Afterwards I was compelled to Google all of their names to see what they're doing now, and they all seem to be happy and successful, except for TJ who is hanging in there but stuck in Cyprus for the next 2 years. If he were straight/a bio-guy, he could just marry his fiancee and all that residency/immigration shit would go away. Some sexist asshole can go over to Russia and pick up a mail-order bride to abuse and get her a green card, no problem, but a brilliant, educated person like TJ is trapped in transphobia hell for two years because a bunch of bullshit Christians want to tell the rest of us how to live. I really hope he can find a way out of that mess sooner. I actually friended his LJ as he has posted some wonderful political and social commentary.
I'm probably one of not too many people who can say this, perhaps more nowadays - the first LGBT person I ever knew well was transgendered. When I was around 13, I got involved with animal-assisted therapy at the local hospital in my hometown, Bloomington, IN. THE local AAT person was Sean. He had a paying job taking his two cats and dog to the hospital. The cats would ride perched in his backpack - they could have jumped out at any time, but they didn't. He was a role model for me and looking back, I think he is a big part of what inspired me to be a therapist specializing in AAT. It is also because of his tragic death that I have a few precious words from my mother to hold on to, words that mean I am not haunted by wondering if she would have accepted me being a lesbian.
We hadn't seen Sean in a while; I can't remember if that AAT group was no longer happening or what, when we got the news through our veterinarian that he was dead. He had died in his home and it took a few days before he was found. His animals were starving to death, but thankfully, they survived. Our vet adopted his cats herself and found a great home for the dog. At first they thought it might have been suicide, but he never would have put his animals in that situation, and later it was determined that it was natural causes of some sort. My mother told my grandfather's home health caregiver about Sean's death, and it turned out that she knew him. She was the one who told my mom that he "used to be a woman", and my mom in turn told me. I was shocked...as a kid I thought of sex changes as something you read about in the Enquirer or saw on Sally Jesse Raphael. I had no idea that someone I cared about, a kind, normal person, could be transsexual. I was very confused and found it hard to believe. I asked my mother if she'd known before, and she said no, but she had thought that he was gay. She then said that it was sad that he had died alone, and apparently he had even been rejected by a lot of the gay community in town because they were prejudiced against transgendered people. I said that I didn't understand why someone would want to change their sex, and she replied, "I can't imagine how awful it would be to feel that you were born with the wrong body."
Those words changed my life, in so many ways. Her accepting, non-judgmental attitude taught me to honor other people's experiences of themselves, as well as my own experience of myself. I am very comfortable as a woman and would not want to be anything else; I still do not know, and can never know, what it feels like to have a body that does not reflect one's gender identity. But I do know how it feels to have a body that disappoints me, that fails me, that is damaged for life through no fault of my own. I also remember how it felt to be a teenager who for some reason just wasn't interested in boys and had a crush on her female science teacher. I wondered if that meant I was a lesbian, but the only lesbian I knew was the school vice principal, who was very butch and a total bitch whom everyone hated. I wasn't like her, so I couldn't be gay, right? So I never told my mom, although I think she must have had an idea. As an adult, I wanted to tell her, but I was afraid, and I didn't want to add to her stress when she was already battling cancer. When she got better, then it would be time.
I never got the chance to tell her. I spent the first few months with so many regrets - that I hadn't spent that last summer with her, that I'd listened to my dad and not flown there when things went wrong, that I never got the chance to say goodbye. I still regret those things, and probably always will, but what I miss most now is that my mom and I never got to know each other as adults. I want to hear all of her stories again, about her travels to Europe and to Egypt, through my adult ears. I want to talk with her honestly about how she felt when I was diagnosed, during the lawsuit, and during those endless hours of physical therapy. I've asked my dad as an adult, but i only asked her once, when I was 18 and they first revealed it, why the fuck they waited so long to tell me the truth. But most of all, I miss that she never got to meet Kristi, to see how much we love each other, hell even to see that I've still got some of the same issues she used to yell at me about and they DO interfere with my life and relationship just as she said they would. I wish I could see her pick up Elphaba's front paws and do a silly dance with her. I wish I could hear her say that she loves and accepts me for who I am.
Instead, all I have is that memory to hold on to, and the truth about the kind of person my mother was - intelligent, open-minded, and a passionate advocate for equality. Even knowing that, that conversation still holds a special place in my heart. And I have Sean to thank for it. Sean, wherever you are, please know that your suffering, the injustice you faced and your tragic death was not in vain. You helped at least one person come to terms with her sexual orientation, and I (and my multitude of mutts) are going to follow your example and try to help many, many more lost and hurting people through the wonders of animal-assisted therapy. I'm going to order your book now. Maybe it'll have a picture to remember you by, with your kitties riding in your backpack. RIP.
And RIP, Mom. I miss you so much, especially this time of year. Sometimes it hurts when you come to me in my dreams because then I wake up and you're not there. But right now, I just want to see you. I love you.