Category Archives: family

How The American Dream Nearly Destroyed Me

Reflections On A Wasted Life, And Why I Don’t Regret It.

They really should have seen it coming, my parents. After 4 years of college, my mother graduated with the ability to speak, read, and write French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and Latin. Imagine the opportunities available to a woman with those skills!

Unfortunately, this was 1949. But she did get hired – as a receptionist in an import/export firm that needed someone who could speak both English and Portuguese.

Still, that didn’t keep them from “knowing” that the best path for my life included a college education. So that’s what I was groomed for from the start.

The first crisis came at the end of 7th grade. For the first semester, we had to take a class called “mechanical drawing.” I guess we’d call that class “drafting” or even “CAD/CAM” today. Regardless, we were given a blueprint to copy. I did so and excelled at it.

The second semester included “Wood Shop,” where we had to take the previous semester’s drawing and bring it to life in wood. Again, I excelled at it, despite never having used a tool in my life. The teacher said I had a natural feel for the wood.

Now it was the end of the semester. Time to choose which classes to take the following year. I signed up for every shop class on offer and handed in my choices, which had to be approved by my guidance counselor. If he were alive today, would it be possible to sue him for malpractice?

He called me into his office. “You don’t want to take these classes,” he said. “These classes are for the dummies. You’re going to college. Besides, there’s no future in wood.”

“Really? What about houses?” I thought but didn’t say.

Good advice. The highest-paying job I’ve ever held paid $18 an hour—and that was in a field where I was making electromechanical repairs. A job that didn’t require a college education.

Meanwhile, when I had a plumbing problem last month, I had to call a “dummy” and pay him $65 an hour to fix it.

I lived for a few years in the San Francisco Bay Area. One of my favorite pastimes was visiting some of the shops on Fisherman’s Wharf and Ghirardelli Square, looking at the price tags on the hand-made wooden armoires and jewelry boxes: $850, $1200, $925, $18,000. No future in it, my ass.

I’ve gone to college on 6 separate occasions. Although I have enough credits for a bachelor’s degree, I have yet to remain at one college long enough to graduate. But I’m still saddled with over $100,000 of student loan debt. And at my age (70), I’m afraid that when it’s my turn to go, much like Tennessee Ernie Ford, I’ll have to say, “St. Peter don’t you call me cause I can’t go. I owe my soul to the company store.”

Then there’s the problem of gender identity. At the age of 59, after years of therapy, counseling, failed marriages, suicide attempts, and self-medicating within illicit drugs, I finally discovered the proximate cause of my problems: I had been living a lie, trying to be something I wasn’t.

As soon as I decided to stop pretending I was male, things got better. And worse.

The Better

  • I was able to go off four of my six anti-depressants
  • I was able to be – and live – my authentic self
  • I met a woman who accepted me for who I am. We’ve been married for 11 years
  • I no longer have to hide my tears
  • Younger people accept me as I am

The Worse

  • I’ve lost jobs because of who I am
  • Because of that, I had to take early Social Security
  • I still avoid using public restrooms whenever I can
  • I still get misgendered by people who should know better

But Still, I Persevere

I knew when I stopped pretending, I’d lose friends and possibly family. But the friends I lost weren’t worth having in the first place if they couldn’t accept the authentic me.

There were rifts in my immediate family, but over time, they’ve healed.

Now, as the real me, I have more and closer friends than ever before. The LGBT+ community where I live is vibrant and thriving. Our city – Rochester, NY – has ordinances protecting us. I can, for the most part, use public restrooms safely, although I don’t push it. I rarely used them before my change, anyway.

But I still wish I had been able to take those shop classes.

 

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Filed under Catching Up, Education, family, Gender, Hope, memories

Some Shockin’ Good!

St. Paul's Anglican Church, Harbour Grace

St. Paul’s Anglican Church

St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Harbour Grace, Newfoundland

The Internet is a Strange and Wondrous Thing

Especially for people with Attention Deficit Disorder, like me. I woke up this morning wanting to text my daughter, to share a memory. Some background is in order:

My family’s ancestral home is in Harbour Grace, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. Several years ago—decades, really—my father, his mother, a sister and a brother, visited the town. One of the souvenirs he brought back was a vinyl recording of Newfoundland songs.

