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(from the atchives – 2011) The Transgender Day of Remembrance began in 1998 in response to the murder of Rita Hester but for the last several years it has brought another woman to my mind.She is greatly missed and though I did not know her well, I knew enough to understand what manner of loss had befallen us all when she was taken.

We are in the office kitchen. She has arrived in tall shoes, with pink ribbons twined in her hair. We are forever trading nods and pleasantries, this beautiful girl and I. Still, I’m not even sure that she knows my name. I know a few of hers. The one she uses on good days, the kind of days you wake and wind ribbons in your hair, and the one she uses on bad days, when the mean reds hit and it takes all the strength you have to clutch a pillow in one hand and a telephone in the other. “Tell him it’s Pumpkin.” she’d whisper into the receiver.

And I suppose she wouldn’t mind me telling you this now. What she’d mind, I suspect, is that there were no fireworks when she went, no moments of silence, no flags at half mast. We were nothing to one another, Pumpkin and I. Little more than nods and smiles, phone calls transfered and a “hey you, how goes it?” in the stairwell. Still I couldn’t help but see in her what I have so often seen in myself, that ability to dress up sorrow with bravery. Put together and put on. She did it better but I’ve done it longer. That’s all. So if you see her, tell her that there were fireworks and more moments of silence than she could have expected. It’s the god-awful truth.

When Ashlie died, one of the phone calls I made was to her teacher, a former Army drill sergeant who manages to teach the students that no other teacher in town can manage. When I told him that Ash was gone, his first thought was that there was violence involved. To say that she died “by her own hand” is little consolation we agreed, but in light of the statistical alternatives, it is somehow a blessing.

Brandon Teena, Gwen Araujo and Rita Hester are not anomalies. Nor are they the norm. But every year, on this day, Remembering Our Dead is one way to fight the bigotry and lack of understanding which results in the kinds of brutality that no one should ever face. On this day and every day, educating yourself and those around you, refusing to engage in the casual, “soft” bigotries of our current culture (Ann Coulter’s adam’s apple jokes, lazy sitcom man-in-a-dress plotlines, Chaz Bono gawking)   and instead establishing your position as an ally can go a long way to changing public perception and ultimately, saving lives.  Like THIS

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 I’ve been working with badass Bradley on revisions for The Complicated Geography of Alice and I just cut the following chapter from the manuscript. It’s always wrenching to tear stuff out, so I’m sharing it here to soothing my psyche. Honestly, it’s more about my general distaste for the carrot and stick method of providing services to needy people than it is about Alice. Still, there are little bits of her – of us – in here that still make me giggle. 

 

Grandma Jo has been trying. I’ll give her that. A couple of months ago, she let me drag her to a PFLAG meeting where Alice’s support group leader Elizabeth spoke on transgender awareness. It was basic stuff, and I’d hoped it would be enlightening. Mostly though, my mum sat and stewed about a man in the group who had been rude to her in some other venue. She is trying to change her language to appease us, but it’s becoming clear that she has no interest in changing her mind. This is just a phase that her grandson is going through and she’s going to wait it out patiently, pretending all along that it’s no big deal.

For this reason, I’m surprised when she invites Alice and I to join her for High Tea at a local homeless shelter. The event is a benefit for the women’s program at the shelter, which provides temporary housing, healthcare and education opportunities along with financial and spiritual advising. The thought of making food and shelter conditional upon the acceptance of spiritual advising makes me queasy, but I try to set that aside because Alice is excited to have been invited to such a gloriously girlie event. Especially by Grandma Jo.

When she arrives to pick us up, Alice has just finished applying her thirteenth layer of lipgloss and I’m still struggling to run a comb through my hair.

“You both look so nice,” Grandma Jo says as Alice dashes past her towards the car.

“SHOTGUN!” she shouts, diving into the passenger seat, leaving me to climb into the back. On the ride to the bad side of town, my mother explains everything as she is prone to do.

“Now there’s going to be tea, sandwiches and desserts, and then a fashion show. Do you remember the women in my bible study group? We’ve got a whole table to ourselves.”

We arrive at the mission, disembark and meet our little circle of ladies in the parking lot. My mother’s Bible Study Lady Friends are the kind of women who arrange casserole duty for grieving families, send encouraging little notes to one another with bible verses written in them, and structure the bulk of their gossip in the approved “prayer request” manner. They’re nice enough, some more so than others, but a generally congenial group.

