Planting Seeds for the LGBTQIA Community and its Allies
Jennifer Angelina Petro
“What does it feel like to be transgender?” the eight-year-old asked wearing a t-shirt that read: “One of a kind.”
“THAT is a great question,” I said, “thank you for asking it. For me, being transgender feels just normal. It’s me. It’s who I am. It’s awesome. When I realized who I really am it was the happiest moment of my life. It feels wonderful, and sometimes scary, and sometimes I struggle with learning more and more about what makes me feel more comfortable being myself.”
She listened with wide-eyes…wide with wonder.
“What does it feel like to be you?” I asked, “Wonderful-one-of-a-kind-you.”
“It feels good,” she said, “People laugh at my jokes, my friends like me. Do you want to hear a joke?”
“Lay it on me,” I said.
“What is the best time of the day for a clock?”
I was stumped. “Tell me,” I said, “I’m stumped.”
“Six-thirty,” she laughed, “It’s hands down the best time of the day.” And then she laughed again at her own joke.
“Grrroooooan,” I said, “I love it!” And then, of course, I told her one of my corny jokes.
Another child, probably around the same age as our budding comedienne, asked: “Are you a boy or a girl?”
“GREAT question,” I said, “Thank you for asking it. I am a girl. I am a woman. When I was born the doctors and my parents all thought I was a boy. I looked like what they thought a boy should look like. But then, as I got older, it just didn’t feel like I was a boy, and then, little by little, I realized I’m actually a woman.”
“But you have a deep voice,” he said.
“Yes, I do. I also shave. There are millions of ways to be a woman—and all of them perfectly wonderful. Some women, like me, could easily grow a beard. Some women HAVE a beard. Some women, like me, have deep voices. And I’m still a woman.”
“Cool,” he said, and I gave him a rainbow flag that said: “Love is Love,” on it.
A few minutes later, I asked an adult, “Hi, are you familiar with LGBTQ things?”
They looked embarrassed and then confessed, “I don’t even know what those letters stand for.”
“Want to learn? I asked.
And so, I explained what they mean, and then curtsied and said, “And I am a transgender woman.”
“Ooooooh,” she said, her voice modulating up and down as she prolonged her, “Oh.”
Throughout the evening I asked the same question to kids and adults and got a variety of answers. Several kids knew what the letters mean, while others didn’t. Some kids and parents said they knew lesbian people, gay people, trans people, and all of those kids and parents said it with complete every-day-ness, which, of course, it is.
One ten-year-old asked: “Is it normal to be transgender?”
After thanking him for the question I said: “Yes, it is. It’s normal to be gay, bi, lesbian, it’s normal to question—so, yes, it’s normal. Is it not as common to be transgender? Yes. But it’s normal,” and I handed him a flag.
One little boy entered the fair, holding his mother’s hand, and pulling her eagerly over to our table. He was probably seven. His mom told us, “He saw your table and was so happy. He says of himself, I’m not a boy, I’m not a girl—I’m me—Benjamin.” He proudly took a rainbow flag and explored our displays with eager eyes and a happy, validated heart.
I could go on and on with wonderful moments like these. Being at a diversity fair at a local public school–Glenside Elementary School, in Glenside, PA., was a complete joy. It was an honor to be asked. Glenside is a fairly conservative town, and the diversity fair has always featured tables with different countries, religions, foods, and so on. Never in their history have they had an LGBTQ+ table. We were a first. And yes, it was a nervous first. The organizers weren’t sure how we would be received. They figured none of the parents would be mean, but they thought it was possible some families wouldn’t take kindly that we were there. We worried parents would shepherd their children away from our table, but it turned out to be the complete opposite. Parents and children flocked to our table. It didn’t hurt that we were giving away cupcakes, Skittles, stickers, rainbow flags, parent and child resources, and so on. And they came—dozens and dozens—probably well over a hundred people—maybe closer to two hundred. And every family that came was happy we were there. They asked respectful questions, had supportive things to say, and took advantage of our free resources. It couldn’t have been a bigger success. We planted many, many seeds that night—for both allies and queer kids, who may or may not know they’re queer yet, or do know they are, but keep it a secret, to other kids who proudly know they are. We demonstrated that queer people are people—fun, smart, generous, kind people. We celebrated the LGBTQ+ community, and its allies.
We made many wonderful connections. We met someone who helps get homeless LGBTQ+ kids of the streets. We met another who helps place LGBTQ+ kids in foster care and get adopted. We met teachers and educators needing ideas and support for queer children in their classes. Networking is so key in helping the world work together to help queer kids.
