An Absent Heart

by - 2:15 PM

This post was originally written for and posted on Reconciling Ministries Network. As a United Methodist organization Reconciling Ministries Network mobilizes United Methodists of all sexual orientations and gender identities to transform the Church and world into the full expression of Christ’s inclusive love.The original post can be read here.


Whenever I think of returning to school for the fall, my mind goes back to a scene from You’ve Got Mail – a Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks RomCom that I’ve seen more times than I care to admit. Meg Ryan’s character is talking about how idyllic fall is, and remarks on the poetry of Tom Hanks’ character speaking of “Bouquets of Sharpened Pencils.”
That was how I always related to my daughter going to school.
The first year was of course terrifying for me, her other mom and I crying most of that awful first day, but my daughter adored it. We quickly became accustomed to the torrent of hand drawn pictures, most glued slightly askew and festooned with more glitter than conceivably allowed in one square inch of paper. They filled our fridge and our hearts with seasonal images, hand-stuffed scarecrows and Santas with cotton beards. This is the school experience I cherished for her. I will always hold that 5-year-old little miracle as the pinnacle of my daughter’s childish whimsy.
The next year was very similar, and it started very much the same. My wife and I walked my daughter to her class and met her teacher. We got to meet some other parents and made the obligatory small talk. But there was something different, too. I kept my hands in my pockets the whole time. I had on clear nail polish, it was only a small gesture that I had grown accustomed to in an attempt to combat my sense of dysphoria, but in this space it was a reminder that things were changing.
Over the coming school year I was mid-transition.
At first it was small changes, but more and more it became difficult to hide. I would take my daughter to school in the morning, praying for her as we drove the short distance, and when I got home I would shuck out of whatever jacket I had used to cover my transgressive clothes.
As that school year drew on and the hormones began their achingly slow and surprisingly rapid changes, things became very difficult to hide. I remember the feeling of satisfied terror the first time one of the other children referred to me as ma’am as my daughter slid into her booster seat. I was so happy to be me, so terribly happy, but I was also horribly aware of what that heralded.
This year my daughter began school at the very beginning of August.
There was no meeting with the teacher.
There was no joyful and heartbreaking walk to her classroom door.
There was no picking out her first day outfit.
There was no short drive and a prayer.
There was silence.
And a picture on my phone from her other mom.
I could tell you how hard I cried.
I could tell you a book’s worth of how the simple absence affected me.
But unless you have felt it, you will never understand.
The sad thing is, many of us have.
Whether through divorce or transition or various other reasons, there are many of us who know what it means to be the absent parent. The parent who can’t be there, no matter how desperately you want to be.
When my wife talked to me about not being present at our daughter’s school, the first few moments I was furious at her for even suggesting such a thing. Then I remembered the reports of Klan meetings in the next town over, I remembered her stories of being the only Asian-American in one of our local schools, I remembered the violent reactions of my own family to my transition, and finally, I agreed.
It’s nice to be out and proud, but the sad reality is that for many of us on the margins it is a luxury, and a costly one.
And the question is always, who is paying that price? Will it be you, or your child?
When you are a mother of a small child, when you are a parent in general, that really isn’t much of a choice.
I pray for the day that isn’t a choice any parent has to make.
My daughter is one of the main reasons I began reaching out to the church. She is one of the reasons I began this work of speaking out on behalf of transgender people. Every morning I wake up and know I won’t be taking her to school, every afternoon when I don’t get to see her little blonde ponytail bouncing its way to my car, every evening when there is no math homework or “How was school today?” chat, I am reminded we have work to do.
I like to talk about social justice. I like to ramble on about free societies, the heart of Christ, and non-judgmentalism.
But if you listen very closely, what I’m really saying is this: “Give me a world where I don’t live in fear that my little girl will suffer for who I am. Be a church where my child can run when the rains come. Be people who accept with love, so I don’t have to worry about prices paid anymore.”
That is the reason I tell my story. For a little girl.

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