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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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
———-
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For My Favorite Survivor – Pat Conroy at Decatur Book Festival

Yesterday, in a standing-room only session at the AJC Decatur Book Festival, I sat in the choir loft of the First Baptist Church, mesmerized once again by Pat Conroy’s candid and comedic telling of a life spent writing about survival. Pat was interviewed by his longtime literary agent Marly Rusoff, and shared the stage with novelist Jonathan Odell.

Like Conroy, I was raised in a family where mental illness, violence and dysfunction flourished. Unlike Conroy, I have not yet found my full voice for describing the damage and self-delusion of my parents. Conroy knows more than any writer, the danger of family estrangement that is inherent in writing novels that are semi-autobiographical. Conroy has lived a lifetime of emotional repercussions as a result of his near-mythic ability to bleed-out parental flaws onto page-after-page of heart-wrenching prose.

My debut novel hints at the atrocities of my childhood, including months spent homeless and hiding in a shelter for battered women and children. However,  unlike Conroy who slaughters familial beasts with open-fisted humor, Waving Backwards swats at the underbelly of childhood violence.

Waving Backwards is a story of family dysfunction, coming-of-age, adoption search and abuse.  Listening to Conroy yesterday, clarified for me the reasons (beyond my extreme newbie status in the craft of novel writing) that I did not delve into the morbid details of childhood terror with more clarity. Conroy explained how his book editor for The Great Santini, edited out some of his father’s bad behavior in the novel, because she did not believe that “any father could treat his children so badly.” Conroy went on to say that at the time of Santini’s publication in 1976, “America was not read for that kind of abuse.”

Long before editors tucked and trimmed my novel, I did a fair amount of abuse-editing. Conroy’s comments made me realize that I was seeking to protect the pro-adoption segment of American society.  An an author and adoptee, I judged them ill-equipped to deal with the fact that many adoptive parents are not suited to adopt; and that sometimes a biological parent is a better care-giving option, even if they are financially needy. Abundant monetary resources do not make someone a better parent. Adoption can be healthy and successful. However, that is not my story to tell.

I have been blessed to hear Pat Conroy speak on three separate occasions, and each time I am left with a new nugget of eloquent insight into the task of writing as an abuse survivor. Like Mr. Conroy, I am a reluctant memory keeper. The daily battles that my family locked away, flourish vividly and painfully in my writer’s mind.

Yesterday, as I descended from the choir loft, I thought about sharing my book with this masterful author. In typical writer’s fashion, self-doubt reared its ugly head, and I almost decided against it. Yet, the desire to give something back to the man who has gifted me (and the world) with such courageous literature, made me open a copy of Waving Backwards and write, “For my favorite survivor. Thank you for inspiring me to write.”

Hands shaking, in what I now refer to as the ‘Conroy quake’, I handed him my book, snapped a few photos of it sitting on his signing table, and walked off in a teary cloud of giddy delight. conroywb

Thank you Pat Conroy for accepting my humble gift, and for helping to pave a path for my next novel, which will delve more fearlessly into the life-long burden of child abuse in adoption.

Blessings for less self-editing and more truth,

V.L.
———-
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It’s Nightmare Adoptive Parent Week on Dr. Phil

So far this week, the Dr. Phil Show has showcased two horror stories about adoptive parents who harmed the children they pledged to raise. I am not a regular Dr. Phil watcher but this week’s story lines captured my attention since each episode showcases an absolute failure of the adoption system, and the need for better screening, enforcement and mandated checks on families AFTER the adoption is final.

The suffering shared on yesterday’s show made me so angry that I ended up yelling at the screen.  Well gosh golly, I found me a racist sexual predator and ignorant wanna-be mother! Gee whiz, let’s give that couple a kid. UGH!

There are many abusive blood parents in the the world too, but there’s something about the abuse and neglect of children at the hands of adoptive parents that makes me insane! When a couple is gifted and assigned to act as legal guardians of a child, they better be ready to walk-the-walk, talk-the-talk, and put in the hard work required to parent that child until they are 18-years old. Failure to do so is an unforgivable sin against the birth parents who could not or would not raise the child.

