Remarkably Healing

Hello, dear readers, and apologies that this post is going up late – it’s been a weird week, and I nearly forgot what day it was.

I wrote last week about my grandfather’s passing, my complicated feelings around our relationship, and my anxiety about going to the funeral, which was last Saturday. I am pleased (and still a little surprised) to report that going to the funeral, while hard and sad, was actually a remarkably healing experience.

My extended family, including the folks I was most nervous about seeing, all either called me Alyx or avoided names altogether. I heard one aunt use the wrong pronouns once, but she corrected herself smoothly and moved on. I didn’t feel othered at all – I was included every step of the way. I felt…well, like I had a family, in a way that I haven’t felt in a while.

I know that some of the responsibility for my prior estrangement from my family is on me. I chose to pull away rather than engaging with them. I still feel like I had good reason to (I didn’t have the mental or emotional resources to manage their potential responses when I first came out), but I also recognize that I did not give them a chance to prove me wrong about how I thought they would react to my coming out.

I’m also 100% certain that a large part of why the weekend went so well has to do with my grandmother. She and I don’t see eye to eye on a lot of things, but since we reconnected this spring, she’s done a phenomenal job of showing up and showing me love and respect, which I am doing my best to return. I think the fact that my nearly-92-year-old grandmother can manage to call me Alyx and meet me where I’m at meant that no one else had any sort of excuse to do otherwise.

It was a long day (I drove from Chicago to northeast Iowa on Friday evening, and back to Chicago on Saturday evening after the funeral), but I’m glad I went. I was genuinely disappointed that I wasn’t able to stick around and spend more time with my family (it was snowing in Iowa by the time we finished lunch, and I decided to head straight home rather than risk icy roads as it got later), which I was not expecting.

One of my aunts, as we were saying our goodbyes, gave me a long, firm hug before telling me she was so proud of me, and that if anyone wasn’t, that was on them, not on me. I still well up a bit every time I think about it.

I guess what I’m saying is people are surprising, complicated creatures, and I need to do a better job of remembering that rather than jumping immediately to worst-case-scenario planning when I interact with people who I expect to disagree with. (I’m also grateful that this funeral was not a place where politics came up, because I’m sure a lot of the warm fuzzies would have been…well, less warm and fuzzy.)

Weekend Reflections

One of the perks of working for a Jewish social service organization is that I wind up with extra paid days off for religious holidays that I don’t observe. This past week, we had Monday and Tuesday off for the last two days of Passover. I decided to take the opportunity afforded by a long weekend and take a little road trip up to Minnesota, mostly to meet my new nephew. My partner wasn’t able to join me for the trip, so I had a lot of hours of solo driving in the car to do some reflecting on what I was heading toward and, later, what I was coming home from.

The trip was full of excitement of varying sorts (my dad had an emergency appendectomy the evening I got into town, for one thing), but there are just a couple of things I really want to get into.

First, today (April 24, 2014) is the three-year anniversary of my grandfather’s death. He passed away Easter Sunday, ten days after his 90th birthday. Since his grave is in Rochester, MN (an under-two-hour drive from the Twin Cities) and I happened to be in town over Easter, I decided to get up early that morning and drive down to pay him a visit.

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I think a lot about my grandpa. He was a man of deep faith and quiet love, and to this day I respect him immensely. I found out five months after he died that my dad had told him that I was queer; I never knew that he knew, and it is one of my few major regrets in life that I never shared that part of myself with him. I was too afraid, and I thought I was doing what was expected of me.

I think¬†because my grandpa never treated me any differently, I have sort of built him up in my head as being this paragon of tolerance, a rarity in my family. I’m not entirely sure that this is fair to¬†his memory, though. I know that, ultimately, he loved me, and that was the most important thing. But I also know that he probably struggled with the idea of having a granddaughter who liked both boys and girls. About six months after he died, I adopted the name Alyx, and started walking a bit more boldly down the road of gender variant identity. As I stood by his grave (and in the car on my way back to St. Paul), I wondered how he would have handled the knowledge of my decision to start on testosterone.

I don’t have an answer. In the end, I don’t know that it matters. I have hope that the view from where he is now offers a greater sense of perspective, and that he’s able to be happy that I am happy. I hope that he is still proud of me, even though I know I am not the person he imagined his grandchild would be.

Being with my family this weekend was challenging. My mother very pointedly avoided using any names or pronouns in reference to me, though there were ample opportunities for both. My brother called me Alyx when talking to my nephew, but addressed me by my given name at dinner and apparently never gave it a second thought (he also called me “she” a lot). My dad is clearly trying, but it’s still hard.

But it was worth it for the handful of minutes I got to hold my nephew.