We were invited by my friend Kate, who was organizing the event. She was inspired after she saw an episode of Liz Plank’s, Divided States of Women, which featured my church (Love in Action UCC) and myself.
Our table was stellar. We draped it with a large rainbow flag and a large trans flag. We had several poster-board-sized displays. One of them had queer people throughout history—past and present. We had a display for queer sports figures. We had a display for queer entertainers. We had one with queer comic book heroes (that board brought a lot of kids over to our table). We had another devoted to transgender people. Another devoted to simply loving yourself as you are—your bodies, your talents, your genders—a total celebration of loving ourselves. We also had a board for general Pride—with pictures of queer people of all kinds. As mentioned, we had a bunch of picture books about LGBTQ+ people and issues. We had a lot of parent resources for loving and accepting and parenting LGBTQ+ children.
I even brought my guitar and sang a few songs on the stage. I introduced myself as a transgender woman and watched proudly as the children sat on the steps of the stage and watched and listened and smiled. One little girl sat listening, smiling, and waving her “Love is Love,” rainbow flag as I sang. Parents formed a semi-circle behind them and also happily watched and listened.
And we planted many seeds.
One of my favorite parts of the night was watching my crew interact with the kids and parents. Miles, a young transman friend came, and Anais, a young friend who doesn’t identify as either male or female came as well. When I say, “young,” people, I mean, they were 20 and 17, and they were amazing. I was so proud of them. They are blazing a trail for queers and allies. They were kind, cheerful, genuine, wise, proud, mature—they give me so much hope for the future, as did all the parents and children who visited our table. These young people who came with me—they were, and are, amazing. They left the event feeling happy and proud of themselves and so moved and excited at the response we received.
Dear Readers, despite the current regime, the future is bright and in good hands. Changes are happening—positive changes. Our presence at this diversity fair even prompted the principal of the school, after informing the faculty we would be there, to introduce a new, school-wide policy: No more addressing the student body during assemblies, as “boys and girls,” no more greeting your classes with, “Good morning, boys and girls,” no more dividing groups by boy-girl. This type of change is huge for queer kids—those in and out or questioning. It shows one positive act for the LGBTQ+ community has far-reaching effects.
Join us. Encourage your schools to invite the queer community to attend your diversity festivals. Advocate for non-gendered bathrooms and non-gendered language in your schools. Encourage teachers to learn about queer issues, talk with your children and neighbors and friends. And if your child has a question for one of us, say, if we meet in the check-out line—let them ask. Don’t censor them because you worry we’ll be offended. Let them ask. Their questions are important, our answers are important, that you support your children asking questions is important. Plant seeds with us and watch as a garden of rainbows sprouts in the hearts and minds of people everywhere, watch as the culture continues to grow in simply seeing us as people who deserve equal rights like anyone else. Watch as your children continue to blossom as lights in the world.
Playing in the River of the Reality of Binary-Relativism
Jennifer Angelina Petro
Try and take hold of the night. What ends up filling your hands is darkness tinged with light, whether that be moonlight or starlight, there will be traces of the coming morning or the retreating sunset.
Likewise, try and take hold of the day. What ends up filling your hands is light tinged with darkness, whether it be the shimmering shadows of the willow, or your own shadow, or that small, rushing anxiousness that evening is approaching much faster than your plans would like.
Night and day are ideas—in the truest sense they do not exist as opposites—they are ever and always touching, held together by a river that flows both ways. I know, the “held together,” and “flowing both ways,” seem to contradict the idea that night and day are one. Words are limited in scope and range. And it is easier (safer) to write in ideas like black and white and the binaries of male and female. You can try and wrap words (ideas) around other ideas and, at best, you come up with a poem, and, at worst, fear-based violence.
Why is it safer (easier) to write in terms of binary ideas? Describing day and night as light and dark is strangely comforting to those people who fear stepping into the river. Describing greys, tones, gradations, the multitude of colors that inform sunsets and sunrises–this type of thinking requires more effort, more consciousness, and an openness to the idea of the infinite creativity of the God they believe in. It is easier (and safer) to let one’s thinking be governed by ideas that appear to fit their notions of “the opposites.”
It’s the same with thinking of the idea of the so-called gender-binary. Defining gender by body parts, chromosomes, and reproductive functions is the same basal reasoning as saying day and night can be defined by clocks and the amount of light we see or don’t see. Reducing genders to body parts invalidates the manifestations of the inner and outer gender identities that so many experience in the reality of their lives.
