Four Years Since My Trans Adoptive Dad’s Death

Today is the four-year anniversary of my father’s death. I’ve been dreading the day for the way it reminds me of our shortcomings. He died a woman and left a daughter who could never accept the anomaly. Gender was one more dysfunction to add to the avalanche waiting to bury me, and so I refused to see Joann when she drove from her home in New York to Hilton Head, South Carolina for a surprise visit.

No longer a child rolling with the punches, kicks, and angry outbursts, I needed some warning to help me see Joann. Perhaps, had she let me know she was coming, I might have witnessed her bent posture in the old lady frock, as she limped along with a cane. Truth says, “Not so.” I would not have seen her. No matter how long one considers a coming tsunami, it will never be welcome.

Once, we danced, my tiny shoes atop his feet to Daddy’s Little Girl, and I was whole. Then it was crap. A battle fought too hard by a child too small. I could not get him to be the man I needed, for she lurked there under the calloused skin and hard edges. She did not love me for the daughter I became, but for my girlish things and female life. She wanted to be me.

Writing this today is so different than writing my memoir The Killing Closet. Our story is tragic and yet I have painted a thousand mental pictures of it in heroic beams of survival. Turning beatings into strength-building, honor. Truth says, “No. The character-building benefits do not surpass the suffering.”

It was a childhood no one would choose.

Joe was the father no one wanted.

Joann was a secret and we all suffered for her existence.

What have I learned in these four years since Dad’s death? I have learned that I loved my father. I have learned that he did not exist. I have learned that forgiveness comes with a price. One must pay with regret. I can’t forgive a man that never was but have come to forgive the woman tucked beneath the cloak of masculinity.

I have learned that the madness that was my childhood was born of a broken adoption process. That too requires a heavy mask of introspection. Love your captors. Love your saviors. Love the system. The adoption message bleeds for the childless. Forgiving them is distant, remote, untouched, as were the infants they placed in hell. Our fate makers were social worker Helen Steinman, Children’s Aid Society, money, income, the barren womb.

Four years and tears still run at the loss of innocence. My brother’s and mine. My father, miscast in a gender strict world, had no escape for Joann. They were beaten before he took a breath, or twirled in a sister’s skirt, or underwent the knife to make the gender correction.

I have learned that who we are inside often collides with exterior appearance. That we can never really know the heart of another human, and that to assume heartlessness is to deny the human condition. Joe’s heart was born with Joann’s being, or so I have heard.

I gave my father an opportunity to admit the way gender devastated our lives. She declined, blaming my mother for the violence instead. Joe spoke then, in defense of Joann. I did not know it was the last time. I got no closure, no admittance, no apology.

I have learned that Joann and Joe melded into one and that in the end, the angry man took up the cloak once worn by the woman. Hiding, blaming, hurting internally and externally was my father’s life fate.

I have learned that no relative has visited Joann’s grave.

I have learned to move forward, tip-toeing around Father’s day and the lucky ones born to men who put them first.

I have learned to breath when the thought of my father tries to steal my air.

Rest, Dad. I am still learning.

V.L. Brunskill

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Adoptees React to Immigrant Kids in Cages (Family Separation Not New)

All the news of immigrant babies in cages has stirred quite a lot of resentment, pain, and outrage in the world. This is especially true among adoptees and first mothers. I have several hundred Facebook friends who reside in a world defined by separation. We are a varied and interesting brood from all parts of society. The one thing we have in common is that by force, or societal expectations, we were separated from our families. triggered.png

As a result, we adoption searchers and rights advocates are defined by a quest for reunion and the need to own birth-related documents that were stolen from us. If you are a non-adoptee, you may be surprised to learn that in most states adult adoptees cannot see their original birth certificates (even after reunion). All documents related to birth and adoption are sealed by state law, and until each state amends these outdated laws, they will remain so.

As detained immigrant children’s screams were broadcast and photos of them behind bars washed over us, the adoption community was triggered. We know what it is to lose family. Yes, we were re-assigned and given new families. Some good, some horrible. We lived to tell our stories, and to suffer because of them. To understand the damage inflicted by even the happiest adoption scenario, I highly recommend The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child by Nancy Newton Verrier

As hearts ache for the imprisoned immigrant children, we are warned by psychologists of the irreparable damage done to children when removed from their parents, even for a few days. I read that Rachel Maddow (American television host) interviewed a pediatrician who said, “even as little as 72 hours away from their parents can produce irreparable harm, as the heart, brain, and others organs are bathed in the stress hormone cortisol.”

Joe Sol, author and founder of the Adoption Healing Network  reacted on social media asking, ‘So, what does 30 YEARS do to you?”

In addition to the irreparable damage of separation, there is the question of babies as profit centers. Adoption and foster care are not hippie-dippy communes of free love and perfect placements. It is a money-making industry built on the backs of at-risk mothers and their children. It has been reported that 81 detainee children are now in the care of Bethany Christian Services, which is said to receive up to $775 per day from the federal government for each child. Cha-ching!

On its website, Bethany states, “We believe that all children belong with their families. However, in the current situation of children being separated at the border, we would prefer these vulnerable children be placed temporarily in a safe and loving foster home instead of remaining in a center for an undetermined period of time.”

