Saturday, April 19, 2014

Ok, But Kids Should Really Come with Manuals

Photo credit:

Tomorrow, Gutsy and I are going out to buy her an Easter outfit.

But not just any outfit, my friends: something pretty, something frilly, something blingy and befitting the Maven's only daughter. This is the first holiday where Gutsy gets to dress up her outside to match the person she is inside.

Because we have such a supportive family, my darling little trans*girl can go to dinner wearing exactly what she wants. She will be greeted with her new name, and people will be doing their best to use her chosen pronouns: her and she.

You know, I go to Easter dinner every year and wear the clothes I want and get called her and she and sometimes stop being such a bitch, and I never give it a second thought. My gender identity - and the way other people see me - is something I've always taken for granted until very recently.

Once, a couple of years ago, someone I hadn't seen in a while ran up, placed her hands on my stomach and asked me if I was pregnant. I wasn't, and spent the next few hours crying into a bowl of chips (pro tip: does not help the situation). I felt so bad that someone had looked at my appearance and drawn conclusions that weren't true. It made me feel pretty horrible about my body.

I take how I felt and I multiply that by 1000, and I think maybe I might have a kind of but not really even remotely close idea of what it must feel like for someone who's outside doesn't at all match the inside.

And so I look at my eleven-year-old daughter, and I think she might just be the strongest and bravest person I've ever known; Strong for dealing with what she has for so long, and brave for taking the unimaginably challenging steps to become who she really is.

Incidentally, do you know how hard it is to be in awe of someone you're supposed to be the boss of? I basically worship the kid and yet I also have to yell at her for not bringing her dishes to the kitchen. "You're super amazing and I can't help but shout it from the rooftops, but clean your damn room before I set fire to it with a blowtorch." That's the balance I have to strike, people. It's not easy.

In fact, there are a lot of things that aren't easy. I keep looking for the manual she was born with. I think it was called So Your Baby is Transgender: Easy Answers to Every Issue You Never Thought You'd Have to Deal With. I can't find the damn thing anywhere.  It might have shot out of my uterus during a contraction and slid behind a hospital chair or something.

So now I'm flying blind, which is most unfortunate. I'm not sure what to say when Gutsy tells me she's worried about dressing too feminine at school and instead goes for the gender-neutral clothing. Question number 22 in the manual, no doubt.

I don't know how to handle sleepovers with male friends she used to have sleepovers with before she came out as female. What do you do there? Is it status quo, or is it a no-no now? Do I bring it up with the parents I hardly know? Do they even know she's transgender? Do I open that can of worms and possibly make things worse? Those are likely answers #146-192 in said missing manual.

Oh! And what about when her friends are friendly at school, but don't seem to hang out with her after school nearly as much in the last week or two, and she says it's probably nothing but you lie awake worrying if people are keeping their distance because of who she is? That's super fun.

And what about the neighbours who know you have "three boys" and are going to start questioning where the second boy went and where that girl who kind of looks like him came from? They'll have to be told, but if those conversations go sour it's going to be a very interesting street to live on.

I'm pretty sure a bunch of those questions are addressed under the large chapter called "CALM YOUR TITS, MAVEN." Because really, that's what I need to be doing: calming my tits. I keep creating scenarios in my head that don't exist, when we already have enough actual scenarios to deal with. A writer's brain can be its own magnificent level of hell.

When I get overwhelmed like that, I try to take stock of the facts. Here's what I know for sure:

Not very long ago, we had a sad little boy who hard a hard time leaving his room and was medicated for anxiety, OCD and depression. He couldn't handle crowds, couldn't eat out of bowls that weren't white, couldn't stand the thought of germs. He flew into rages and would inevitably turn to me in tears, asking what was wrong with him. I spent many nights worrying about his future.

Today, we have a happy, chatty, smiling girl who is frequently out of her room and happy to be around other people. She's going off her medication to test the waters without it (and I believe she'll be successful.) She eats out of any bowl she likes, doesn't have panic attacks, and confidently assures me that I need not worry: she can and will find solutions to her problems - and if she can't, she will ask me for help.

