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Yesterday, while wandering through the wonders of the internet(s), I came upon an essay by Stephen Ira which was (specifics aside) a critique of media portrayals of trans people. The article gnawed at me all day and by this morning, once I was able to untangle my internal response, I realized I feared that in writing and sharing our story, I am furthering that narrative.

“This construction of the emotionally tortured transsexual does another important job: it normalizes trans suffering. Much of the emotional suffering that trans people have to deal with is a result of cissexism.  Lack of access to medical care, disrespect from family and peers, and constant media reminders that trans bodies are worthless and require frequent monitoring/destroying.  But if cis people create the impression through media that suffering is trans people’s natural state, they can erase the real cause of trans suffering: cissexism.”

I am acutely aware that I come to this with my own privilege and I struggle to walk a fine line, speaking about though not for my child and the trans people in our life. I write about doctors, psychiatric professionals and school administrators, those who who were helpful (the few) and those who weren't (the many). I write about family and friends, those who rose to the occasion with unexpected acceptance, and those who could only see her as some kind of Other, whether a soon-to-be victim of violence, a mentally unstable child or a slave to sinful things. I write about her friendships with older trans women and about the emerging generation of trans people we knew, living lives full of hope and promise.

As I wrote two years ago in a sharp-tongued memo, I do not believe that Ashlie's gender brought about her death. In this way the narrative of “The Boy Suit” is perhaps false, but the larger story, the one I wake up every day intent on pounding out piece by piece, is one that I hope addresses in some ways, the cissexism that Ashlie and those like her face.

Despite the desire to remain an ally to the trans community, the fear nags at me that perhaps I am doing more damage than good.  No defense of my work should undermine the experiences, ideas and reality of the very people I seek to support. It is a fine line and I suspect that I will continue the struggle to find myself on the right side of it.

 

 

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“If something inside of you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you’re a writer you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act—truth is always subversive.” – Anne Lamott 

 

{h/t Miss Bliss}

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"The wound is the place where the Light enters you." ~Rumi

I stumbled across this quote today and had a particularly visceral reaction. Some thing in my chest opened up and little shocks of electricity spilled out from it. Recently, Leonard Cohen's “Anthem” had the same effect on me, in particular, the line “there is a crack in everything / that's how the light gets in”. On the face, these are simple phrases and yet what lies beneath the surface is anything but.

For me, The Light is the thing which brings some sense of peace, but also that which allows us to transform pain and grief into action. One of the things I strive for and struggle with on a daily basis is how to do this, or more pointedly, how to get to the point where I am able to do so.

When Candice Lightner's 13 year-old daughter was killed by a drunk driver, she formed MADD. When Judy Shephard's son Matthew was brutally murdered, she became an outspoken activist for the LGBT community. And no matter what you think of how the anti-war movement coalesced around and perhaps swept up Cindy Sheehan, I don't think anyone can argue that she poured her life and passion into the movement against the Iraq War after her son was killed in action. These are some of the most obvious examples, but there are so many more of them; mothers whose personal tragedy has come to serve a larger purpose.

Let me be clear; I do not think that such endeavors cure the pain or the wash away the grief. At the same time, each one of these women has found a way to move forward in a way that honors their children. I cannot shake the feeling that in some way I should be doing the same.

I am constantly assessing myself in relation to one or another version of the Stages of Grief and for the most part, I seem stuck at anger. What is deceptive about anger, perhaps more so than other base emotions, is how easily you can find unrelated things to focus it upon. We live in a world chock-full of things to get enraged about and people to be furious with. There is comfort and safety in locating all of this anger outside of myself, but it does nothing to move me forward or open me up to receive The Light.

My husband Jay frequently accuses me of “vibing angry” and while I immediately (and usually tersely) disagree, deep down I know that he's right. When I found myself in the hospital this winter with raging blood pressure, I had to face the toll that all this anger is taking on my body. I already know how physically devastating internalized anger can be and I have made a point for many years to fight against the family tradition of shoving it down into my belly to fester. However, this free-floating rage I've become accustomed to is perhaps no better.

What I can't quite figure out is how to get beyond the anger at least enough that I can use it. To face it head-on would be incredibly destructive. To unleash it upon myself, the people around me or the world at large would be dangerous and unwise. And THAT, my friend is where I'm stuck.

Rumi says "The wound is the place where the Light enters you." and yet, my wound is scabbed with rage. Rip it off and risk bleeding out. Worry it too much and impede the process of healing. Some part of me refuses to let go of the anger because deep down, I believe it can empower me to do things I haven't the strength to do otherwise. At the same time I want The Light. I want just enough peace to move forward wherever forward chooses to take me.

02.21.2012

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"Ain't no shame in holding on to grief, as long as you make room for something else."

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I thought about settling in one of the little villages around here, just starting life over as a woman. I’d tell everyone I was Canadian. Then I lay on my back and sobbed. Nobody would ever believe I was Canadian. – Jennifer Finney Boylan in “She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders