I’m thinking of my parents a lot these days.

I know my transition is conflated with my grief over their deaths a few years ago, but it’s complicated in so many ways I don’t know how to untangle the threads.

I want to tell them I’m sorry for being such a shitty adolescent, haughty, argumentative, and contrary.

I want to ask them their advice about my own children, relationships, investments, and other life’s choices.

I want to see them again and show them that everything turned out all right, that my tears at their windy hillside gravesite about what I was about to do a few years ago have dried up and that they shouldn’t worry about me.

I guess I want them to accept the new me and to hear my story, to marvel over how well I’ve turned out, to sit down over lunch and talk.

Maybe I want them to tape my school artwork on the ice-box.

I don’t know what I want. I just miss them.

In a lot of ways, I have grown up to be my mother. Would she approve? Would she understand? Would my father feel disappointment at having his son grow up to be a woman? Would the reunion be characterized by hate, fear, confusion, arguing, and distance?

It’s all academic. They’re gone and nothing’s gonna bring them back. parents

I try to answer Bon Jovi’s question, “Who Says You Can’t Go Home?” It depends on what you mean by “home,” doesn’t it?

First, of course you can go home any time you want — if home is a place and hasn’t been demolished, it’s easy to return and walk the streets again.

Second, your old home is like a momentary ripple in the stream of life and while you may return to the stream later in life, that eddy, those water molecules, that day when you dipped your toe into the water — it’s long gone and will never return. If you’re lucky, you may experience the stream with similar feeling as you did previously, but there are no guarantees.

Third, if you consider home to be your past, then you might as well yearn for time travel because if you go back and try to re-live your experiences, you’ll end up the pathetic character who sings Springsteen’s “Glory Days.”

This final idea urges me to quit missing my parents, or at least quit wishing to speak with them. But just how do I do that? As I grow up and change, I need find some way to make peace with my pasts without being constrained by them.

I have been in my hometown for a couple of days with my two boys, as there was work to be done and Mary Jo is doing horse events this weekend. This is the first time I’ve visited since everyone learned that I’m transsexual and since becoming Joyce full-time. In the days leading up to this trip, I felt somewhat anxious, but not terribly so.

Joyce arrives in her hometown for the very first time
The drives from Bedford Falls takes about 3 hours, and I was in a desperate need for a bathroom when I arrived at my office in Empire Falls. The boys ran into the office to play as soon as I got the door unlocked, and just as I was dropping off my stuff to head to the toilet, my banker stopped me in the hall and said it was good to see me — Debra Burns is a veteran banker and I have always liked her, and I was quite happy to see she had gone out of her way to stop and chat, making very solid eye contact and a broad smile that spoke volumes. Welcome home, indeed.

Uncle Jack and sister Liz arrive to discuss family business
As Debra left to go over to her office, my sister and uncle showed up — I shook hands, made eye contact and smiled, then said that I absolutely had to dash out. I was worried that Uncle Jack would take offense since I had learned from Liz that he had worried about meeting Joyce for the first time, but when you have to pee, you simply have to pee. Turns out there was nothing to worry about, as the 2-hour discussion was easy and fruitful, and I never felt any sense of tension around “the Joyce issue.” I suspect that having business to transact really makes a difference — you can’t get too freaked out by transgender people if you want to work a deal, can you? The downside of conducting business is that we never set aside any time for talking about “the Joyce issue.” For now, however, I am happy and satisfied.

We are joined by Aunt DeeAnne at the Abstract office
We had to be at Empire Falls Title Company at 2:00, so we ceased our business discussion at 1:45 and split up to rendezvous at the title company on time. When the boys and I walked in, Jack and DeeAnne Law were already there, as was Liz, so we entered and said hello. DeeAnne may have been thinking about the house deal intensely and thus had no energy for me, but I suspect she was worried about meeting me and was having trouble making eye contact or conversing. It’s all right, of course, as no one’s head exploded and we were able to sign all our documents without a hitch.

Liz treated me and Lane and Ezra to a steak dinner to celebrate this milestone of settling the very last asset in our mother’s estate, then we parted ways and bought supplies for our ranch house at the grocery store. Didn’t run into anyone I knew.

