much on one single person. And if I’m being honest here, I’m not the easiest person to be a best friend to. (just sayin’…)

Somehow, somewhere along the way, I found myself to have these three awesome people in my life. When I think of them, I’m reminded of a scene from the tv show, Roseanne. You don’t really need to be familiar with the show to understand the scene. Darlene’s baby is being taken off all support and has little chance of survival. Darlene and her baby are surrounded by her mother, sister, aunt and grandmother as each gives baby Harris words of hope and encouragement. The part I’m referencing comes at about 35 seconds in when Darlene’s Aunt Jackie shares a story from her childhood.

“If you feel like you’re, like you’re starting to fall away, then you’re not..because we’re gonna pull you back inside.” -Jackie

These three people are the ones how have pulled me back inside time and again when I’ve been in desperate need. They have been solid and true throughout more than just what I’ve gone through with Kris. That might actually be the least of it and you can bet that no one is more surprised than me to admit that. They have stood by me throughout relative drama, numerous family health issues, and currently some pretty big ones with a loved one battling a major illness and another struggling with a mental health illness (both hitting very close to home).

When you have friends like that, you don’t use that word lightly. Not many people want to even be around someone who’s going through so much crap layered one on top of the next.

They are amazing examples of friendship.

They remind me-

  • to be patient when the other is struggling with something, no matter how big or small
  • to listen and hear.
  • to ask questions for the purpose of helping.
  • to check in…. often.
  • to offer to help out, whether it’s errands, listening, whatever – and do it often and over and over again, even if I’m sure I’ll be turned down.
  • to give them a reason to smile.
  • to let them know how much they mean to me.
  • to let them know they are never alone.
  • to give them a gentle or not-so-gentle kick in the butt, when needed.
  • to never judge.
  • to celebrate their joys and successes.
  • to trust them.
  • to encourage them when they need a little push.
  • to be open with them..
  • to be honest
  • to let them know that I will always have their back.
  • to be kind, when one is being a major pain. (I would be the pain.)
  • that life is short and making time for friends is important.
  • to laugh, cry, vent, tease, love, hug, humor, and be with them.
  • to pull them back inside when they are starting to fall away.

What I absolutely love about these friendships is that they didn’t explode into full bloom over night. One happened slow and steady, building as time passed. One was quiet and constant and just there all along. And the last took me by surprise by appearing at a time when I needed it most. These friendships help me to value all of the new friendships I have made through this blog.

My hope is that I offer something to all of you, my new friends (who are at various levels of friendship in my fictitious friend system- and it most definitely does not exist!). I can say with certainty that my interaction with all of you, whether it is daily, intermittent, through comments, likes, texts, e-mails, messages, phone calls, is priceless to me. And I openly admit that looking at my list above, so many of you have hit the mark along the way. I’m not surprised. Bloggers are awesome people!

I hope as you move through your days and celebrate, whether it is a holiday or everyday life, that you take time to cherish your friendships. (Mind you, I’m not saying to ignore your family, unless you really want to, that is….. you know what I mean.)

Happy Day! Stay dry, warm, cool, healthy and safe!

-Kat

A Little Teapot

My dearest friend, Ivy, collected teapots. I didn’t know this until just about a year ago when she was preparing to pack up her house to move. The move was bittersweet because she was not only leaving the house where she had raised her child, but also her childhood home and neighborhood.

It was not her choice but she was moving into a smaller place. Therefore, she had to make the heartbreaking decision of what to keep and what to give or throw away. Her house held not only her own precious items but those of her parents, who had been gone for awhile.

Ivy was hurting, sad, in a dark, lonely place and I wanted to do everything and anything I could to help her. One thing Ivy was not- was weak. She was a fighter and she was tough and she did not ask for help. She had been this way since the first time I met her 14 years ago. And remains so today even after what has to have been one of the roughest years of her life.

