Last year I wrote about the fears I had of the upcoming winter. Fall and winter are often the worst times of year for me mentally. Two years ago, I went to the hospital twice in the span of two months for suicidality. Last year, with medicine, a wonderful therapist, Kellie Brunton of Ambler, PA, friends, a loving community at Love in Action UCC in Hatboro, PA, my poetry, and spiritual life, I had the best winter I have yet to have as far as mental stability is concerned. I am so grateful.
This fall is more foreboding. I know I need an adjustment in my meds. I feel myself sliding backwards (deeper?) into my mental illness. Fleeting thoughts of suicide and self-harm travel through my mind on a daily basis. And while they are passive thoughts—they are there more than they’ve been in a long time.
I begin this annual update on my trans-journey because it is, for me, part and parcel of my experience. By that I do not mean to suggest that I am mentally ill as a result of being trans. No. Being transgender IS NOT a mental illness, and while coming out three years ago blew up my life and that certainly didn’t help my mental illnesses, bring trans is a gift—-it is not, in any way, a mental illness.
My mental illnesses are part and parcel of my trans experience because they exist side-by-side, or, better put, are interwoven. So, to read this update on my Coming-Out-Birthday is to read also about my mental health, or lack thereof.
All that said, it’s been an exciting year with regards to trans-activism. I’m fortunate to have been featured on an episode on the Internationally famous, Liz Plank’s, Divided States of Women. The episode also featured my faith community, Love in Action UCC (LIA). I was also featured in a front-page article in the Philadelphia Inquirer that also celebrated the wonderful work being done by LIA. Most importantly, LIA and myself helped Hatboro, PA, pass a human rights ordinance to help protect people of the LGBTQIA community. It was an honor to be able to speak before the major (the incredibly badass, Nancy Guenst) and the City Council. I have also led LGBTQIA support groups at LIA, local libraries, marched in marches, written to political figures, given workshops on what it is to be trans, and will be performing in October for the important revue of This is My Brave—a national organization for helping end the stigma of mental illness. I was also honored to be the first ever representative of the LGBTQIA community at Glenside Elementary School’s Diversity Festival.
These many opportunities for activism in both trans-causes and helping to end the stigma of mental illness, have been rewarding and hopeful. And I need to be careful.
The more I do, the more I run the risk of careening into mania and then depression. It is still an evolving process of learning to navigate feeling joy and being manic. At least I am aware that this is a danger. That said, I am missing more of the signs of mental health relapse, which is why I know I need an adjustment in meds. In addition to transient thoughts of self-harm, mania has been slowly encroaching on my life and I am struggling with some of the symptoms of my mania—compulsive spending, eating, grandiose thoughts, plans, and ideas, racing thoughts, sleepless nights, the struggle to try and slow down both mentally and physically—the drive to plough through life is intense, as well as a myriad of other manifestations. All of this impacts my trans-experience by making dysphoria worse, by making the anxiety to leave my apartment even to just go shopping worse—alongside, paradoxically, the increased amount of publicity I am both seeking and being sought after for trans activism.
I don’t know where it’s all leading. I am still unemployed. I came close to getting a couple teaching jobs, but they both fell through. I continue to joyously volunteer at LIA helping direct an LGBTQIA Center at LIA, and that goes a long way towards helping keep my mental illness in check.
My finances, thanks to being bipolar and being unemployed, are worse than ever. I have to appear in debtors court in a couple weeks. I am close to filing for bankruptcy, and I have no savings of any kind.
I’ve had to move yet again, and although I am now living in the most adorable apartment, it was a huge stress to move for the third time in two years. I am hopeful this new space will be long-term. I love it here.
I continue to have the love and support of my ex, and the kids. We went on a family vacation for the first time in probably six years this summer. We went to the Redwoods and Sequoias, and was the funnest time, for me, our family has ever had together.
Poetry is still my beloved friend. Music too.
