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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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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.]

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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I am totally over the moon for My Family!™ a company founded in 2010 by Monica and Cheril Bey-Clarke to address the needs of children in the LGBT community. In an effort to spread the word about their books, I asked Cheril to whip a little something up for me to share with you and she consented, resulting in the following interview with My Family!™ author Claudia Eicker-Harris. (Make sure you check out the endnote for this post to get the discount code for My Family!™ products offered especially for Laurustina.com readers.)

1.       Your new book Freddy and Frieda’s Traveling Tales targets babies to pre-school aged children. What is it that attracted you to writing for this group? They are so open and accepting when they’re little and when they start asking questions they want honest, straightforward answers. As long as you tell them the truth, they’re happy with your answers. I think it’s this simple honesty that I love and that I have tried to reflect in the book.

2.       What do you think motivates children to read? I think children (and all humans actually) have an inherent thirst for knowledge and want to be independent thinkers. Reading gives them the freedom to choose, the freedom to learn and to think for themselves.

3.       Can you tell us a little about your journey to publication with My Family? I initially self-published ‘Meet the Families’ on Kindle as ‘I know Children’ under a pseudonym. I then sent the link to a few LGBT sites to get some publicity and to see what the reception was like. My Family picked it up and contacted me to see if I could get them in touch with the author, which was actually me! We bonded immediately and we haven’t looked back since! It’s been really amazing to work with such like-minded people who are so enthusiastic about my work as well as theirs.

4.       What is Freddy and Frieda’s Traveling Tales about? The series about two field mice who travel the world in the author’s (my) luggage and meet all sorts of children and families. They are totally non-judgmental and merely state facts and tell us who they have met. In this way they introduce children and adults to a variety of families in a simple and non-biased way.

5.       Do you anticipate writing for older age groups? Yes, but probably not for adults.

6.       How do you think books that showcase children with a trans parent help children understand? I think books like this will give parents an opportunity to open the doors to discussion. Very young children may not necessarily walk away with a full understanding, but will certainly have a foundation of knowledge and insight on which to build their future understanding. Even if they don’t understand, children will begin the all-important journey to acceptance.  

7.       Do transgender people still struggle more than others in the South African LGBT community? There are very few publicly transgender people. Generally they keep to their own communities. I think it is very difficult for them to integrate into broader society.

8.       When did you first realize you wanted to write LGBT-inclusive books for children? It’s not very unique, I’m afraid. I’ve always been a writer, but until my wife gave birth to our baby girl, Eva, I hadn’t ever written for children, only for corporate companies and for theatre. I started telling Eva stories at night and I realised that they had an effect on her; when her friends started listening to the stories and enjoying them too, I decided to start writing them down.

9.       Do you have a job outside of writing children’s books or is this the only work you do? This is all I do now, although I do write, edit and proofread educational text books, which I still see as children’s literature. I love doing both! I am still a partner in Creative Directions – the event company that my wife and I started 11 years ago, but am not actively involved in the day to day running of the business.

10.    Where can our readers find out more about you? www.claudiaeicker-harris.com

My Family's array of multi-cultural products give children of same-sex parents a sense of normalcy, while promoting the celebration of our differences and the importance of family values. For a limited time (through July 31st) Laurustina.com readers can receive a 20% discount on My Family!™ products (including free shipping within the continental US) by entering the promo code "trans". I especially love their coloring books . I encourage you to check out their site, share it with other LGBT families and support their vision by adding some of their books to your shelves.