I woke up this morning to find two handwritten cards from my boys, along with a hand-cranked emergency flashlight and two DVD’s, Old Yeller and Savage Sam (as a set), and the 4-movie collection of Tremors and its sequels. I was then visited by the boys bringing me breakfast in bed, consisting of scrambled eggs, two biscuits, and coffee. We sat on the bed, cranked the flashlight, opened the movies, and talked about how wonderful it is to be a family.

The first note looks like a christmas package and is addressed To A Special Dad, From North Pole:

Hi, George/Joyce. Santa speaking. Sorry we missed you at Christmas so here are some presents. I thank you for not picking on the boys for not going to church or doing well in school and/or not brushing teeth. Yours truly, Santa
PS — the tooth fairy is getting on to me because of the teeth thing
(We don’t care if you change — we love you)

The second note is written in a backwards code and took me some time to figure out how to read:

To: A special dad
From: your kids
Read this card backwards.
Even though you are changing we still love you. We are going to throw you the best father’s day ever. We hope you enjoy!

My own father died in 2002, and while I find myself missing him and wishing I had had the ability and courage to tell him about my true nature while he was alive, today’s beautiful gifts of love, understanding, mystery, flashlights, breakfast, and movies from Lane and Ezra pull my mind from the past and into the future, where all of us — transsexuals and cis-sexuals, children and parents — have a chance to adjust our life courses, attitudes, and relationships.

I’m folding up these letters and carrying them with me so that when I get frustrated, I can remind myself of just how lucky and loved I am.

I am far too sensitive these days. I see demons in every corner, doom in the next instant, despair in each offhand remark by friends. I was like this last night at a Christmas get-together with friends. We were sitting around, sipping our holiday cheer, chatting about university politics and plans for the spring.

Somehow (and I can’t remember how it came to this, but how do conversations ever get where they’re going except that they’re a form of group free-association?), someone mentioned an undergraduate student we have in our department who is transsexual and who came out this past fall. She had a boyname like Robert and picked a girlname a little out of the ordinary, Serendipity, and those professors who had her in class piped in about her name, her dress, her passability. They opined as to whether she had surgery or not, and were fairly ill-informed as to just about everything related to GID and transitioning, which isn’t surprising at all. In fact, the members of the party behaved exactly as you’d expect — certainly not trans-phobic, clearly sympathetic, and generally live-and-let-live. The word “unfortunate” was used several times about Serendipity: “what an unfortunate choice of dress,” “Serendipity is such an unfortunate name,” “he, or she (i don’t know!) has an unfortunate build to have chosen to be a transsexual.” One professor explained to the group that Serendipity is perhaps the most popular transsexual name out there, and it was unfortunate that Robert chose such a weird name, even though it was a typical TS name. Of course, this was news to me — as I don’t recall ever seeing or meeting any TS by that name. There was some gentle ribbing of the biggest, most masculine partygoer, as someone said that he might consider going that way, and since his initials would remain the same, he’d get to keep his monogrammed shirts.

My friends and colleagues are wonderful people and would not deliberately make fun of anyone; however, at this point, my mind turned to imagining them talking about me, or if not them, then some other group of well-meaning colleagues. “Joyce is such an unfortunate name! What was he thinking?” or “He’s the most selfish man, er… woman (what is he, anyway?) I’ve ever met — didn’t he, er… she think of the kids?” or “He’s got unfortunate features that will always make him ugly — it’s really unfortunate that he, er… she… wants a sex change.”

I had been happy and engaged, and I withdrew immediately into my sad inner mind, feeling like these imaginary voices were right, that I am an unrealistic fool for doing this, that I will soon cease to be a member of any friendly discussion and become a permanent member of the outside, always cordially spoken to, but always excluded. I felt myself slide into this self-conscious, self-critical mood I recognize all too well, and then I was angry at myself to allowing this mood to take over. “After all,” my rational self said, “these are your friends and they’re going to be just fine with your transition. If I were closer to being out, I could have had a really interesting Christmas discussion, but instead am sucked into this spiral of sullen despair.”

I cried in bed, telling Mary that I hoped that maybe I’d die in my sleep rather than face this humiliation, which was an awfully mean thing to say, but that’s the kind of nonsense that pours out of this bad place, even though I don’t really want to say it. These are horribly unproductive, unmotivated moods, and I hate myself for falling into their traps. I want to learn how to pull out of these spirals before they take over my psyche. These were harmless comments about a student who happened to be TS, but she easily could have been gay or African or Marxist and still receive similar comments, and there was no reason for me to run for the refuge of self-pity.

This morning, having been wrapped in love by my family and having watched my children play with their Christmas toys, I’m feeling much better and now perceive that our discussion of Serendipity last night was indeed serendipity, for it was certainly the discovery of something important entirely by accident or chance. The chance lesson? I got a glimpse into the gossip I can look forward to — not malicious or mean, but certainly inquisitive. I got a disclosure-free lesson into how my colleagues are likely to react to my announcement and a vision of how I myself might react to the inevitable barbs (intentional or unintentional) I’ll feel in the future. While I failed last night, I learned that these feelings or failures are somewhat normal, and that they, like coming out, will get easier to deal with the more I encounter them.

In the Grateful Dead’s Scarlet Begonias, Jerry sings, “Once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right.” Instead of despairing over this incident, I realize that I owe a lot to this serendipitous Christmas gift I received last night, and I also owe something to Serendipity herself, who, as soon as I’m out in the department, is going to get my invitation to lunch to talk about her bravery and to learn from this youth where she got her thick skin and how she learned to deal with much harsher comments than I felt last night.