I continue to do healing where my sexual abuse traumas are concerned, and while that work is gut-wrenching, it is, of course, crucial, and ultimately transforming and liberating.
My father passed away last spring and that brought many challenges with family and the coming to terms with his not speaking with me the last nine months of his life. I sent him pictures of myself and after that, all communication ceased. I wasn’t permitted to go to his funeral because I’m trans, which was incredibly painful. My brother, however, arranged a private viewing for me, and for that I am deeply grateful. In addition, when he wrote the obituary, he referred to me as Jennifer. I wept when I saw that. He calls me Jennifer all the time now, and that means the world to me.
All-in-all, it’s been a challenging, rewarding, and busy year, and I am so glad I’m alive. Being transgender—being a woman—is an evolution of transformation, wonder, and gratitude. My transition has shifted a bit in my gender expression—I am comfortable now with some days not shaving, and I am presenting a little more non-binary, which is fine with me. My definition of what it means to be “feminine,” is broadening, and that too, is fine with me—and important as well. I have given up on dating–and by that I mean the complete lack thereof. I am gradually accepting that a long-term relationship is simply not in the cards for me. Lastly, with regards to my physical transitioning, I am grateful to have had an orchiectomy, and that has gone a long way in being comfortable my own body. Full gender affirmation surgery is probably not going to happen due to finances, and I am gradually surrendering to that.
Thank you for your continued support, encouragement, love, and care. I am so blessed with so many wonderful friends. I humbly request your prayers for where my mental health is concerned, and I ask you to continue writing to politicians, schools, places of worship advocating for the rights of LGBTQIA people, to coming with us to marches and protests, to keep sharing with your families, friends, and communities that LGBTQIA people are as deserving of human rights as anyone else.
Let’s talk about boobs–particularly my boobs. If you’re already thinking: “This is TMI”, then you might want to stop reading now. Anywho….
So, I’m growing boobs, and I like my boobs. I got a head start when I thought I was a “guy,” and had, “man-boobs.” Now I have a fun pair of boobs that I admire very much.
Up until this week I have worn a bra everywhere I go–and I loved it. I mean, I loved coming home and taking it off (especially doing the take-it-off-while-keeping-your-shirt-on-trick), but, in general, I liked bras. Mostly because they gave my boobs a nudge upwards. As much as I like my boobs I am not thrilled that I’m 50 and my boobs are forming an increasingly intimate relationship with gravity.
Yesterday I did something that I am very proud of. Doing it today too. This may not sound like a big deal to you, but for me, it is a big step in body-positivity and self-acceptance:
I chose to not wear a bra, and I went outside, shopping, etc. I just had a Pride t-shirt on and some capris……It felt SO liberating! I loved it. As I walked there was a little sensation of jiggling, and that made me feel giddy. At one point I walked by a store window and saw clearly that my nipples were proudly protruding from under my shirt. Even my bumply areolas were somewhat visible. I smiled. I liked it.
And yes, I felt weird when people went by–several men and women looked at my chest as I walked around…and there were moments I felt really ashamed in general and felt compelled to cross my arms.
That said, as I mentioned, it was a freeing experience in body acceptance and, I daresay, a celebration. I’m very pleased with myself.
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.
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.
Being friends with a dragon takes some getting used to. For one thing their digestive systems are always rumbling like an old car. When they burp, which is often, foul smelling smoke comes out of both ends, and little spurts of fire sometimes ignite nearby curtains or sofas. Another thing is that they sometimes eat people which is hard to explain to the authorities when they come looking for said eaten person.
However there are many benefits of being friends with a dragon. For example, they eat people—people who are bullying you or harassing you, which really cuts down on being bullied when word spreads that people who pick on you end up disappearing, leaving only a few bits of hair and sneakers behind. Another benefit is that they burp, and foul-smelling smoke comes out of both ends—which is another good deterrent for bullies—as are the little spurts of flames aimed at particularly sensitive areas on bullies.
