The Lord gives and the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord.
– Job 1:21
It’s a truly mysterious thing how life’s waves suck us up one moment and then spit us out the next. What’s like death one moment becomes a terrifying but breathtaking new beginning.
Something mysterious happened to me the last few days. I feel like I’ve experienced a depth to life that I never knew was possible. Life has been both tragedy and comedy, both utterly heartbreaking and painfully beautiful. The Lord gives and the Lord takes and the Lord gives and the Lord takes, and all we can do is have open hands, surrendered but hopeful.
How the Lord set me adrift.
Something terrible happened yesterday. The context is straightforward: a conversation with my parents. However, the full weight of what happened is still dawning on me. Maybe I ought to allow some of the swell to die down and the salty spray of this storm to dissipate first, but I also want to capture the first momentous impression of what this all means.
Yesterday my parents pulled me into their bedroom for the inevitable follow-up conversation to my ‘coming out.’ The first conversation happened this October, and then this November I also wrote them a twenty-seven page letter attempting to clarify things. I knew their response was inevitable, but that didn’t make it the tiniest bit easier for me to hear.
They essentially restated their original opinion of what trans* is: that the Devil has tortured and warped my soul until now the “real” me (their male-man-masculine son) is at the bottom of some dark spiritual well while a fake version of me prances about pretending to be feminine. They believe that any claim to pretty much any femininity or even to having hidden and repressed parts of myself is a delusion. They can’t see anything but what they’ve already seen; they can’t begin to see me except as how they want to.
They also made some very scary, occasionally true, and sometimes cruel jabs about my future as a trans person. They asked me what I can expect from the future if I transition. They basically reconfirmed what I already suspected: that if I transition, I will lose my entire biological family as well as my extended family on my mom’s side. Guaranteed. Then they tried to shake my faith in my friends and their loyalty to me if I changed, which seemed like a low blow.
Then the really strange thing happened: my parents told me that they’ve not only noticed bits of femininity peeking through, but that they’ve taken these signs as (a) utter inauthentic bullshit on my part and (b) evidence that I’m “already transitioning.” They are utterly convinced that I am already actively choosing to “become a woman.” I really tried to convince them otherwise. In fact, I prepared them for this all in my letter to them when I said:
I have lived a life of subtle denials of very basic desires and expressions. For example, I would have loved to ask for a purple scarf for Christmas. Instead I ask for a straight razor. You are going to be tempted to link this simple little thing – a stupid scarf, how innocent! – with confusion. You are going to say ‘well, that’s not you; it’s just a symptom of your inexplicably flipped gender identity.” No. I am me. I like certain perfectly innocent things. I have spent more energy than you can imagine pruning these innocuous desires to ‘acceptable’ dimensions. The truth is I would have a Jane Austen poster in my room if I thought it was ‘socially acceptable.’ Instead I secretly enjoy Pride and Prejudice while loudly saying in my burliest voice “hrm hrm, I only like the Jane Austen movies where I can relate to the male characters like Darcy and Ferrars.” I wish you could see the bewildered innocence of my soul! I wish you could visit the person of simple tastes that cannot understand why everyone demands such specific ways of being from me. My fear is that you will interpret very innocent self-expressions now as a sign of what you fear. For example, that you will take something like my fun colored socks to be a reminder of my transgenderism, and thus will see it as a manifestation of evil. I am so happy to be free of the tiny chains of life, and I can only hope that you can rejoice too. What is sinful about kombucha tea and skinny jeans (other than they have been adopted by the hipster crowd – admittedly, a great sin)? I imagine this will be difficult at times: learning to separate your fears of what you perceive as my confusion from the pure things that are actually signs of authenticity.
All evidence suggests that despite their attempts to be open minded and take my letter to heart, they haven’t integrated this passage or a single other thing I told them into their conception of what’s going on. I feel bad for them: I know they’re really trying to understand and that this revelation has utterly floored them – even destroyed them. I really feel sympathy for them, but on the other hand it seems unbelievable to me how literally not a single thing I told them in twenty-seven pages of heartfelt, honest, intelligent prose seems to have been accepted or taken into account.
This isn’t even the most troubling thing. The really tragic thing is something that is hard to express in words. In between their sentences, in their pauses, behind their resigned shrugs and underneath their word choices was a terrifying emotional subtext. Words won’t suffice to explain it, so allow me to begin with an image:
A beautiful, large boat rocks in the harbor under a darkness-shattering moonlight. I stand at the edge of the dock, admiring its towering sails and sweeping body. I step on board, for something calls to me, and a trembling foot touches down on perfect finished wood. I walk around the ship, not touching anything, no desire to cast off, just gazing wide-eyed (as I always am) at the glowing sails and triumphant masts. I don’t know this boat’s name, but I love it and just want to look at it a while.
After all, I came from the sea. I don’t know if I’ll ever return there, or if this boat will ever cast off with me on it, but I know where I came from and I feel for a moment the dream, the thrill, of walking over waves. I am an exile from my kingdom, maybe forever, but it’s nice to remember for an instant the me that existed before I washed up on terra firma.
All of a sudden I feel a lurch and hear waves lap against the hull. I turn around; my parents are there holding my baby brother. They have the rope that once tied the boat to the dock in their hands. They are waving goodbye to me, their faces pale and grief-stricken. With zombie-like voices hollow as the ship’s hull, they moan a farewell and lament my passing.
I run to the starboard of the ship – my ship? should I call it that? – which now drifts off toward the moon. “Wait!” I scream. “Don’t leave me! Don’t- I don’t want to cast off! Not yet, not now; maybe never!” The boat continues to drift, and the distance grows between us. My little brother’s blue eyes look at me so invitingly; he gives a flirtatious smile and waves as if to say hello. “Wait! Brother! Baby! No, I don’t want to leave! Don’t cast me off! I love my family! I haven’t left you!”