Life flows in a circular current between the ideas of binaries. The reality is spectrum, shadows, fading in and out colors, touches, whispers, hints, nuances—nothing exclusive unto themselves—travel West far enough and you slip into the East. Rise North as far as you can go. You will only descend into the South, like a waterfall.
This blending and interwoveness isn’t to be feared—not within the notions of day or night, male and female, mania and depression, faith and disbelief. Everything touches. Everything mixes. What is created along that circular movement is peace, life, the aforementioned wonder, and yes, the infinite ways these ideas manifest in the river of the world.
But what of science? Doesn’t it prove the idea of opposites? Some people use science in the same way they use bibles—selectively. While deriding the idea of the gender spectrum they propagate the ideas that climate change doesn’t exist, that the earth was created in six days, that all the animals of the world fit into an ark, and for some, that the earth is flat.
Science is crucial to the future of humanity. So is letting go of fear of change and the perceived threats to the family. Erasing the idea of gender binaries doesn’t unleash havoc on the family. Instead it opens up the definitions and manifestations of family. It doesn’t mean the end of procreation. It doesn’t mean the end of heterosexual, cisgender marriages. All it does is threaten the shadow-desires some people feel but are trained to be experienced as deviance and to be felt as shame and fear.
The idea that binaries are ideas sometimes threatens people in other ways—particularly that the world will dissolve into relativism. What is so threatening about that–whether that relativism be cultural or societal? If the idea that there are no absolute truths threatens one’s spiritual security then where is their faith? In reality, one cannot escape cultural relativism. It’s the same with the ideas of black and white and the gender binaries. For example, take a look at the word, “relativism.” It’s clearly “related” to “relating,” ‘relations,” and “relationship.” And these, in turn, can be traced back to the word, “refer,” which, means, in Latin, “to relate, and to carry back.” Let’s carry the idea that gender is based on body parts back to the reality that some “men,” are born with vulvas, and some “women,” are born with penises or combinations of both. Those aren’t ideas—those are realities. They are not mutations or abnormalities—they are as natural as being born with a certain hair color. What is the threat if someone knows they are a gender that may not correspond to the body parts that some people associate with a particular gender? In reality, there is no threat. The threat is fake news.
In the same way, relativism does not erase decades of fighting for women’s rights and feminism. However, if modern feminism and the fight for respect, dignity, safety, jobs, pay rates, does not include transwomen and other people on the spectrum that identify as female, then it isn’t truly feminism. It is as guilty as the extremist Christians that hold the old idea that in order to be female you need a vulva as defined by the confines of reproductive function.
All things are related, in relationship, and we can even have “relations.” These are realities. The idea of night being related to the idea of day and the reality of these relationships can be experienced in our everyday lives, and no one is threatened.
Knowing binaries are ideas does not blur or muddy the waters of reality’s river. They liberate us into realizing the infinite facets of the divine radiating prisms of color that touch the world with joy and wonder—in other words—variety—infinite variety.
Heaven hell, good and evil. These are ideas inherently couched in relativism—cultural and spiritual. Killing is wrong unless you’re defending your flag or religion, or the world from abortion; stealing is wrong unless you are trying to save your children; war is wrong unless it is for oil or to get rid of “evil doers,” who believe something different than you. My religion is right because yours is wrong, my book says so, your book is wrong. It’s silliness—dangerous, childish, fear-based silliness—and most of it propagated by men insecure of their own sexual/gender identities and possibilities. Everyone knows how dangerous, cunning, manipulative, and cruel a man can be when scared. History is full of men scared of losing something or scared of something being revealed and to prevent this they resort to violence. And it is undeniable that many men who rail against homosexuality are found to possess porn, and or engage in sex with other men. Why is that? Because gender is a spectrum and something to be ashamed of.
Ask yourself reading this right now if it inspires you with vehement hatred, anger, and, if you’re extreme—violence? If it does, I suggest you have little-to-no faith in your god—your beliefs, which are nothing more than ideas woven with communal feelings—are weak. Indeed, they are relative. You’re proving it by being upset. If you’re living in the prison of the idea of binaries and you’re reading this, and you have some twinge somewhere within you—whether that be between your legs, in your heart, or in your mind—that moves you to the suppressed knowledge that you are actually happily gender-non-conforming—that you are perhaps a gender other than what your genitals say. Most certainly it points to your shadow hiding conscious or unconscious secrets. What if you’re feeling a secret, joyous sense of freedom as you read this? I suggest that indicates you are a true believer—in the sense that you believe in a god of infinite possibilities and varieties that in no way threatens anyone or anything—only your limited ideas.