Packing up a lifetime of memories and making those hard decisions that were forced on her were painful to watch. I wanted to take her pain away but I knew I couldn’t. Sometimes in life, people you love have to go through really trying times and you have to let them. It was difficult to keep it all in balance- the desire to help her with the realization that this was something she was going to have to handle on her own. Like I said, Ivy is tough, so just getting her to let me help was a major challenge. I did what I could and tried to be nearby in case she needed me. I hovered so closely that I’m sure I tried her patience.

Ivy tells me that I’m very complex and private, that there are many layers to me and I’m very particular who I let close. I think everyone is like that to some degree and at this time, Ivy, who lives out loud and whose emotions I can read a mile away, closed up shop and shut herself away. I understood.

She was at a turning point in her life. The biggest yet. And she was scared, hurt, worried, tired, angry, and more emotions than I could list. But as I watched her pack up her life and give away, donate or throw out possessions, I was concerned. She reached a point where she was getting rid of everything. I’m all for new beginnings and fresh starts but I feared she was going to regret this. I knew it. I offered to let her store things in my garage, which she turned down. Everything had to go. Even if she didn’t realize what she was doing, I did. She was punishing herself. See, Ivy blamed herself for arriving to this place. What she didn’t want to understand is that none of us lives in a vacuum and she hadn’t gotten there alone. But she was and remains very hard on herself. Ivy is the most loving, caring person I know. She would literally give a person the coat off her back, no questions asked. She is always thinking of others and she’s so outgoing that she has no problem making everyone around her feel her love with her words, looks and hugs. And she beats herself up, mercilessly at times.

And that’s when I found out that she had collected teapots. She asked me if I knew anyone who wanted them. She expressed sorrow that the collection had to go. I offered to store them until she confirmed that there was no place in her new home for them but she refused. She asked if my daughter-in-law might like them and if not, she was donating the lot to Goodwill.

I wasn’t sure how important these teapots were to her. (I had never seen her drink tea once in all the years I had known her.) But I knew that I had to take those teapots. She might want them back one day, even though she insisted she did not. (And maybe she will never want them back.) While she packed up her collection, she gifted me with her most special teapot and I placed it in my kitchen, where I think of her every time I see it. I also took possession of her collection and stored it in a safe place.

And then last week I was browsing around my local thrift store and I saw teapots on a shelf.

Ivy came to mind and I felt a familiar twinge of sadness at the sight of someone else’s teapot collection sprinkled throughout the shelves. There’s always a story behind the items on these shelves and I often wonder how they came to be there.

And then I saw it. It was hidden behind the bigger, flashier teapots. It was actually a sweet little white teapot. Not at all Ivy’s type. But then again, her favorite teapot that she gave me isn’t my type so I hope when I give it to her this Christmas that she will remember that.

She can categorize it as Christmas and pull it out once a year. She can store it in the corner of a cabinet. She can donate it. Or she can spray paint it some cool color, because I’m itching to do it myself before giving it to her. (Can you tell I discovered the many wonders of spray paint and want to paint just about everything?)

I hope she will accept this teapot for what it symbolizes. I hope she realizes how much I love her. How proud I am of her. How much I am in awe of her. I hope she knows that I wish her happiness and joy for the rest of her life and that I hope to be part of it-that I’ve hurt every step of the way along side her but there were times when she had to go it alone. I want her to know that even if it hurts, it’s okay to keep things from the past. Less is not always more. Sometimes that item represents something so much more.

She once said that if she decided to start collecting teapots again that she would start fresh. I don’t know if that is something she will ever do or if the teapots represent a part of her past, a part of who she no longer is.

I do know that life goes on and one day we will look at that teapot (or just talk about it) and remember this time when we were SO in this moment of our lives that we thought this is what it was going to be and we will realize that we had no clue. Just like we didn’t have a clue when we met all those years ago when our kids were so young.

I will do anything for Ivy and her child, and I know she will return the favor. I’m not pretty sure nor do I feel a false sense of security. We have been to hell and back together and I KNOW that we will always be friends.

ivys-teapot

I hope she likes it!

