Thursday, November 20, 2014

I Hope I Never Have To Remember My Child

Sometimes I paint things.

I finished this painting on September 1st, 2013.

I remember because it was my birthday, and I made sure my minions family members took care of other things - like fetching me all the coffee - while I touched up the colourful roots (which is the complete opposite of what happens when I dye my hair these days. I am so terribly middle aged. Sigh.)

It's a symbolic family tree. I was trying to be all artsy. Each one of us is represented by a different colour. I immediately began jokingly referring to it as "The Pride Tree" because of how colourful it is. At the time, LGBT issues were far more peripheral for us than they are now.

That's what is known as "cosmic foreshadowing," kids.

Today is the International Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR). It's a day to memorialize trans men and women whose lives have been lost due to hate crimes and prejudice. I can't find statistics for Canada right now, but I know that, in the U.S, 1 in 12 trans women are murdered. And if you're a trans woman of colour, that already frightening statistic jumps to 1 in 8.

Then we need to consider physical assault, rape and harassment. We need to figure in the nearly 50% attempted suicide rate, and the abysmal statistics surrounding unemployment, poverty, addiction and homelessness.

Last year, I had no idea this day even existed. In fact, I knew next to nothing about the nuts and bolts of transgender issues, only that I supported individuals in their rights to be, well, individuals. Do your outsides not match your insides? I'm sure that feels awful. Go ahead and change them; I've got your back. Always.

I'm glad I've always felt that way and shared it openly with my kids. When I did so, I figured it would help them become more openminded. But I had no idea it would apply directly to one of them.

This time last year, I didn't know what I know now. I wasn't a mother faced with a lot of scary statistics. I feel like I was handed an enormous responsibility, and I don't always feel equipped to deal with it.

I could choose to be terrified. And admittedly, for a little while, I was terrified. Who wouldn't be, when faced with the prospect of losing your child simply because they're trying to be who they really are?

But I've mostly moved beyond that - at least for now. I'm choosing to be empowered by these stats rather than scared by them. I'm going to do my absolute best to make sure my daughter doesn't become a statistic; that she's surrounded by accepting, caring and educated people who will protect her from those who aren't.

I'm going to instil as much confidence, assertiveness, street smarts (and some self-defence classes!) into that kid as I can before I have to let her go out into the big, scary world.

And then I'll freak out a little. For sure.

Today, on our first TDOR, instead of being afraid, I sat in silence for a few minutes and honoured all the people who came before Gutsy and fought so bravely for their rights and hers.

I thought of all the laws that have been passed and the laws that still need to pass.

I thought about the astounding support we've received, and the ignorance that's still very much alive and waiting in the wings.

I thought about the strength it takes to be yourself in a world that tries its best to make us all conform.

I thought about the many transgender people who've reached out to tell me they wish their parents had been as supportive as we are, and how much of a difference that would have made for them.

I thought about how sad it is that we live in a world in which I'm considered a "good parent" because I accept my child for who she is. Shouldn't that be always be the case? We're only doing what unconditional love tells us we should do. It's not rocket science.

I've thought about those I've spoken with in the trans community who are fed up, suicidal, and feeling unbelievably alone.

And then I thought of her. 

And how she's having a sleepover tonight with her best friend, who is also trans.

And how they're laughing in my basement right now and watching YouTube videos and just being silly, wonderful kids.

And I just want to wrap them up in a little bubble and keep them safe forever.

But I can't. That's why you're reading this post. It's why I hope you'll share it, or another like it, so that people in your life can read, learn, and help make the world a safer place.

I don't ever want to have to remember my child.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

An Open Letter to My Daughter on Her 12th (and 1st) Birthday

To my one and only daughter,

The clock shows a few minutes after midnight on November 13th. It’s officially your birthday. It’s your 12th, and yet, also kind of your first, isn’t it?

Being your mom who oh-my-god-thinks-she-knows-everything, I have some wisdom to impart. (I keep it in my wrinkles like all the other old people do.) No matter what plans you have, no matter where you think you might be headed, you never know what life is going to hand you.

Let’s take me, for example. I was handed what I thought was a 10 pound, 4 ounce baby boy, and for over eleven years I raised you as such. We had eleven birthdays in which you wore short hair and a lot of blue. We sang to you using a name that doesn’t resonate with you anymore.

Each year your smile seemed to fade a little more. By last year’s family birthday party, you came downstairs just long enough to open gifts and thank everyone, and then disappeared into your room again.

It’s ok. Everybody knew you weren’t happy. We just didn’t know why.

