I spent the day writing, knocked out the better part of a rough-drafted chapter. It is an exhausting process and one that begs for frequent distraction. One of those distractions in mid-afternoon was a sudden overwhelming desire to find a photo from the time-period I was writing about. This is how I ended up gut-deep in a folder of photos I rarely peruse. There are nearly a hundred of Ash's self-portraits in the folder, mostly raw images which have never been cropped, touched up or properly lighted. They are occasionally funny and often awkward. Of course they make me sad but many of them also make me uncomfortable.
These are the photos I do not print out, post on her memorial page or share with other people for a variety of reasons, but until today I did not realize that one of those reasons was my own discomfort with the gender ambiguity of her early transition. But who am I protecting by hiding these photos away? Nothing can hurt her any more. No one can tease or point or bully her now. And if I'm protecting someone other than Ash, even (or perhaps especially) if it is myself, then I am tonight ashamed for having done so all this time.
And yes, there are plenty of people who prefer to remember her only like this or this or this, but I do not want to be one of them. I do not want to only cherish those versions of her that I am comfortable with. What kind of love is that? I loved this Ashlie. I love her still … I love how she squared her shoulders and brazenly marched into the ladies room at that Subway sandwich shop in Tracy while her friend cowered in the car. I cherish the memory of her at the parade in Santa Cruz that June and manning the LGBT Center's booth at the festival in Graceda Park later that Summer. I love how this photo exagerates her birth-father's prominent nose and my gigantic forehead. I am delighted by how confrontational she seems here because as maddening as it could be, that was her. And whether she was presenting as boyish or girlie or bridging the gap in-between, it is one of those things that never changed.