Life · Trans

Mental Health Is Everything

Eldest child was recently taken off the wait list at our preferred therapist’s office. This is HUGE. Not just because a mental health care professional’s opinion is required to change one’s gender legally in the State of Connecticut, but also because Connecticut Children’s Medical Center would not even allow us an appointment in their Children’s Gender Program without the referral of a mental health professional in addition to the pediatrician’s referral already obtained. I know my child; he has been thriving as his true self for 18 months now–he showed signs long before that of who he really was–but evidence must be gathered, and it’s difficult to obtain mental health care. I know–I’ve navigated those waters myself.

Two years ago, I fell apart. But that wasn’t the first time. I have a long history of interventions, voluntary and not, going back to middle school. Back then, school counselors acted as, well, counselors for students, reaching out, if necessary, and offering a sympathetic ear. I thought that’s what they were for. Now? Instead, in the conversations I’ve had with the school counselor, she has (intentionally) misgendered my child–with me and with others. And when I asked about this kind of care for students, I was advised to find a therapist. Schools don’t offer those kind of services anymore. Our community sucks as far as support for LGBTQIA youth goes, anyway.

Mental health really is everything. If you’re not capable of coping, everything else will suffer. (School-) Work. Hygiene. Housekeeping. Relationships with others. It’s the foundation for just squeaking by. And it’s incredibly difficult to maintain in systems that work against you.

I’m hoping we’ve found a good fit. I have a really good feeling about her.

My son asked me what to expect at his first visit with the therapist. Luckily, I was equipped with extra copies of handouts I was given at my own CBT appointments–recipes for re-framing a life. Coping strategies. Breathing exercises. Boundary building. And journaling. Of all things, journaling is probably the one that has stayed with me the longest. And quite possibly, provided the most relief.

I’ve been journaling since I was 10 years old. On and off–mostly picking it up when I was having a difficult time dealing with life itself or particular people–my journals are a snapshot of the struggles I’ve successfully worked through. After all, I’m still here today.

Journals are my pensieve–my way for taking the thoughts out of my head that are going round and round and round, blocking my ability to do what needs to be done, and saving them for later, when I have more time and energy to process them. Sometimes, all I can manage is a feeling for the day. A 1-10 scale. A happy to sad face measurement, like you see in the doctor’s office for your pain level. At my best times, I used journals to focus on the things that are more easily overseen. Balancing rants about what’s on my mind with the good I may be denying. But I’m not always capable of being that disciplined.

I discovered a technique (most likely on Twitter, but I don’t recall the exact inspirational source) that proved very helpful a couple years ago: GLAD. You write something for each category: Gratitude, Learned, Achieved, and Delight. In addition to that, I started noting the things that weren’t wrong in my life. Beyond your usual “I’m grateful for a roof over my head,” at times, these could be as basic as “my dog lived through another day.” Yes, it’s important to get the shit out of my brain, but it’s also helpful to take stock of that other stuff, too, and use it to outweigh the shit.

My journals are private, only shared with my therapist, if I so choose. I reassured him that the same would be true for his journals. We all need a little space for what goes on in our heads, without the prying eyes of others. And we all could use a little tune up for our minds. I wish it were more readily available for all.

In the meantime, I’m trying to convince him to take the Art Journaling class at the Warner Theatre Center for Arts Education. He’s a creative guy and I think he would find the class quite beneficial. A multi-layered approach to processing his thoughts. But I also know he’s terribly shy and has a lot of anxiety about joining groups/classes where his friends are not already found. I get it.

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LGBTQ · Life · Trans

Fear and Intolerance in New England Places

Disclosure: This post is published with permission from my child.

Some of you may already know that my eldest child is trans male and gay. He came out as gay last spring; he came out as trans in October; I already knew for years. It was no surprise.

As much as I love my kids for who they are–and am proud of them for standing confident in the knowledge of themselves–others are not so awesomely accepting. In fact, my eldest hit the jackpot in becoming the target of bullying in our community.

