Enjoy your grandparents

Everyone should enjoy their Grandparents and the wealth of knowledge held within.

I wrote that first sentence in July of 2011. It has been in my drafts ever since. Looked at, contemplated and left to ripen…possibly change direction all together.

My grandfather passed away on December 1, 1981 and it had such a devastating effect on the 15 year old me.

We were inseparable. Growing up, there was nothing I enjoyed more than being around my Grandpa Lord. He was amazing. He was funny, smart, corny, talented and unaware. By unaware, I mean at the talent he possessed. He was an amazing photographer and he never went anywhere without a camera, still or 8mm. He captured some amazing things in his everyday life.

When visiting places, he hated to have people in his shots. He wanted the memory of the place, not the people around it. Unfortunately that meant my grandmother as well. Out of several hundred slides I digitized, only one had her in it. Of course, this also meant he wasn’t in any of them either, which is quite sad.

I would always play down in the basement, but there was always this dark room I was never allowed to go in. Neither by myself nor with him. So I never asked about it. It wasn’t until his death that I even thought about it again, and it was his darkroom. He processed all of his film, or at least a lot of it.

As I grew up, my love of film and photography grew as well. I always felt cheated by his death, but when I found my passion in images, I felt it all the more. When I realized that the knowledge that he had would never be shared with anyone, tore me apart. I felt that I had lost, not only my best friend and my amazing grandfather, but also a walking encyclopedia of what he had experienced in life. I would have loved to have recorded him.

In 2001, I was fortunate to happen to be around when my aunt was visiting and she had an audiocassette of my grandfather singing a birthday song for my grandmother, as well as a couple other gems. She found this cassette after my grandmother died on April 5, 1994, and happened to have come across it prior to visiting. That was my Christmas present to all of my relatives that year, as I made several CDs and mailed them out.

Thanksgiving of 1981 was spent in a tiny little restaurant that happened to be open. We had heard that grandpa might not be doing as well as we had thought, after suffering a heart attack. His second, and a rather large one. He had been told time and again to not over exert himself, which my grandfather had no concept of. He was told over and over not to work with his hands above his head, but he had been building a garage in their back yard. He always wanted a garage and upon retirement, set out to build it. It was always my feeling that building this played a huge role in his death. Upon its completion, he suffered the massive attack.

I had never really been in hospitals before and I have dreaded them ever since. The man that was in that bed was not my grandfather. This was not the man who always smiled, always laughed and always worked. This was a frail and fragile body who was coherent and did not like people to see him this way. I was told several times by him that it was ok not to come back. But I couldn’t stay away.

He made a rather startling recovery just a couple days later. We were all smiles and laughter. Our patriarch would be coming home. My grandfather would be ok. He would be in the hospital a while longer, but recovery was assured. He would be home for Christmas.

However, if you remember the beginning of this post, this was not to be the case. He suffered one of the most massive heart attacks the doctor had ever seen. He was never to be coming home.

The funeral brought all the family together. Cousins and aunts we hadn’t seen in a while. Family that was so utterly important. My grandmother was asked if an open casket was desired. She said yes, not knowing what that entailed. I suppose it is different for each service, but this one, after all of the tears had finally subsided and the pastor was done speaking, they closed the casket in front of us. That is the single most haunting thing I have ever witnessed and an image that will be with me until the day I die.

My grandmother remarried about four years later, a ceremony I missed because I had spent so much money on prom that I could not just throw it away (though it’s exactly what I did). Upon her death in 94, I was told by my cousin that all of grandpa’s cameras were in in a box waiting for me. I rushed to get them and have kept them secure all these years.

We never got to enjoy photography together, or his retirement. I never got to travel with my grandparents the way my older cousins and my brother got to. I was next to go, but it was far less about where we would have gone, and so much about the two weeks that would have been spent with my grandfather and grandmother.