You might be wondering why I have so many bullies flocking around me. You see, I am trans—transgender. And I’m a kid. I was born nine years ago and everyone thought I was a boy. And even though I was born with the parts that would make some people assume I was a boy, I am a girl, and I know I’m a girl. My parents know now as well—after years of me insisting on wearing dresses they finally got it. Not that dresses defines being a girl, but my folks are old-fashioned.
I am one of the lucky ones. My parents both accept me. I also have friends who do as well. It wasn’t always that way though, and when I first came out things, shall we say, got ugly. And that’s where being friends with Harbor came in handy. Yes, Harbor is my friend dragon, and he does by ‘he.’ My name is well, we’ll get to that, and this is the beginning of many beginnings and the end of many endings and the beginning of many endings and well, you get the idea.
Zimzir and the Dragon.
As I said, my parents were told I was a boy when I popped out on a cold winter morning in January. My parents named me, “Joseph.” It was an OK name, except it didn’t fit. At first, I didn’t understand why it didn’t fit. It just didn’t. Sort of like accidentally putting both legs into a pair of pants.
My parents were pretty OK though, and so I began to grow up, or, well, as I like to think of it—grow down. You see, I always felt like I was an alien or something. Like I came from up there in space somewhere. I just felt different from the earthlings around me. And so, it took me a few years to come down, so to speak into this body I didn’t want or ask for.
When I was a toddler (which is a really funny word if you think about it) I used to toddle to the laundry basket (my family did do laundry, but always left the clean laundry in a basket in my parent’s room, and I knew this, so I would, as I said, toddle to it, and then, with some effort, toddle over and into it, sort of like a misguided cat). Once in the basket I would do an artistic little dance as I sat there on the clean laundry with quite possibly a stinky diaper, which consisted of me throwing clothes around the room while I sang (the artistic little dance, that is, not my diaper). “Sang” isn’t quite the right description of the vocalizations that came out of my mouth. My singing was more like cows yodeling.
While in the laundry basket I used to fish out the “women’s” clothes and wrap them around my head. Then I would giggle and slobber into them.
And here I want to say that, of course, clothes (and toys, for that matter) (and well, anything for that matter, especially kids) (unless they want to be) should not be gendered. So, I put “women’s” clothes in those little quotation mark thingies just to let you know I think it’s absurd that people think there is such a thing as “women’s” clothing. For the rest of this story, however, I am not going to use quotation marks, mainly because they are annoying. Trust though, whenever I mention women’s clothes or boy’s clothes, I mean (with a big roll of my eyeballs) (eyeballs is also a funny word) that I mean “women’s” clothes and “boy’s” clothes.
As I grew down some more, I used to go into my parent’s room and not only fish out my mom’s clothes, but I try it on and parade around the house. This made my mother laugh and my dad yell.
“Take those off, Joseph. Those are girl’s clothes. You’re a boy,” he would say.
To which mom would say: “Oh, honey he’s just pretending.”
To which I would say to myself: “No, I’m not. These clothes might be too big for me now, but they are the kind of clothes I want to wear forever.” And then I would take them off and treat them as if they were threaded with gold, and fold them up neatly and put them back in the laundry basket.
One day, when I was around seven, I was at my cousin, Annabelle’s house, and I stole one of her dresses and wore it to school the next day. I felt so proud and happy. It felt like I was wearing cool, refreshing sunshine.
Sitting in the principal’s office after getting sent there by my teacher for causing a ruckus in class just because I was wearing a dress, was the first time I remember wishing I had never been born. “This sucks,” I thought, “I just want to be myself and everyone either gets mad or thinks I’m a joke.”
And while waiting for my mom to come bring me a change of clothes, I heard Harbor for the first time.
I say, “heard,” because the first thing I heard was a fart. I looked around the office. No one else was there but me. Upon sniffing however, I knew someone, or something—judging by the intensity of the fart-smell—was with me.
Then I heard a burp and saw a little burst of smoke and flame appear in the middle of the room near the ceiling. I jumped and let out a little scream.
