Archive for November, 2012

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[This guest post comes from Margaret Barton-Ross, a volunteer cook at Camp Ten Trees in the Pacific Northwest. Please make her feel welcome and spread the word about this great camp for LGBT families.]

It had never been my lifelong dream to cook in a summer camp, but after my daughter spent several summers volunteering her time to cook for the two week program known as Camp Ten Trees, I began to think it would be an interesting thing to do. And it had been a long time dream of mine to “drive” an industrial size Hobart mixer.

Camp Ten Trees has that very mixer in its kitchen. In August of 2008, I realized my dream of driving the mixer and was part of the kitchen staff at Camp Ten Trees.

I have long been a supporter of this non profit camp located in northwestern Washington. Camps tend to be special places to those who attend them. Camp Ten Trees has become much more than that for many of the campers who return year after year. The camp strives to develop “a camp community that honors creativity, individual choice, and community living.”

This camp exists to provide a safe environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning (LBTGQ) youth and their allies and for children of LBTGQ families. Camp Ten Trees has become home for these children and youth. Many of them say they spend fifty one weeks a year in the world, waiting for one week in the summer when they get to come home. For them, camp is home because they are safe and, after all, isn’t that what a home should be?

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As of this morning, there's a Blue-Haired Girl on the sidebar. If you've been with me since the days of Dirty Feet and Lily White Intentions, or The Reel Gurl column from The Santa Cruz Sentinel, then she should look familiar.

Some of you already know that I'm a freelance writer. I mostly work for small businesses, providing  web content on a wide variety of topics, advertising copy, SEO-rich text, newsletters, and such. I've also done a fair share of fiction editing and proofreading, which I enjoy immensely. If you're in the market for such things, feel free to drop me a line, let me know what you need and I'll give you a reasonable quote.

I tell my small-business clients ALL THE TIME that they need to use every outlet they have to promote their business, but like a doctor who ignores his own health, I tend to ignore obvious opportunities to promote my freelance business. That said, I've popped the BHG up on the sidebar with a link to my business site so if you find yourself in need of a hired pen, just follow the link to see if I can help you out.

Now, let's get back to our regularly scheduled programming, shall we?

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When Alice revealed herself, I did what felt at the time like the most natural thing in the world … I believed her. I did not imagine that this act of love would later be looked upon by others as a parental failure, that it would be held against me, as if somehow it made me complicit in her self-destruction.

And so, on the day after her revelation, my lunch hour finds me in the middle of the Juniors section of a department store near my office, staring at racks of girlie clothes with an overwhelming urge to shout “What the hell does one buy for their son who is suddenly apparently their daughter?”

I have never seen so much pink in my life. 

I pass up racks of skirts and flouncy blouses, gravitating to a display of screen-printed t-shirts. There's a bright green one emblazoned with “THINK GREEN” across the front. I guess at her size and grab it. Another, little white t-shirt with VON DUTCH in red script comes off the shelf. Nearby, I find an olive drab v-neck sweater with a hoodie. By this point, I've reached the edge of the Intimate Apparel section.

If I'm going to be the world's most progressive and accepting mother, I'm going to have to cross into the intimate apparel section at some point. I'm going to have to peruse all the lacy things and select the perfect panties for a child who yesterday morning was my teenage son. I don't think I can do it. In fact the thought of doing it makes me want to toss the t-shirts and sweater onto some nearby shelf and run out of the store. I'm considering doing just this when I notice a table across the aisle with a big bright sign that reads Boy-Leg Bottoms 3/$10.

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This morning's breakfast consisted of a fried egg dusted with smoked paprika and a slice of sourdough toast with real butter. For lunch yesterday, I sliced up a piece of pita bread, brushed it with olive oil, sprinkled on some greek seasoning and baked it into pita chips which I ate with two heaping spoonfulls of roasted-tomato hummus. It amazes me that I can get un- hungry from so little.

My Go-To snacks are wasabi peas and popcorn with brewer's yeast, but I pick up one of those super-sized Hershey's Dark Chocolate bars every month and keep it in the kitchen drawer, eating it one square at a time when I get a craving for the sweet stuff. I'm the last person in the world who ever thought I'd eat like this. Simply. Moderately.

I was a weird little kid when it came to food.

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In the early weeks of Alice’s transition, I experience a series of “Ah Ha!” moments and, in each instance, I stop whatever I’m doing and rush to her for confirmation.

“The skinny jeans!” I shout into the phone from my office.

“What?” she asks, like she hasn’t even bothered to pause Hitman and is continuing to play the game while balancing the phone on her shoulder.

“That shopping trip last month when you freaked out because I kept grabbing the usual baggy jeans instead of the skinny ones you actually wanted…”

“Oh yeah. Makes sense now, huh?”

“I had no idea, kiddo. I thought you were being difficult just to be difficult.”

“Mom, I’ve got people to kill.”

“Well I’ve got people to make sure we don’t kill over here, but it just hit me that the skinny jeans were one of those signs I missed.”

“Yep. Love you mom. Bye.” And she’s gone.

The next day, on the way to school, I catch her checking her reflection in the rear-view mirror and—Ah Ha! the Spock eyebrows.

Embarrassment shadows her face and then she smirks. “Yeah, um, we’re gonna have to find a good plucker ’cause yours aren’t much better.”

I take the swipe. I’ve earned it. And her assessment of my own eyebrow-plucking prowess is totally fair. In fact there are all kinds of girlie-girl things I’ve never mastered.

I glance at her again as she rifles through the glove-box. “I’m so sorry that we teased you. If we’d known…”

She pulls a pair of fake Dior sunglasses out of the glove-box and waves them in front of me. “You never wear these.”