A few years ago, my cousin was down from Minnesota. We went and visited the graves and on the way back she told me how envious she was that I was around them all the time, where she saw them maybe twice a year, usually only once. I reminded her that, although I did see them often, that also meant I was subject to all of the bad times as well. If they were in the hospital, we were there. When grandpa was connected to nothing but machines, weighing the least he’d ever weighed, I was there to see that. When grandma was lying in her hospital bed, gasping and incoherent…except for one moment of light while I was in the room and she said it was OK and she was ready…I left the room and sent Lloyd back. Within about two minutes, CODE BLUE was ringing out through the halls, doctors and nurses came running from every doorway, and we knew. We knew without question it was grandma. Then here came Lloyd, fragile, weeping and tired. I have so many good memories. So many humorous memories. But even through that, the images of a loved one dying stick in your memory so vividly.

I am visited every few years, around this time, by my grandfather. A very vivid dream, all exactly the same. He is sitting on the end of my bed, smiling, wearing his pale green shirt and dark green pants, telling me that everything will be just fine and that he’s ok. It’s been a while. I really need him to pop back in and tell me that again.

As loving and kind as he was, I am not sure he would have ever understood what is happening with me. But then again, he might. Our bond would have only grown stronger over the years. My amazingly brilliant, and equally quirky daughter would have been a part of this as well. The fact that she is now following her photography studies shows this is inherent within us. Photography was something, I learned, that he always wanted to do professionally. But you don’t leave a good job at Coca-Cola to do something like take pictures. I wish he would have. I believe he would have soared.

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The Difference In How We Are Treated

This isn’t an entry on how differently Trans people are treated, but rather, how we are treated differently based on how we are perceived.

As soon as we’re born, we are labeled.  Boy or Girl.  As soon as we’re born, we are treated differently by almost everyone who will come in contact with us from that point forward.

We see this happen every day of our lives.  As soon as someone realizes they are looking at a baby boy, it becomes full of Tim Allen (Home Improvement) grunts and growls and “That’s the little man!”  If the baby has a strong grip (which they all do, have you EVER tried to get them to let go of your hair or earrings??) anyway, if the grip is strong, and it’s a boy, the person starts talking about how you’ve got a future quarterback on your hands or how they will be able to palm the ball and make some great basketball moves.

When a person realizes that the baby is a girl, even if they just did everything as mentioned above, the voice becomes immediately softer and the compliments are turned to beautiful features and soft skin (again, have you EVER met a baby that didn’t have soft skin???).  They immediately start talking about her future.  How she will melt the boys’ hearts and how she must be a daddy’s girl (which is a true stereotype—I don’t think a dad can help but just be taken with the joy that is a daughter….let’s hope mine feels this way).

Throughout the rest of our lives we are treated based on perception.  There have been several times when I will be treated one way, based on how I am perceived and then treated the polar opposite upon a second study.  I’m not even talking about someone realizing I am trans.  This confusion usually happens when I am in boy mode, which is pretty androgynous.  I am usually taken for a guy and then a girl and then either. (example: walking up the sidewalk as someone enters a store.  They begin to let the door close and then dive to hold it open and then follow that up with whatever reaction once I thank them—it is nice to see that chivalry is not dead, though)

As a woman, I am consistently being talked to with flirtatious inflections and sweet voices.  I’m not saying I am being flirted with, I am totally blind to that kind of thing (or deaf, as the case may be…always have been…if you don’t come right out and say I WANT TO GO OUT WITH YOU, I just don’t pick up on it).  Where I live, women are treated nicer than men.  They just are.  I don’t know if it is an “alpha dog” complex between the guys in a relatively small town, but it is noticeable.  Whenever I have gone to pay for a purchase, as a woman, 90% of the time, guys will offer to let me go ahead of them in line, even if we have the same number of items.  Sometimes they want to continue with small talk, but it’s usually just a nice gesture.

Having been on both sides of this treatment, I have to say that I rather enjoy the way I am treated as a woman.  Now, that might be because it is a feeling of affirmation for me, a feeling of knowing that I am within the boundaries of where I belong (not that there should be boundaries set for men and women, but you know what I mean).

I found this post in my drafts. This was February 2012. I began living full time February 2013. Not sure where I was going to go with it, since this is how I had left it. I’m in a different place now, physically and mentally, so I’m not sure I can pick up and go with it.

