When Light and Joy Changes (into Light and Joy)

It began with a phone call from a second grade teacher.

Well, perhaps it began with hand-me-down boxer briefs. Or, more probably, it began at conception.

But I get ahead of myself, my part in this drama began with a phone call.

“Um, hi, Ms Foote, I need to touch base with you about what happened in class today.”

Well, this is probably not going to be good.

“Lucia asked if she could share something at morning meeting. She wanted the class to know that she is ‘gender fluid and does not want to be called Lucia but L.G.’ (her initials), also, we should be using he/him pronouns. I told her I would have to call you first. I wasn’t even sure what she meant by gender fluid. What would you like me to do?”

“I guess you’ll have to tell the class to use a new name and pronouns.” Was my ever so calm reply. At which point, I hung up the phone and proceeded to freak out.

When the child got home, I engaged him in a way that was not at all graceful but, in fact, was a lot confused and a little hysterical. I may have raised my voice. I am certain that we both cried. We concluded by decamping to our separate corners of the house.

I went to Facebook (as you do) and publicly declared my epic parenting fail. I asked for an intervention. My dear and wonderful friends began making suggestions and introductions. I now know so many more dear and wonderful folks. The community rallied. I found people who let me ask stupid, intrusive, and probably offensive questions and I received a real education. I was awesome, humbling, beautiful, difficult…

The next morning, before school, I regrouped and charged in  “So you prefer he/him?” “yep” “And no more Lucia?” “uh huhn”

“Why didn’t you say something before? (!!!!!)”  “Well, I knew it wasn’t gonna change anything at home. Right?”

Oh. Oh…   So, maybe not failing after all. Because it’s not really going to change anything at home. Right?  Kids are so wise.

School was attended. Announcements were made. Parents were overwhelmingly supportive. Second graders mostly just didn’t care. Second graders are surprisingly flexible about big things.

Weeks later a sty found us visiting our pediatrician at the school health clinic. Our wonderful school nurse got there first; so that when we checked in our pediatrician already knew what name to use and what pronouns is preferred.She asked no intrusive questions, just one verifying one “So you prefer to be called Luca now, is that right?”

And then on with the show!  An exam of the offending eye, some antibiotics, and one small child was happily off to class.

I stayed after and talked to the PCP. She referred me to some groups and told me where to go to read more. She told me to call the office if I had any questions. She told me I was doing a good job.

At some point in the following weeks our beloved Nurse Practitioner called me at home. You see, she had taken it upon herself to pull my kid’s chart, and while she was at it, she perused his older sister’s as well. The question of “when do the women in your family enter puberty?” wasn’t even on my radar. Early, the answer is early. And early means that if your transgender son is 9, you had best be thinking ahead.

Referrals were made. Luca got to meet the new members of his team on the opening day of the new University of Vermont Medical Center Trans Youth Program. They were amazing. Informative, patient, reassuring…

Names had to be sorted ( what a process that has been!) Lucia-L.G.-Luc-Luca. Wardrobes edited. Hair cut. Siblings reasoned with.

It’s not been super easy. Not everyone is supportive. There will always be mean people, cruel people. Navigating school bureaucracy has been challenging.

But it hasn’t been super hard either. We had in place, and are continuing to build, a vibrant, diverse, knowledgeable, and compassionate group of friends. Luca’s friends and their parents have been supportive and encouraging. Our church family has been embracing and loving. And our medical providers have been respectful and proactive. I feel so grateful to live in this lovely little bubble of tolerance that is Burlington, Vt.

The journey continues! I so look forward to seeing what will be. This child was all light and joy on the day that she was born, and he is still light and joy today – no hiding under bushels for us.


Some words about advocacy:

The best things that friends and community members have done for us have been simple. Ask lots of respectful questions. Try your best to new names and pronouns right but don’t freak out when you misstep (my kid can tell when you’re trying and he’s pretty forgiving). Give us real, honest feedback – friends communicate even when it’s hard. Most important, just remember that this is the same kid and we are the same family that we all were before, it’s just a gender not a personality.

