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My friend Jorge read the following poem from the Great Sufi Master Hafiz at Ashlie’s bedside on our last day with her. My dear friend Dan read it again, at her memorial. I take comfort in these words today as we mark the four-year anniversary of her death.

Love is
the funeral pyre
where i have laid my living body.
 
All the false notions of myself
that once caused fear, pain,
have turned to ash
as i neared God.
 
What has risen
from the tangled web of thought and sinew
now shines with jubilation
through the eyes of angels
and screams from the guts of
infinite existence
itself.
 
Love is the funeral pyre
where the heart must lay
its body.
 
- Hafiz (translation by Daniel Ladinsky)
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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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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.

 

 

On writing “Revelations”

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To say that I just wrote this chapter is a bit of Creative License a lie. I actually wrote the first draft of it in February of 2008, within a day or two of the actual events taking place. I wasn't trying to craft some larger narrative or thinking about tone and audience. I was doing what I should always be doing – journaling. In fact, there's probably a copy of the original somewhere here since I uploaded the "My Other Blog Is A Pinto" archives a while back.

A dear friend messaged me last night to say that she thought I was brave to have written this piece. My response to that was " there's nothing brave in writing/talking about the moments you got RIGHT. It's writing/talking about the moments you get WRONG that takes chutzpah." and I can tell you without a doubt that I'm going to need a lot of chutzpah going forward, but this chapter, this moment that it captures is absofuckinglutely one of those moments I got right. Out of luck perhaps or shock or the blessing of knowing more transgender people than most parents faced with similar situations. 

 

 

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There was a time when I was a quiet, almost timid ally of the transgender people who passed through my life. When my daughter Ashlie revealed her true gender in 2008, the level of my engagement in trans-issues changed forever. Tomorrow would have been her 20th birthday and every year now, as the date approaches, I try to find something to focus on besides the great gaping hole in our lives.

This year I've been thinking a lot about specific people whose small gestures of kindness and acceptance touched our lives in that final precious year and today I challenge you to consider these simple ways in which you can be an effective trans ally and join with me in supporting and encouraging our transgender brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, daughters and sons.

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