Guest Blogger

Arizona, IFGE, Love, and My Two Sons

Filed By Guest Blogger | April 13, 2008 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Politics, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Arizona, IFGE, LGBT families, Monica Helms, transgender

Editor's note: Monica Helms is an Atlanta based transgender activist. Monica is past executive director of Trans=Action and co-founder of Transgender American Veterans Association.MonicaH.png

Going back to Arizona has always been one of adventure and pain for me. I lived there most of my life, graduated high school there, joined the Navy from there, was married there, my two sons were born there, I was divorced there, I started my life as Monica there, and my father is buried there. All of my family, with the exception of my oldest son, lives in Arizona. To say that Arizona holds an important place in my life would be like saying that air is important in my life. I can't quit Arizona.

Most of the time when I go back to visit family in Arizona it is near the end of the year for either Thanksgiving or Christmas. This time I was able to visit in March and April when the temperatures were in the 80s and 90s. That's tank top weather! I love being a girl.

Early in my trip, I got the chance to spend a little time with Serena Freewomyn, an editor for The Bilerico Project. I was always impressed with Serena's viewpoint and her writing style. The Friday we got together was a fun evening. She brought two of her friends with her and they were a blast.

The most interesting part of the trip to Arizona started on Wednesday when I arrived at the Double Tree Hotel in Tucson. I actually got to go swimming at the hotel pool. No one could tell I was a pre-op in the suit I wore, and it didn't even have one of those cute little skirts. (As I said, I love being a girl). But that was nothing compared to what fate had in store for me later that evening.

At the evening get-together I got to see some of my old friends and I met people who I knew and communicated with but had never met in the past. Marti Abernathey was one of them. We had a little joke going that when we would meet, we would arm wrestle. As she stated in her recent article, she won. Should a woman brag about that? I wonder...

The "fate" moment happened when I was at the food table waiting for them to bring out another tray of finger foods. A beautiful trans woman came up and we started a conversation. Her name is Karen and she lives in Austin, TX. I'm not going to elaborate on what took place over the next four days, but I will say that we both cried when we had to kiss good-bye that Saturday evening after everything was over. Love is a two-headed coin that can draw out the extremes in emotions at both ends. It did for me that weekend. Atlanta and Austin are about 1000 miles apart, but we will see each other again. After all, she touched my soul in ways only a few have ever done. I really, really love being a girl.

As I mentioned in a previous guest post, my two sons came to the IFGE Conference to participate in a workshop called, "Children of Transgender Parents." One may not understand the extreme emotions I felt in this situation. My sons were okay with me being in the room during this workshop, so I took pictures and audio recorded it. I'm glad I did.

During the course of the workshop both of my sons said things that I found important. I don't want to take away from what the two women who were also on the panel said. They had very good advice and compelling stories. It is just that I'm focusing on what my sons said.

It is important to note that when my youngest son, Bryan, gave his story he broke down and cried. As you can guess, so did I. I later realized that all these years Bryan never had the chance to talk about his pent up feelings during those times and this panel became the first time in over a decade that he got the chance to tell how he felt to someone else. I think it helped both of my sons and me when he did.

Here are some of the things Robert, my oldest said. He'll be 26 in early June: "Hard to explain what was going on at home at school. You kinda don't want to talk about it."

"In the service I couldn't tell anyone. We now have a good relationship because we have a lot in common. We now have a better relationship than I see other people do."

"The easiest thing for me was she told me really early in life. The best advice I can give is to tell your kids, let them know how you feel and tell them early on. She never really forced it on us."

"The one thing I remember I first saw her fully dressed was when she came over to the house because she hadn't seen us for a long time. I remember thinking, 'you wear too much makeup'."

Here are some of the things Bryan said. He will be 24 in early June: "He sat us down on the couch and told us he was leaving. It was really hard. Extremely hard." (This is where Bryan, then I started crying.) "I told my dad that he was always going to be my dad. I now see her as a person."

"She doesn't force anything on me. It was weird at first. Really weird."

"He's still my dad and he doesn't treat me any different other than my dad."

Bryan was also asked about how he felt this will affect his son in the future and both he and Robert said that it will probably not be such a big deal when Xavier starts school or when Robert has children and they start school.

As you can see, Robert was rock solid on the pronouns and Bryan went back and forth. I think it is because Bryan and I don't interact as much as Robert and I do. I have a feeling that is about to change.

One person attending the workshop observed that even though Robert and Bryan grew up seeing the same things with my transition, they both reacted differently and saw things differently. Their individuality has a lot to do with that.

After the panel was over, people came up to all four of the panel members and told them how much their stories helped them. From the first moment I approached my sons about being part of this workshop, I knew what potential their stories could have. To see that they helped people that day makes me so proud of them. Robert says he is now planning on getting involved in Southern California.

If you would have asked me five years ago if my sons would ever talk on a panel at a trans conference, I would have said you were crazy. Now, I encourage other LGBT people who are close to their children to see if they would help in the same way. We have PFLAG showing how our parents and straight friends love us, and now COLAGE to show how much our children love us. It's an approach that will ultimately help us win our equality.

I cannot ignore the comments that my friend, Cheryl Ann Costa said at her Trinity acceptance speech. Marti Abernathey in her Bilerico Project article covered what Costa said. As Marti stated, we were all surprised at the archaic thoughts Cheryl brought out in her speech. As the MC for that event I really didn't know how to follow that up.

However, I do recall having a Star Trek moment when Costa said that the trans men need to put on suits and join the Rotary Club and the trans women should break away from the crossdressers and have their own conference. This is what crossed my mind: "We are Borg. We will assimilate your uniqueness into our collective. Resistance is futile." In my opinion "resistance" IS what being transgender is all about. Sorry Cheryl.

I have to say that this IFGE was the best trans-specific conference I have ever attended. Having both my sons being there and meeting Karen helped. But others who have attended many more conferences then I have said the same thing. I want to thank Erin Russ, Michael Woodward, and all the people of the Southern Arizona Gender Alliance and Wingspan for helping make this a most memorable conference. As a board member of IFGE I hope I can convince the rest of the board in making Tucson our "western home" for some of our future conferences. I'm sure it won't take much convincing.

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Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | April 14, 2008 12:27 PM

I am so very impressed. I originally read your piece shortly after it posted. I am so proud of your sons and I am so very happy for you.