Go play in the river. You can’t drown in a river made of joy—unless you become afraid and slip back into the suffocating ideas that kept you from going near the river in the first place. Look, there are others already there—splashing, swimming, and forming bridges called Fun and Freedom and Faith. There is room for all. Go be baptized in the infinite variety of your god.
Reflections on the Past Calendar Year, 2017, and Looking Ahead to 2018
Jennifer Angelina Petro
Last year, at this time, I was in the psych ward begging the nurses to kill me. Luckily, they said they didn’t do that sort of thing in the hospital. I spent 9 days there. My second time in the 2 months. I spent my 49th birthday there. The staff brought me a cupcake, which they said was against the rules. It was yummy. You really haven’t lived until you hear a room full of psychologically ill people singing you happy birthday.
And here I am. As far as I know, alive.
You are an integral part of my being here. You supported me 100%, and even though most of this saga was chronicled on my now lost, Radiance Moo-Cow Facebook page, you know the story. I have no secrets.
I have been criticized for sharing so intimately about mental illness. You know I do it to destigmatize it all. You know I do it to help people see someone can exist and function productively and positively—some days better than others—with a chronic, and at this point, incurable, mental illness.
Anywho, things began to lift, not so coiendentally in the spring, with your support, therapy, and a long, struggling, scary, frustrating search for the right combination of meds.
And, of course, there was the unwavering love and support of Mandy, Sam, Ben, and Daniel.
Around late winter, early spring I found Love in Action UCC. I cannot emphasize enough how important that was, and is, to my recovery. The accepting, supportive community, the aliveness of service, the many new friends, and the purpose I feel and truly have there working with lgbtqia youth, and watching those programs grow, is so healing.
Then there are the adopted kids I have taken under my wing and have helped get through some rough times. They too have helped me perhaps more than they know. They are not just adopted kids—they are friends.
Then too, there was my journey into realizing my meds did not take away, as I so deeply feared, my creativity. They have helped hone things, focus things, but the creative forces are still there, and for that I am more grateful than I can say.
Yes, there was, and is, all the ongoing shit with trump and his terroristic regime. Yes, there was, and is, all the ongoing shit from the far-right terrorist extremists. Yes, there is still the transphobia and the daily challenges I face simply existing in the world—the public world. And yes, there are still bouts of deep self-hatred and dysphoria. These have, thankfully, lessened lately though, and for that I am relieved beyond measure. Yes, I am still living under mountains of debt and the fear of being taken to court for those debts. Yes, I still cannot help support my family the way I would like financially. Yes, I truly believe I am not yet ready to handle a full-time job in any field. Yes, I still have my obsessions, magical thinking, paranoid thinking (and I do not use that last word lightly), and my anxieties, fears, throttling storms of PTSD, and the like.
And I am here, and yes, I still talk with much hyperbole and drama. I’m Italian.
Looking ahead, I see my role as a mother changing and growing more and more into being a friend.
Looking ahead, I see a future of growing and living into my role as a mentor of lgbtqia youth. I see myself exploring the possibilities of taking a stab at stand-up comedy and performance poetry, and to return to storytelling, and perhaps even giving concerts/kirtans. I see myself making a CD of my music and publishing another book(s) of poetry. I see continued discoveries into myself as a transwoman, as a woman, as an aging woman, as someone exploring the wonders of their sexuality and the on and off desire to be in a romantic/intimate relationship with someone. Yes, I am still a budding pansexual.
Looking ahead, I see more poems.
Looking ahead, I see reconciliation for those in my life who still do not accept me or want me around their families.
Looking ahead, I see new friends weaving their way into my life, and I in theirs.
Looking ahead, I see doing my best to tend to the medical conditions that are gradually developing in this body of mine.
Looking ahead, I see more prayer, more devotion, more deepening, more diving into, more blossoming, more treasuring, more sharing, more joyous my spiritual journey, which, of course, encompasses everything in my life, my every breath.
Looking ahead, I see more healing in our world, and me doing my little part in that healing.
Looking ahead, I see things in the world perhaps getting worse before they get better.
Looking ahead, I see more taking care of myself and setting boundaries for my safety.
Looking ahead, I see more ways to give, in both secret and out in the open.
Looking ahead, I see less shame.
Looking ahead, I continue to see the goodness, resilience, compassion, wisdom, and power of everyday people.
Looking ahead, I continue to notice the little things, the big things around me that are beautiful, mysterious, wondrous, and important. I continue to actively look for and see/experience gratitude for these things and more.