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I was crazy about this kid before he was born; I’m even crazier about him now. He is absolutely adorable, and I realized as I held him that there is nothing I wouldn’t do to keep this child safe. While it’s still frustrating that my brother has declared that I’m not allowed to be his child’s uncle (ommer is the title we’ve settled on for the time being), it’s something I’m willing to put up with if it means I get to be involved in the kid’s life in any way.

My strongest enduring memory of my grandpa is of the fact that every time we said goodbye, he’d give me a hug and say, quietly and earnestly, “You’re special.” As I said goodbye to my nephew on Sunday, I found myself saying the same thing to him. I hope that if I have any influence in this child’s life, it’s to teach him that he’s special and loved, no matter who he grows up to be.

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My Brain in a Five-Item List

I promise there will be a longer, much more detailed blog next Thursday. In the meantime, here’s another five-item list of what’s been on my mind this week:

  1. My Grandpa. My grandfather’s birthday was Monday. He would have been 93 years old. He passed away on Easter Sunday three years ago (on the 24th, which is one of the reasons next Thursday’s blog will be bigger). I still think of my grandpa often, but his memory is particularly close at this time of year.
  2. My nephew. This weekend, I’m heading up to Minnesota all by myself (my partner has to work, sadly) to meet the tiniest member of my family. I am the proudest of uncles ommers (ah, the joys of language in relation to non-normative gender identity), and I’m so excited to meet the little one, and to deliver the sweater I finished knitting today, which I hope will fit for at least a little while.
  3. My biological family in general. I don’t have the very best relationship with my biological family, for a lot of reasons. Things have been improving with my parents, but they’re far from comfortable. My brother and I don’t really talk, except (in the last six weeks since the baby’s arrival) about his kid, and I have zero confidence that he will ever consistently call me Alyx. (My relationship with extended family is essentially nonexistent at this point: my grandparents have said they will never call me Alyx, “because Alyx is an imaginary person,” and to the best of my knowledge are completely in the dark about the fact that I’ve taken any steps by way of medical transition. One of my aunts congratulated me on new-aunthood on Facebook after my nephew was born, and when I corrected her language, thanked me for the correction and called me by my given name in the same sentence, despite the fact that I have been Alyx (on Facebook and elsewhere) for almost two-and-a-half years.) Needless to say, there’s a lot of anxiety that builds up anytime I am going to be seeing my family, and so I’m feeling pretty tense at the thought of multiple days in a row with them. I’ll be seeing other people while I’m in Minnesota (some chosen family and my partner’s family, who are also chosen family, now that I think of it), but there will be more time spent with my family than there has been in a long while.
  4. Knitting. I tend to come at knitting in spurts. I’ve been in a dry spell for a while, but the pressure of finishing the aforementioned baby sweater before this trip has gotten me working on things again. Aside from the sweater, I’ve recently cast on for the second of a pair of socks, the first of which I knit in about two weeks at the beginning of December. I forget, when I don’t work on them, how much I enjoy knitting socks. Once I finish this one (I’m just starting the heel, and because I have small feet, the end of the heel marks approximately halfway through the sock), I’ve got another pair I started ages ago that I need to pick back up, and I keep looking at patterns and getting excited about possibilities, which has been fun.
  5. Finding ways to feel healthier better in my body. “Health” is such a nebulous concept, and being built as I am (short and stocky and round), I have no expectation that I will ever achieve someone else’s standard of what “healthy” looks like. I’m generally relatively comfortable being the size that I am, but I’ve noticed lately that I’m feeling less okay being in my body (in ways completely separate from dysphoria, which is thankfully not something that haunts me too consistently). I’m increasingly aware that I’m slower on my feet than the people around me. It’s harder for me to keep up than I’d like. I worry a lot about loss of mobility, between some issues with chronic pain and a history of back and knee problems. So I’ve been thinking a bit about steps I can take to do better. I haven’t been back to the gym since the whole misgendering fiasco, and I’ve come to terms with the fact that I can’t make myself go back, and that maybe a traditional gym setting isn’t ideal for me. So I’ve started looking around at other options, and have come back to an idea that pops up now and again, which is taking up Aikido. There’s an Aikido center here in Chicago that has a four-week introductory course that they say is appropriate for all body types and fitness levels, and there’s a session starting in July that I think I can work into my schedule. I’ve wanted to take up some sort of martial art for a long time, and Aikido’s lack of competitive spirit and focus on the safety of both the self and one’s opponent is really appealing to me. I’ve also started walking home from work (about 2.25mi) on days when the weather isn’t awful, and I’m finding even the handful of times I’ve done that have made a big difference in how I feel in my body. Admittedly, a lot of this processing is still very much just that: processing and thinking about change, and not a lot of actively making changes. But it feels like it’s paving the way for movement in a positive direction, and for right now, that’s enough.