Monday, December 31, 2007

Goodbye to 2007

The Ups and Downs of the past year

Like any year, this past year had its good parts and its not so good parts. And yet another year passes....just as the next will pass in due time. For me, upon recollection and reflection, it has been a mostly positive time.

I lost my father to a very lengthy illness in July. It was amazing he'd survived this long, but I am thankful he did. It gave us time to reconnect and heal our broken relationship. I truly admired him, and so did the many people he touched through PTA, Little League, DeMolay, AFSCME and the Masons. Transgenders frequently are alienated or cutoff from family.

One major disappointment was the experience surrounding the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the fall. The notion of a trans-exclusive bill opened some secreted gaps in the LGB and T "community". While it was difficult to see us get essentially blamed for holding the LGB's back, it was much harder so see what many said about us. Don't buy into the Stick and Stones thing....yes, Words DO hurt. It was even sadder to see the Matthew Shepard Act - approved by both the Senate and the House - get derailed with political worries. Hopefully 2008 will shine brighter on both desperately needed pieces of legislation.

A mixed blessing has been the many opportunities I've had to offer better understanding of transgenders to many here in the Kansas City area - service groups, universities and community colleges, high schools and faith groups. It is quite flattering to be asked so frequently. But it is also a bit frustrating to be cast into the role of the Town Tranny. Shortly after I arrived in Kansas City, I met a terrific transman, who had become well known locally. He said to me, "Looks like its your turn to be the Face of Transgenderism." I have a better appreciation for that comment. I am not ashamed of who I am. I will always acknowledge my past. But sometimes I'd just like to be known as Donna ^person^ and not Donna ^transwoman^ .

One major highlight - which actually is two highlights - was a trip to the Bay Area for my youngest daughter's wedding. It was a joyous time and one in which I was warmly and richly included. The bonus was meeting the guiding light, Rev. Lawrence Reh, of First Light, a Yahoo group for LGB and T people of Faith. First Light has proved to be an enlightening and supportive resource. And I enjoyed our hug.

Another highlight was the Father's Day weekend trip in June. Yes, I did get to have dinner with my Dad - closing a circle that started on Father's Day of 2004. But most wonderfully, I witnessed the graduation of my eldest daughter from Rogue Valley Community College in Grants Pass, Oregon that same weekend. She is now doing well at Portland State.

A common theme for me is the blessing of my daughters - two truly outstanding young women.

On the faith front, I was honored to be the first transgender to provide the Children's Sermon at my church. Twice! And I had a moving experience providing the Trans 101 talk to the Academy of Welcome in November. It is hoped this effort by the Kansas City Coalition for Welcoming Ministries will become an annual affair. I also enjoyed an encore invitation to the annual GALA retreat, this time just outside of Lawrence, Kansas. The fellowship shared with these extraordinary members of Community of Christ is a genuine gift for me. Lastly, our church called a new permanent pastor. I have been impressed. Perhaps now I'll seek that Baptism I never received as a child.

On to 2008.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Right People, Right Time

Today is for Lynne
It dawned on me well before I found faith, that as my transition
progressed, the Right Person came into my life at the Right Time.

My first therapist, Julie, selected because she actually answered her
phone (I was so scared to even leave a voice mail that morning!), was,
unbeknownst to me, one of the best regarded therapists. She had
developed an opening in her practice just that week. I engaged her.
She was full again.

My "big" sister, Teri (now Michelle), who I met at that very first
support group dinner. She guided me through my first fulltime
experience at a gathering in Port Angeles, Washington called Esprit
Gala. She was so much my role model. Odd then, that I became her
inspiration a couple of years later. Her transition had been
uncertain for many years. Teri hadn't attended one of those dinner
for about a year.

It was Teri who suggested I see Patti, an electrologist. Patti would
become friend, surrogate therapist, sister and yes zap those pesky
facial hairs. She had served the trans community for more than a
decade and knew as much or more than anyone. It was Patti who
recommended my surgeon. Patti no longer does much electrolysis
...deferring to arthritic hands. She remains a dear friend.

Heather, my second therapist, got both the worst and the best of
that process. I'd known her for just a couple of months - getting
the resolve to face my parents - when my world collapsed. She
patiently, but persistently pushed me to more in-depth assistance
after That Night.

One other special woman - isn't it interesting they are all women
- was Lynne. Four years ago on this date, I entered the doors to the
suicide recovery program. It had been recommended twice that I be
hospitalized 24/7. It was something, that for me, meant utter defeat
and thus I resisted, even though I knew I needed the help.

