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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.”

And 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.”

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 the “Wig In A Box” song from Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

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

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 her friend 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 my upcoming memoir “The Complicated Geography of Alice” due out December 2014.)

 

 

 

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revelationWe’ve been waiting for you.” Linda says ominously as she opens the door to her inner office and gestures for me to follow. It is February 2008 and Jordan has been in therapy with Linda for nine months, but this is the first time that she has ever invited me in at 4:48 rather than usher Jordan out at 4:45.

I head into the office and sink into the comfy chair across from Jordan, who doesn’t look up but continues to roll a squishy water-filled tube between his palms. While Linda steps out to apologize to the waiting client for the delay, I pick up a plastic frog from Linda’s basket of fidget toys.

The frog belches a big pink pouch out of its mouth when you squeeze it. The wet sound it makes is oddly pleasing and Jordan sneaks a sideways glance at me when I belch the frog three times fast. His mouth twists up like he’s holding something in but he looks away too quickly for me to gauge what’s hiding behind that expression or guess at what new ill is about to befall us.

Finally, Linda comes back, closes the door and folds her lanky limbs into her own chair. She gestures towards Jordan and says, “The floor is yours,” but the child mutely shakes his head and points back at his therapist.

Well then.” Linda turns towards me and smiles uncomfortably. “Jordan has something to tell you but now he seems to want me to do it.” She squares her shoulders and exhales deeply. “When Jordan came in today, basically he sat down and said, ‘I know why I’m always angry. It’s because I’m sad. And I know why I’m always sad. It’s because I’m a girl.”

All of the air goes out of the room and her words hang in the void at the center of our little triangle. The frog in my hand belches unexpectedly and Jordan giggles.

She giggles.

I look at her and then I look at her.

Everything I ever thought I knew about my child has changed in an instant.

I cannot yet see the girl-child peeking out through the Boy Suit. True, she’s let her military buzz-cut grow out over the last few months so that her hair now lays flat, just barely starting to curl at the base of her neck, but all in all she still looks much like she’s always looked: a sturdy child with ash-blond hair, gray-blue eyes, a generous mouth and strong bone structure beneath a lingering layer of baby fat. An ordinary boy. Except that she’s not.

The oddest things come to you in moments like this. With Linda’s recitation of Jordan’s words still hanging in the air, I think of all the times I’ve said, “All I ever wanted was two sons,” which is the kind of thing that the mother of two sons will say casually though it is no more true than any other bit of revisionist history a parent passes along. It is this thought, and the realization of what that repeated statement must have felt like to the child who is apparently not my son, which prompts me finally to break the silence.

I’m sorry for anything I ever did to make it worse or make you feel bad.”

Jordan still won’t look at me, but Linda is gawking, open-mouthed, as if I’m a dog who just performed some trick she hadn’t even thought to teach me.

The rest of the meeting is a blur. I agree, without considering the full weight of doing so, to some stipulation about not mentioning this revelation to anyone until Jordan is ready. Linda asks tentatively if we are going to be alright until we see her again next week.

Oh yeah, of course,” I say quickly, and then there we are, descending the stairs and climbing into the car, me sneaking sidelong glances at this stranger and Jordan still awkwardly smirking and staring out the window.

“Of all the things,” I tell her, as I pull out into traffic, “I never would have imagined this.”

“I know,” she whispers.

“You’re not just fucking with me?”

“I am not just fucking with you and you can call me Alice.”

“Okay then Alice,” I say, and we are on our way.

 

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There’s that half-conscious moment, when you wake on the heels of a crisis or a loss or some life-changing event, and you don’t yet remember that thing which weighed heavily upon you the night before. This little gift of blissful calm has been noted many times before and not without reason, as it is this half-breath, this brief, but blessed reprieve which we all long for.

The first moments of those first days after Alice's revelation are like that, gloriously shrouded in the fog of sleep. Reality seeps in however between the 6:05 and 6:15 alarms. By Saturday however, I wake knowing what I knew the night before and not feeling some horrific loss. I roll out of bed and our collie Chloe follows me down the hall, always on my heels.

We find Alice sprawled on the couch in the living room, a feather blanket flopped over her and an old movie still queued on the DVD. Chloe nudges Alice with her nose and in response, the child shrugs and rubs her cheek but does not wake.

