Find Courage- A Message from Trans Dad’s Grave

 

Mother’s Day weekend had me thinking of a woman who was not my mother, but my father. My father died a transgender woman last year. She transitioned in her late sixties, after living most of her life as an angry, abusive man.
(pronoun warning- it’s about to get messy)

About a month ago, I requested that a volunteer at findagrave.com take a picture of my father’s tombstone. I wanted the photo added to her public memorial page (for which I am the paid administrator).

When my father died, I attempted to publish an obituary on the funeral home’s website. However, my father’s friend (who inherited all of her things including my childhood home) feared that someone would loot the empty house if the death were made public. She stopped publication of the obituary. So my father Joann died, without a single published memorial, other than the emotional eulogy I penned here.

This weekend, I visited my adoptive father’s findagrave.com page because she was in my head. Hours spent reliving my father’s life, as I write her story into a novel, allows her to sit by my side in a sort of self-haunting. However, I believe that the macabre regurgitation of her story will ultimately free me.

When I looked at the page, I found that volunteer photographer Kimberly LaFountain had graciously taken a photo of the tombstone and posted it on the memorial. I expected a basic military gravestone. However, the words carved there were a heartbreaking affirmation of the heart and soul of my new novel.

FIND COURAGE TO LIVE THE LIFE YOU LOVE

dad tombstonenoname

Enlightened words from a woman who did not get to live her truth,
until it was too late to save my family.

My father lived a tortured life, that along with a terrible upbringing, caused him to become a masterful torturer. He was cruel in every sense of the word. One source of his cruelty was that he lived as a man for sixty plus years, all the while knowing he was a woman.

Of late, states across the nation are up-in-arms over where transgender people should be allowed to pee. My father’s story, and the message on her grave, should serve to remind us that there is danger in denying one’s truth.

My father was not a danger when she used the woman’s restroom. She was a danger when she pent up who she was, and tried to live as a tough as nails iron-worker, and fists-first father. She was a horrible person, because she lived everyday in as masculine a manner as she could muster. Her idea of masculine behavior was defined by her own abusive father. Men hit. So she bloodied my childhood while trying to prove a maleness that did not exist.

In my father’s case, there were additional psychological issues that capitulated her anger into abuse. However, I believe the main source of her cruelty was the daily squelching of gender truth.

I defend transgender rights today, despite the turmoil my trans father caused in my family’s life. I want to shout from the rooftops that where trans people pee is inconsequential. They have been using their restroom of choice for years. You just didn’t notice.

When discussing transgender people, the focus needs to be on encouragement for all people to live the truth, without cultural, or societal mandates that make them want to hide their differences. I am living proof that acceptance would mean less suffering for all.

FIND COURAGE TO LIVE THE LIFE YOU LOVE

Blessings to know and live your truth,
V.L.

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Sheltered in Place- Domestic Violence

 

We hear it on the six o’clock news, an order born of our increasingly terroristic society- “Shelter in place.”  We all shudder at the idea of frightened school children waiting for danger to pass. However, the panic of choosing inaction amid chaos runs deep for me, building in my mostly sedentary soul, an insatiable urge to run.

For me, shelter is a secret place, far from the hunter. When faced with my father’s hard-edged abuse in the 1970’s, residing any place other than a shelter for battered women and children would have been a death sentence.

Lately, as I conduct research for my new novel, I find myself scouring the internet for photos of the single-story South Hampton motel that hid my at risk family. Last week, without the effort of a single keystroke, the shelter of my childhood found me.

My adoptive Mom met a new resident at the senior apartment complex where she resides in Georgia.  The woman, a former New York social worker, was a harbinger of helpful information. Mom was chatting up my novel Waving Backwards (a bestseller at Ashleigh Senior Apartments. Take that NY Times.) She explained to her new friend how I found my birth family, and revealed the domestic abuse she suffered for seventeen years.

When Mom talked about the shelter, the woman lit with inside information, discussing every dilapidated inch of our motel. She also revealed the miraculous timing of our survival.

The South Hampton family shelter opened a few months before we arrived. 

The old adage that ‘timing is everything’ has never been more apropos. For without the locked doors of the shelter, our little family, and a dozen others who resided with us that sizzling summer, would be statistics.

Today, New York has 2,768 shelter beds available in a total of 132 licensed residential programs across the State. In the late 1970’s, our shelter was one of three in the state.  One of three! And it happened to be within driving distance of our home, and it happened to open just months before our arrival.

When I think of our good fortune, I also reflect on the abused families who sheltered in place and died for lack of options. In the United States, a woman is assaulted or beaten every 9 seconds, and back when ‘domestic abuse’ was not even a term, spousal murders were often reported as accidental deaths. So we will never know how many women died at the hands of their husbands in the years before our shelter opened.

Our survival was made possible by a group of angels who decided that beaten women and children deserved a safe place to stay.

A sobering statistic for anyone who believes that domestic abuse against women has declined since our shelter stay:

Between September 2001 and June 2012, nearly 6,500 American troops died in Afghanistan and Iraq; during that same period, more than 11,700 women died in acts of domestic violence. 

If you are being abused, please don’t shelter in place. Get help!
Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
You can do this. You deserve help!
Call today- 1 (800) 799-7233.

abuse

Blessings for shelter wherever and whenever you need it most,

V.L.
———-
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Waving Backwards book trailer-https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m_ufjmq0l-U

Weep, Write, Repeat- ‘Transgressions in Rouge’

Ernest Hemingway once said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Well, as I bleed through the first draft of my next book, Transgressions in Rouge, I am learning the truth of Hemingway’s statement, along with a breathtaking amount of my own truth.

Transgressions is based on the story of my life as an adoptee and abuse survivor. It is also the story of my adoptive father, who lived an angry lie during the first 60+ years of his life.  It was a lie so deeply buried (and secret) that it ate away his humanity, and ability to be a decent father or human being. My father was a transgender woman. hemingway

As I research the male-to-female transition process,  I discover more of my adoptive father’s psyche than I ever understood while he was alive. He died in February. Some of you will recall the Eulogy that I penned for him that month. I wrote it in a whirlwind of pain.

My father’s only friend (who had her daughter call me about Jo’s death) made me out to be an evil person, a sorry daughter who abandoned the righteous woman she’d befriended. During that phone call, I whimpered out my story to the stranger on the phone. I explained that my family was the victim of Jo’s hard handed actions. I told her about the brutal attacks, wondering out loud if they  might have been born of Jo’s desperate cover-up of her true self. Jo was angry at us, herself, the world and resolved her frustration with both fists raised.

Writing a novel that is based on my life is like pulling my lower lip over my head, and hanging a bowling bowl from the end.

It sucks, and then again, it doesn’t.

For along with the writing down of scenes so dramatic they adapt seamlessly to fiction,

  • Dad drowning neighbor’s cats in the backyard.
  • Dad kicking Mom until she had internal bleeding.
  • Dad brushing my seven-year-old brother’s teeth until blood poured from his gums

…there is relief and a deeper understanding of the insanity that was my childhood. When I look at the events as a writer, the motives of everyone involved become clearer. The strong do not loom half as large as they appeared when I was a child living each crisis.

There is power and perspective in bleeding on paper.

Write, weep, repeat.

Blessings that you find your demons and the power to slay them,

V.L. Brunskill
———-
Follow me on Twitter- @RockMemoir
Like my Facebook page- http://www.facebook.com/vlbrunskill
Buy Waving Backwards for Kindle $4.99 at Amazon.com- amazon.com/author/vlbrunskill
Waving Backwards book trailer- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m_ufjmq0l-U