Familiar yet Foreign

You know that feeling when you see someone and just can’t quite place who they are or where you know them from? Aside from the fact that I am convinced my memory is completely shot, I’ve been having this feeling a lot lately.

Hunter not OliviaEvery so often I come across a photo of Olivia. Flat-ironed, much anticipated, long hair, smiling face…I am stopped in my tracks. I know this child. I’ve held her, soothed her, fed her, played with her, cheered her on, taught her to ride a bike, scolded her, disciplined her, and loved her. It’s been awhile since we’ve spent time together. So familiar, yet so foreign.

When I look at Hunter, I see my kid. I see a young teen boy who is quick-witted, full of personality and sarcasm and on the journey of a lifetime. What I don’t see is a boy who used to be a girl; a son formerly known as a daughter. It’s funny, really. Hunter would probably disagree but it’s almost as if they are two different people. We parented Olivia for a time being and now we get to continue on the parenthood path with Hunter. It’s sort of like being on a roller coaster that suddenly changes tracks. For a split second you aren’t sure you’re going to make it; then, the car “rights” itself and you breathe a sign of relief.

I am so saddened by the recent tragedy in New Jersey where a young trans man took his life by jumping in front of a train moving at a speed of 120 miles per hour. His parents who must be in unimaginable pain are quoted as saying, “She was such a good girl.” ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Do they not understand that referring to their transgender, FTM child with female pronouns was not the way to show support? I am not blaming the Moscatel’s for Riley’s death but they did not do what they needed to do.

It took me a long time to feel comfortable using male pronouns with Hunter; initially, I just avoided using them altogether. The familiar was much safer than the unknown. But, I pushed past any issues and discomfort I may have had so I could give my son what he needed. I reminded him that I had a daughter for 14 years; changing vocabulary overnight would be difficult.

My family is my priority. Having a healthy, happy family unit is, above all else, what I want out of life. So, does my heart ache once in awhile for Olivia? Do I get pangs of longing for a child that I’m missing? YES and YES. It’s hard to put into words what I feel on a daily basis. I do look at the pictures from time to time and recall what was once so familiar. Mostly, though, I look at Hunter and see a teenager who is paving the way for others. I see my child, so courageous of late, sometimes I feel as if I hardly know him. We are getting better acquainted with each passing day and navigating a complicated journey together.

 

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One step forward, two steps back

oakland county name change petitionSince I haven’t written much since last week’s story broke, I wanted to share a couple of thoughts.

First of all, THANK YOU! THANK YOU! to everyone who called, texted, commented and wrote to share their support. To my friend, Ronelle Grier, who wrote an incredible article, beautifully capturing our journey, thank you. To the Detroit Jewish News for allowing the story to grace its cover, thank you.

By the way, the story appeared on July 31, and Hunter arrived home, after being at camp for six weeks, on August 1. This definitely added to the excitement of the homecoming.

On the heels of our story going public, we received an official court date to change Hunter’s name. In about a month, Olivia Lauren will forever more be known as Hunter Jordan. Once that is final, we can change his name on the social security card, the birth certificate and passport. Since he is not yet driving, we don’t have to worry about changing the license.

Now here is the “salt on the wound” piece. While changing one’s name is just some paperwork and a little money, changing one’s gender marker gets trickier. Many states require an affidavit from a qualified physician indicating that the individual has undergone sex reassignment surgery (SRS). Not every transgender person has surgery but still identifies with and presents as a gender other than what was assigned at birth.

Hunter was born in Florida and that is the law there (and Michigan, too). It doesn’t matter where you live. In order to change your birth certificate you have to abide by the state in which you were born. the good news is that to change your gender on a passport, you just need to show proof of hormone therapy and the name change. My guess is that I don’t have these facts exactly right on the passport process but when we get there I will report with 100% accuracy.

Here is a list of state-by-state guidelines from Lambda Legal for anyone who is interested.

As a side note, we recognize how very lucky we are to have so much support and to live in a community that is so accepting. There are many individuals around the globe who are not nearly as fortunate. Whether an adult is coming out and faces losing his/her children and spouse or a teen who is fearful to share his true feelings with his parents, many are struggling. My heart goes out to all of them. Each day I wish for a more tolerant global society. We would all benefit greatly.

 

A Mother’s Heart

mother's loveToday was special — not for the obvious reasons. After six weeks our son came home from camp. Yes, we were happy to have him home; happy to be in his presence; happy to witness the camaraderie among friends; happy to notice the more grown up version of our child.

So, what made today special? Let me see if I can articulate the range of emotions and what I felt watching Hunter’s fingers adeptly caress the strings on his guitar, more comfortable in his hands then when he left 42 days ago. As he strummed, sharing a couple of new songs he learned, I was overcome with emotion. This beautiful child of mine, freshly scrubbed and relaxed on the family room couch, was easing back into home life. I imagine it’s analogous to an astronaut’s re-entry.

As I unpacked the sandy, stinky, soggy contents of the well-worn duffle, I discovered mail. Mostly, I found our letters to Hunter. I wonder if he read them more than once? The most surprising find was a batch of folded missives scribbled with the day’s adventure; letters Hunter wrote to us; letters penned but never sent. He did write to us…however, in true Hunter fashion, the tales recounted never made it into envelopes, let alone to the post office. I love that he thought about us and wanted to share what he was doing and experiencing. It didn’t matter that the mail never reached our box.

At one point, standing in the kitchen, Hunter tolerating my repeated hugs, I asked, “what are you doing?”

“Standing here being hugged,” was his reply. A smile slowly appeared across my face. He patiently let me hug him (and kiss him) and maybe even secretly enjoy feeling my mothering arms envelope him…at least I’d like to think he didn’t mind.

We noticed that the kid that stepped off the green Tamarack Camps bus this morning is a very different person than the child we greeted one year ago. I am not talking “unrecognizable different.” There was a maturity, a confidence, a self-awareness that we hadn’t seen before.

For those who are reading this and don’t know about the camp experience that I am referencing, a little background. Hunter was privileged to spend six weeks at an outpost camp in northern Ontario, Canada. Two dozen teens hiked, canoed, sang, cooked, cuddled, swam and bonded. They were guided only by their desire to sleep or eat or watch the stars or marvel at the sunset on the great Lake Superior. With no time keeping device, iPhone, flat iron or other “necessary” electronic allowed, these “connected” teens easily and willingly unplugged in exchange for this temporary slice of heaven.

In a brief one-on-one moment this morning as the kids and parents settled into the familiar camp home-coming routine, the director connected with me. Without fanfare or pretense or any ego-driven need to flatter me with compliments, he told me what it was like to have Hunter as part of the camp community. He used adjectives to describe my son that brought tears to my eyes.

Today was filled with perfect moments; special moments that filled my heart with the love that only a mother could know.