I cannot help but examine her while she sleeps and the only way I can think to explain it is through this lenticular animation button I got at Disneyland when I was a kid. If you tilted it one way, you saw Mickey Mouse all decked out in his Sorcerer's Apprentice outfit. But if you tilted it in the opposite direction, Mickey disappeared and there was Minnie, with a fist of flowers and a picnic basket.

Seeing Alice rather than Jordan asleep on the couch on the morning of Day Four isn't all that hard. Tilt your head, adjust your expectations a notch or two, and there she is. My Minnie. Tilt it back, and she fades into that familiar boy. I watched Chloe nuzzle her cheek, all intimate and nonchalant and there is a part of me that is momentarily jealous of her lack of confusion.

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Alice has been be-bopping near the kitchen window for nearly an hour when William Carlos arrives. It is ten days after her revelation, the one in which she told us that she was in fact SHE. That same evening, I begged my friend William Carlos to "come as soon as you can". Now that he's parked in front of the house however, Alice suddenly goes all shy and flies down the hall to her room. I walk out to the street to greet him, inwardly empathizing with Alice's panic because despite our six-year friendship, I am still a little bit in awe of him myself.

There has always been an awkward intimacy to our friendship, the kind I imagine Twelve-Step program members must share; We've talked about our dark secrets, but not our favorite sports. I know your greatest desires, but not how you take your eggs. We have existed at the edges of one another's lives all this time and now, because of Alice, I have yanked William Carlos into the messy reality of mine.

As I come down the walkway, he slings a backpack over his shoulder and crosses the lawn. He is small but not delicate, with dark eyes and now, at twenty-five, a scruffy chin. I hug him hard.

“Thank you, I wouldn't …” but before I can finish my thought, Alice comes bounding out the front door.

“Hi hi.” She calls out, smiling widely.

“Hi yourself.” William Carlos grins at her as she hops about in front of us. She's wearing a pink and white striped t-shirt and her new hip-huggers. The pants cut across her waist, giving her a chunky little bulge that could almost pass for burgeoning hips. She's dipped too heavily into my makeup box, but when Will hugs her, I can see her actually blush beneath that too- thick layer of foundation.  

“Look at you.” he says to her as we head on into the house.

Dinner is overly-polite but uneventful. It strikes me that this is the first time the five of us have ever shared a meal and I swirl noodles onto my fork while trying to decide if I never invited him before because he was a part of my life that I only shared with my family second-hand or I simply assumed that he'd find our ordinary life particularly boring.

Max cleans up the kitchen and then goes off with his friends while William Carlos and Alice bundle up and install themselves out on the back porch. She's animated, talking with her hands as much as her mouth and  as always, he is listening, waiting for the right moment to ask the right questions. I resist the urge to join them and instead curl up on the couch with a book, sneaking glances through the sliding glass door. I crack the book open but can't focus on the story. I just keep thinking how lucky we are that William Carlos came through the door of the Women's Center in Santa Cruz six years ago with his fistful of savage poetry.

I was producing a benefit show for the center, which provides domestic violence services for victims and survivors of abuse. I'd put out a call for art and poetry and a week before the event, William, who was not yet called William, showed up on a skateboard and in a baseball cap, thrusting  a crumpled stack of pages into my hand. Later that day, I was reviewing the submissions and halfway through his second poem, I realized that I was crying. Not because the poems were sad. The stories we heard and the work we did every day was sad but this writing was alive with defiance, playful, cocky, and brutally brilliant. After the event, I all but begged him to be my friend and for reasons I've never understood, he consented.

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Brenda, Francis and Abigail are three transgender immigrants who fled Mexico to start new lives in the city of Los Angeles. After suffering mental and physical abuse in their home country, the three women made their ways to the United States, each eventually seeking political asylum.  But for each of these women, leaving home was only the first step. Transgender immigrants have an even harder time surviving in a new country because of issues caused by transphobia. Once in the United States, obstacles like discrimination, loneliness, and addiction continued, and in some cases continue, to stand in their way.  While some members of this community struggle against these obstacles, others are becoming advocates and activists, thereby proving what it truly means to be an American.

Crossing Over is the story of these three strong, transgender women who immigrated to escape a lifetime of sexual and mental abuse, and found that if they wanted a better life, they’d have to fight for it.

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