This morning, while I was waiting in line to buy the Wii for the boys for Christmas, Mary Jo wrote the following on MyHusbandBetty.com, and I must say that while it was not intended as a present, it may be the best birthday gift I’ve ever received.

It’s a wonderful day in the neighborhood….

I just re-read my introduction, and it sounded a lot more tentative than I feel…Today, on Joyce’s birthday, I feel so unbelievably happy and lucky that I could burst. I have the most incredible privilege of watching someone I love become who she really is. We both stayed up late last night talking, and today I said “let’s take a nap”….and we tried, but we ended up talking again. It amazes me to hear her say “I’ve always felt this way” (about being emotional, being demonstrative, etc.)…but she’s never been able to enact how she felt until now. And I get to be part of this newness, this awakening. How lucky can I get?

What an incredible gift….to be able to watch someone you love finally be able to follow her bliss, to become who she really is inside. Joyce has watched and supported me as I’ve followed my bliss for the last few years, doing something I’ve wanted to do since I was a child but could only afford to do recently (horsey things), and I felt so lucky to have such a supportive spouse. And now I get to support her as she does what she’s wanted to do since she was a child, but couldn’t “afford to” until now (probably in all sorts of ways!).

The kids decorated the house while she was shopping this morning with “We Love You Daddy!” and “Happy Birthday!” signs, and while we got Joyce some mundane gifts (warm pajamas, etc.), they each selected some treasures of their own and gave it to her. We’ll probably start talking to the kids in earnest over the break….but I cannot imagine these sweet, loving creatures having any trouble with someone who loves them so, and who they love every bit as much.

Ok, maybe it’s getting a bit thick. But today it really is a wonderful day in the neighborhood.

For my birthday, I got a bowl of cereal brought to me in my bed by my boys: Grape Nuts topped off creatively with M&M’s and whipped cream. Then I came to Best Buy to wait in line for two hours before opening to see if I could get this cool video game, the Wii. I’m 25th in line, talking to my fellow line-waiters about Guitar Hero, the Wii, and the spirit of Christmas. I like being in line in many ways — it makes me feel like a part of humanity, or at least the poor souls who make a promise to get the kids something and now they’ve got to pay the piper.

My family is so loving that I simply sometimes can’t fathom harming them with my GID. I’m really caught in a mental bind: take action and transition, alleviating my pain while running the risk of hurting my family, or protect my family and rot away in pain. Am I missing something shades of gray in this dilemma?

I’m standing outside an electronics store, in swirling leaves and an increasing west, cold, wind, wearing gloves and a stocking cap on my birthday for my kids. Would I save them the pain of GID with a similar feat of love and stamina? If I can stand outside in the cold for them, can’t I bury my GID feelings? Yes, of course I could (and I would), but I think there’s a difference in a finite quest, however difficult it may be, and a condition with no end.

The leaves blow in irregular clumps across the parking lot in eddies and blobs, violent and streaking, coming to rest against the south wall of the store where the other parents and I wait to get in, maybe one of the lucky 25. I think of Dante’s imagery of the souls being whirled around in the second circle of hell as I watch these leaves form vortices and then roll, dust-devil-like down the row of waiting parents. Patterns in the randomness make it so easy to visualize the current of air — a cone, a sphere, a wall of power. Where are the leaves of my life, arranging themselves so as to make the hidden visible and thus reveal bigger meaning? They must be all around — a bowl of breakfast in bed, brought lovingly and admiringly by my sons; an encouraging touch from my wife when it’s clear I’m wavering; kind words and glances from friends; one student who says I have been important to her; even glimpses of poetry like the one I have as I write these lines. Each individual leaf has a magical beauty and pattern of its own — veins, color, texture, shape, each one a testament to the cycles of nature, having been green and productive during the summer, nourishing the tree and giving shade to hot and weary travelers, soon to be the mulch of next year’s grass and trees. But the leaves also have no individuality when you pull back to see the patterns — like the saying about not seeing the forest for the trees. How should we see these leaves, these patterns? The only thing I can think of is to make sure we see both — to see the details of our lifeworld and also to pull back and see the vista and scope of all of these details put together in a collage. Academically, we want to see the data without bias AND to put those data into the broader context of theory, history, or culture.

Pattern and structure telescopes from the smallest observable detail to macro levels of meaning. To obsess on one detail is to miss the other patterns, to be blinded to the epiphany that reveals what’s normally hidden.

A burnt hair follicle, an article of clothing, a fleck of mascara, a hormone molecule, a piece of jewelry, an isolated thought, a visit to a therapist, an email message — biological, social, linguistic particles swirling around larger meaning.

Tossing a football to kids making up a new game on their trampoline, eating M&M Grape Nuts brought to me for breakfast in bed on birthday, hugging my wife and kids extra long and extra firm, discussing a topic we saw on TV — the mundane threads in a family’s fabric.

The hardest patterns for me are family systems, to trace the threads of my father’s childhood through my childhood through my own children’s childhoods. To begin to remember thoughts and feelings from long ago and to try to establish cause and effect with the me now. Individual events, none of them terribly traumatic, I suppose, but separately constituting a picture, a personality.

If I’m the whirlwind, what individual leaves reveal my nature?