Looking ahead, I know there will be days when I want to die, when I will be unable to leave my bed, my house, or to eat. No, I am not calling this to myself. I am ill, and I live with that illness every day, and while I am doing OK, I know this disease of mental illness is relentless and reminds me everyday that it is there, lurking, hungry. I am not in delusion about that. At some point it will drag me under again– hopefully not into the suicidality I walked with everyday for months. The writing of suicide notes, the making plans of where, when, and how, the carrying of knives and box cutters, the taking them to my wrists.
Looking ahead, I also see healing and the right support to get me through those times. And while I am afraid, everyday at some point, that the beast is just up ahead behind the next happy, good moment, I am comforted that I can get through it with you and my ability to ask for, and to receive, love and help.
In short, because, yes, I am still short, and likely will remain so, and perhaps I may even grow shorter as the years go by (by-with), looking ahead, I see positive possiblities. I see you. I see me, and today I see me with some measure of self-acceptance and even, I daresay, love.
And it’s still winter. The local world is wrapped in biting cold and sparkling snow. And I see its beauty and dangers. I also, looking ahead, see spring.
Looking ahead I see more glitter, unicorns, stuffed animals, and hippy skirts.
I see this moment, looking inwards, outwards, here, now. And looking ahead, for the first time in years, I see more here and now’s. More moments, each one unpredictable—no matter what I envision—each one full of possibilities and unexpected joy and hardship, each one full of me, you, the Divine, and a world full of people who care, who take care of one another no matter what the media says.
Jennifer Angelina Petro
I have four birthdays. The first being my “belly button” birthday—January 7th, 1968. The second being that April morning in 2015 when I realized in full conscious that I am transgender (I am not sure of the exact date, which is incredibly annoying—so I am going to pick, April 1rst. Not for the reasons you might automatically be thinking. Back in 2015, the International Day of Hope fell on April first—that’s why I’m picking it). My third birthday is the day I came out publicly—to the whole world—no more hiding—anything—ever: September 18, 2015. And finally, October 11, 2015—the day I started taking t-blockers and estrogen.
Two years ago today I posted a note on FB and on my blog. It’s a quaint, naive, defensive sort of note—filled with idealism, early forays into activism, my usual flare for the corny, and yeah, a big reveal. Most of you know the devastating fall out that note had on my life and the life of my family. With your help, however I carried through my last year as a teacher, loving every moment I got to be with those kids. I also saw the end of a marriage, the sale of a house, the moving into an apartment (twice in 3 months) alone, and the death threats, the relatives and friends who stopped talking to me, the people pissed I made this announcement on FB and my blog instead of telling them individually (yeah, that would have gone over well and not been the least bit emotionally exhausting), the meetings at school with angry parents, and also, the utter joy at freely walking through the world as I was always meant to. And THAT was a kind of blessing that is hard, even for me, to put into words.
Last year I posted a very depressing first coming-out birthday note. And as much as I spoke of being depressed that first year, little did I know the depression would worsen to the point of being life-threatening. Over the course of that first year—with all the difficult (to say the least) and naively unexpected life-changes, I careened shortly thereafter, into a severe and total breakdown with multiple hospital stays for suicidality. Looking back on my coming out letter, last year’s letter, and this–and you will notice depression has been with me the entire time. That’s because I am clinically depressed. I was born with depression, the same way someone is born with any other physical illness. It goes with me where ever I go. I say that to say, my suffering from depression isn’t because I’m trans. Being trans and coming out worsened my symptoms–yes, for sure–but the illness called, depression, has always been with me–since my earliest childhood days.
Which brings us to today. It has taken me a year to even truly begin to feel somewhat stable mentally and emotionally, and I am still not out of the woods as far as a recovery from this latest flare up of symptoms from my depression. And yes, fall is coming, and winter, and yeah, I usually go through those seasons chipper as a jar of glitter at a Pride parade…The difference this year though is that I am getting help from so many fronts—professionally, medically, therapeutically, spiritually, emotionally, and for all that I am, with trepidations, hopeful this year’s symptoms won’t be so extreme.
So here I am: two years old. Through all the changes, depression, dysphoria, unemployment, calls from debt-collectors, lonely days and nights in my hovel, I have also had moments—glimpses and full visions of salvation, community, love, hope, and the peace and electricity that come from living one’s truest self–my self–me. Who I am. Not who I was born to be–I was born this way–a woman–a transgender woman–but who I am meant to live openly as the way I was truly born.
Yes, I am scared about the upcoming fall and winter. Yes, I am still unemployed and, in all clarity, not mentally fit enough to be working a “real” job yet. I am also getting better. I also have a church community I never knew I’d find—friends that support and love me in ways only real friends can do. There is reason for hope, and you are one of those reasons. My ex and our children still love and accept me and that, of course, is key.