So following Heather's encouragement - and her promise to keep up
with me - I went to the center where I met Lynne, one of the principal
therapists on staff. For two hours, I cried, I explained, I related,
I surrendered. At the end Lynne said "I don't think you need
hospitalization." I had actually timed my visit so that I could be
admitted and not miss much work (I'd done a lot of stuff ahead of
time in anticipation) or hockey games (my one remaining shred of
personal value) even if I did mean that I might miss Christmas with
my family. I was confused, but glad by her decision.

I would enroll in daytime classes for six hours a day. Believe it
or not, but I actually would go into work early, go to therapy,
then return to work for another hour or so during this time - which
turned into nearly six weeks. Lynne would teach a couple of the
classes along with daily "check-in" twice a week. There were others
as well. Diana, with the quirky sense of humor but incredibly
patient heart. Tom, a bit of an odd duck that had an air of
optimism about him. Ken, the teddy bear and uncle. And Loree,
the quiet, probing, yet exceptionally insightful art therapist.

Lynne had enrolled me in Art Therapy. I groaned. "I can't draw
stick figures!" I'm as artistic as a dirt clod. And it was in Loree's
class that much of my situation became more clear. I don't dismiss
art therapy any more. And I still have those art projects.

While the program itself didn't provide my ultimate resolution
- that would come only after breaking down and finally telling my
parents - it did provide me with the needed time, and a better
understanding of how I had gotten so incredibly desperate.
And Lynne's guidance proved pivotal in all of that.

I've mentioned the night - the eve before Thanksgiving 2003
- that I hurt myself. Believe it or not, that was NOT - at least
in my mind - my most dire moment. That actually came the morning
of Christmas Eve day. Things had really gotten tense and the only
thing that kept me safe was repeating "Not Today...Not Today".
I just couldn't exit on this day and forever stain the Season
for my daughters. Not Today, please Not Today. When I
acknowledged my feelings at check in, I figured that was it.
When Lynne came in - she didn't do check in that day - and pulled
me into her class, which was not on my schedule, I figured it was
to keep an eye on me until......until a bed was ready.

Lynne admitted later that it was total coincidence that day,
though she was worried about my state of mind. As I exited the
program - now having unburdened my secret with my parents - I was
very thankful for Lynne's care. What she does - what Loree and
Diana and Ken and Tom, all of whom are still there - is incredibly
challenging. Success is measured frequently in keeping someone
alive just one more day, getting them one more therapy session
covered by insurance. As a nation, we do a horrible job in
caring for those with emotional struggles.

I've kept in touch with Lynne ever since, today I sent an email.
I have great admiration for the work that she does. My time at
he clinic wasn't "depressing" as it was "disheartening".
Disheartening to see so many people in such difficult places.
I sometimes wonder what happened to them. Lynne once mentioned
that all were still with us, but that's all she could acknowledge.
For six weeks they were my friends, my classmates, my support system.

I know now that Lynne and all the others were brought into my life
at the right time for a reason and with a guided purpose. To quote
the lyrics of a song sung by Transcendence Gospel Choir, "I'm alive
today because God kept me." I am thankful.

Friday, December 14, 2007

My Favorite Christmas

A Christmas Past Remembered

If I were to ever be granted my Christmas dream, it would be to gather family and friends at a snowbound cabin or lodge for the Yuletide. There would be a large room with comfortable chairs and overstuffed sofas. A persistent crackling from a warming fire would echo throughout. We would eat the meals collectively prepared. We would play in the snow, on the slopes. We would sing. We would share stories. We would laugh, maybe shed a tear or two. But no presents would be exchanged.

I'm no Scrooge. I love this time of year. And I won't go off on some tirade against the commercialism of the Birth of Jesus. I'm as much of a consumer as the rest. But not on this day, not for this one glorious day. Today is a time to reflect, to rejoice and to be with those whom I most cherish. If we were blessed with any little ones around, then we would certainly honor our family tradition - a personal visit from Santa to present the starry-eyed Believers with their wished-for presents. I love to watch the wonderment expressed in the faces of children as they learn, experience and explore.

This dreamt of Christmas kinda happened one accident of course. It's funny that I can remember so much detail...yet the specific year is beyond recollection. My daughters were 7 and 4? 8 and 5? 9 and 6? I'm not certain. Somewhere in the years 1985, 1986 or 1987. Or not. It really doesn't matter much, I guess.

As per my family's custom, we had gathered at my parent's house on Christmas Eve. The host usually rotated between my parents and my two aunts. Thanksgiving and Mother's Day were similarly shared. This year it was at "my" house. We'd moved there while I was still in high school. It was all of five blocks from the house in which I "grew up" - from age 2 to 15. This was still very much my childhood neighborhood.