Health Care Providers:

Make sure your notes are clear, you wouldn’t want to be called the wrong name by your doctor.

Think ahead, you know more about this than your patient’s parents. We need as much information as possible, we don’t know what we don’t know.

Talk to my kid with respect. Small does not mean unintelligent and 9 year olds need to understand and consent to their health care too.

Be encouraging, tell parents that they are doing a good job or where they can improve. Normalize the situation so we don’t feel so isolated and unsure.

The best tools we have in this life are each other.


I Did Not Consent To This (did I?)

Eleanor Roosevelt once said that “no one can make you feel inferior without your consent”.

But what do we consent to? And how?

Recent interactions with a family member have me ruminating on this tonight. I feel continually triggered (not a term I would usually ever use, but the only apt one in this circumstance), angry, sad, and shamed by interactions with this person. My response for the last 2 decades or so has been avoidance. Their response has been pursuit. I have asked for a change in the pattern, they think that there is nothing wrong. I attempted to cut ties, they refused.

So, I’m asking myself, what am I actually communicating about my feelings in this situation? Am I sending mixed signals? Is my desire to keep the peace masking my distress? Am I consenting to my own unhappiness?

Because, let’s face it, I just don’t want to cause a scene; either literally or metaphorically. I will endure a lot to avoid a fight. What feels to me like a clear No probably looks to others like tacit acceptance. I seem to have a convoluted understanding of what it means to consent.

Sexual consent seems so clear to me. No means No. Cut and dry. But clearly consent must be far more reaching than just sexual relationships.

Imagine, for instance, that your teenager has clearly had a bad day. They say they don’t want to talk about it; but you, concerned, badger them into a conversation. Have you violated their consent?

Or, your partner asks if you mind staying at the party for 5 more minutes, even though you’re having a crap time. He asks to stay for 5 more minutes 8 times. Is he pushing the bounds of consent?

When your friends just put your name in the karaoke queue without telling you, because they know you’ll go up there rather than cause a scene. Violation of consent?

I would say “Yes” to all three. Anytime we coerce, manipulate, or cajole someone into doing something that they feel uncomfortable or unhappy with we have violated consent.

And largely, most of us consent to the violation. It’s part of the social contract, isn’t it? I will do things that make me mildly uneasy in order to keep the peace and so will you; and gradually we will build our tolerance up so that the things we do begin to make us feel less uneasy, and then we ask even more of each other.

I question when we, as a culture, lost the ability to say “I don’t want to do that” and mean it. When did our own safety and well-being become less important than preserving the status quo? Why are we afraid to rock the boat?

Enough is enough, really. We, as autonomous human beings, have to right to our preferences, our fears, our triggers. We have the right to say yes, no, or maybe to any situation without shame. We owe it to ourselves and each other to stand up and rock the boat more often.

Think of the possibilities. What would an honest “no” mean for our relationships? Better communication perhaps? A reduction in anger at others for the things you didn’t tell them hurt you. More authenticity. More intimacy. Less toxicity. Less tolerance for people who refuse to respect boundaries. Picture a world in which you had no fear about how you would be received because you knew your audience would tell you the truth, and you could honor that. A world in which no social contract required that you treat your violators with any kind of civility.

Think of the children. We could raise them in an environment where their choices about their bodies and minds are respected without question. And where they would never question each other after that initial “No”.

Understanding that consent pervades every part of our lives will revolutionize our relationships. We can divorce ourselves from painful interactions without guilt. We can love honestly and with conviction.

Say yes?




How To Not Be An Asshole About Suicide (a response)

Today I read this really great essay on The Dinner Party (thedinnerparty.org/blog/2016/2/5/how-to-not-be-an-asshole-about-suicide )

Like a lot of other really great thoughts on suicide, it comes from the perspective of those left behind. This is good, and important, but I’d like to discuss something else. How can you not be an asshole to someone who has attempted suicide, but is still here?

