Chicago

I’m here in the place I was born. Here for the first time here as I should always have been. Alive, and stepping forward into the endless wind. Resistance, the pushing against obstacles placed in my path has become an innate way of knowing that I’m moving forward. An internal compass telling me which direction I must go.

This feels like a place to begin anew, and yet also a place to say goodbye. This city along the endless lake burgeons with towering edifices to wealth and engineering alongside factories of two centuries ago. A rare place where the past isn’t forgotten, but woven into the future with a care and artistry revealing that people here don’t forget where they came from even while they keep moving forward. A place of people who were often unwanted where they came from, outcasts, who knew adversity and struggle in the effort to become something more.

This is a fitting place to say goodbye to what was. A place to acknowledge my past, the often terrible and evil past I never asked for, a past I want to forget ever happened and yet simply can’t. This is a place I can weave the most valuable parts of who I was into the person I am, and who I aspire to be. This is a place to put the wind on my cheeks and step forward, into who I have become, who I will be.

Dark

Night is dark, reflexively so

charcoal blackness covers

landscapes, bedrooms, and barns.

Obliterating all, enveloping, making lost.

Magnificent mountains, glorious diamonds, shining faces

Gone

Effortlessly gone

Yet…

Dark is not enough to hide some things

For some things, are even darker than night.

 

Fuzzy

I have PTSD from trauma long ago, and sometimes my symptoms make my life more complicated than I wish it was. Like a teenager who keeps making the same mistake over and over, but can’t see it coming each time, my triggers sneak up on me in ways I should expect, yet don’t seem to be able to catch ahead of time.

This weekend was one of those times, and it really flattened me. I feel like a toad who has been run over by a dump truck on a rural Florida highway. Flattened and crisping in the blasting tropical sun, there is all-too-soon nothing left but a paper thin facsimile of who I was not long ago.

Yesterday I went with my wife to a meeting of supporters for people with childhood trauma (which fits us both actually). I wasn’t worried about it at all, because I’ve been through the same meeting before. I knew what to expect, and so it seemed it would go better than the past time I went. At first, it did seem to go well. The meeting was a bit on the small side, and I knew the two people leading it. I was familiar with the place and the topic. No looming surprises. There were even seriously good snacks (cinnamon buns from a local donut shop of which I am a fan). All seemed well.

Then about half way in, there was something I always struggle to hear. It sometimes comes up in these kinds of meetings. I don’t agree with it It’s upsetting, so it stuck in my mind and wouldn’t go away. It churned and built on itself. Chipping away at my presence of mind like a patient stonecutter at the base of the mountain. By the time we left I was in an argumentative and snippy mood, which is not like me. By the time we had finished with our planned post-meeting lunch, I was feeling not-right-at-all.

Driving home I could tell the edges of my consciousness were getting blurred. I was getting fuzzy. It’s something that happens when I start knowing things that are too much to know. I can’t focus, I can’t think, I can’t function much at all. I wound up in bed, half present and half gone to whatever place I go. Laying there with the late summer sun forcing its way through the blinds. Drifting in and out of awareness. Much like times in the past.

Past? Yes, this felt familiar. Like I’d been here before. My high school bedroom on the coast of Florida which had also been drenched in sun. Part in the present, part in the past, rising realization of knowing I’d felt like this in the distant past. Knowing I’d felt that same fuzziness of not being able to be present because it wasn’t safe to know. Knowing I’d known even back then.

An UnexpectedCookie

After a seemingly longer than expected Labour day weekend of wading through the crowds at DragonCon while also attempting to survive the sticky all-encompassing heat of the late southern southern summer, we took a day to recover. At least we though it was a day to recover.

A late sleep, a relaxed breakfast, and visit to our favorite donut shop before some marketing and chores seemed the perfect counter balance to the crush that was DragonCon. Only, it wasn’t quite recovery. Somehow, in some way we simply don’t understand, we got triggered. For us our anxiety and PTSD symptoms often come out through our body. This is the result of learning at a young age to ignore and avoid awareness of things we couldn’t know. We had to not know in order to survive, and then we spent a lifetime practicing those skills.