We visit Liz and Gerald at their ranch
Later in the evening, we drove over to Liz’s house to see her grandson Rye and to say hi to her husband Gerald. He didn’t bat an eye and we joked about “you look different.” “hmmmm, is it losing 10 pounds?” “no, I think it’s something different.” And so on — it was a very nice, comfortable visit to end a very long day.

The boys and I go for a misty walk
This morning, the boys and I got up early, ate bacon, eggs, and biscuits, and then went for a nice long walk down to the creek. There were low, scudding clouds that created mist that hung on the bluffs and all the prairie birds were chirping. We saw a deer and picked wildflowers. We talked about Joyce, about coming back later in the summer, about how beautiful the plains can be, about how concepts of beauty and nature seem to depend on where you’re brought up, and about whether we would see any rattle snakes (we didn’t). It was a wonderful time together.

We visit Liz before lunch
The boys wanted to play with little Rye, their cousin, so we went back over to Liz’s place after our walk. While they were playing, Liz brought out all this unused LancĂ´me makeup, some beautiful handbags, and some unused jewelry, handing it to me and asking me what I thought about it. Not only was Liz’s sense of what would look good on me excellent, but the whole interaction felt so warm and so easy that I was nearly overwhelmed. I don’t recall ever having that sort of connection with Liz, and I found it wonderful. She gave me a necklace and matching bracelet that really completed my black-and-white striped shirt and black shorts, and she also gave me a sparkling black handbag that looks fabulous. I know it’s frou-frou and I know I’m attaching perhaps more significance to these things than necessary, but it’s a first for me and I felt like I belonged and that Liz was simply accepting her sister Joyce without dwelling on brother George at all. I’m making up for lost time and all I know is that I like this kind of interaction with my sister. I don’t know if it’s something she had to brace herself for, but our interaction seemed awfully genuine, and I’m grateful to have family like her.

Lunch and shopping in town
A trip to the bookstore, video game store, and restaurant proved uneventful.

Final visit to Gerald’s, Liz’s, and Rye’s place
After a mighty hailstorm passed overhead and Lane and Ezra tempted the fates by running out into the falling hail, we went over to the Rhapsody household one last time. The boys played with Rye and I watched the last few holes of the US open (third round) with Gerald. Liz and I talked some more, inspected her kitchen remodeling project, and generally bonded. A cool breeze was blowing from the south and as we sat outside we could see distant lighting in the thunderheads off to the east in the deepening dusk. I don’t believe I have ever felt closer to my sister, and I don’t know whether it’s because I’m finally being honest with myself, because the gender dynamic is different, or simply because we have learned to share more as we have aged. Whatever the reason, this was one of the best parts of the visit, which ended with long hugs all around.

We drive back to Bedford Falls tomorrow, but we’ll be back in late July, when I propose to hold a small party for friends of mine who are attending the Bedford Falls High School 30th reunion. I have decided not to go to the official reunion events so as not to make waves, but if any of my old friends want to see me, I’ll have barbecue and beer at my place as an alternative or a precursor to the official reunion activities. After my welcome these past two days, I’m feeling more and more at ease about the prospects of reestablishing my connections in my hometown.

An email from my sister, 12 days after mailing her a paper letter, and not having talked with her on the phone at all during this nervous time:

Dear George, I am not sure what to say. Im not ready to talk to you about this yet. All I do know is I love you, as I have loved you all my life. i will talk to you soon. Love, Liz

I am thrilled at this tentative step. I know it’s hard and it hurts me to imagine the struggle Liz is having with this. Her email is filled with everything: fear, confusion, promise, affirmation of love. She and I have been through a lot, especially these past years, and I continue to hope that this little spark she sent me will continue until we’ve got a fire burning.

My friend Allyson suggested I order a copy of for the Bible tells me so as a way of understanding biblical literalists’ objections to homosexuality and, by extension, transsexuality. I had read some reviews of the film in a couple of other online forums, so it was in the back of my mind, but since Ally seems to have the knack of knowing what’s right at any given time, I didn’t question her advice and ordered a few copies of the DVD (you can order copies from the film’s website or from Amazon for approximately $20).