1. It’s NOT about you. No one attempts to end their life to get a reaction out of you. No one does it because you didn’t do enough for them. It in no way reflects upon your parenting, marriage, friendship, ect. There is more going on here.

2. Don’t be afraid to talk about it. I have spent 28 years not discussing my suicidal ideations because of how deeply uncomfortable it makes other people. This helps no one. If we refuse to talk about these things it only serves to make those of us who experience them feel more alone. If you love someone who is suicidal you are cheapening your relationship by refusing to acknowledge this part of them. HOWEVER, these conversations have to be on their terms not yours. Just be open and available.

3. Don’t be judgmental. If you have never contemplated taking your own life you are very lucky, you also have no basis on which to understand how it feels. It is so very damaging to you loved one when they are told how selfish, stupid, sinful, wasteful, or wrong their feelings are.

4. Don’t allow your continued relationship to revolve around the attempt. The person you love is still the person you love; being suicidal is a part of them not all of them.

5. Avoid using the word survivor only to talk about the people left behind by successful suicide attempts. Those of us who tried and were saved are just as much survivors.

6. Get educated. There are so many resources available for you learn more about suicide prevention.

There you are, 6 easy suggestions. Because hard things become less hard when we can have honest conversations about them more often.

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At Sea: Being More Than Mother – http://wp.me/p3IL3v-dg

There are none so blind…

Several moths ago, on my way home from work, I encountered a young homeless woman panhandling on Church St.

This is no kind of exceptional experience in Burlington, Vt. Particularly on not too terribly cold winter days.

And because I have been homeless myself, I usually carry some loose change or some singles that I am prepared to part with. And because I have not been homeless for 13 years, I tend to hand it out in a kind of perfunctory way; because I frankly sometimes feel a little annoyed by the recipient’s inability to transcend their situation as I did.

On this day I had no change, no wallet at all in fact. And it was cold. And this girl was young. And she looked a little broken. And I felt a little guilty.

So when she asked if I had change I stopped. I said “I’m sorry” (for so very many things). I wished her a good day, and told her that I hoped she had somewhere to warm up.

She thanked me as though I had given her a $20 bill.

And when I asked her why she was thanking me she told me that she had been out in the wind for 5 hours that day. That a few people had helped her out with money. That most people said no as nicely as possible. That I was the first person to actually LOOK at her.

I have thought about her every single day since. I can see her face in my mind. If I ever see her again I am buying her lunch. And eating it with her.

It is evidence of Grace, I think, that a two minute encounter with a stranger can rock your whole world view.

My daily meditation since our meeting has been on this: Do we look at each other? And if we do, do we see each other?

There are so many good things that can be done for our fellow human, but if we do those things without seeing the humanity in the other person have we done them any service? Giving to charities, working for causes, volunteering our time; it is no different at all than giving scraps to a dog at the table if we do not SEE the people that we have the privilege of aiding.

The homeless are people.

The infirm are people.

The hungry are people.

The elderly are people.

Children are people.

We all are people, here together on this very small world.

We all are the children of a compassionate God.

Should we not aspire to a small measure of that deep compassion?

We have all been given as gifts to each other. I despair of all the things I might have learned from those that I refused to see.

I beg forgiveness daily for all of the times that I refused to accept the Grace offered to me in the guise of human interaction.

I am deeply grateful to every person who has ever looked at me and seen me.

I pray for all of us to learn to see.

Person First Language… An Ode to Incindiary T-Shirts

Yesterday I wore one of my very favorite t-shirts. It says “Autistic Kids ROCK”.

Now, I love this shirt for several reasons, foremost among them: I love a pun!