And now we do: You never were that boy. He was who you thought you were supposed to be, but he wasn’t who you really are. He was a role you played but never related to. I can’t imagine having to live like that every day of my life. My heart feels like it’s been stabbed by something stabby whenever I think about what you went through. And believe me, I think about it a lot.

But you know what’s great about you? Other than the fact that you’re related to me, I mean. You’re remarkably introspective and insanely brave. The combination of both those things is a superpower I simply didn’t possess at your age. (Even my great hair superpower only came on in my 30’s; I’m a late bloomer. Don’t judge.) You were able to figure out why you were so sad at such a young age.

And then? Well, then you did something about it. You were able to tell your dad and I a secret so big and so scary that I still don’t know how you managed it. That took the courage of a lion.

Or a yeti.

Or, like, maybe a lion’s and yeti’s love baby.  Yes. If a lion and a yeti had a baby it would probably be very brave - and also very ugly. It would be like a gorilla with a mane. Gross. It would die in two minutes from heat stroke or strangle itself in a bur bush. So the good news is that even if it was just as brave as you are, you still come out on top, genetically speaking. That makes you better than a lion-yeti baby. Let that incredible fact sink in for a minute.

Also, yetis aren’t real.

Also, your mom probably has adult ADD. We can research the symptoms during our homeschooling time next week. I like to provide you with real life learning opportunities.

Where were we? Oh, right. Here’s the wonderful thing, my love. You don’t have to hide anymore; you made sure of that. And this year, we get to celebrate the real you for the first time.

Your dad and I get to celebrate our daughter’s birthday for the very first time.

Your brothers can say, “it’s my sister’s birthday today” for the very first time.

In some ways, it’s your first birthday on your twelfth birthday. You just managed to do the coolest. thing. ever.

And so, tomorrow we are not doing any fancy book learnin’.

I’m taking you out for breakfast. And when you ask for the breakfast that’s so big I know you can’t eat it all, I’m not going to convince you to get the more affordable, reasonably portioned one like I usually do. I’m going to surprise the crap out of you and say “sure thing. Whatever you want.” And you’re going to think I’m up to something, and you’ll be right. That thing is niceness. Even your mom can manage that once a year.

Confession: I bought you something girly in a super glittery pink package. I actually squealed a little when I did, because I never get to buy adorable stuff like that. I’d bet money you’re going to roll your eyes when you see how over-the-top estrogeny it is – and yet secretly love what’s inside.

After you don't finish your entire breakfast and I don't say "I told you so", we’re getting a streak of colour in your hair. You want teal in your bangs, so that’s what’s going to happen. I hope it brings out a touch of femininity that I know you’re looking for. I realize you don’t yet see just how beautiful you are. My job as a mom is to show you that you are the whole magnificent package, and teach you how to own it. I promise you that I will do just that.

I’m buying you a new pair of earrings, and that microphone you’ve been begging for so you can start a new YouTube channel. We want to feed your creativity and encourage your love of tech. (My other job is to show you that you are more than just a pretty face. Man, I have a lot of jobs…)

I’m going to spend the whole day with you – with my daughter. My one and only, totally amazing, always smiling, finally happy daughter.

Those are your gifts, but you’re my gift this year.

So, as I was saying, life doesn’t always go according to plan. But that’s the fun part.

I love you so much. Happy birthday.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

My Story of Assault, and Why I Need to Tell it

Image source: Wikipedia Commons

Things I told myself when I contemplated sharing this difficult part of my life:

It's not relevant to your life today. Don't tell your story.

It's not as serious as what other people have been through. Don't tell your story.

Are you sure it wasn't your fault? Don't tell your story.

What makes you think anyone would care? Don't tell your story.

Nobody is going to believe you. Don't tell your story.

People won't look at you the same way. Don't tell your story.

Nearly 24 years later, I'm still afraid to talk about the fact that I was sexually assaulted. And that's why I'm going to talk about it. That's why I'm telling my story. I'm telling it for me and for other victims. I'm telling it for those who are afraid to come forward, and those who did and are burned at the stake of public opinion for it.

I was fourteen. He was nineteen and my first boyfriend. I was making a lot of bad choices at that time, and starting to date someone my gut screamed at me not to date was no exception. He was pushy from the start, trying to get me to do things I didn't want to do. I didn't feel ready for sex yet - with him or anyone else. I just wanted to date someone, fall in love, and, when the time was right, make the choice to lose my virginity.

But I was young, insecure, and loved the compliments and attention that fell in between the moments that raised giant red flags. He was older and lived on his own and had cool friends. I didn't know what healthy relationships were supposed to be like because I had never had one. Maybe this was it.

