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Growing Up and Getting Old Ain’t Necessarily the Same

There are some days when I wake up and my inner 19-year-old is in charge. I feel great, full of energy, and ready to take on the world.

Today isn’t one of those days.

Today I woke up feeling the weight of every one of my 68 and a half years. It’s cold and overcast, and my arthritis is responding with a flare-up in my thumb that makes it difficult to write.

As far as “It Gets Better” goes, it’s on these days that I ask, “When?”

They’re the days I think of my hopes and dreams. Some were shattered, some abandoned, some abandoned, and many came true.

One of the best came true when I was able to fulfill a promise my 17-year-old self made. It was when I first heard Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne,” I promised that if I ever had a daughter, that would be her name. When I was 25, I made true on that promise. Okay, so I added an extra letter; I thought “Suzzanne” was a better name for the little girl I knew would become a remarkable woman.

Which she has indeed become. Far more remarkable than I could have imagined.

Another dream was fulfilled when our second daughter was born, giving my parents their second grandchild.
She, alas, doesn’t remember her grandmother, who died when Steffani was 4. 36 years ago today, as a matter of fact.

My Annual Day of Mourning

Dec 12 of each year is when I sit down in my chair, sip my tea, and wonder. What would my life be like today had she lived? Would she still love the son who became her daughter?

She was a remarkable woman, my mother. The wife of a minister, she more than my father showed me what it meant to be a Christian.

Sadly, she also bequeathed to my brothers and I her life-long depression. My father once told me that she told him many times “If I didn’t have those children, I would kill myself.”

That, more than anything else, tells me just how much she loved us.

And maybe mourning isn’t the right word. Rather, call it wondering.

How would she react to me? Or her great grandchildren, one of whom is starting out on the same journey I am on?

Hope For the Next Generation

Chloe-now-Cole is developing into a fine young lad. He’s sure to face problems along the way, many of which I’ve already dealt with.

And while I can’t say I have a favorite grandchild, Cole is one of the reasons I no longer consider suicide. He needs me, as I need him. And while I do tell him from time to time that it does indeed get better, I also tell him that it often doesn’t happen as soon as it’s needed.

So Yes, it Does Get Better

Maybe not all at once, or easily. But on balance, my own life has gotten better because of my mother.
And that’s why I know that were she still here today, she would love and accept her daughter just as she once loved her son.

Helen Jane Sheppard (nee Stevens)

Thanks for reading.

 

The Whitehouse, Washington, D.C.

My friend Kim McKinstry posted the following email she received Monday:

Dear Kimberly:

Thank you for writing, and for your service to our country. Throughout our history, generations of Americans have brought us closer to fulfilling the ideals at the heart of our Nation’s founding—that all of us are equal, and that all of us should be free to make of our lives what we will.

Our country has come far in its acceptance of transgender Americans, but transgender individuals still face terrible violence, abuse, and poverty here at home and around the world. I know that some people have a hard time understanding what it means to be transgender, especially if they haven’t had the opportunity to know someone who openly identifies that way. As brave individuals come out at all levels of business, government, sports, and entertainment, the power of their example is slowly but surely changing hearts and minds.

We need to ask ourselves what kind of society we want to build for the many young people struggling with their identities who deserve a childhood free from harassment or ridicule. Too many transgender people, especially youth, take their own lives because of discrimination and violence, and no one should ever feel so alone or desperate that they feel they have nowhere to turn. That’s why my Administration took a stance against the use of conversion therapy on minors, and why we have been working to address bullying. And when schools sought advice about how to ensure learning environments are respectful and inclusive for all students, the Department of Education provided guidance to educators—because all of our children deserve to know that their safety is protected and that their dignity is affirmed.

We have also taken actions to help ensure that transgender Americans have the same rights as any other Americans. I issued an Executive Order that prohibits discrimination in employment by Federal contractors based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and I signed legislation that includes protections against hate crimes. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, there are now important protections in place against discrimination in healthcare, including discrimination based on gender identity. And this year, my Administration lifted the ban on transgender individuals serving in our Armed Forces—because no American who wishes to serve our country should face unnecessary barriers, and our military is strongest when it draws on the skills and talents of all our people.

Again, thank you for writing. Please know I will keep pushing to advance the safety and dignity of every American as long as I hold this Office and beyond.

Sincerely,
Barack Obama

For Arianna, On Being A Role Model

(I wrote this in response to a question on Facebook)

Dear Sister,

For sisters we truly are. And as the “big sister,” I’m going to exercise my prerogative and sit you down for a lecture. No, not really! I am, however, going to share some insights I’ve gained over the years. You’re free, of course, to do what you like with them. You might agree with some of them, and some of them might even help you on this difficult and rocky road you’ve chosen.

Your mileage may vary; like you, I don’t claim to be a role model or a spokesman for anyone but myself.

Role models. It’s a word that people will use over and over again with you. At first, as it seems to be doing, it will piss you off. “I’m not a role model,” you will say, and rightly so. It’s not something we set out to be, and it’s definitely something we hate to have people say we are.

When I first began my transition, a little over 6 years ago, my trans “mother” told me something I’ve never forgotten, and it has helped me through some of the darkest hours. She said, “Transitioning is the hardest thing you will ever do in your life.” Yes, it’s been hard. It has cost me friends and family. But the hardest thing I will ever do? No. It hasn’t been that.

Hardest has been those times I’ve decided nothing was worth it, and looked lovingly at razor blades, pills, and so many other ways I’ve considered ending it.