“It’s alright,” said a voice that sounded like gentle thunder. It was a sound that soothed me and resonated through my lungs, “It’s just me, Harbor.”
“Hhh-Hhh,” was all I could manage to say. I sort of sounded like I was practicing dramatic exhales.
“Harbor,” the voice said again, causing a little storm to wave pleasantly through my heart.
“Harbor?” I said, “But, where are you?”
“Right here,” came the voice. And then, there—right there—in Principal-Poopy-Pant’s office (not his real name) (unfortunately), the air in front of me began to shimmer and quiver and take form and color and weight, and as it did, a dragon appeared before me—large, aqua green with purplish markings and wings folded neatly against the ceiling.
“You’re a dragon,” I sputtered, and my mouth, if it could have, would have opened down enough to hit the floor.
“Yup,” he said, “so I am.”
“What are you doing here?”
“I am here for you.”
“For me?” I gulped. “Like, here to eat me?”
“Oh no,” said the dragon. “I am here to be your companion. If you will allow me, that is.”
“Why do you want to be my companion? Do I need one?”
“Because I want to be. I know what it’s like to not be accepted for who you know you really are.”
“Yes. And ‘yes’ to your other question. We all need companions sometimes, and you have an especially challenging journey ahead, and I am offering my services.”
“Services?” I asked.
“I will be your protector; guardian angel, if you will.”
“I see,” I said, “I’m not sure what to say. I mean, here I am, in trouble again, talking to a dragon. I’m not sure how I feel about that or having a protector—let alone a dragon protector. I’ve always had to protect myself. I’m used to it, even when I do a crumby job at it.”
“I see,” said the dragon, “are you saying you would rather me go?”
I hesitated a moment, and then said, “Yes. I have always felt alone and that’s sort of how I like it—or at least, sort of like how I’m used to it.”
“That’s fair,” Harbor said, “I’ll just be going then.” And the dragon began to dissolve into the air.
“Wait,” I said, standing up for the first time since this encounter began, “can I change my mind? You know, if I decide later I want a companion, can you, I mean, will you, still be there?”
“I’m sorry,” the dragon said, pausing in mid-disappearing into thin air, “I may not be here for you. There are many like you who need protecting. However, someone will always be there for you, even it isn’t me.”
And as I stared hard into Harbor’s eyes and saw nothing but oceanic light, and kindness, and wisdom, and a sly sense of humor, I found myself saying: “Wait, please. Stay. Actually, being alone kind of sucks. Well, not all the time. Sometimes I love being alone and need to be alone and wish I could be alone forever, but in general, I have no one who accepts me as me, and you seem to. So, will you stay?”
With that Harbor fully materialized into the office again and lowered its great head down to eye level and said: “It would be an honor. And now, what shall I call you?”
I looked at the ground and shuffled my feet. “Well, my given name is ‘Joseph,’ but that’s not the name I want or call myself.”
“Well,” Little One in the Beautiful Dress, what would you like to be called?”
I looked up at Harbor and couldn’t believe I was about to tell someone the name I had always treasured secretly in my heart.
“It’s OK,” Harbor said, “you can tell me later. On your time. Always on your time.”
His voice rumbled gently through me.
“Besides,” he said, “we have work to do here. We need to get you out of this pickle the limited minds of the grown-ups around you have put you.”
“How?” I said.
“Watch,” Harbor said and winked, and then, shimmered into invisibility, but not before breathing a little puff of fire and placing it on my head where it disappeared into me like warm apple cider. And before I could say a thing, Principal Poopy Pants came out of his office.
“Your dad is here,” he said, “and he’s not happy.”
Just then, the office door opened and in stormed my father, jeans and a t-shirt in hand.
“What were you thinking, young man?” he said, lifting me from the chair by my arm. “Why do you do this? I don’t get it. It’s infuriating. Why do you want to dress like a girl?”