I reached out to the school’s guidance counselor and social worker. I wasn’t sure how transitioning worked in middle school and I knew that my kid would need a good support system. He had already been the brunt of abuse from his peers for being gay and trans male and no one was doing anything about it. While the social worker seemed to be understanding and on the same page during my phone conversation with both, there was no follow-through or follow-up. When I spoke with the guidance counselor a couple of months later, she misgendered my son during the entire conversation. I was fuming.

It was bad enough that one of his teachers announced to the class (when we were away on vacation) “C’mon, we all know that M is a girl–who does she think she’s kidding?” Or that another teacher marked him absent for 4 days and when I questioned her about it, she insisted she had never met my child. (I’m so proud of my kiddo’s friend who confronted her on that, since she was apparently refusing to acknowledge my kid.) You kind of expect children to be awful to each other. I know my 7th grade experience was not full of puppy dogs and rainbows. More like shit and more shit. And then some shit thrown at you, for good measure. But the adults? They should be someone the kids can turn to for support and protection. And that is not the case, even in 2018. Even in good old blue Connecticut. Intolerance knows no boundaries.

It’s a different world than the one I grew up in–for better and for worse. In 7th grade, I don’t think I knew anyone who was openly gay. My senior year of high school, things seemed to be moving in a better direction, but maybe that was only at the coffee house where I hung out with other like-minded, artistic peeps. We had an insulated bubble; the outside world rarely intruded inside those walls. Yet, it still existed, and I didn’t experience it like my friends did. I wish I knew then what I know now.

My eldest is very lucky, despite the bullshit. What he lacks in adult acceptance, he makes up for in spades with his friends circle. Far larger than my group of friends, and so true true true to themselves. So knowledgeable. So supportive. They’re lesbian and gay and bi and pansexual. They’re trans and non-binary and queer. They’re informed and strong and solid in their knowledge of themselves. Their parents don’t all know their truths (or accept them), but they are there for each other, a surrogate family when biological family is lacking. And I LOVE them for this!

But at the back of mind, it nags. That CAUTION sign. That concern. That worry that grave harm will come to my child just for being who he is.

It’s 2018. It’s surprising, and yet not at all. Hate has, after all, been given the nod by those in power.

I didn’t want to rain on my kid’s pride parade, but I also needed him to understand the gravity of the situation. The potential for danger. So we sat down and watched The Laramie Project together.

My take-aways?

  • HOW THE HELL HAVE I NOT WATCHED THIS BEFORE???
  • The way the townsfolk spoke in Laramie is so much the same that we hear today about racial intolerance. These people who think they’re accepting, but are really only okay if they don’t have to know about it or see it. Live and let live. As long as they keep to themselves, I don’t have a problem. Which isn’t tolerance at all, but systemic hatred. And it’s sickening. And it’s still happening today.
  • If you haven’t watched it before, pay close attention to when they talk with Reverend Fred Phelps. I was angry sobbing after the talk with the “good reverend.” The hypocrisy of it all was revolting. But not unexpected.
  • I also sobbed through the scene when the angels–led by Romaine Patterson–blocked out the protesting Westboro Baptist Church members during the trials of the murderers of Matthew Shepard. I can’t even remember a time before their hate-filled harassment of grieving families. I really want to.
  • Matthew Shepard’s kidnapping, brutal beating, and subsequent horrible death came just days after I turned 21. I was the same age as Matthew Shepard. It was October 1998 and this was not something you typically heard about back then. In fact, it seemed to be the first in my memory. And sadly, not the last horrific hate crime.
  • The concept of hate crimes came out of this. Think about that. That’s not to say that brutal beatings and deaths weren’t happening before. They most certainly were. But this was THE tipping point, as far as legislation goes.
  • Even though attempts at hate crimes legislation began in 1997, before Matthew Shepard’s murder, it wasn’t until 2009 that they finally gained enough traction. The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was signed by President Barack Obama on October 28, 2009 and became law. 11 FUCKING YEARS after Matthew Shepard’s murder. My eldest was already 4 years old, at the time.