Follow Up to “Say Nothing or Something”

Yesterday’s post- Say Nothing or Something– was not the post I thought I was going to write when I began it over a week ago. In fact, I scrapped half of it and changed the name a few times. I had actually thought about the post for weeks before even trying to formulate a coherent post and in the end, I still felt that it was rambly and not quite what I wanted to say.

The past few weeks have been filled with some unpleasant blindsides, truths and a bully along with his spineless followers thrown in for good measure. I had recently said that I felt like I was being pushed out of my own life. In too many places, I was getting the message that I no longer fit in or was no longer wanted and/or needed. To say that I’ve been floundering would be something of an understatement. I can’t remember feeling this insecure and unsure since my teenage years.

And the Say Nothing post was taunting me. I might not know where I belonged anymore or where I was headed but I knew I needed to write it. And to write specifically about how I wasn’t sure if I had something to offer. (I’m not going to go into details about “the hits that just kept on coming” but suffice it to say, I was rattled in all areas of my life, and quite frankly still am.) I knew that my need to write was not a result of “the hits” because it had been flitting through my mind for awhile. So I attempted to write it. 

And here is what happened- 

You responded. Through blogging I have had the pleasure and honor of meeting incredible people. First of all, there is the blogging community. Wow! Although I have been writing my entire life, this blog was the first time I let anyone actually read what I wrote. I cannot think of a better place for a beginner to get her toes wet.

Whether you liked, commented or read my post and did nothing more, THANK YOU! This community is amazing. People are so supportive and are always willing to cheer you on and help you to succeed. My little oddities as a writer don’t seem quite so odd in this place. 🙂 I have the courage to continue to write and I’ve been toying with venturing into writing fiction here, too.  Bloggers are the best!

When I took the Blogging U courses, I met some really great people, who have become friends. I have connected with them outside of this community and their friendship means the world to me.

The other group that I’ve been blown away by is the LGBTQ community. I wasn’t sure who was going to read my blog, although I thought that they might be parents of transgender kids. (Makes sense, doesn’t it?) Some of my most enriching experiences were with the transgender people I’ve met here. I have never been looking for support or a pat on the back as a parent. As I’ve said quite a few times, I don’t know how to be any other type of mom than the one I am. I cherish the heartfelt exchanges with my fellow parents of trans kids. This group, the LGBTQ community both within the blogging world and out, are consistently the most gentle, kindest, welcoming people I have ever had the fortune to interact and connect with.

But parenting a transgender child is not easy. Especially when you spend 18 years not knowing you’re doing it! And it was as I shared our journey and heard from people who were on their own journey, but as full grown adults, that I felt that we were going in the right direction. I didn’t want Kris to feel that they had to wait for someone to die before they could be their true self. Although I will never truly know what it feels to be transgender, through research, reading and talking with Kris, I wanted to be sure I was getting an accurate feel for where they were at and what was going on inside. It was through Kris and my transgender friends here that I was able to gain a better understanding.

And my heart broke as I thought of Kris’s childhood and the confusion they must have felt for so much of it. I’ve been assured that it wasn’t all torture, gloom and doom, and there are videos, photographs and memories that support that. Still, I wanted to be sure that moving forward, my child would have to opportunity to live the same life that everyone else was given and that they would be accepted as their brothers were- for who they were- not what people wanted them to be.

As Kris has become more comfortable expressing their gender in a feminine way, there are people who thought/think that Kris changed their mind and had gone back to being a girl. I don’t feel compelled to go into a lengthy explanation. Kris is Kris. If someone asks, I will answer. The depth of the answer depends on the person. I consider this to be a huge step for me- no longer feeling the need to explain or justify Kris’s life to anyone. But it came with a price and that was that when I continued to speak as the parent of a transgender child, it didn’t really look that way anymore. If you have a nonbinary or gender variant/creative/nonconforming child, you know that appearances are a wild card on any day of the week. And those folks don’t even ask because they get it. They live it too.