Last year I ended my first birthday note with a toast to a smoother year. We all know that smoother didn’t exactly manifest. So, I won’t toast to that this year. I won’t toast to anything. I don’t drink anyway.
What I will say is this: Thank you. Thank you for your love and support. For being there in my darkest moments and my silliest sillies, and my most wondrous of wonders.
I am here. I am myself in a way that was simply more conscious and alive that I was before I came out, and for that, despite all the challenges—I am eternally grateful.
What I am about to share is going to piss somebody off. Seems that way about most everything I say nowadays. However, if you truly have faith in your God, or you truly have faith in who you are as human being, then what you are about to read should not be threatening to anything you believe or experience. This is not to say that what I have written here is perfect. Far from it. Language barriers, prejudices, and fears—yours and my own– make that impossible. Let’s get on with it. I am ready for the mean, hateful, harmful, and trolling comments from “both” sides (and “both” is in quotations because well, you’ll see). I am also ready for nice comments. I am inviting them too. I hope.
I will give you that the idea of the binary exists. I know, many scientists today say the gender binary doesn’t exist in the ways we’ve traditionally thought, and I totally support their findings. That said, the idea of polarities exists. It is seemingly everywhere—day and night, cold and hot, light and dark, rainy days and clear days, fire and water, sky and earth. Having given you that, you will inevitably need to give me, that there isn’t, and never will be, a truly individuated or separate representation or living form that will ever exist on the opposite ends of the binary. For the opposite ends of the binary are only ideas, even if they are created by God. If this scares you, then so must the idea of the morning, or of the evening, or rainbows, or singing.
The opposite ends of the binary only exist to overtake the other—swallow it up, merge within in it, into and unto, itself—not in battle, never forced—but in dance and song, and flavor. That is the miracle, that is the beginning of all things. The purpose of the binary is not to separate, but to join, merge, and hence, create.
No one can imagine the idea of the opposites without seeing, feeling, experiencing, knowing, or witnessing that they are all in some relationship with the other.
Go ahead, stand on the earth without forever being also in the sky. Be in the middle of a perfectly sunny day and not know that evening is already on its way. Step into a pool that you want not too hot and not to cold. You get what I’m saying.
Having given you that the binary exists as theoretical reference points (I know, I know, the Bible says God created male and female and it also says: “Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones,” or, “God brought them out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn.” I know, I know, you can take a verse of the Bible and use it to back up even the most outlandish ideas. Like this one: “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ.” I know you can take the fact that God killed about 25 million people in the Bible to represent the killing of our unbelief or to justify the slaughter of unbelievers, but then again, so do some Muslims). It is high time and low time, to grasp and let go, once and for all, and forever anew, the idea that the front of a coin can be separated from the back. They exist because of one another and because of what they manifest—and in the case of human existence—they manifest all that is wonderful (not the coins themselves, but what they represent, well, not what they represent, but what they demonstrate).
Cold is nothing unless heat exists. Up means nothing without down. Music is only heard in silence. Purple only arises between shades of blue and shades of red. Death prowls and life blooms. It is the space between them that brings forth all things; where all things wondrous, flavorful, truthful (yes, truthful), and just plain living—exist. It is in the mingling where the fun begins.
Two people do not have sex in order to annihilate the other. They have sex to blend together, breathe and gasp together, come together. It is this joining of bodies, souls, hearts, and minds that brings forth life.
I know, I just got done saying the opposite ends of the binary only exist to overtake the other. Remember what I also said—the true opposite ends of the binary do not exist except in theory. You will never find them in life—no man is ever just a man—he has his “feminine” side. No woman is ever just a woman. She will have her “masculine” side. God becomes the mother hen to keep us safe under his wings. No night is ever not slipping into day.
And that is my point. Living is in the union. Fun is in the merging. Wonder is in the rainbow. Beauty is in the evening sky.
So please, just as you cannot deny the idea of the binary, you cannot deny the existence of infinite variety, or of the intricate, heavenly, ever-expanding spectrum between the opposite ends of that binary.
I know, there are flaws in what I say. Language makes things messy and muddles meaning up. You can easily take my words and use them to prove the exact opposite of what I am saying. That being what it is—you cannot lose sight (well, you can out of your own shadowy, shame-based fears—and we all have them) that all the good stuff lives within and on and with and along a spectrum. And nothing in between threatens the existence of the binary. The binary will always be the idealized ideas of opposites in the same way day and night will be always be idealized ideas of opposites. I do not use the word “idealized” to mean better. I mean it to say, the ultimate opposite ends of the spectrum only exist as ideas. They never truly manifest, one without the other.