As so this Christmas Eve would be like nearly all the others. A wonderful dinner (my mother was an outstanding cook), followed by Santa's visit, followed by the exchanging of all the other gifts between the family members. My Mom and Dad were there. Both of my brothers, too, joined by my only sister-in-law at the time. My wife and my two daughters. My aunts and some of my cousins. We all have Christmas memories, and this one would have been pretty much like all the others except for a "gift" from

After we had gathered, a small, but sufficient amount of sleet, freezing rain and snow began to fall. It was just enough to glaze the streets and sidewalks. Being Christmas Eve, there was no chance for the city's work crews to adequately being sanding the streets. By the time we had concluded our traditional holiday expression - dinner, Santa, presents, family - it was going to be a bit of a challenge for us to get home. The solution? We would all spend the night at my parent's house!! My wife and I would use my old bedroom in the front of the house. All the bedrooms were full, I think one brother slept on the couch in the den. My wife and I and our daughters. My two brothers, my sister-in-law. And of course, Mom and Dad.

While the preparations were being made to bed the horde for the night, my brothers and I all hit upon the same notion. Mom never threw anything out. She wasn't a pack-rat or a hoarder, but she did keep much from our the garage! the garage! Could it be?????

Yes!!!! Our old sleds were still hanging off of nails pounded into the beams along the back wall. We pulled them down, dusted them off and off we went! This was our old neighborhood so we knew where the good hills were. The best was about four blocks away. And so my brothers and I, as we did so many times so many years ago, trudged off to "The Hill", a fairly steep two block run that didn't pose a threat of any cross traffic at the bottom, which flattened out for another two blocks. On a good, icy run, you could almost make it the entire length!

But this time, it was extra special. My daughters came along as well. Imagine that, being able to share your exact childhood experience with your own children! A few other people soon gathered as well. In Portland, the snow and ice isn't always a yearly event and it usually doesn't stay for long. It doesn't matter that it is now so late into the night...the time is now!

Reluctantly, yet wearily - it's a long walk back up the hill - we finally had our fill of a childhood revisited and, for me, a childhood shared. We headed back to Mom and Dad's for the night. By noon, the ice was gone and we all returned home safely.

I'll keep the dream of the snow-blanketed cabin filled with nothing more than family, friends, food and a festive atmosphere - no gifts allowed. I'll always have the memory of that ice-bound home and sledding down "The Hill", even though I'll never be able to remember the gifts shared that year.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Pretty Birds and Pretty Boys

Thoughts on the Gender Spectrum

As I sat eating lunch today, I looked out our dining room’s French doors and watched the many different birds pay a visit to our locust tree. It serves as a staging area for many of them to access the bird feeders below the deck. And several scour it’s nooks, cracks and crannies for various bugs.

Some of the birds have distinctive gender differences, some have nearly none. The male cardinal is still a very vibrant red, but the female is a more muted olive green with hints of “cardinal” on the wings and tail. The male junco is slightly darker than the female. The goldfinches have gone drab for the winter. In the summer, the male turns an electric yellow with a patch of black atop his head, while the female presents a hint more yellow on her mostly greenish body. I’ve yet to figure out if there is any gender difference for the chickadee, the Carolina wren, the downy woodpecker, the red-breasted woodpecker, the brown creeper, the mourning dove or the red-breasted nuthatch. All were visitors today during my fifteen minute lunch. We’ve enjoyed over 30 different birds in our backyard.

But the view gave me thought about human gender presentation. The first thought was Why Does It Matter? Make no mistake about it….gender presentation DOES matter and I’m not really referring to the biological requirements for many species for procreation. We utilize terms commonly ascribed to one gender to demean the other. “Sissy”. “Butch”. “Effeminate”. “Masculine”. I don’t even need to add the noun to the adjective. You know what they are.

People get horribly conflicted and frustrated when they cannot determine another person’s gender. I’m old enough to remember all the hubbub about guys with long hair in the 60’s and 70’s. I also remember there were those so angry that there were, essentially, hair bashings – gang attacking someone in order to cut their hair. Recall the character “Pat” created by Julia Sweeney on Saturday Night Live. The awkwardness and intense curiosity expressed by the other characters in the skits were more real than most people realize.

The other thought is our use of the complimentary words “handsome” and “pretty”. Men are “handsome”. Women are “pretty”. Yet we refer to the “pretty” bird – which in most cases is the male. The male cardinal is a pretty, bright crimson. The male peacock spreads his pretty, beautiful tail. Ever think of a bright blue budgie as “handsome”? Why the need to be so uniquely distinguishing for the male and female of the Human species…it doesn’t seem to be an issue for the birds?

I am certainly not advocating for a genderless society. But I do think it would be healthier for everyone - and a much safer situation for transgenders - if we became more understanding and accepting of variations than of strict binary constraints.