I will say this. The affirmation is still there. It does make you fell good when someone acknowledges how you look. It isn’t necessary, but it’s nice. I always try to look as nice as possible, but there are days I just throw on a hat. That is when the line becomes very thin and children will vocally ask their parents if I am a boy or a girl. I’m ok with that. If they ask me, I simply answer yes. Let’s face it, right now I am neither, yet I am both.

I assume that people know. I am surprised when they are surprised. I had a coworker a couple months ago, when we were talking at lunch, ask me about the father of my daughter. I smiled and said, ” Well, um, I am.” She was unbelievably shocked, not angrily, but she had absolutely no idea. I was given a huge hug and we continued our conversation.

I guess I am transitioning well.

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Many Thanks

This is the time of year when everyone seems to be giving thanks for just about everything, even bedbugs. I never partook in this.

As I look back, now, I see that it was a mistake of mine. I look back at what I had, but took for granted. I am thankful, for a great many things.

I am thankful for being born into an amazing family. A family of love and support. Like all families, it wasn’t always what you would view as ideal, but that’s what makes families special. With the revelation of this to everyone but my great aunt (just turned 95), I have been shown exactly how deeply that love and support is rooted. I have no idea how my brother feels about this, but from everyone else, I seem to be getting that unconditional love that we all dream about and some of us are lucky enough to have. My parents have been truly amazing as well, over this past year.

I am thankful for the family I help build. The strength of marriage is based on love, compassion and communication. Those are also the things that can make the institution dissolve. Our love for one another was so strong that we could not bear to see the other one hurt, to be without their dreams and deserved happiness, even at the cost of our own. The compassion that we share is tied to the above statement. I could not stand to see her hurt by all of this, so I stated that if she wanted me to stop, I would. She couldn’t stand to see me possibly hurt by denying this path. It was our open communication, throughout our 22 years of marriage that even led to this ultimate journey and dissolution of a strong marriage. But she doesn’t like girls, so there’s no ill feelings.

I am thankful for friends. Some of you have been in my life for most of my 47 years. Some a couple decades, some a few years and even some a few months and some I have never actually met. I am thankful for all of you. You are my strength, even when you applaud me for my own. You have all added so much to my life through kind words and actions. I’m still best friends with my ex-wife, and for that I am truly thankful.

I am also thankful for every single occurrence in my life, both good and bad, because they have helped shape me into the person I am today. I’m far from perfect. I’m scarred. I’m flawed. I’m full of self doubt at almost everything I do. But even that is part of who I am and something I am learning to embrace, but also change. A little self doubt and humility are an essential part of being.

So I am thankful this season, for a great many things. And I am grateful to all of you, my beloved friends and family.

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The Power of the Other Side of Yes

The associations with yes and no are, generally, positive and negative, respectively. John Lennon fell for Yoko because her particular piece of art was, simply, the word YES.  

“…a ladder that led to a painting, which was hung on the ceiling. It looked like a white canvas with a chain with a spyglass hanging on the end of it. I climbed the ladder, looked through the spyglass, and in tiny little letters it said, YES.

So it was positive. I felt relieved. It’s a great relief when you get up the ladder and you look through the spyglass and it doesn’t say NO or ‘ahem‘ or something.

I was very impressed. John Dunbar introduced us – neither of us knew who the hell each other was. She didn’t know who I was; she’d only heard of Ringo; I think it means apple in Japanese. And Dunbar had sort of been hustling her, saying, “That’s a good patron; you must go and talk to him or do something.” Dunbar insisted she say hello to the millionaire – you know what I mean. And she came up and handed me a card that said BREATHE on it – one of her instructions – so I just went [pants]. This was our meeting.”

We are praised with the word yes and scolded with the word no.  Or at the very least, no is followed by what you should have said or done.  We should say “yes” to the day at hand and every opportunity it offers us.  To say “no” could leave to a lifetime of regret.

But what about those instances where the opposite is true?  Those moments when the negative becomes the positive and the positive becomes the negative.  To cross these currents could be explosive, or so we are taught.