We found ourselves hurting. Muscles along the sides and back of our abdomen painfully reacting, cramping, aching, our stomach churning with a unique nausea, our arms alternating aching and burning. Our body reliving some past experience we only vaguely know about. Sitting in the car with our wife, surrounded by sunshine and the anonymity of a grocery store parking lot, some part of us was in overdrive. Never mind we were safe in the moment, inside some part of us wasn’t.

Why it was coming up right then, we didn’t understand. It just was, and there was nothing much to do about it. We did our best to acknowledge it, to take care of ourselves and to move on.

It ebbed and flowed over the course of the day. We managed the marketing, and eventually the chores (there are now clean clothes in the house for the coming week.) Yet we are still no closer to understanding why this is coming up now.

After the sun went down and things calmed down some inside of us, my wife decided she wanted a cool, sweet treat. So we walked down the street. A neighborhood burgerey sells gourmet frozen pops from a local vendor and this was our destination. We arrived to find a few tables full even late on Labour day, and a pop case with only 4 choices remaining deep inside.

We got a Cookies-n-Cream pop, which we discovered (much to the joy of some part of us) has whole, real chocolate chip cookies inside.

And you know what? That unexpected cookie made us feel just a bit better.

I’m an Anthropologist?

This morning after my yoga class, I stopped at a nearby coffee shop for a cup of tea and a pastry. It’s become my comforting little routine. As I waited to order I saw a classmate who had just been in the studio with me, and who I happen to know frequents my yoga classes. She too was waiting for her coffee. We both smiled and said “Hi” across the shop. We crossed paths a minute later as she was getting her cup and I was taking the table she had been waiting at for her to go order. There was a moment of small talk, and then I asked if she often stopped here for coffee after yoga. She commented it was her little ritual.

It’s funny how a word or an action can start a train of thought, one that in an inspired moment connects with some other stream of thought and the confluence of the two becomes something greater. Just then I had one of those moments.

I’d woken up that morning feeling questionable about my body, my visage in the world. Feeling that maybe I wasn’t enough of a woman. Too fat, too butch, too much of too many things to be accepted as a woman, queer or otherwise. Yoga helped that some, quite a bit in fact. It brought me back into myself, but the underlying awareness of self doubt was still there. That worry I carry as a queer woman in our current cultural and political climate about being accepted as who I am in the world.

As often happens for me, the combination of being alone in public, a hot cup of tea, and reflecting in my journal gave that confluence a push down the road into awareness. The pouring out of words and thoughts in my journal brought me back to a realization I had a while back.

Women smile at each other as a warm greeting, an unconscious form of connection.  When women smile at men, it’s often something very different, and very intentional. I got to thinking about rituals, how rituals are something we do, but often don’t understand the true purpose of. Yes they are comforting because of the routine, but there is often an underlying reason the ritual exists. Like my classmate who has a ritual of getting a coffee after yoga as a reward, the women’s social smile has a purpose.  Connection. Shared sisterhood. Solidarity. acknowledging each other in a world where there is often a link simply because they are women. In a world where a simple connection with a man could have all sorts of strings attached.

Over the last year, I’ve marveled at the women who smile when their gaze meets mine. Walking into a women’s restroom and crossing paths with another woman walking out, usually results in a kind smile. Standing in line at the grocery store, or at the coffee shop, crossing paths in the mall, in all sorts of fleeting non-verbal meetings, women smile at each other. At me. It’s an amazing little system of micro-connections that happens so automatically I doubt there’s even awareness of it.

I’ve picked it up myself without thought or effort. After I got past the initial surprise that came with awareness, it has became part of who I am like I’d been born to it. In a way I suppose I had, it just took a while for me to be aware of that bit of socialization. It feels good to fit in and become part of this little system of solidarity and connection. To be able to draw strength from it. Acceptance from it.