Go ahead, flip a coin. Not only does it rise, tumbling upwards into the air, it also tumbles down landing on either heads or tails—and these will never exist one without the other—front and back. But I said that already, and I will say it again, at risk of being repetitive (the crusty idea of the idealized binary has been repeated for eons, but so has the idea that God creates souls to burn them in hell, or that the earth is flat, or that slavery is ever a human thing to do). So, I repeat:
It is the stuff that exists along the spectrum that is most intensely alive. It is the dance between stillness and movement, music and silence, light and darkness, male and female, death and life that makes existence wonderful. We are born, we die, and it is the living in between that gives either of these meaning (and please don’t think I am associating masculinity with light and darkness with femininity. Remember, however, that language is goofy. Then again, feel free to associate anything with anything—you’ll get a good idea of how you live your life).
The spectrum is undeniable, and completely, and utterly, wondrously, beautiful, vibrant, and living.
So please do not tell me I do not exist as a transgender person. I am a living arc–a living rainbow “across” genders. Please do not tell my queer friends, non-binary friends, asexual friends, and so on—that they do not exist. We are the beauty and meaning of the ideas of so-called, male and female. We are what is meant to be celebrated because the true opposites will never exist in form. Murder is not always bad or the Christian religion would mean nothing. Rebellion is not always bad or else freedom would not exist. This is not relativism. This is reality. No one loves without a hint of hate. No one prays without a hint of doubt.
People like me are the rainbows, we are the mornings and evenings, we are that place where stars and darkness dance. We are the perfect temperature for swimming. We are the space between inhaling and exhaling. We are the glorious existence of form. And we include all gender identities, all gender expressions, every gender preferences, every rainbow, every song, and every breath. And so then, we include you.
Do not fear the rainbow. Go find it, and take out your phones and snap pictures of it. Give thanks to Goddess for it. Take a selfie with it in the background. It is a sign that God will never again destroy the earth with a flood—a flood of ignorance, fear, bigotry, or hatred. The rainbow is the spectrum that blooms from the skies of our souls.
When I asked them how they felt about it being Father’s Day, they said they were OK. One asked if he still needed to get me something. Another said he worked double time on Mother’s Day making cards for two moms and now he appreciates the day off.
I have the best kids ever.
When I think of the times I held them as infants on my chest and sang to them, when I think of pulling them in wagons and pushing them in strollers—all the times carrying them in front packs, the fishing trips, the chasing after ice cream trucks, the making bread and chimichangas, all the times we drew together, all the stories I told at bedtime, all the snake hunts and ootheca searches (praying mantis nests), all the movies (watching Pirates of the Caribbean and the Harry Potter movies over and over and over), all the times playing catch or pitching to them, or the time I took them out of school (along with my students) to take them to see the Parade downtown when the Phillies won the World Series in 08; the teaching them to drive, the times sitting in Barnes and Noble drinking soda and looking at books, the teaching the few guitar chords I know, the screaming at the top of my lungs at Battle of the Bands, the being so proud when they won first place–It wasn’t a lie. All that daddying. All that fathering. It was real. Always will be. Nothing will ever change my having been their father. No matter what anyone says, nothing can ever take those memories away.
My kids can see him in the old photographs with his scruffy goatee, scruffy clothes, silly grin. They can see hear him in my voice and see him in my hands and face.
But I am Mom Number Two. Always was. It’s just none of us knew it until now.
My boys are my treasures.
I love them with all of my heart.
And not just because they support me as a transgender parent, not just because they have taken this whole journey so well, and with such class, love, and good humor; but because they are good and decent people, they are my flesh and blood. They are my kids. Nothing will ever change that. No matter what I look like. No matter what happens to this body. Nothing can ever take away twenty years of fathering.
Nothing will ever change that I love them to the moon and back. And always will.
A family photo at Ben’s graduation this June, 2016. He’s the middle one, with Sam to his right, and Daniel to his left–and then Mandy, Mom Number One, and then me, Jennifer, Mom Number Two.