It was an emotionally draining experience. (We had to follow up with The Greatest Showman to cleanse our palates.) And I’m not really sure what I was trying to accomplish, or if I accomplished anything at all. Maybe I want my kiddo to exercise a little more caution? But at what expense? Why should he have to deny who he is to make people less uncomfortable? Why should I have to worry that he may become a statistic someday? Why is this the fucking world we live in?

In the meantime, I try to be there whenever I can. We attend rallies. We talk openly about what he’s going through. We’ve researched his options for when he gets older (hormones, top surgery, etc.). I help him dress whatever way makes him comfortable. And I try to find role models, wherever I can. It’s always important for kids to find people in the limelight who are like them. It will be an exhausting uphill climb. There will always be shitty people to deal with. But he has his tribe and the love of his family. He will find his way.

Entertainment · Life

A new beginning…

One of my favorite pastimes, when I have a problem to solve, is to begin a brand new project instead in which I will pour all of my energy, creating a kind of order in the chaos of my life, and only when I am completely satisfied that I have put sufficient energy into this new project will I return to the real problem at hand and solve it. It’s sort of my way of clearing my head so the solution will present itself, and it hasn’t failed me yet.

So, here I am.

I attempted to re-enter my food blog world (which I had mostly paused during the last year while I worked out some shit in my head), discovered a few new tech hurdles I’m ill-equipped to immediately handle, and, instead, started a new blog. The puzzle pieces will fall into place eventually, I’m sure. But not tonight.

Truth: I missed my old journalistic blog from when my life was both more and less complicated. 2004-2009, I wrote a very personal chronicle of the time spent trying to conceive our first child (TTC), the subsequent miscarriage, the following successful pregnancies, raising kids, adjusting to being a stay-at-home mom, etc., etc., etc. From before Facebook, when I relied heavily upon a group of sistas I serendipitously stumbled upon in an online forum who had my heart and back through it all. Blogging was cathartic. It was also a connection to others slogging around in the same shoes. And it was all very small scale. That was perfectly okay.

My food blog, on the other hand, took on a completely different life. One of reach, and pageviews, and advertising. Analytics, and sponsors, and social media accounts. A full-time job, despite having two additional full-time jobs. And I loved it so very much in a completely different manner. My masterpiece brought me opportunities I never dreamed. I just depleted my supplies for support last year. I needed a break.

It took a year to figure out that I missed blogging. But in that year, I also learned much about myself. A new person emerged from the turmoil–reshaped by anxiety, existential dilemmas, #MeToo, Women’s Marches, LGBTQIA support rallies, stands against violence in our communities, and recognition of the horrific racism in America. In short, I made up for a lot of lost time. And I still have so very far to go.

So where does old me fit in with new? Where does my past mesh with all of this learning that can’t be ignored? Well… it’s turned up in funny places. Like my criticism of Beauty & The Beast. As Molly Ringwald explained in her New Yorker piece, I’m finding that when I revisit my past, it’s not always easy to navigate the murky depths that have flooded those memories and damaged them. How do I not cringe and apologize to my children when, insistent upon them seeing a film from my youth that I much loved, I find instead disparaging treatment of transgender folks, who exist only as the butt of the joke; or the three-lettered f-word frequently appearing in ’80s movies and shows, because that was apparently the worst thing you could be. (And no, it isn’t fat, but it’s only 1 letter off…) Not every example is as obvious, but each time it’s recognized, it makes it so much easier to see how these microaggressions become systemic in a society. And it makes me try harder to do better with my kids.

So yeah, I’m ruining it all. But I have good intentions for them. And I don’t intend to pave the road to hell with them.