We had only been dating for a couple of weeks. It was New Year's Eve and my parents were out. I had told him he could come over (even though they had told me he couldn't.) When he did show up, he was drunk. We ordered pizza and watched TV. He had his hands all over me.

"Remember how you said you might want to tonight?" he breathed in my ear.

"I remember," I said. "But I don't think I'm ready."

"Come on. I didn't come over here so we could just eat pizza," he said with a hint of aggression, and began getting a little more forceful with his hands.

"I really don't want to have sex tonight," I said.

"But you said you wanted to."

"I said I might. And I now don't want to."

"Come on. Don't be like that," he said, and pushed me down onto the couch, roughly kissing my neck.

I tried to push him off of me.  I said stop. I said no. He kept going.

I remember weighing the options in my mind:

1. I could fight back harder. It's what my insides were screaming at me to do. But he was bigger, stronger and intoxicated. Our short history had told me he had no respect for boundaries. Would he get mad? Fly into a rage? Put a throw pillow over my face to stop me from screaming? I legitimately feared for my life.

2. I could stop fighting and let him have his way with me. I would very likely get out of the situation alive that way.

I chose survival. And so, through tears and pain, I lost my virginity to the man who took it without my consent. 

When he was done, he asked me if I had enjoyed myself. Something in his eyes told me I should lie. So I wiped my tears and said yes. I even tried to convince myself I had.

When he left, I hugged and kissed him. I then paced around the house with my arms wrapped around myself. I wondered if this was how every girl felt when they lost their virginity. Maybe it was that painful for everyone. Maybe all girls were scared and needed to be forced a little, or it would never happen. I tried to reframe my rape in a positive light. It didn't work.

I broke up with him the next day.

I never thought about going to the police. Part of me felt like it was my fault. I chose to date a guy who was clearly bad news and far too old for me. I chose to ignore the signs prior to that night, which would have sent many girls running in the opposite direction. I chose to have him over when no one was home, knowing what he was like.

Some of the (very few) people I did tearfully confide in didn't believe me, or felt it must have been my fault for many of the reasons I tried to tell myself it was. One even went so far as to call me a slut.

If there was ever a dark tipping point in my life, that night - and the reaction that followed - was it. Within months, I was in a drug and alcohol treatment center, my already addictive personality now completely out of control. I nearly died trying to suppress the pain.

Years later, when I was in my mid-20's, a friend of mine dated the same man. I warned her, but kept my distance. Within months, she had to get a restraining order against him for violence and stalking.

I often wondered if any of her traumatic experiences would have happened if I had gone to the police and tried to press charges. Would he have been put away? Would he have received the help he certainly needs? How many other women had he assaulted over the years? I'll be honest; I try not to think about it too much.

Like so many women (and men), I am a victim of rape. I was a fourteen-year-old girl. It was not my fault. It took many years of therapy to be able to say that and believe it. Still, the little shame trolls sit on my shoulder, reminding me that society never sees victims as blameless.

Why am I sharing this now? Recently, Canadian radio show personality Jian Ghomeshi was fired from his job at the CBC, most likely due to allegations from four women that he physically and/or sexually assaulted them.

The number of women coming forward has now climbed to eight. While most of the alleged victims have remained anonymous, Actress and Royal Canadian Air force captain Lucy DeCoutere has bravely chosen to come forward publicly with her story. Given how difficult it is for me to write this blog post, I can't begin to imagine what it took for her to come forward in such a public case.

I don't know Mr. Ghomeshi outside of listening to him on the radio, nor do I know any of his alleged victims. Is this one giant conspiracy against a man who is arguably Canada's most famous radio personality, or is this a case of someone we thought we knew with a much darker monster inside than most of us could imagine?

If these allegations become formal charges, we can let a court of law decide who's telling the truth. What I find interesting, however, is how quickly people have taken sides in defense of or against Ghomeshi. Two of the most prominent arguments I've seen in defense of him are: "No way. I love his radio show!" and "If these allegations were real, charges would have been pressed already."

So, basically, if you think someone is likeable, they can't be an abuser. And if you were really assaulted, you would have gone to the police.

I dated a likeable guy and he raped me. That rape went unreported. It altered my view of men and changed my relationship to sex. It reshaped my life - and nearly took it. It was most definitely real.

It's my hope that sharing my story will help others to let go of any shame or guilt they might still cling to. The more we share our stories - publicly or privately - the less shame there will be to them, the more educated people will become, and the less society will blame the victims. Because we are victims.

Rape is about taking someone's power away. Today I'm taking it back.