Sunday, September 05, 2010

In Which I Out Myself as the Parent of a Transgender Child

…but of course, I do so on my “secret” blog.

Maverick has now legally changed his name to "Melody Lani" and sometime next week will be legally declared female. His (her) friends, and many of our family and friends are cheering enthusiastically.

Normally I do not allow my emotions about this to rise to the surface, but today I am simply a grieving mother. And it's hard to know where to go with that. My child, who I love deeply, is, of course, still living. And he (she) is still the same compassionate, creative, intuitive person as before. I have friends whose children have died and it would be inappropriate to compare this to that.

But every time I tell myself that, I tamp the pain down neatly and move to the cleaner, more antiseptic philosophical plane where gender doesn't matter all that much and my beliefs about God, sexuality and human identity are only one approach among myriad others.

I am reading Love is an Orientation, by Andrew Marin and am very impressed by it. In fact, I have barely put it down these last couple of days, taking it with me everywhere, like I did with books I loved as a kid. Though Andrew is evangelical, he has thrown off some of the key characteristics that ultimately drove me from the evangelicals when I was one: the compulsion to preach, in biblical language at people who embrace neither preaching nor the Bible (and then declare those same people “lost” and “shake the dust from one’s feet.”); the us/them attitude; the shuddering and condemnation over “sexual sin”—particularly homosexuality; the smug self-righteousness.

Andrew Marin lives, with his wife, in Boystown—a largely gay-populated area of Chicago. His goal is to build bridges between the evangelical and LGBT communities through respectful dialogue. And this sort of dialogue is what I like to do—but at the moment I am derailed by a piercing sense of loss.

When Maverick came out as gay five and a half years ago (at the age of 14), I felt as if I got “outed,” too. My progressive, spiritually diverse friends (including Jonathan, a gay man I loved like a brother) had no idea I had such traditional beliefs about sexuality. While they didn’t accuse me of being cruel and hateful when I did not want Maverick to go this direction, they did have a hard time knowing how to support both me and Maverick. The exception, ironically, was my beloved Jonathan, who we lost less than two years later to cancer. He listened patiently and validated my feelings, though my beliefs seemed to challenge his own identity. I told him that I didn’t know how he walked that kind of a tightrope, but I know he did so out of love for me. (He had also been the first adult Maverick came out to.)

Now that “Melody” has moved from gay to transgender, I find myself in a conundrum. I love my child. We have always been close, even through our disagreements about his being gay. I feel sadder every week we don’t have contact and happier when we do talk. The last we talked, Melody was interested in hearing about my feelings and in honoring them. As “she” has continued on this journey and had the support of friends and some family, she has been more able to consider my opposition as a deeply-held belief, not an attack. I appreciate this very much.

Yet I do feel my child has been stolen from me. I don’t feel I have a right to dictate my adult child’s life, but in my gut is the sense that other people, who consider themselves more enlightened, progressive and healthy than I, swept in six years ago and snatched him away.

On her Facebook account, Melody is receiving a veritable standing ovation—some of it from relatives and friends of ours who must know we are grieving. It’s hard to know where to go. This is beyond politics, beyond issues of sin and condemnation, beyond opposing sides squaring off against each other. And while I believe strongly that gender matters and that we are created male and female, I also believe that it doesn’t matter—that in Christ there is no male and female. I know I am capable of fair-minded dialogue between progressive and traditional points of view. But I must keep my emotions at bay in order to accomplish this—especially now. And so I carry this sorrow in me as a hidden thing.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Why I Need to Keep Writing

I haven't blogged here in a long time, but I am up late and it feels exhilirating to venture in here again. Tomorrow I dive into several days of fulltime rewrite, as I am now -- glory be! -- an agented novelist. Hopefully, I'll finish this puppy up before the month is out.

I've been thinking a lot about shame, anxiety, despair -- the usual villains. But a couple of weeks ago I did a reading where there were a lot of young people who had a lot of pain. And at this reading they were able to stand up and share their pain and be acknowledged. I was moved by the importance of this -- far beyond teaching people to write. When it was my turn, I shared poems about Dad instead of the funny stuff I'd planned to read. Some of them still make me shake a little, even after all this time. But I wanted to share something that opened me up, that touched my pain, but ended on a note of redemption.

And I realized once again that I want to write and read redemptive work -- to write my sorrow and anger, yes, but also my hope and Who my hope comes from.

The other night my brother was painting a grim picture of Christianity -- it was a religion of darkness, vengeance, coercion and abuse -- and he had the Bible stories to prove it. And I didn't want to argue, because I found myself frozen. What he describes is not what I believe. But what I believe felt so private and tender at that moment -- I didn't want to open it to ridicule.

All I have against such an attack (and I don't think he meant it to hurt me) is my work. If God has given me the ability to sometiomes access that deep place through words on a page, and if I have hope in my life as well as pain, and if my honesty -- which is both blessing and curse to me -- goes into my writing, then I need to QUIT HIDING inside my shame and come out.

I want to let kids know that there is resurrection -- that it is part of the fabric of the universe; that it is woven into their cells. And I'm suddenly struck by the fact that they don't know that -- that regardless of their religion, a lot of kids are running around without hope; they don't know that life comes out of death -- they believe there is nothing but darkness.

I have an interview on Monday and I've been dreading it. It's about my work-in-progress, which has to do with parental suicide. And I've felt weird about it being a "therapy" book for me, and weird about embarrassing my parents and weird about still feeling weird. But there are kids who are locked in their despair and who need a key. Can't I tell them that it will get better? That their life is essential to someone--to themselves? That their parents will mellow, become sweet, that they will love them almost more than they can bear?

When I talk about this, my prose becomes purple, but that's what anonymity is for. I write for the girl who needed the book when I was sixteen. I write for the girl, or boy, who needs it now.