She is resilient and insightful beyond her years. She's already proven that. So I need to let go a little bit. I need to trust her and learn from her. For the most part, Gutsy does not let her fear guide her. Why should I let mine?

Living in the moment is a tricky thing at the best of times. I know this won't be an easy road for her, but I also know that it's easier today than it would have been even five or ten years ago. I know that we have the best support system any kid could ask for, but especially one with additional hurdles to jump. And I know that, if I can just stop worrying about the hurdles that don't exist, I'll have more energy to help her with the ones that do.

What I know is that maybe I don't need the manual that possibly torpedoed out of my birth canal over a decade ago. I need to take a page out of hers, instead, and live bravely.

Off to calm my tits with some chocolate, which I hear is very tit calming.

Friday, April 11, 2014

I'm dreaming again, and it only took 16,000 people to convince me.

I'll admit it: I've been losing sight of my dreams lately.

When I was a teenager, I not only wanted to be a writer, but also believed I could be. I was going to use my words to make a difference in the world, to advocate, to shine a light on important causes. My English Writing teacher lit a fire inside me with her encouragement and mentorship. She believed in me. I left her class that year knowing I could make my dreams come true. (Thank you, Mrs. Wagland!)

And then I grew up. I had babies - the screamy type - and a mortgage. I learned about retirement savings and the cost of University tuition. The heavy weight of responsibility was like a viral darkness that crawled up my arm and through my ear and into my head, knocking my brain around with a giant bat. "Wake up, fool! Do you really think you're going to make it? What makes you so special?"

And slowly, I started to lose hope.

I've taken a lot of jobs I never planned on taking in the name of growing up. Amongst them, I ran a daycare out of my home (I should have asked to be paid in Xanax), did tech support for a large telecom company (throw me off a bridge), tied about 8,000 pairs of sneakers at a school, and worked as someone's admin assistant because, you know, editing and filing other people's writing is almost the same thing, right? 

Time and time again, I've tried to convince myself that this is what adults do.

These days I do work as a writer. I took that full-time leap about a year ago. But I'm not accomplishing the things I want to accomplish. I never get up the courage. I have my blog, I write articles here and there, I have about a dozen first pages of the book I'm going to write "one day." I've hit a plateau because I'm scared and because I keep telling myself that grownups have real jobs.

Once again, I've started looking at other lines of work. Maybe I could go back to school to become a social worker. Social workers help people, right? That's always been a part of my dream. I could totally do it, too. I'm just crazy enough to work in mental health, and I'm really good at nodding and making empathy sounds like "mm-hmm." I could probably make marginally more than I'm making right now, but in a collect-a-paycheque-every-two-weeks kind of way and not in a we-are-eating-hot-dogs-for-dinner-this-week-because-mommy-didn't-score-that-contract kind of way.

But the real reason I've been thinking of retraining? I just don't believe in myself anymore. I don't think I can do it. I don't think I have the skill and the insight required to make it as a writer. I look at all the other successful authors out there and I think, "You don't have what they have."

My dreams, it seems, are buried deep under the cynicism of adulthood.

Or they were, until a couple of days ago.

As a blogger, you occasionally get invited to things. This year, I was invited to National We Day, a massive event held in Ottawa on April 9th by Free The Children. Their goal is simple: to empower a generation to shift from 'ME' to 'WE.' How do we do this? One action at a time, one voice at a time, one passionate soul at a time. As co-founder Craig Kielburger said during the press conference, "We want to show that it's cool and possible to change the world." Not exactly a small goal there, Craig. I like it.

If you're not familiar with this organization, you need to be. Right now. I'm serious. Stop reading me and watch this video:

Ok, come back now. I miss you.

Despite my thoughts of stepping away from writing, I decided I would go. What did I have to lose? Media events can be really fun, after all, and this was supposed to be a pretty big deal. The list of speakers and artists was long and impressive, and the spectators were equally as respectable. See, you can't buy a ticket to National We Day; Children from all across the country earn their way by raising funds and creating positive change in the world.

I had no idea how much of an impact those kids would have on me.

