Important changes add up over time
I just started packing for next week's trip.
This one's a hard trip to prepare for - not just because there's a pandemic going on and I'm in the extreme high-risk category, but because I'm worried about what I've packed. Did I get everything I need? What did I forget? Did I buy too much? What if I got the sizes wrong, the colors wrong, the styles all wrong? What if I didn't get the right food in the right flavors?
Some days I wonder if I'm the right person for this task.
My best friend is trans. My best friend is also living in a house that denies her very existence, dead names her, orders her to keep those "girly things" out of the house, and disallows her the makeup and underwear that will help her feel more alive than ever before.
It's sickening. When I'm allowed to go off on the person responsible for this ....you know, it's hard to find the right words somedays, and stay family friendly.... Anyway, when I'm allowed to, I will enjoy chewing this [redacted] a new one. But, unfortunately, I cannot, because my friend will immediately be kicked out of the house if I indulge.
Why can't I take her in? Because I would, in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, my friend is a registered offender, with all the ramifications. And we live a state away. Her family couldn't take her in for various reasons when she finished her time in prison, so her parole officer stashed her in this house, the parents of my stepdaughter. While foster Mom was alive things were going decently at least. But when Mom died suddenly of a heart attack, the father fell apart, and in a very ugly way.
If you're tensing up about my friend's label, relax. When I first met her, she'd just gotten out of prison, and she still thought of herself as a boy. You could tell she wasn't the cocky [also redacted] she used to be. Now she's on super-strict parole, court-ordered therapy, court-ordered diagnosis and medication. The prison therapist broke her of her most serious crimes, and the realization that she was a girl all along destroyed the rest. HRT has done some amazing changes, both physically and hormonally. Couple that with some digging deep into the stuff that got her in trouble in the first place, and there's an amazing creative person who wants to fade into society and never get on the wrong side of the law ever again.
But that super strict parole? She's stuck in this horrible situation till she can find an apartment of her own, and who wants a person with that kind of label? So she's trapped in a place that is eating away at her, a tiny piece at a time, till she can come and live with us. And that means no internet, no living room to relax in, just cooped up in her bedroom and scuttle to work and back again till someone will give her a break.
Time to get creative.
With the full approval of her parole officer and her therapists, we've built Trans Camp.
My husband and I used to stay at the house with her, with us installed in the guest room, until she came out and things got nasty. So now we rent a hotel room for a week, and we're allowed to take her away from it all. If we navigate, she's allowed internet access to give her voice lessons, makeup tutorials, online shopping. I've bought clothing for her, so we'll have a fashion show. Online video clips of the silliest stuff I can find to make her smile, and laugh, and forget about her home life for just a little bit. Deep conversations to make sure she's on the right track mentally to be a better person each day. Pictures of memes and giggly stuff collected to give her a good chuckle.
And, for me, the most difficult lessons of all - how to be a girl.
See, I have polycystic ovarian syndrome. Born a girl, I've had a beard and screwed-up hormones since puberty. Makeup? I learned stage makeup, nothing more. Depilation? Um, there's not enough time in the day. Clothing? I've dressed like a frump ever since I could remember. I wore a bikini once, as a kid, when my grandmother bought me one and made me try it on. And I peeled it off that night and shoved it in the back of my closet and that was the end of that.
And I'm the only one who cares enough to teach my friend these things, so I'd better do it right.
The things you learn as a girl, that you don't even remember learning. How to wipe front to back, every time. How to use shampoo and conditioner. How to walk, especially in high heels. How to sing, to talk in a particular register. Even the basics of clothing style and accessories - what looks good on a body that's changing, sometimes day to day?
It's hard. Some days she's so down, remembering what she did and how many lives she screwed up. And others she's determined to not be that person anymore, to make something good out of the rest of her life. And I'm there through it all, for the good and the bad. I know what she did, and I know she's not going back.
But tell that to the rest of the world, that wants to lock her back up forever and hope she dies.
Sometimes I just listen while she pours out her frustrations. Sometimes I distract her, with complicated discussions of ancient civilizations and how they fell and their social interactions, at least what we think we know about them. Other days it's about my garden, or the butterflies I raise in the summer, and how much I worry about them while she laughs and envisions my driving my little flutters to Mexico myself like the worst helicopter parent alive. Some days it's helping her thread the frustrating politics at her job, and how to deal with the haters.
The really good days, in the summer, I teach her how to make glass beads. All our troubles vanish in the heat of the torch, burning up all the fears and frustrations as we melt colors and make glorious jewelry. She brings out my creative spark to try new things and teach her new techniques, and she takes to the learning like no one I've ever had on the torch before, and I've been teaching for twenty-six years. Some of my best necklaces were made while with her, and some of the other best necklaces I have are her creations.
We're not even allowed to video chat. She can only use that with supervision, and guess who's the supervisor in her house? Yeah, Mister Transphobe. She refuses to allow him to hear her conversations, and who cam blame her? So we text, and call, all the time. Anything to keep her as sane as possible.
And we plan Trans Camp trips. And reminding her of them, and the fun we had at the last one, and what we're planning to do at the upcoming one. And packing games and movies and any other distraction I can think of. And I need to find a place this coming summer where we can set up the glass kit, so we don't have to back to that horrible house ever again.
Because everyone deserves a second chance, and she's earned hers.
Ooh, that reminds me, need to pack chocolate, every girl needs some....
About the author
Mix equal parts anthropologist, biologist, geologist, and artisan, stir and heat in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country, sprinkle with a heaping pile of odd life experiences. Half-baked.