There is a person who is approached with a high payoff for a possibly shady deal.  The young person who is asked to only deliver a package.  The offer of something good at the contradiction of your conscience.

Being offered the one thing in life you have dreamed of, at the unspoken cost of everything you have.

So life throws you the proverbial curveball.  At least it did me.  Actually more than one.  I think I have two strikes against me as I anxiously and nervously await the last pitch.

The first strike was being asked, October of 2011, while out to dinner at the now defunct Bella Avanti (Bella’s).  I was having ravioli and my wife was eating eggplant parmesan.  It is her favorite meal to have when dining out Italian.  We had gone out as she and Jen, which was becoming a little more frequent, and that was nice.  She looked up at the end of her meal and asked, “So, is this what you want?  Would this make you happy, to live as a woman full time?”  My reply was a simple, “yes”.

The immediate look on my wife’s face, and the tears that followed, should have led me to rethink my answer, or at least add in the phrase, “but only if we can make this work.” I added nothing and we began to talk about our future.
She always said that she would stay with me no matter what, if this was ever a decision that would be reached. So we started there. How could we make this work? What things would we try? How long would we try? A truer and stronger love than ours, neither of us knew. She assured me she wasn’t going anywhere. With tears beginning to flow, we decided we should probably leave the restaurant and either head home, or somewhere else that was private, to continue this discussion. We chose home, as more tears were sure to follow.

We spoke, just briefly, and decided we could come back to the topic as it wasn’t going anywhere and we desperately needed to laugh now. So we chose the one movie that always made us laugh, and become instant idiots around each other, ROLE MODELS.

As phrases like “Taste the beast!” and “It’s called a Venti because it’s 20 ounces! Twenty! Venti!”, we stopped paying attention and began the further discussion of our future. We were sure of ourselves. We were two people in love more than any other couple had ever been, and we were about to embark on a great adventure. One that would take us to the very end of what we knew.

I say the end, because that is what happened. All of our positivity led to therapy for her, the end of our marriage and the life we had known and shared for the past 22 years, with all of its struggles and rewards.

Yes can lead to so many negatives. Saying yes to new things may mean the death of old. Yes can cut you down and leave you completely alone, just as much as it can lift you up and ensure you have the company of loved ones. They say to embrace life you must say “Yes”, even though every fiber of your being is telling you the opposite. Saying yes to a friend, when you understand that no was the better response.

Yes can be one of the most rewarding words in the history of, well, words, and saying yes can also lead to the loss of everything you hold dear. It can take you far away, leaving you shattered, alone, in situations you wish not to be in, but with no real way out. Yes can be the deliverer of unimagined delights or the harbinger of unparalleled dismay and defeat. Which one will it deliver?

We will never know, until we have said, “YES”.

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This holiday that was. This holiday that is.

Labor Day Weekend:

In the past, this holiday was spent in the company of my Grandma and Grandpa Winslow, and the rather large family of grandchildren and cousins.

It was my grandfather’s birthday weekend.

As a child there were games to be played, running to be done and food to be eaten. These holiday weekends were some of the most memorable spent with my dad’s side of the family.  Sure, there was Thanksgiving and Christmas, but there was something about Labor Day.  Something special.  THAT was always at their house.

When my grandmother passed away, we still gathered and had good times, but a little of the joy was gone.

As time went by, cousins grew, time became more precious to all of us, for one reason or another.  As grandpa grew older, and was a little more tired of being alone each year, the crowd lessened and it became more about upkeep and being able to do things around the house for him.  Eventually, I drifted away from this as well.  I always regretted that.

I also regretted that I never got to really know my Grandma and Grandpa Winslow, the way I got to my Grandma and Grandpa Lord.  It’s what happens, though.  You tend to spend a lot of time with your mother’s parents, a little less with your father’s.

Whether with my original family, or the family that I began after college, this weekend was always spent with them.  It was spent, maybe not with as many people as when I was young, but with just as much love and laughter.