The event itself was phenomenal. On stage were the likes of Martin Luther King III; Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan; the Governor General of Canada; National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Shawn A-in-chut Atleo; Simple Plan; Spencer West (Who, despite having no legs, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro on his hands. Guys. His hands. I will never complain about going to the gym again); Hannah Alper (11-years-old and already an incredible advocate - with great hair!); and, of course, those passionate and motivating and undeniably handsome brothers and co-founders of Free The Children, Craig and Mark Kielburger.

Hannah Alper and Craig Kielburger
during the morning press conference

To say I felt star-struck would be an understatement. I was a little kid all over again. I tried really hard to be professional in the media box.  I wound up cheering as loudly as the kids in the audience and choking up whenever a speaker said something meaningful. So, like, I was very professional. Award-winning professional, even.

It was impossible not to be swept up in the energy of the day. 16,000 humans in one stadium, coming together to celebrate doing good things? What's not to love about that? I could write ten more blog posts about the incredible people I was introduced to that day.

But since this is about individual stories all coming together, let me tell you what this day meant to me: It lit that fire again. It reminded me that I am a writer and advocate to the core. I have a path to follow, and the only thing blocking my way is me (and the occasional pile of dishes or screaming child). 

Two days later, that feeling is still with me. I know We Day is about young people and I am anything but young (today I turned on the radio, heard a great new song, downloaded it, rolled down the windows and blasted it out of the car feeling terribly hip, and then realized it came out five years ago and it's actually awful. Legit.)

But once upon a time, I was a teenager with a gift for words and a dream, and that teenager is still in there. It's time to let her out.

It's time to dream again.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Parenting is Like Driving in a Van Full of Stoners

Parenting has been such a weird journey.

For some people, it's like stepping into a sedan, hitting the highway, setting the cruise control and only having to swerve now and then to avoid the odd pot hole or road kill. They happily play top 40 music and travel-sized Battleship. That's the typical scenario.

But it's not our scenario.

In ours, we didn't qualify for the loan on that sedan. We had to go on Craigslist and ride share. A van full of bearded stoners pulled up and they were all, "Hop in, bros! Let's bunk. I'm Bartholomew, the acupuncturist/circus performer. This is Pan. He does poi and throat singing." The van is temperamental, it puffs out black smoke, and it's even broken down a few times on the side of the road.

I can say with certainty this wasn't what I expected, bros.

Like most parents, Geekster and I used to hold our fresh little babies and wistfully dream of who they would grow into. We expected bumps and surprises, of course. No plan is perfect. But the bumps and surprises I was expecting were more in the realm of "my son came home drunk at 15 and barfed on the shag carpet" or "What do you mean, you were suspended from school for drawing a large scale penis on the teacher's car?" You know. That stuff.

But we've hit a few, uh, "unexpected speed bumps" so far. Two kids with hearing loss, one with mental illness, a child who's had pneumonia eight times, a rare autoimmune disease.

And now, as you probably know, we recently found out we have a child who is transgender.

Well, will you look at that? Someone better put Peter, Paul and Mary on the 8-track and turn on the lava lamps, because shit just got a lot more interesting.

I don't mean that in a bad way, bros. I'm good with it. Truly. I mean, I'm not terribly familiar with Peter, Paul and Mary, but Bart has them on repeat now and I'm learning a great deal about harmonization. That's how exposure works.

And speaking of exposure, Today is the International Transgender Day of Visibility. If I knew about this day last year, I would have probably mentioned it as an ally, but wouldn't have written an entire post about it. And now, here we are, in 2014, with a trans*girl I love unconditionally, and for whom I will do everything I possibly can to make her life journey an easier one.

I will educate and advocate for her.

I will challenge discrimination for her.

I will write blog posts with weird road trip metaphors for her.

This will not be an easy journey, but we're kind of used to that by now (We've had practice.) However, I can say with certainty that, as challenging as this road will be, I am both proud and grateful to be the mom of a transgender child. Her strength astounds me, and her authenticity inspires me. I've become more confident, more assertive, more determined. To say she has fundamentally changed me would not be an overstatement.

The road is bumpy, the van a little iffy. Those giant painted flower aren't helping my carsickness very much, either. But we are seeing parts of the road we would have never seen if we didn't have to make so many stops while Pan tops up the oil. This trip is a little different than the one I expected, but it's a good one.

Such a good one.