No matter the source, child abuse results in scars. However, the scars suffered by children adopted into ‘safe’ homes and abused by the very people meant to protect them is a scar on society and the entire adoption system.

Sharing the links and summaries from the Dr. Phil Show below.  The adoption system is just not working folks. If you are one of the happy, bappy, believers that the system is a wonderful fix for needy kids, watch these episodes

Turning a Blind Eye?

Thirty-five-year-old Tonya says from ages 5 to 15, her adoptive father, Bruce, molested her — and that despite her cries for help, her mother, Kathy, did nothing to stop it. Kathy admits that she believed her daughter’s claims but was too afraid to take action. Why did she allow Bruce to live in the same house as her daughter — even after he allegedly admitted to the abuse? Tonya says she was not only betrayed by her mother but also her half-sister, Sarah, Bruce’s biological daughter. Tonya claims that Sarah continued to support her father after he pleaded guilty to sexual acts on or in the presence of a child under 16 in a lewd, lascivious or indecent manner. Tonya faces Kathy and Sarah on Dr. Phil’s stage. Can she find forgiveness and finally heal the wounds of her painful past? Plus, hear from Bruce, who served one year in prison and 10 years of probation and is now a registered sex offender. Does he have any remorse? This show contains strong sexual content. Viewer discretion advised.

Tuesday – August 20, 2013

Missing or Murdered: Where is 15-Year-Old Erica?

In a daytime exclusive, Dr. Phil sits down with the adoptive parents of 15-year-old Erica Parsons, who was last seen nearly two years ago but was only recently reported missing — by her brother. Casey and Sandy claim their daughter is alive and well and has been living with “Nan,” a woman who they believe is Erica’s biological grandmother. So, where is Nan? And, why do these parents say they’re now being accused of murder? What really happened to Erica?

Blessing for placements that protect,Vicki-lynn

Washington State Bill to Protect Adoptees from Abuse: Why Not Enforce Current Law for ALL?

While well intentioned, a new bill introduced in Washington state has me wondering about the way America measures the worth of its children.  The bill, sponsored by Democratic state Rep. Mary Helen Roberts, is aimed at protecting adopted children from abuse and neglect.

I believe that adoptive parents should be held to a high standard of behavior because they are given the monumental responsibility of caring for a child who has already faced tremendous loss. However, it doesn’t make sense to single out adoptive parents with a new child abuse law.  Instead,  laws that are already in place need enforcement.

I’m pretty  sure that Rep. Roberts would agree that:

Every child, no matter its race, country of origin or parental connection should be guaranteed a safe home in America.

A recent Washington Herald article, states that the proposed bill would “require prospective parents to disclose their planned approach to discipline and punishment.”

Totally Sever/Flickr.com

Totally Sever/Flickr.com

This is a lovely notion, and in a land of lollypops and rainbows every prospective parent would be honest about their intentions.  I can just hear them at a home visit saying, “Well Miss Social Worker, I’m pretty sure I’m gonna beat the crap out of the kid everyday, lock them in the closet when they get on my nerves, and starve them occasionally for a hoot.”

Let me say from personal experience, that several home visits and screening did not stop my adoptive parents from adopting two infant children, and that my adoptive father had a track record of domestic abuse under his big, bad belt at the time.

Some will defend that at least Roberts is doing something, and I agree. Her Bill is bringing attention to the tragic stories presented in the  September 2012 “Severe Abuse of Adopted Children Committee Report.”  This State of Washington report details the abuse of 15 adopted children, two of whom died at the hands of their adoptive parents. Plus, her adoptee protection bill calls for several screening practices including; the assessment and training of prospective parents, and the establishment of adoption support services.

The problem with the proposed law is that it will no more stop adoptees from being abused, than current child endangerment laws prevent biological parents from neglecting, maiming  and killing innocent children everyday.