It is too late. The boat is adrift. There is no wind in the sails, and I have no direction for us to go. I haven’t set a direction, nor do I intend to. Where could I go? I can still see my baby brother right there like a ghost, begging my heart to stay. And my heart is with them, but my life’s ship is now moving off. I never cast it off- at least… I don’t think I did. The rope is in their hands, not mine. I sink to the deck, reeling with the phantasmic quality of it all.
The sea is still as glass except for the ripples of my vessel cutting through its mirror. I’m adrift, just me and God’s mantle of stars above me. I’m in His hands now; my parents have emptied theirs of me.
The night is frigid but demure.
I don’t know how much more I can say. Something huge happened last night. This image is the best I can do to express the emotions and intuitions of what it was.
I don’t want to put it in a little box by analyzing it. However, I think part of it is the fact that my parents are mourning the loss of their son. I know this is normal for parents to do with their trans children, but the problem is my parents are mourning the loss of the masculine me without recognizing the existence of the feminine me. They’ve sent me off like a corpse in a viking funeral. I’m just dead, with no new face to replace the mask. They’re not losing a son but regaining their child; they’re just losing a son, plain and simple. I feel sorry for them. I also feel sorry for myself, alone and adrift.
But then again, God works in mysterious ways.
How the Lord showed His hand.
When I woke up today, I hardly could have expected the strange lyrical happenstance that the day would bring. The only thing on my agenda was what I expected to be a casual catch-up coffee with an old friend. This calendar tidbit turned into an entire day of inner renewal that’s hard to explain.
So this friend of mine was a person I used to be very close to, and we hadn’t spoken in about two years. Our lives had gone very separate ways since high school. We ended up messaging each other on facebook at the exact same time the day after Christmas – which was funny and strange in of itself – and then agreed to grab a coffee or something in a few days just to check in on each other. I had some vague notion in the back of my mind that I might come out to her if the conversation somehow magically went that way, but I was otherwise pretty set on not telling her anything and just keeping things at a cordial level. Apparently God had other plans.
Our coffee conversation roamed about our studies overseas for some time, but the dialog had momentum and we were both feeling the pangs of whatever the early-afternoon-middle-class-American version of starvation is, so we picked up and moved to the best ramen restaurant in the world to enjoy some hot soup and shelter from the skin-peeling winter winds. Our conversation picked up and gained even more energy until we were waving (and re-waving) the check away and even ordering more. Early afternoon became late afternoon. No conversational stone was left unturned.
At some point (the turnover was a lightning-blot millisecond) my informal decision to not tell her I’m trans disappeared and I actually felt the opposite instinct. There was something in the rhythm of the conversation that demanded I tell her. So after a bathroom visit and cold water in my face, I did.
Something magical happened: I actually connected deeply with a person I thought was out of my life forever. God took away my parents in a strange way, but in an equally mysterious way returned an old friend to my life.
Something felt so perfect and full-circle – nay, PROVIDENTIAL – about the whole thing. This friend and I used to be so similar, and then took such different paths for four years, and now we’re brought back together so different than the people we used to be yet once again similar to each other. It was so unmistakable to me that we were meant to reconnect at this moment, right when I’m reeling from such a huge sense of loss in my life. Everything was full circle, like a good story.
We left the noodle place and then took a walk around the city just to burn time before going to a showing of Saving Mr. Banks – which I highly recommend. We then got dinner (authentic Italian pizza – I almost cried at how real the mozzarella was) and ran back (literally) to the theater.
The movie was awesome. It was so real about the tragedies of life and yet so brilliantly hopeful. It was wonderful and exactly what I needed.
We said our goodbyes and ended a 9 and a half hour day that was supposed to be nothing but a coffee break.
As I walked back to my parking spot, I had a sudden flash of genuine deja vu. Almost exactly four years ago I parked in practically the same spot. I remember my best friend from home and I were walking back to my car after an awesomely deep conversation. I remember God gave me a sudden flash of what can only be called prophecy – that those four years ago I was filled with a sudden knowledge that something amazing was about to begin. I remember telling my friend it was as if the very Earth was groaning with labor pains – or was it pleasure? – for some sort of revolution or change in the world. Maybe it sounds nutty, but I cannot describe the feeling that overcame me. It was this deep, gut sense of God moving – “Aslan is on the move.” And as I walked once again, four years later, to the same parking spot, I somehow knew that this prophecy was renewing itself.
I don’t know what the future will hold. At all. I know I’m trans, but I don’t know what this means. Do I transition? Do I transition all the way and get SRS? Do I go stealth or do I become a trans activist? Do I not transition and learn how to bring my body and soul into mutual zen with each other? Do I take low levels of hormones without enough to cause changes? Do I run off into the desert and become a hermit? Do I live a “secret agent” life “behind enemy lines” as a man? The future is literally blank for me as far as I know, but what I DO know is it’s all in God’s hands.
The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. He lets life run its crazy course – I think because He is, like us, a bit of a junkie for thrills and romance. Family comes and goes, friends go and come, and life happens. But through it all there is that solidity of being. I’m alive, and sometimes that’s really enough. Things are taken so that they can be appreciated. Things are given so that they can be loved. Life can be tragic, but even tragedies have heroes and heroines. Why do we keep going back to tragedies at the end of the day, like Romeo & Juliet and Titanic? It’s not just because they’re true to our experience of life; it’s because they’re beautiful.
Life is messy, but I don’t think I’d have it any other way.