Right off the bat, let me say that I love the movie and feel an even stronger sense of calling (which I’ve written about) than I did before. The issues of family acceptance that face transsexuals are virtually the same as for homosexuals, and the message of families coming to accept their loved ones is incredibly powerful and moving. The film uses 5 families of various sorts and various denominations to anchor the concepts of guilt, denial, grief, love, and eventual acceptance, and this is its strong suit. Aimed at a moderate audience who is interested in figuring out how to bridge the seemingly unbridgeable gulf between religion and homosexuality, the film is quite successful, and ought to provide moderates from both camps with ample materials with which to start building that bridge.

I recommend the film highly.

However, as a piece of persuasion to be wielded on a biblical literalist or fundamentalist, I think the film has flaws. I had initially hoped that this would be the kind of thing I could send along in an initial coming-out letter to family and friends who rely on the fundamentals of scripture as a way of softening the blow of my news for them, but I think that would absolutely be the wrong thing to do. Since my field is rhetoric and argumentation, I’m coming at this film as an argument — a series of claims linked with a certain logic for the purpose of convincing one’s opponent of the correctness of those claims. And as an opening argumentative move, this DVD is inappropriate for the following reasons.

First, I think it muddies the trans* waters with the gay/lesbian message — and I’m afraid as much as I hear the message of “acceptance of family” as the film’s message, I’m afraid the person to which I’m coming out would only hear the “acceptance of homosexuality” message. Practically speaking, if someone is homophobic, I don’t see any reason to try to pry them off this position at the very same time I’m trying to gain acceptance as a trans* person. One step at a time.

Second, if the film started with the introduction of the cast of characters, I think it would get off to a better start with fundamentalists. The opening images of gay pride and the issues around homosexual marriage set up the viewer for a confrontation, even though the message is a quite a bit more moderate than that. I’m afraid the fundamentalist would turn off the film after the first 5 minutes, and I don’t think I’d blame them.

Third, I wish the film didn’t occasionally have that smart ass attitude that it occasionally foists on the scriptural literalist. There’s a cartoon that adopts a patronizing tone and several scenes that cut from an assertion of biblical literalism with an expert that says such a reading of that passage is childish, to recall a couple of examples. A steadily straightforward and respectful focus on faith and families (which is already a strength in the film) would be more persuasive for fundamentalists.

Fourth, there’s an argument advanced at the very end of the film that should either be fleshed out more because it’s important, or should be omitted because it’s a bit off the mark of the central message of the film. This argument is an analysis of where homophobia comes from and how IT IS THE PROBLEM for society, rather than homosexuality. The film argues that the intolerance and scapegoating of the OTHER is common in societies and that fear, coupled with an identifiable OTHER leads to violence, discrimination, and hate. I think that’s very reasonable and has been argued successfully in different contexts. But after this point, the film gets into an interesting and worthy assertion that needs to be fleshed out–namely, that underneath homophobia lies misogyny in a number of guises, not the least of which touches home for us, dear readers. The problem men have with homosexuality that they have to picture men having sex with each other, and this picture requires them to imagine themselves (or another man) behaving sexually like a woman. And as we all know, being called a sissy or a woman or effeminate, or being treated as such, is the WORST thing in the entire world for a man and is suitable grounds for hate and violence. The film doesn’t go any further than this micro-point and it seems to me that it’s worth fleshing out much more fully and theoretically, perhaps in a different setting. A quick Google search turns up a few things that tie together hypermasculinity, homophobia, and misogyny, such as “Homophobia and Misogyny,” “The Stranger,” “Gay Spirituality Blog,” and possibly the book (or at least the introduction) Hating in the First Person Plural, Ed. Donald Moss, much of which is sample-able on Google Book Search.

There you have it. I believe the DVD is inappropriate as a starting move in loving and gentle persuasion for family members and friends, but I also think it’s a wonderful item to be watched together later in the grieving, negotiating, hand-wringing process if these family members and friends are interested in trying to adapt their fundamentalism to their acceptance of the transsexual transitioner. If nothing else, this DVD would (in those situations) open up lines of discussion that might form the basis of acceptance that would not threaten religious beliefs.


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