This year, it is not spent that way, for the first time in my 47 years of life.  No cookout.  No family.  I sit up in my room with Ian, my long haired, orange tabbie.  The only family that made this move with me.

The other thing that made this weekend a memorable experience growing up, and into adulthood, is that it also happened to be my Grandfather’s birthday.  September 4.  This continued to be a special date when my daughter was born.

This is also marking the first time in 22 years, that I have not been there to celebrate this birthday with her.

This weekend, one that used to hold so much joy, so much food, so much love and so much friendship, is now filled with emptiness and sorrow.  A microwave panini instead of a cookout.  No family.

This will take a lot of getting used to, as other holidays approach.  I am not sure I am up for this, or strong enough to deal with it.

We’ll see what happens along the way…..

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I’m not really that strong

For those who tell me I am so strong and so courageous, I am to a very small degree. 
I sit here, with tears streaming down my face, not at what I have embraced, but those whom I have left behind. 
I suppose it’s that little kernel of strength and courage that allowed me to become me and to follow this venture west. 
At the moment I feel as though all of that fortitude has left me. 
Not that I am feeling overwhelmed. It is the feeling of having left every person I love behind. Not getting to have that daily interaction, in a physical way. No hugs. No simple touch. Something I have grown a little used to over the past 22 and 47 years. 
Even my best friend, who drove me this entire distance. There is no longer that ability to just randomly connect for a drink, for lunch, or just because. 
I know I can do this. I know it is a small moment of pain. I know that I am lucky to have had any time at all with such amazing family and friends. 
I know that I am fortunate, though I may not feel deserving of it. I know I am strong, even though I am at a point where I feel my weakest. 
Give me a moment to rebound. To get settled. Then, well, that pain will still be there. However, I am hoping that the sorrow is replaced by celebration. I am where I have longed to be. I am who I have longed to be. 
The rest will come with time. 
This is something that I wrote a month and a half ago.  I had moved to California exactly one week earlier.  I had left everyone I loved and everything I held dear to me. I left my home, my parents, my family, my army of supporters, my strength and my courage.  I left a good job at a great company.
Time changes a lot of things.  The last post I made here was over a year ago.  A lot, indeed has changed over time.  However, the same feelings I had when I wrote the above entry into my notebook are still here.  I am not at all where I wanted to be, nor doing what I want to be doing.  I have, really, a good job.  It affords what I need, and I share expenses with two amazing people.  But the job isn’t clicking.  I’m not getting it after a month and a half.  I am truly hoping it lasts as long as I’m here.  If not for this job, I would not be able to live here.
But enough of that. 
So much has happened since my last entry, but I shant write it now.  Some great things, some ok things, some sad things and some crushing things.  But then again, things are the things that make things happen, or something like that.
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Blood is thicker than water, especially tears

I found out, a few weeks ago, that all of the aunts and uncles on my dads side of the family know.  I heard this from my cousin on that side who already knew.  The news went from a cousin who saw me out (and left the establishment because she wasn’t sure what to do) told her mom and that aunt spread the news to the others.

When I found this out, I about died.  I felt like an animal that had to choose to fight or run.  I hadn’t made up my mind.

My spouse has been going to the in-laws each weekend to help organize their house.  This news came as a shock, but the ball was in motion.  Within the weekend, my in-laws had been told.  Twenty-One years ago they said we should split up.  Twenty-One years later, they are full of love and support.  They are behind me 100% and hope that everything works out.  My father-in-law even said he would be with me when I told my parents, if I needed him to be.

I started texting my aunt (the mother of the cousin who already knew).  Realizing that this was going to be a rather lengthy conversation, and one best done in person, we decided to meet up at Panera this past Wednesday.  I was scared to death, to put it mildly.  She is the “cool” aunt, but that coolness, I’m sure, has its limits.

I arrived at Panera a little early and decided to go on in and get my usual…..a Hot Chai and a chocolate chip Muffie (basically just the top of a muffin).  She came in a few minutes later, looked around, saw me (in drab) and gave me one of those hugs that are usually reserved for funerals, weddings and REALLY great news.  We let go of one another and decided we should, perhaps, get some actual food….so I had my desert first, so what!!