Hardest has been putting one foot in front of the other and continuing to walk this path I have chosen, even when everything in my soul tells me I’m wasting my time.

Hardest has been realizing that–through simply trying to be who I am–I have become a role model for others. I never asked for it, I never wanted it, and I’m definitely not comfortable being it.

“You’re so strong!” they say. “You’re so brave!”

They don’t see the nights I’ve cried myself to sleep, realizing that I will never be the woman I want to be. The nights I’ve cried myself to sleep because I have a father and a daughter who won’t speak to me, grandchildren I’m not allowed to see because I’m a pervert, and I’m going to hell when I die.

They only see the makeup and the dresses and the forced smiles I have to show just to get through another day. They don’t see that even though I have a lot of trans friends and acquaintances, anything I write or say about my journey is only about my own journey–that I can’t speak and don’t pretend to speak for anyone else.

They don’t see the number of younger trans folk who write me asking for advice that I’m not qualified to give. And they don’t see you, Arianna, another trans woman who suddenly finds herself thrown into the unwanted roles of being both a role model and a spokesman for an entire community.

And that is so unfair to us.

So when asked, I always tell people that I’m not strong, that I’m not any kind of a spokesman for anyone but myself. Strong? No, I’m a coward. It’s cowardice, not strength, that keeps me going. Cowardice because I truly believe that if there is any kind of an afterlife, we start out there in the same condition we leave here, and I am too seriously fucked-up to want to start eternity in this condition.

And so I have no choice, really, but to keep going. To strive to be the strong, courageous woman that people think I am. Not to be that person for them, but to be her for me.

If that makes me a role model, then that’s just a price I have to pay to be myself.

My dream is to go back to school and get my Master’s degree so that I can be qualified as a counselor. I want to specialize in people–particularly young people–with gender issues. I hope to be a resource they can turn to, a resource who can honestly and without exaggeration, take someone by the hand, look into their eyes, and say, “I’ve been there. I know exactly what you’re going through. It’s painful, yes. But in the end, it is so worth it.”

So keep on hating the fact that people have forced you into the role of a role model. (Does that sentence even make sense?) Don’t try to live up to their expectations, or I guarantee you’ll fail. Just keep on doing what you are already doing: living up to your own expectations. When (not if) it gets too hard, reach out to a friend. Reach out to a sister.

Reach out to me.

Lovingly,

Robyn
(Your big sister)

Passing is for Quarterbacks

This morning on Facebook I posted this in response to a young person’s question about HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy). Here’s her original question (I’ve redacted her name for privacy):

Hi I am (name deleted) and am (age). I am AMAB and have been living as MTF for the last year, and have been on hormones for the last 6 or so months. The thing is, I think I might be more gender fluid or a gender hybrid. I started having days where even being a woman makes me dysphoric, and I’m not sure hormones are right for me anymore. Any opinions?

And here is my original response:

Not everyone who is trans is on hormones. There are any number of reasons: cost, side effects, personal safety, and many others. To me, what it comes down to is this: YOU do what’s best for YOU. I won’t judge you either way, but I WILL support you. No one has the right to make that decision for you, nor judge you whatever you decide, either way.

Personally, I enjoy what HRT has done for me. Softer and smoother skin, a bit of hair restoration, and (of course) BOOBIES! But if for some reason I had to stop taking those little pills, I’d be okay with that, because of one little secret no one ever tells us: it isn’t the pills that make us who we are!

I’ve been on HRT for close to 6 years and while I’m glad I am able to enjoy the benefits thereof, I’ve gradually come to realize that pills or no pills, surgery or no surgery, I am living the life I was meant to live: I am a woman. It’s that simple.

Bottom line: do what YOU need to do to be yourself, and to hell with what anybody else says.

The trans community has made tremendous strides forward in the past few years. But we still have a long way to go, especially when it comes to societal acceptance of us as who we are. And part of what makes it difficult is the fact that too many people still equate gender with sex. By doing so, they force too many of us into molds that don’t suit us.

Here’s an example. My wife observed a courtroom procedure today in which the defendant’s name was called: “Saffron Rose.”  Up pranced (sorry about the stereotype, but it is accurate) a young man in his early 20s, dressed in skin-tight jeans and a sequined t-shirt that had obviously been bought in the little girl’s section of the store. The defense attorney immediately asked the judge for a bench conference between himself, the district attorney, and the judge. So no one in the courtroom could overhear what was going on.

At the end of the conference, the defendant was remanded into custody pending psychiatric evaluation.

Now, I’m not saying that the clothes were the reason, but still…

And far too often this is how we are treated: like we’re crazy. We’re killed, beaten, and denied medical coverage, jobs, and housing. In most states we can be fired simply for who we are.

And then some trans people have the nerve to say that if we can’t “pass,” we’re not really trans. In an earlier post, I said “Your enemies are not other trans.” Sadly, I believe that is no longer true. In addition to rejection of society at large, and a significant portion of the LGB community, our enemies DO include other trans folk.

”An amazing thing happens when you get honest with yourself and start doing what you love, what makes you happy. Your life literally slows down. You stop wishing for the weekend. You stop merely looking forward to special events. You begin to live in each moment and you start feeling like a human being. You just ride the wave that is life, with this feeling of contentment and joy. You move fluidly, steadily, calm and grateful. A veil is lifted, and a whole new perspective is born.” ~unknown

I long for the day when we can all live by those words. More importantly, I am actively working for that day.

Won’t you join me?