That’s where it all flowed together. If I was seen as an invader, as an other, as not woman enough, that smile wouldn’t be there. I know I’ve been lucky in my coming out experience to be well accepted, but now I’m feeling downright joyous. Every day in a slew of small interactions I’m being accepted. This means far more to me than the overt displays of acceptance, because those are often done with intent. They are not always indicative of someone’s true feelings. The action of a ritual however is automatic, without thought, and comes from subconscious assessments of what triggers it.

So every day in small ways women all over are showing they reflexively accept me as one of their own. I’m good enough for them despite my own fears. That feels comforting and affirming in a way I couldn’t possibly have expected.

TDoR

As I sat watching the news coverage on the night of Nov 8th, 2016 my mind wandered across the future. I knew I was at a point in my life where I was going to transition. I’d already decided I couldn’t see another birthday pass now that I really knew who I was and how I needed the world to see me. That I needed to feel comfortable in my own skin, to be whole. There was excitement, since I *knew* I would be emerging into a world that was progressively moving forward and becoming more accepting.
That all changed by the time I woke up the next morning. Suddenly everything I felt had bright and good about in my future started to dim and dull. Mild deep seated discomfort about how I would be treated solidified into outright fear.  I started to question my plans. Not who I am mind you, just my plans. I began to fear for the future of our culture, of our country. Was kindness and courtesy dead?
Weeks and then months passed. Suspicions about the world around me became reality. The distant discord of political voices stopped being a far away thing. They became terribly personal. It was no longer about a distant somebody else, an acquaintance, a friend, a coworker. It was about me. I didn’t know who might hate me just because of who I am. Who might be mean to me at any moment, or even when I might be in danger. It seemed to be everywhere I looked.
And yet I put one foot in front of the other. Day after day I kept doing the smallest thing I could to move forward. I kept reminding myself — courage isn’t the absence of fear, no, true courage is being terrified of what’s in front of you and stepping into it anyway.
And my world didn’t end. The person I cared most about, my son, took a minute when I told him. Well… OK – maybe a couple of minutes, but really, truly only a couple. Then he took a step forward too. All on his own the first question he asked was what I wanted to be called. He keeps taking steps forward.
A few months after I first told him, he came with me to Talbots when I needed to make an exchange. The sales lady said “Sir, how can I help you.” It didn’t feel good, but I ignored it and made my exchange. After we left the store my son was clearly upset, when I asked why, he told me “What she said to you bothers me. She called you sir. Can’t she see who you are? I want to help but I don’t know what to do.”
My heart swelled.
He’s become one of my strongest defenders. When someone asks a question like that now, *he* responds. “Oh, I don’t need any help – but she does.”
I worried about my job. I’m fairly visible in the community of the university I work at. I’m visible in the larger community of my profession as well. This is a huge band-aid that needed to be ripped off. Yet I took another step.
On August 28th I told 300 people in one day. I told the people that work for me first thing in the morning, then I told the class I teach, and finally an email went out to several hundred people at lunchtime. I did a lot of breathing in and out, and putting one foot in-front of the other that day. I left early. Then I came back the next day as myself… trying to be prepared.
And it was OK. Most people took it in stride. Adjusted to my name, and didn’t make a fuss. It was actually better than OK. Quite a few people from all over my group and other places on campus offered their support.
Then one day recently I overheard someone talking about me, about something I had asked them to do and they were explaining it to someone else. Neither knew I was there just around the corner and could hear them. I heard “that’s not what *she* wants, let me explain so we get her the result she needs.” It was natural, without hesitation. Completely authentic.
In that moment I could tell, most people want to do the best they can, they care about being kind and respectful. I looked back over the last few months and realized that the kind and respectful experiences have outnumbered the bad 10-to-1, even 100-to-1!
Realization dawned. The world has already changed. It’s just been hidden by the loud noises of those unwilling to accept it.
Yet it’s there all around us if we look for it.
My hope for the future is growing bright again.