I was particularly offended by a quote in a Capitol Record article  in which David Gusterson of Adoptive Parents of Ethiopian Community says, “We have a duty as a society to be doing a much better job, in particular when we’re bringing in children from other countries. We drag children in from other countries and they end up locked in closets, abused, starved or dead.”

Does this mean that a child adopted into America from a far off land, rather than being pushed out on American soil, is more valuable and deserving of protection?

I don’t think so. How about you?

Learn more and contact Rep. Mary Helen Roberts.

Blessings for violence free homes for all,

Vicki-lynn

Moscow to Manhattan: Russian Adoption Ban puts Focus on American Abuse

Happy New Year!

I have been mulling over the Russian adoption news announced in late December, and after two weeks of contemplation, here’s my take on the situation. As most of you have heard by now, Russian President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin has banned the adoption of Russian children to US residents.

President Vladimir Putin

President Vladimir Putin

The Wall Street Journal reports that the adoption ban was “pushed through parliament to retaliate for a new U.S. law aimed at punishing alleged Russian human-rights violators.” Reportedly, Putin also considered recent cases of American’s returning adopted children when they could not cope, and the killing of 19 Russia adoptees in American homes.

In February, I blogged on the news that a  Tennessee woman put her Russian born adopted 7-year-old on a plane back to Russia, due to his violent behavior, and the death of Nathanial Craver,  a 7-year old Russian adoptee killed by his adoptive parents.  In that post, I suggested that all countries require etxtensive psychological testing for prospective adoptive parents.

While I feel horrible for the fifty or so families who were in the process of adopting from Russia, when Putin pulled the rug on the adoption process, I feel worse for the 19 murdered Russian children who were sent to live in our great country, where parents are purported to be superior and the opportunities abundant. Those orphans left Russia with the same heart hope that every abandoned child carries, and landed in the killing fields of poorly monitored US adoptive homes.

Child abuse is rampant in America. Monitoring and background checks of prospective adoptive families are lax, and even long term monitoring would not expose all the demon parents out there. However, more needs to be done.

Just because you happen to be American, and want a kid does not automatically entitle you to adopt one. Adoptive parents should be held to high standards, because they are raising a child already damaged by abandonment.  I think Putin saw a political opportunity, and used it to his advantage, but it was America’s plague of abuse, and lack of child justice that made it easy for him to do so.

Some statistics from the National children’s Alliance:

  • Nearly five children die every day in America from abuse and neglect.
  • In 2010, an estimated 1,560 children died from abuse and neglect in the United States.
  • In the same year, Children’s Advocacy Centers around the country served over 266,000 child victims of abuse, providing victim advocacy and support to these children and their families. In 2011, this number was over 279,000.

Blessings for a safe, just and honorable new year,
Vicki-lynn
UPDATE 1/11/13: Washinton Post reports that Putin’s ban on American adoption will not go into effect for one year. This could mean that adoptions already approved by Russian courts will be completed. It would be interesting to follow the adoptions that do go through to see how many are healthy and successful for the children.

Agency Sued for Placing Child in Abusive Home

The Anchorage Press recently reported on an adopted child, who is suing the Alaska Office of Child Services and the Anchorage Police Department, for the being placed in a home run by accused, abusive single mother- Anya James.

photograsaur/Flickr.com

Six children were removed from James’ home in October 2010, after kidnapping and assault charges were filed. The children were denied nourishment, and use of the bathroom, and the accuser (one of six children placed in the home) ran away several times, only to be returned.

The suit seeks more than$100,000.

As an adoptee, placed in an abusive home, this suit is certainly an eye-opener. I informed the police about the abuse in our home, yet no one ever questioned my placement. Background checks are needed, but frequent ‘forward’ checks are crucial to the safety of adopted and foster children.

Three years after my placement, my adopted brother was placed (by the same agency) with the same family. A simple check of ambulance and police records would have uncovered my adoptive mother’s medical treatment, and  the reports of domestic abuse. She never pressed charges for fear of retaliation, however abuse was clearly present.

I wonder what the statute of limitations is for suing those tasked with acting in the best interest of the child?

You can read the details of the case at The Anchorage Press.