It’s that world that follows the gender binary that gets caught up in semantics and all the little details. Some of those people live in the LGBT community and are parents of transgender kids. I respect their conviction that their child is transitioning to male or female, regardless of the child’s age. But I did stumble here because I didn’t want to make them feel like I was judging or questioning their choices for their kids. I was them once. And it didn’t occur to me that maybe Kris was not a boy. Luckily, we live in a world where transgender people are more visible and at times it appears that genderqueer people are highly visible. It was after reading comments on the Say Nothing post that I realized that I needed to continue to share our experience, no matter what we looked like on the outside.

More people are comfortable living with two genders- male and female. The concept of gender being inherent is foreign to them, even though they would probably admit to feeling their gender down to the fiber of their being.

Consistent, insistent, persistent. These are words that you will hear tossed around when a person questions their child’s gender. Do they show signs of these three things? Maybe that’s where I tripped up. Because Kris was all three and according to those markers along with professional assessments, Kris was a boy. But Kris wasn’t. Kris spent their life saying “I’m a boy” but that was not what Kris meant. And let me tell you, this kid has above average intelligence and always had a sophisticated vocabulary. What Kris was actually saying was “I’m not a girl.” Kris was a child. How could they know that the two don’t mean the same thing? They only knew two genders. But they knew their sense of who they are did not match the label they were given.

So my place in the LGBT world is a little bit different than I thought it was going to be. While I can still speak to what it feels like to have a female to male kid transition complete with name/gender marker changes, binder and testosterone, I can continue to stress how important it is to take your time and listen to your child but also listen to your gut instinct when it comes to this child. I can share my ftm kid experiences but I can also talk about where that led.

Do you remember the game “Don’t Break the Ice”? It had the square frame with plastic ice cubes in it and you took turns tapping on an ice cube, trying to free it without collapsing all of the other cubes? Well, my life feels that way lately- like I’m not quite sure if all my ice cubes are going to crash to the ground while I tap gently on this one. (I do have a point here.) My cubes are pretty shaky right now but thanks to the people who took part in commenting on my last post, I have safely freed one of my cubes and maybe the remaining ones are not as much in jeopardy as I thought.

I need to thank everyone who commented on my last post- Shawn, Kris, Claudette, Curious Mother, and Ruth. (I hope I didn’t miss anyone!!) You inspired me to write this post. Your comments helped ground me and give me direction. My heart was warmed so much. It’s hard to find words to express my gratitude.

There is a strong possibility that this post is just as rambly as the last one but inside I feel like something was set straight. My thoughts on this topic are focused and no longer shooting off in all different directions. And even if Kris should show up with that buzz cut looking like a boy, I’m ready.

 

Loves of My Life

From the moment I first saw you
The second that you were born
I knew that you were the love of my life
Quite simply the love of my life

My college kids are home for spring break. My oldest kid and his family are temporarily living with us. My house is full, as is my heart. These people are my world.

They are technically all legal adults. I know that we are in a new stage where they are letting go even more. I see and feel the changes each time I see them. It is fascinating and sad all at the same time.

Not that long ago I wrote about a Blindside that shook our family to its core. What I did not write about was what immediately followed, which was a major betrayal that occurred at the hands of same person. I was the target of that second attack.  I can honestly say that I have never felt so completely betrayed by another person in my entire life. What this has done to my family makes it even worse.

Having all of my kids together on the heels of two upsetting incidents makes this visit an important one. Our tribe just got smaller and we are on shaky ground. We need this time to dust ourselves off, take stock and see that we are okay.

Not all siblings of trans kids are supportive but when Kris came out, his brothers showed him a level of solidarity and love that continues to bring tears to my eyes. I did not tell them that they should do this. They just did.

As I’ve talked to my oldest, Michael, on ways to get past this…..as I’ve talked to Kris about an apology he was given and accepted although he questioned the sincerity or intent behind it……as I’ve talked with Andrew, my baby, about how distressed he has been since hearing what happened to Kris…….I’ve been reminded of all that we have been through together- beginning with the long months I carried them, to giving birth to them and raising them, they make up such a substantial part of my heart and my life.