“Yeah, your Aunt Ruby gave them to me, but they kinda swallow my whole face.”

“Can I have ‘em?” She shoves them on and I can’t help but notice how nicely they cover the sparse eyebrows which are still struggling to grow back in.

“We’ll get Grandma Kay to help with the brows. She’s always so ‘put together’ that I bet she’s a good plucker,” I say.

Alice has rolled down the window and turned the radio up so Gwen Stefani’s “Wonderful Life” can spill out into the streets. Still, I hear her chuckle and whisper under her breath, “Plucker.”

That night, just as I’m drifting off, Jay sits straight up in bed.

“The dref,” he says and I swear there’s a little flashing light-bulb hanging over his head.

I sit up too, earning grumbles from the dog who was tucked in the crook of my arm.

I call out into the darkened hall, “Alice? You still awake?”

She shuffles into the bedroom in a pair of flannel pajamas with little pink sheep that she lifted from my dresser drawer.

“Do you remember that skirty wrap you made out of a sheet when you were ten and swore was going to be all the rage in the fashion world someday?”

She tips her head to one side and leans against the dresser. “The dref, yep. Don’t think I can remember how to drape it anymore tho’.”

“That was it,” Jay says and somehow with this bit of confirmation, he’s finished, so he lays back down and pulls the blankets up to his nose.

“It was like a sari, I think,” I whisper.

“Is this another one of those things that you just figured out?” Alice asks.

“Not me. This time it was your dad.”

“Well, if you’re done I’m going to bed.”

“Good night. Don’t let the bed bugs bite.”

“You too.” And she shuffles back to her room.

I continue to be amazed and surprised at having been invited behind the curtain, that for the first time in so many years we are privy to the inner workings of her psyche. Not all of it, you understand, but little peeks that illuminate wide swaths of curious and sometimes infuriating behavior.

Some of my light-bulbs over-reach, like when I Ah Ha! her love of Hedwig’s “Wig In A Box”.

“Not a girlie thing,” she corrects me. “That’s just a kick-ass song.” She dances off down the hall singing at the top of her lungs:

“Shag, bi-level, bob

Dorothy Hammil do,
Sausage curls, chicken wings
It’s all because of you…”

“Nothin’ girlie about that,” I mutter to an empty room.

Days later, I’m driving home from work when another little pop occurs. I resist the urge to call Alice while driving, but just barely. I swerve into the driveway, bolt through the front door and down the hall towards her room. Unfortunately, I’ve got too much momentum built up by the time I notice the vacuum cleaner loitering just outside her door and I rush headlong into it, tumbling through the doorway as I shout:

“Ah Ha! Marvin K Redpost is a girl!”

Briefly, there is silence as I fumble with the vacuum hose and right myself. When I look up, I realize that Alice and I are not alone. Standing a couple of feet from where I crash-landed is Bret, whose perpetual deer-in-the-headlights expression is doubly so today. But what’s most striking is that instead of the basic uniform of rock t-shirt and ratty jeans, Bret is decked out in Alice’s best white oxford shirt and black slacks, which are slightly too short for the lanky limbs poking through them.

Both Alice and Bret are standing stock-still, clearly surprised by my graceless arrival, but also in that zone of children who’ve been caught doing things children do when grown-ups aren’t around.

“My mom’s cataloging fifteen years of gender-bending in one week,” Alice says, rolling her eyes and holding out a hand to help me up.

I’m still staring at Bret, who’s looking over my shoulder for an escape route.

“You look incredibly…” I almost don’t say it: “handsome.”

The smile that follows is so worth the chance taken.

“Yeah?” Bret asks, turning towards the mirror above the dresser to examine the well-dressed boy staring back.

Alice gives Bret a shove with her shoulder to make room at the mirror so she can apply a fresh coat of bubble gum pink lip-gloss. Alice says as she paints, “I stole this book from the library ages ago…”

“Fourth grade,” I say, watching them huddled together in the mirror.

“…one of those Marvin K. Redpost books. He kisses his elbow one day and when he wakes up the next morning he’s a girl.”

“I meant to make you take it back but I bet we still have it.”

Bret is quiet, but grins while fussing with the collar of the oxford shirt. Up. Down. Up. I move up behind them and flatten the collar.

“Definitely down,” I say.

“I stole that other book too,” Alice says, “the one about the girl who dressed up as a boy to fight in the Civil War.” Alice says rubs her lips together and then leans forward to make a kiss-print on the mirror.

“The Secret Soldier?” Bret asks.

“Yep.”

“My little book thief.” I fluff the hair at the nape of her neck.

“I learned it by watching you,” she says, swiping my hand away.

After Bret leaves, Alice comes into the kitchen where I’m chopping vegetables for Pasta Fagoli. She grabs a peeled carrot and chomps on it.

“Bret’s gotta hide the clothes so his mom doesn’t freak, but I figured you wouldn’t care if I gave ‘em away.”

“You’re right. I don’t. And by the way, can I just point out that I was right about Bret months ago?” In the midst of all these unraveling mysteries, I’m smug about this particular point.

“And yet you totally didn’t see me,” she says quietly, pointing the half-chewed carrot at herself. “Seriously Mom, how did you not know?”

She will ask me this a hundred times. I will ask myself a hundred more. I never quite find a good answer.

They hand you a baby.

Someone announces Boy or Girl.

You never think to question it.

[Behind The Curtain is an excerpt from “The Complicated Geography of Alice“, a memoir currently in search of the perfect publisher. If you would like to read more, you can find Laurustina.com on Facebook and get notification when the blog is updated and the book is released.]