One of our favorites was Dick Nolan singing “Aunt Martha’s Sheep.” It was that song I wanted to share with my daughter. So I fired up Google and entered the song title.

One of the hits was the link above, which will take you to YouTube so you can watch it. Another one takes you to Wikipedia, and I hope you’ll read the entry there, especially the part under “The Rest Of The Story,” where you’ll learn of the song’s connection to Harbour Grace.

Anyway, after the “Aunt Martha” video finished, it went on to the next song, “Some Shockin’ Good.”

Naturally, I Googled that phrase as well, which took me to the newest blog I’m following, Some Shockin’ Good.

And that, in a nutshell, is how the Internet works to bring the world together.

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Filed under Catching Up, Communication, family, History, memories

Instead of suicide, I’m throwing myself a Pity Party

My baby girl is getting married today. For her and her beau, it’s a day of joy and celebration. It would be for me, too, except for the fact that I have been told I would not be welcome there.

My future son-in-law’s parents are conservative and Christian. Rather than offend their sensibilities, since I am a Trans* woman, I have been told not to come. Instead, my “normal” younger brother will be giving my daughter away.

In a way, I’m not surprised. Indeed, I should have been able to predict it—after all, she was raised in a household dominated by her grandmother, who was definitely the controlling Alpha female. Indeed, it took me years after her mother and I divorced that I was able to see that I had been in an abusive relationship.

When I was involuntarily outed—by my ex’s brother—to my family, my father and my daughters immediately stopped all contact with me. It wasn’t until nine years later that my father reached out to me. My older daughter, with whom I had been reunited years earlier, called me and said, “You need to call your daddy. He wants to talk with you.”

My father had had a stroke the previous year, and his health had steadily declined. Now he was bedridden. He and my step-mother had attended a few therapy sessions about me, and he was ready. After an hour-long telephone conversation, we ended by telling each other, “I love you.”

That was a Friday. The following Monday, my wife suggested we drive down to see my dad. We live in upstate New York, and he in Maryland. Apparently my two brothers had flown in to visit him, and had already been there a couple of weeks.
Tuesday morning we loaded the truck and headed down to Maryland. We hadn’t been on the road 30 minutes when my daughter called. “”Your daddy’s gone,” she said.

We continued our trip in silence. Rochester to Hagerstown was about an 8 hour drive, with stops for meals and refueling. It was dark when we arrived, and after a couple hours of conversation, we found a motel and checked in. The plan was for all of us to meet at the funeral home the next morning.

My younger brother was there, as were my daughters and my eldest grandson, the one who had adored my father. I finally reconnected with my younger daughter. It was a loving reconciliation.

A year or so later, I made a futile attempt to move back to Seattle. Futile, because I had forgotten that under Washington state law, between first and last months’ rents, as well as a damage deposit, it would have cost me a minimum of $2400 just to move into the cheapest apartment available.

I ended up taking the train back to Rochester, but not before my younger daughter visited me a few times. I also got the chance to spend time with my older daughter and my grandchildren.

Then, as Don Henley once sang, “I got the call today I didn’t want to hear.”

I told myself it didn’t matter, that she would change her mind. I knew I was fooling myself when she didn’t even have the courage to call me herself. Instead, she saddled her sister with that onerous duty.

And so today is the wedding. At first, when my older daughter texted me how unhappy she was that I wasn’t there, I didn’t even want to get out of bed. After a while, I got up and got dressed, ate breakfast, smoked a couple of cigarettes, and knew that today was going to be a hard day for me. All of my mental issues—my depression, anxiety disorders, dysphoria—are beating inside my brain. The wolf is howling at the door, demanding to be let in. I’ve been crying off and on for the past two hours and considering my options.

As they always do when my depression spirals out of control, my first thoughts were of self-harm. I wanted to die. But then my mantra kicked in: “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem,” and I knew that no matter how this day goes, I will still be here tomorrow. Hell, I don’t even have any razor blades in the house!

The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?—Khalil Gibran, “On Joy and Sorrow”

And so I continue. Writing this story suffices for today’s therapy. I’m going shopping with my BFF later today, and we’ve got a full agenda…to be closed out with pizza for dinner….