“Because I am a girl,” I found myself shouting, my whole body feeling as if it was filled with some kind of strange, warm power.
“You are not a girl!” my dad and the principal shouted together.
“Yes, she is,” said Harbor appearing suddenly in the room, smoke and ribbons of flame streaming from his flaring nostrils, his voice thundering.
My dad and Principal Poopy Pants leapt into each other’s arms and turned around to look at Harbor. They screamed like frightened sheep.
“Get this into your heads,” Harbor said, lowering his own to meet their terrified eyes, “If you still want to keep your heads. She is a girl. She feels better in dresses. Accept her for the truth of who she knows herself to be, or else.” And he puffed a burst of smoke around their heads. They coughed and tried to wave the smoke aside.
“But,” my dad began.
“But nothing,” Harbor growled.
“But…that’s my son, my son Joseph.”
“That’s not my name!” I shouted, and I felt like my words were smoke and fire.
Harbor puffed out a little flame that came inches from my dad’s nose. “Don’t,” said Harbor, pausing before growling the rest of his sentence, “Ever. Call. Her. That. Again.”
“But,” my dad attempted.
And then Harbor roared a roar that shook the furniture in the room. “No buts!” He bellowed.
“OK…OK,” my dad said. And then he looked at me, “This is going to take some getting used to.”
“Then get used to it,” Harbor said.
“Yeah,” I said, “Get used to it.”
I had never sassed my dad before, but instead of getting mad, he bent down and looked at me, gently putting his hands on my shoulders. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I think somehow I’ve always known, but I was afraid of what others would think, what people at church would say, what your friends or grandparents would say. But, if this is who you are, then I accept you, and will do everything I can to help you feel accepted. I never want you to feel wrong about being who you are. I’m so sorry.”
It was the first time I ever saw tears in my father’s eyes. I teared up too, and so did Harbor, who sniffled out a little fart scenting the room with, well, dragon fart smell, which was a lot like burnt toast, not altogether unpleasant, like the smell of horse poop that smells like mowed grass and straw.
“Now,” my father said, still holding my shoulders and wiping a tear from my eye, “what would you like to be called?”
I bowed my head and then lifted it up proudly and looked first at Harbor and then at my father. “My name,” I said, with all the power of a phoenix rising from the flames, “is Zimzir.”
My dad smiled and stood up and turned to Principal Poopy-Pants. “Mr. Poopy Pants,” he said (and I burst out laughing), “This is my daughter Zimzir. She likes this dress and she is going to stay in it and you and your school are going to everything in your power to help her feel accepted. Educate the students, teachers, parents. That’s your job. So, do it.”
“Yes,” added Harbor, breathing fire tinged smoke around the principal’s head, “Do it.”
Principal Poopy Pants shook his head like a bobble head in a car on a bumpy road.
And so, my father walked me back to my classroom, opened the door, looked at the teacher and then the other students seated at their desks.
“People,” he said like a warrior announcing the arrival of a princess, “this is may daughter, Zimzir. Whatever you may have thought of her before, this is who she is and if any of you have a problem with that you will have to deal with me.”
“And me,” said Harbor snaking his great, scaly head into the room.
The class and teacher screamed and Harbor winked at me and then disappeared.
The other kids shook their heads not knowing if what they just saw or heard was real.
My dad looked down at me and said: “You want to stay here…Zimzir, or would you like to go for some ice cream?”
“I want to stay,” I said, looking up at him and smiling, “let’s get ice cream after school.”
“You got it,” he said and turned to go pointing his finger at the teacher and class. “Remember what I said,” he warned.
And as I walked proudly to my desk, I looked out the window and saw Harbor. He looked like he was about to fart. The classroom windows were open. He got up real close to the window and winked at me. I plugged my nose. I knew what was coming. I sat down, smiled at him and knew I was me. Zimzir. And I, Princess Zimzir had a protector forever.