But, even better yet, it engenders the most fascinating reactions. While positive commentary is always nice, the negative reactions are FABULOUS. Because, let’s face it, if a stranger disagrees with your t-shirt enough to comment on it in public, you get to know exactly where they stand. And sometimes, in rare and beautiful moments, you get to have a dialogue where everyone grows a little.

Now, it so happens, that while running errands in said shirt, with two autists in tow, our cashier at Rite-Aid just couldn’t help himself.
“I LOVE your shirt!” says he.
“But… well… shouldn’t it really say ‘kids with autism’?”
My Jules was super quick with the “yeah, no”.
So here we are, in a super crowded store, where I have the opportunity for a teaching moment (and enough purchases to take the time without fellow shoppers attempting to stone me) and my kid has basically insisted that I get in it. So, *deep breath*

“We don’t like person first language, it implies that autism is not integral to their personalities. Someone HAS a cold, not autism. It also implies that I, or they, would change their autism if we could; but that would change them, and I love them hard just like this.
Or, maybe easier to understand: I have green eyes, I don’t have woman-ness. On is incidental the other integral to my personality and my relationship to the world.”
“Did I get that right, Jules?” *nodding ensues*

Well, now our twenty-something friend has that mind-blown expression on his face.
He told us that he just never thought about it that way, that “this changes everything”. Then we learned that his little brother is an autist, and he wished he had thought about this sooner.
We talked a little about better-late-than-never-at-all.

And then another question. “But, I have heard people talk about preferring person first language! What do I do about that?”

Ah, differences!

What do we do? We communicate.
I attend meetings regularly where everyone attendant is asked their preferences – for name, pronoun, gender, ect. ect. ect.
This is a brave new world, and if we want to do right by people, we should just ASK.
Our new cashier-friend gave me the funniest compliment then. He called me “so enlightened for my generation”. I laughed REALLY loud.

So what’s the conclusion here?
We can not talk about disenfranchised groups as though they are discrete from each other. People of different colors, abilities, orientations, identities, economic strata… everyone non-normative in any fashion, have this in common: THEY know what makes them comfortable. And we are capable of asking and then honoring them.

But You Don’t Look Sad

I’ve just been informed that it’s Depression Awareness Week, and I feel as though it’s time for me to have a frank discussion about what my depression/anxiety looks like.

It concerns me deeply that we have such a restricted view of what depression “looks” like, what mental illness “looks” like, what anxiety “looks” like, even what happiness “looks” like. Here’s the raw truth; for many depressives what looks to you like happiness to you is really our disease at its worst.

Have I spent the day smiling and laughing?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Did I tell some great stories, spend all night at that party, buy everyone a drink, make plans for tomorrow night and the night after?                                                                                                                                                   Was I super fun to be around?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 I am probably drowning.

Because, you see, the problem with the societal stigma of mental illness is that we try so valiantly to hide it.                                                                                                                                                                                                     If my joy seems unrestrained; I’m faking it.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Because I feel like I have to.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Because I feel guilty for my lack of happiness, my ingratitude.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Because I am sure that you would not love me depressed.

Depression is insidious, it’s sneaky, it’s a chameleon. I can not tell you how often I don’t even recognize it in myself.                                                                                                                                                                                       For me so many of my “positive” qualities are the children of my depression.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              I am organized because chaos terrifies me (literally terrifies me).                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Neat because disorder in my surroundings is actually physically painful.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Clean because it makes me feel as though I have control.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 I do activism because the thing that best distracts me from my own darkness is dealing with someone else’s real, concrete problems.                                                                                                                                                        I smile because you can’t know I’m sad.

So, in the interest of awareness, I offer you this: you may never be able to tell the difference between my real smile and a faked one, and I believe this to be true of most people living with depression, but you can make it less important for me to pretend. When we ask someone how they are we should encourage a true answer. We should be welcoming of the hard to hear response. We should take encouragement in each others’ honest challenges and offer solace in the form of solidarity. If we can hear each other, we are far less likely to lose each other. Don’t ever take for granted that a smile equals happiness.