They are my weakness and my strength tied together and attached to my heart. I am fiercely protective of them. Even when they think they don’t need me. Even when they are  parents themselves. Even when I need them myself.

I want to know that they are okay and that we are okay. Weathering the events of this past month has been a trial, at best. I want to cry  which I have  and scream which I probably should have (correction- I did scream and then some) and shake the living @#%& out of someone which I cannot.

My heart is riding on a runaway train.

But more than anything, I want to gather my kids close to me, like I did when they were younger….. and tell them that everything will be okay.

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.

What Could You Do?

If I was to turn back the clock 3-1/2 years and give advice to someone on how to support my transgender son, here is what I would say-

1. Call him by his preferred name. Do not ask him to use his old name EVER just because it makes you feel more comfortable- regardless of the situation. By refusing to use his name, you are sending a strong message that you do not accept him as who he really is.

2. Use his preferred pronouns. It is a serious lack of respect to misgender him. And use those pronouns ALWAYS- even when you are not with him. You are invalidating his existence by referring to him by the wrong pronouns even when not in his presence. You are telling others that you are not taking him seriously. Once again, you are not showing acceptance.

3. Continue to love him. If your love was truly unconditional before he came out, it still exists. He is still the same kid you loved before.

love

4. If I’m telling you about him, accept that he asked me to talk to you. The “coming out” talk can be emotionally draining and stressful. It is scary. He does not know if the person hearing his news will be accepting or not. The information is no less valid if given by me instead of him.

5. Let him know he is loved, accepted and supported. Let him know this over and over again. When people first find out this news, everyone reacts differently. BUT everyone offers words of support regardless of how they might feel. Many don’t know how they actually feel and those words of support fade away if they are feeling uneasy or well…..not supportive once they actually give it all some thought. IT SHOWS. The people who really do want to support SHOW UP. They don’t make excuses. They don’t disappear. The ones who want to be there are THERE.

6. While he is transitioning, the entire family is going to be going through its own transition process. Our transition will be very different from his. Moms, Dads, brothers and sisters might need that extra hug or kind word, too. People will be more prone to express their less than positive feelings and views to us, rather than him. Please be mindful of this.

acceptance

7. If he is quiet or unresponsive, it’s not because he doesn’t hear you or want to hear you. It’s probably because he’s unsure if you are really there or not. Remember, there are many people who said the exact same things you are saying and now they are gone. He might need some coaxing. Actions speak louder than words.

8. Educate yourself but remember, every trans person’s experience is different. There is no right or wrong way to be transgender. Don’t assume you are an authority because you read an article. Talk to him about it but be respectful. Or don’t talk to him about it but TALK TO HIM.

9. Whatever he is doing to change his outward appearance, this is nothing compared to what’s going on inside him. He is feeling A LOT. The result of this might be that he appears to be unresponsive at times. Please understand that he spent years stifling emotions, responses and more in an effort to present himself as someone he felt was more acceptable. He might have a lot to work out for himself.

10. Give him a break. He’s going through a lot. He is showing his true self to the world. He is raw and vulnerable and he needs to know that nothing has changed. That whatever he shows you is okay. But to show him that it’s okay, you really do need to show it. Empty words will have a big, hollow sound to them but actions will come through loud and clear.

support

11. If you screw up, acknowledge it and move on. It’s natural to mix up pronouns or a name at first but with practice, it becomes habit. And there might be times where you say something before thinking and then realize it wasn’t right- just apologize.

12. Trans or not, he is still a person. He has feelings. He wants to know that his family loves him. He wants to believe that love is unconditional.

Yes, this is what I would say if I could turn back the clock 3-1/2 years. Now that I re-read this, I realize that this IS what I said. And if you read this and you have been doing these things all along.

THANK YOU!