We may not all have a dragon as a friend, or parents who accept us. We can dream though, and we can do our best to be ourselves in however form that takes, and in however time that takes—even if it takes a lifetime. We need to do what is best and safest for us. And since not all of us have dragons, may we all be Harbors for one another—safe places we can go when we need understanding, support, love, laughter, and a place we can burp and fart with wild abandon. May we all be dragons and protectors for one another. May we lift each other up and take care of one another. And if you’re reading this and you’re not trans, then accept your kid, accept your friend, accept your relative. Or else. I know someone hungry just waiting for you to make the wrong move. Live your faith. Be a parent. Be a friend. Be an ally. Be a Harbor and breathe fire for the sake of people like me.
All donations for this post will be given to TransLifeLine.
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.
Memorial Day must suck for the extremist right-wing-white men in our country.
They get all emotional on this day for all the fallen soldiers. And for good reason.
However, they need to understand those fallen soldiers fought for the rights of people on the #LGBTQIA spectrum. They fought for the rights of women, minorities, the poor, the uninsured, Planned Parenthood, senior citizens, and all the Muslims living in our country, and the environment, the right to impeach a barbarian president.
The alt-right white “christian” KKK-loving men can’t get around this truth. And it must really piss them off.
Of course, some of wars were unjust, wrong, a political pawn. Some however, were not. Some, I suppose, needed to be fought.
Thinking of those people who died to help keep America safe, we need to remember they died for people like me.
Any donations specifically from this post will be in turn, donated to Veteran’s Mental Health Programs. <3
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.
As I was reminded at church today, Mother’s Day may be hard for some people. Some, like me, have lost their mother’s–in my case, six years ago. And while I can still celebrate her life she isn’t physically present to go out to lunch with or something like that. Others never had a mother–in the sense of one being present in their lives. Others couldn’t have children and desperately wanted to. Others have lost their children to miscarriages or other tragedies. Still others have had mothers who were abusive or negligent. And still others have a strained relationship with their mothers, and some mothers have a strained relationship with their children.
There are also people like me–people who lived most of their parenting lives as “Dad.” I will always be Dad to my kids–I know I was a father to them and I am glad for that. I am also their mother. So, for me, Mother’s Day is very special. I get to parent in a whole new way and in the same ways I did before coming out. Luckily for me my kids are amazingly supportive and I have already received Mother’s Day greetings from them. However, I am also one of those people who has always (even before coming out as trans) ached to be able to have children—I was always deeply envious of pregnant mothers. I have always ached to be able to nurse a child. I have come to accept neither of these things will ever happen–and I am no less a mother. So, to all the non-binary “Moms” or people who act as mothers to others–regardless of their gender. Happy Parent’s Day to you.
Happy Mother’s Day to all the people out there who mother other people’s children—teachers, nurses, doctors, librarians. Blessings to all the foster moms and moms who have adopted children from around the world or their own communities.
And to all the grandmothers and aunts who have taken on the role of mother again because of special circumstances. Blessings to all the grandmothers who simply get to grandmother grandchildren, and do so with wisdom.
Happy Mother’s Day to all the single Dads who serve as mothers all day, everyday.
Happy Mother’s Day to all the people who have consciously chosen to not bear or raise children. I am willing to bet there is someone or something in your life that you mother, and do so with grace, dignity, and love–be that a pet, a plant, a poem, or a person.
And of course, Happy Mother’s Day to ourselves–no matter who we are–for we all, one day, must begin, and never stop, mothering ourselves. It is just the way that it is–we all become our own mother’s one day–giving birth over and over again to ourselves.
To wrap up I would like to lift up all those for whom Mother’s Day is a hard day. Your soul and spirits are Mothers. You have been mothered by the world. You are Mothers of the world.
And also grieve, or be angry. Seek safe support to be with you today as you move through any difficult or challenging feelings and memories.
You are loved. You are special. And you are held in the hands of Mother Gaia.
Thank you for your support. All donations go to medical expenses and groceries. <3