My wise friend, Mika and I were talking recently and she observed that if we can allow negative actions, words, and energy from some negative people to drain us, then the implication is that we can allow positive actions, words, and energy of positive people to fill us. I am working on ways to do this, for while I have received TONS and TONS of loving, kind, encouraging, compassionate, and just plain AMAZING support as I have come out as trans, there have been a few people who have said some very cruel things, mean things, reprehensible things, and acted in heartbreaking ways towards me. And my silly mind starts to focus on those few instead of the many, many, MANY who support me. And then I begin to fade, nudge closer to a depression that seems suddenly so far away, and I become afraid, feel guilty, begin to believe I am doing something wrong, when in fact I am not DOING anything. I did not choose to be trans. I am not BECOMING a woman. I AM a woman who is finally conscious of this beautiful and affirming truth and am simply moving closer and closer to fully living and presenting as the person I am. I was born the right gender, wrong body parts. And so my loving supporters, what things do you do to help increase the positive, to draw that loving energy in? This is without a doubt the most intense time of my life—and the most wonder-filled, and beautiful, and yet, it is hard to know there are people who a few days ago were my friends that now literally hate me, and that’s hard. Really hard. And thank Goddess there is YOU. If you’re reading this I believe you’re one of the ones who love my heart. Who looks past what I may wear or what I may call myself, who doesn’t worry about losing anything, but instead is happy they are gaining the best me ever. What suggestions do you have for increasing the positive, for helping a negative-focuser like me to focus on the good–the good that is everywhere. Truly the outpouring of love I am receiving is incredible, and I feel guilty the haters affect me so much, like I am insulting you. I do not mean to, my dear friends. This is all new to me—this complete acceptance of who I am, and I am so happy, really, giddy-magically happy, and need and want your continued support, but I am working with a mind that is trained in negativity and self-hatred. I would be honored to hear how you gather in the positive and release the negative, how you focus on the positive and ignore the negative. You totally rock my friends. I love you. Yours with grace and love, Jennifer
Last night my dear friend Mindy sent me a quote by Mary Oliver (the best poet in America of the last 100 years, maybe even ever):
“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.”
I read that and as so often happens, words and images started flowing. Sometimes they come like a flood, right away, rushing and gushing–exploding all over the page; other times it’s a more gradual build, images and words finding their way into me slowly, like the dawn. Last night it was the former. It all came out in one brief, satisfying, healing torrent of images, words, and insights.
I went with the current on Twitter. Sometimes the constraints of the 140 spaces is a perfect discipline to channel the flow. Other times it’s silly to even try. Last night, the Twitter format worked fine.
So thank you Mindy for the initial share; thank you Mary Oliver for writing your wildly luminous poetry; thank you Muse for coming to me in the form of Mindy and Mary; and thank you also, Dear Darkness, of whom I am learning so much from, thank you for being full of light. So many times the depression feels only like utter and complete blackness. I am learning, little by little, the more I simply keep walking, that as soon as the darkness begins to feel overwhelmingly isolative (isolate=from the Latin: to become an island), that exact moment—if I tell someone, find a way to share the hidden pain, the secret suffering, then the darkness blooms into light, into lessons, into invaluable help for myself and others, and I can breathe again. For deep depression is nothing more than the suffocation of the soul.
Last night, I didn’t drown in the darkness. I was able to swim. Thank you everyone who helps me to do this. The trinity of diseases: addiction, depression, and isolation, often go hand in hand and can lead to the final darkness. I needn’t go through anything alone again, ever. You don’t either. May my journey through the heart of darkness bear witness to this truth: bring others with you—not dragging them into the chaos, no, bring them with you into your heart, invite them—the safe ones into where the secret hurts live, and the burdens, whatever they are, will become light, the yoke becomes easy (easier). For wherever two or more are gathered–there, in the midst of them, is salvation from the fears of being vulnerable, of showing one’s weaknesses, of being so-called-perfect. There, in this place, this holy space of breath and of embracing–the common experiences, the threads of compassion, identification, love, and eventually ultimately wonder, creativity, and dancing, weave us together into the shared fabric of humanity.
Thank you all.
The Poems in order of their appearance:
Wherever I go, I carry a box of darkness handed down by generations. Inside are echoes of sorrows; and light, beautiful, hidden light.
I speak, the box of darkness closes; I am silent, the box opens. I weep, the box closes, I sleep, the box opens; I sing the box disappears.
I reach inside the box of darkness and find a key. A door appears. I stand, set the box down, and go, go to fall into the shimmering light.
Three words: “Box of darkness,” open secret passageways to the soul. I’m going, take my hand, let’s go find the way back to now.
Where are you? I cry. Here, says the Beloved. Where? I demand. Here, says the Beloved, Where you left me, inside this box of darkness.
One day, I slipped the box of darkness under my bed, not wanting to see it again. When I got home that night, my room had become the box.
I never know when it’s going to come, this rush of images. I only know to slip into it and allow it to river through me to wherever it goes.
Goodnight. I open the box of darkness, slip inside with a blanket. I close the lid. And when I open my eyes to the darkness, I see light.