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Filed under family, Hope, Intolerance, Transgender

I’m Still Processing Bad News

I got a phone call from my daughter in Seattle this morning. This never fails to cheer me up, but today was different. Her sister—my other daughter—is getting married in April…and I am specifically uninvited.

She and I have not had the best of relationships since her mother and I divorced when she was 16, and it was further complicated when I was outed as transgender. She has found religion, and both she and her fiancée are conservative evangelical Christians. I’m sure you know the kind: the ones who love everyone except those who don’t think exactly the way they do.

So yes, I’m hurt. But I realize it’s her choice, and as much as it pains me to do so, I will honor that choice.

And I realize that today, some 20-odd years later, it’s time to attempt a reconciliation, and that I have to be the one to take the first steps. I certainly don’t want to be in the position I was in with my father who, after almost 10 years of silence, reconciled with me—four days before his death.

Maybe I’m feeling Wordsworth’s Intimations of Immortality:

We will grieve not, rather find
           Strength in what remains behind;
           In the primal sympathy
           Which having been must ever be;
           In the soothing thoughts that spring
           Out of human suffering;
           In the faith that looks through death,
In years that bring the philosophic mind.

Or maybe I’m just feeling my age: I’m 67 years old, and I realize that it’s time to start thinking about end of life care, powers of attorney,

Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea

As Ol’ Possum so eloquently put it.

Indeed, I’m composing this entry over a cup of Earl Grey tea.

Yes, it hurts. But it’s up to me to decide if it’s the pain of growth or the pain of an end.

I choose growth.

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My Father: A Study in Selflessness

A Memoir

(The transcript of the eulogy I gave at my father’s memorial service)

My father once apologized to me and said, “The shoemaker’s kids go barefoot and the baker’s family goes hungry.” He was commenting on his 27 years as an Air Force chaplain, when his duty frequently took him away in the middle of the night to comfort a family which had just lost its father, or to tell a wife her husband wouldn’t be coming home from the other side of the world.

There was a time when his duties required his absence from my birthday—for seven years in a row. At the time, I hated him for it, and it took me years to get over that anger. Now, what little hostility I still feel is directed more properly at the US military establishment, which never seemed to have learned the truth of Milton’s words, “They also serve who only stand and wait.”

My mother personified those words. He was absent from the family once for 15 months: his duties took him to Turkey for that time. My mother became for a time a single mother attempting to raise three children. Thank God for grandparents and aunts!

I understand that after her passing, Dad spent hours weeping over her grave, apologizing for what he saw as the hell that his job put her through.

He grew up in a hard time: the Great Depression. A time when roles were fixed, and people “knew their place.” On the other hand, I grew up in the ‘60s, and lived through the Nixon years. Dad was a lifelong Republican; if anything, if you need labels, I’m an anarchist. After Viet Nam and various other wars and “incursions,” I take everything my government tells me with a grain of salt. Don’t agree with me? That’s your right, and I’m not going to argue the point with you. Besides, you don’t scare me—I grew up in the ‘60s….

….which also entitles me to say, at the age of 65, “I may be old, but I saw the best bands!”

But regardless of anything a psychiatrist might say about my relationship with my parents (“Oedipus, Schmoedipus! I love, ya, Ma!”), the fact remains that they were my parents, and I loved them. And the best thing that has happened to me in a very long time happened last week, when I telephoned my father and we resolved our differences and effected a true reconciliation. For that, I am extremely grateful. Our last words to each other were “I love you.”

My father was greatly esteemed in his communities, both the Air Force and the church. I can offer no better proof of this than two stories.

Daniel “Chappie” James, Jr. was the first African America to reach the rank of general (4-stars). When he died, at his widow’s request, my father performed his funeral.

When Dad finally retired from the Air Force, and he and Mom were traveling around the country looking for work, he was unable to find a parish in the Pacific Northwest, which is where they wanted to settle. Finally, after they had settled in Lak Jackson, Texas, he learned that the reason no one would hire him was that the bishop of Texas had called all the other bishops and told them not to hire him, because “He’s mine!”

I know my father was disappointed that none of us followed him into the ministry. While I can’t speak for my brothers, I know that in my case it was because the shoes he left were simply too big to fill.

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Filed under death, family