Where to begin.  Well, The Sound Of Music always gave the advise to “Start at the very beginning….a very good place to start….”  I began to pour out my soul to my aunt.  “From my very earliest memories….”, I began, “at the age of 3 or 4 I knew something wasn’t right…..”  It is an odd way to begin a story, but I suppose it must begin that way, if it is to remain true to the facts from that point on.

She had many questions.  Ranging from “Isn’t there someone you can see to check if this is psychological?” to “What happens to…..you know…… as you take hormones?”  Trying to legitimately explain being transgendered to someone who has No concept on Earth what it means, is like trying to describe the Grand Canyon to someone who cannot see.  I am not making light of her in the least, but it is a difficult thing to actually explain. But I did my best.

She had noticed changes in me over the past several months, of course, she was looking for them and I was just being me.  She noticed the slight hint of eye shadow, eyeliner and nail polish when she would come in to Target.  Since I am not 100% out to my family, I do not work as myself, I work as the other me….the me that isn’t really me anymore.

As I continued to tell her, and answer her questions, I hit the point of stating that I had sort of figured out who I might lose as a result of this.  She began to tear up a little and said, “You aren’t losing any of us.  We __________ women always stick together.”  This was such a genuine statement, I could not help but let my own tears well up.  I almost lost it all together, but managed to maintain a shred of dignity.

I happened to look up and notice one of the workers cleaning the glass and such of the front doors.  Two hours had gone by in seconds.  They were closing.

We excused ourselves, apologized for staying past closing (by mere minutes, but still).  He said it wasn’t a problem and that we looked like we had been discussing some serious stuff.  So we continued to her car.

By the time this was all over, she had told me that her church had a trans woman that had just recently come out to them.  She had been there for about a month and people knew something wasn’t 100% but that she really looked like someone who had gone through chemo and didn’t have a lot of money.  The latter was true, so she bought thrift store (and I don’t mean that in a bad way) clothes and pieced together what she could.  My aunt said she felt betrayed at this revelation of gender, and that she did not know how to act around this person now.  My reply was to keep treating her with respect and dignity.  She didn’t set out to fool or betray anyone, but if the first words out of her mouth had been, “I was born a male” your initial reactions would have been much different than that of accepting another person into the congregation.  She agreed.  She then spoke of an elderly woman at the church who went through her closet to find any clothing that “Dani” might be able to wear.  My aunt also said that she felt God had brought all of this together for a reason.  Even if nothing more than by me being who I am, she can better understand and explain to others how Dani is.

We spoke for an additional hour in the parking lot.  She told me that my parents would probably surprise me and completely accepting.  They had to see the same changes she saw, no matter how hard I tried to hide them.  She suggested telling my father first and seeing how he thought it should proceed.  We spoke of another amazing aunt who, now, thinks that her son might have had some of these very same issues, had he not been killed in a traffic accident. I gave my aunt a printout of some TG FAQs that should help explain, or at least give some insight, to both myself and Dani, and anyone else that they may end up in contact with.  I told her to please tell the rest of the family that they can contact me any time. I told her, “Without conversations, there is no education.  Without education, there is no understanding.  Without understanding, there is no love.”  She agreed.

After an hour in the car and a long hug goodbye, she said that she knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that everyone would stand by me through this.  She said that when she told her husband, his only comment was, “Well, I bet that’s a relief, now.”  He couldn’t have been more correct.  What had begun as a moment where every drop of blood races from your brain and you know you are going to pass out, became a moment of dizzying triumph.

The next step is to tell my parents.  I am probably going to see if anyone else in the family wants to talk, and then ride that wave of strength on in to the shore and lay everything at the feet of my parents.  I feel good about this. I feel very positive.  Thus far i could not have wished for this to have gone any better.

My aunt told me that, of course, she looked at my Facebook profile (she made my cousin show her).  She knows who Jennifer is.  She told me, “When I look at those pictures, I see a woman.  A very classy woman.”

:Cue waterworks:

btw, my facebook is https://www.facebook.com/jennifer.singleton.731

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