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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.

 

(Revelations is an excerpt from my upcoming memoir “The Complicated Geography of Alice” due out Dec. 2014)

Santa Cruz Pride Festival 2013

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Radical Faeries SCMouse and I returned to Santa Cruz yesterday with our friend (and Ashlie’s step-mother) Mary for the Santa Cruz PRIDE parade and festival. It’s an event I’ve enjoyed for nearly a decade, though 2008 was hands-down my favorite year. “In The Name of Love” is an excerpt from The Complicated Geography of Alice which captures that experience. Ever since, I’ve returned each year to celebrate and mourn. The festival always takes place in the first week of June, near Ashlie’s birthday but this year, it was ON what would have been her 21st birthday.

It always feels like a kind of homecoming, passing the Leonard Building (no longer the home of The AIDS Project, but still handsome and familiar) on the way to Pacific Ave., where the streets are lined with familiar faces and every imaginable color has exploded into the street. I always cry. I always laugh. And now, I always see her there.

Down at the end of Pacific this year there was an open air / impromptu dance circle. I stood and watched them for a long time, letting myself see her there – silly, grinning and dancing in the midst of the strangely beautiful crowd. It is always good to see friends, however briefly, and reconnect with my hometown. But I come back every year because I can still feel her here – where she is happy and laughing even as she dances away from me.

{Photo Note: I’ve always been fascinated by the Radical Faeries. Ash was too. But it’s Mouse who snapped this shot and for whom the gracious fae are smiling.]
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Stuck“A father for six years, a mother for ten and for a time in between, neither, or both … a parental version of the schnoodle or the cockapoo…” Jennifer Finney Boylan’s parenting credentials are unusual to say the least, and her newest book Stuck In The Middle With You; A Memoir of Parenting in Three Genders is extraordinary.

The book explores Boylan’s experiences as both father and mother to her two sons and as daughter and son to her own parents. Within that framework, she examines parental roles on a wider scale. The naked adoration and accompanying holy terror shared by most parents is evident and immediately relatable.

The flow of the book is broken up by three sections of conversations with other writers (Richard Russo, Ann Beattie and Agustin Burroughs among others) and a handful of other parents with extrordinary stories to tell. I expected this format to be jarring but found it quite the opposite as she weaves these conversations into her own narrative with a deft hand and they inform the bigger picture rather than detract from it.

I’ve read all three of Jennifer Finney Boylan’s memoirs. My mother-in-law gave me a copy of I’m Looking Through You; Growing Up Haunted shortly after Ashlie died and we both read on through She’s Not There; A Life In Two Genders. Boylan’s quirkiness and honesty coupled with her ability to paint a picture so clearly that you can smell the coffee and taste the waffles solidified her as one of my literary heroes. That she, like my daughter and a number of dear friends, is transgender, is incidental.

Stuck In The Middle With You builds upon the foundation of Boylan’s earlier books, but doesn’t depend on them for context. Those who have read her previous memoirs will enjoy catching up, while those who are reading her for the first time may well be motivated to delve into the backstory.

I expected this to be one of those books I’d recommend to a small circle of friends – specifically my trans friends who are, or hope to be parents. As it turns out, Stuck In The Middle With You is one of those books that I’d recommend to every parent I know.

Throughout the book and explicitly in the afterward (a conversation with Anna Quindlen, Jennifer and Deedie Finney Boylan) the question arises whether Jenny’s personal transformation has effected her children negatively. In the deepest part of every parent’s heart, a similar question burns – How will my children survive my own failings or complications?

For me it is a question which will remain unanswered – unanswerable. Would my daughter have had a penchant for pharmaceutics if I didn’t drink so much? Would she still be alive if I’d paid more attention and guessed her true gender sooner? Does my son have a chance in hell of surviving this family and going on to thrive in the outside world?

Every parent has some fear they keep under wraps – that this thing or that thing in their lives will negatively affect their children. It’s one of those things we don’t talk about and yet Jennifer Finney Boylan dares to openly address hers, allowing us to do the same. She is not a parent with all the answers but she’s asking the right questions and that’s half the battle. This may well be her most intimate book and I recommend it with all my motherly heart.

[Buy it HERE and check out Jenny Boylan HERE.]