Changes

I’ve heard parenting described as abject terror interspersed with unexpected moments of sheer joy. In a way this the last few days have mirrored that for me.
You see, I’m transgender, and I’ve been transitioning in my personal life for a while. After a month of preparation, yesterday I came out to my students and my colleagues. All in the course of a single day. Much to the surprise of many it would seem.
Until the last couple of days I didn’t realize I had so many people I have connections to at my university and felt I wanted to tell in person.  I’ve caught myself over the last few weeks wishing for more time. I find myself thinking that even though I know with my head relationships are important and I’ve been working to build them over the years, suddenly it is right in front of me just how many I have built. Just how much I’ve come to rely on them.  We are not often forced to stop and actually reflect on the web of connections we build through our lives. Confronted with the prospect of a public transition at my uni, my list of people to share with kept growing, until suddenly it sunk in as a deep understanding — I have actually built a network of relationships I rely on. These people matter to me and I want them in some way to be a part of my process. I only hope they can accept who I am and how I need to go about being that person.
So, here I am only one day in with presenting as the real me in my work life, and it has been an amazingly positive experience so far. I’ve received offers of support, encouragement, and even admiration for my courage both from people I know well, and others I might only cross paths with twice a year. It’s a humbling experience as it has shown me a depth of compassion and caring under the surface of busy people trying to get their job done, trying to simply get through their days and weeks. I feel it has brought out the best part of the culture where I work. Showing that people truly care about those around them. It’s something that often gets lost in the flurry of the next email, the next deadline, the next problem to solve.
In this moment I can see the good around me, when all I was afraid I would find was the bad. I know it won’t always be easy, that the rainbows and sunshine will give way to darkness at times, but in this moment I have hope. That is what matters, for…
“Where there is hope, there is life. It fills us with fresh courage and makes us strong again.” — Anne Frank

Waving through a window…

I must admit, I’m a bit of an Owl City fan girl. Adam’s music speaks to me in a way other music doesn’t. Now don’t get me wrong, music is a huge part of my life, I played in the band in high school and college. I often feel music deeply, in fact it helps me feel things much better than almost anything else. I’ve had some near out-of-body experiences to music (I’ll write on those another time) but I’ve never known an artist whose music has hit me so deeply on such a consistent basis.

Anyway – the other day I was looking for new music by checking out artists marked “You may also like” on Apple Music. After several “I want to like your music, but just don’t” moments, I wandered over to Owl City’s page to check out the “You might also like” entries there. I had one of the best moments of my week to find there was a new Song of Adam’s I’d not hear or even heard of.

It started playing before I could take a breath and suddenly my breath was swept away. I listened to it at least a half-dozen times in a row. There were feels, overwhelming emotion, tears both sadness and joy at the same time.

The song has become a staple in my life already. And then… there is always an “and then” in my stories… I looked up the song to learn more about it and discovered it’s a cover of a song from the Broadway musical “Dear Evan Hansen.” The writers said they pitched the music and story in part by saying Owl City was playing on the radio in Evan’s room.

So I sit here waiting out a 3 hour delay for a flight to my home away from home… and I’m looking out the window listening to the lyrics.

“We start with Stars in our eyes…” We have starts in our eyes, and in our soul. But what has been sticking in my mind is:

“When you’re falling in a forest and there’s nobody around

Do you ever really crash, or even make a sound?”

It’s the same question I’ve been asking myself – does the world know I exist or even care? If I shouldn’t exist, if I’m impossible, doesit even matter that I exist?

If there’s nobody that really experiences me as who I am, do I really exist?

I feel like I’m waving through a window to the world, and almost nobody sees me.

How is it that Adam knows what I’m feeling, even if he’s not writing the words?

Inner Infinity

I am a Unicorn.

A creature who doesn’t exist,

so rare nobody has ever seen one.

That makes me invisible and unavoidable.

Probability says each part of me is improbable on its own,

adding them all together makes for impossibility beyond measure.

A million, billion impossibilities rolled into one.

I shouldn’t exist.

Therefore I don’t exist.

Yet here I am.

People see me,

though I don’t feel real,

I am not real.

I am someone else.

Hiding in plain sight.

A shell for others to see,

they look through me hidden inside as if I’m not there,

because I’m not.