This statement reflects a mindset that has defined adoption for decades. The rhetoric  might be easier to swallow if at the end it said, “for free and without profit.” Making money on the plight of children in unconscionable. Adoption and foster care is a multi-billion-dollar business. Even agencies that claim to be non-profit are making truckloads of money off babies. To understand how they do it, take a look at this article about agencies in my home state of Georgia – Nonprofit adoption agencies often profit someone other than children, families.

In addition to the ‘kids as cash cows’ problem, Bethany claims they are placing kids in foster homes that are ‘safe and loving’. Foster care children die at a rate that should warrant a total system overhaul. In fact, a 2017 investigation by the bi-partisan Senate Finance Committee found that “roughly 1,600 foster children die each year due to abuse and neglect.” Where’s the outrage, investigations? You can read more about the findings here- CHILDREN ARE DYING AT ALARMING RATES IN FOSTER CARE, AND NOBODY IS BOTHERING TO INVESTIGATE

I write this blog to expose a system that placed my adopted brother and I (as infants) into the home of a man who had beaten his first wife and child into hiding and who pummeled my adoptive mother daily.  I want people other than my adoption peeps to realize that children have been ripped from the arms of their parents for decades in America. The taking of children is not a new phenomenon. Immigrant children’s cries mimic those of all children stolen by adoption.

America’s adoptees and first mothers are triggered and you should be too!

Blessings for a world where family separation is the last resort,

V.L. Brunskill

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Disappointment Day (a.k.a Father’s Day)

Here it comes. In shades of blue greeting cards, barbecues, and goofy tee shirts proclaiming World’s Greatest Dad, Father’s Day is upon us. At any minute, Facebook will overflow with gushing remembrances and salutes from little girls (long since grown) who adore their daddys.

I envy them. I envy all women loved by fathers who showed them respect, love, adoration, selflessness. I envy their happy memories of a daddy’s arms- safe, warm, tucked in.

Father’s Day is the saddest day of the year for me.

As an adoptee, a cat-drowning, wife-beating, son-of-a-bitch father raised me. Yet, I’ve spent a lifetime aching for his love. As a child, I tried to be a better daughter by appealing to his masculinity. I thought if I grew harder/more boyish he might like me better, or at the very least, stop trying to kill my mother and brother.

Later, it became apparent that toughness would never have appealed to Dad. His free-wheeling fists camouflaged a hidden gender rage that would blow up my life. My father transitioned to become a woman in her seventies. She died in 2015 on the very spot where my terrible, twelve-year-old self, planned to kill her. (My memoir Transgressions in Rouge coming soon).

My biological father, a retired Delta Force officer, whom I found after a five-year-search, is very much alive. At least I think he is, as we have not been in touch for years. He decided that rather than engage in the healthy father/daughter relationship I crave, he would continue to live in a paranoid state of distrust.

When I first found Delta Dad, he was ecstatic. It soon became apparent that he was still fighting the wars he survived. He raged at me like a mad dog one day, and I walked away choosing to distance myself from any further dysfunction. I reached out to Delta Dad again recently, and he decided again that he’s not interested in a relationship. I say again because he also denied me when he found out my birth mother was pregnant in 1963.

Having spent a total of 12-years (pre-internet) searching for the biologicals (closed book NY adoption in the 1960s), I am quite attuned to my needs. I always knew that I needed my history, my story, and the story of my ancestors to feel complete. I searched and found to become solid, defined. Before finding my blood relatives I could not focus on what I would be. I was far too busy finding out who I was.

Likewise, I see patterns in my behavior that reflect the blank space of lacking a father. I need one, and because it is unattainable, I find myself drawn to friendships (or fanships) with men of a certain age. I find solace in their respectability, honor, achievements. I guess they look to me like father material. Desperation casts fatherly shadows over strangers.

Fatherlessness is my wound.

I share my disappointments this Father’s Day for those who have a decent dad to hug; for those who recall tender moments with their father. You have my one missing thing. Love him, embrace him, keep his memory close, share his stories with your children. Make his love your legacy.

Blessings that my disappointments light your way,

V.L.

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Decades after Reunion- What Bond is This?

I lead a blessed life. My family is healthy. We have a roof over our heads, and we are free from hunger. Having known times with my adoptive family when this was not the case, I appreciate everything. I am content and feel pretty darn accomplished…until I call my first mother.

Twenty-five years after the reunion, conversations with her turn me back into the given away infant in the photo I keep on my desk to remind myself how far I’ve come.  firstphotoI know this is my wound (Primal, I guess), and an issue I really should have worked through by now.  I do use the brilliant coping exercises in the book Adoption Healing by Joe Soll, which gave me the background chant I use when first mother contact spirals me into an infantile turmoil.

“It’s not happening now. She is not leaving me. That was a long time ago.”

I can hear readers of this blog (especially those who are still in search) clucking their tongues at my daring to deflate the bliss of knowing who bore me. I get it. I am sharing this as a warning, a guidepost to help you understand the feelings of woe that often surface long after the honeymoon of reunion ends. (To be fair I must mention that there is nothing she can say or do to change this. She is kind to me, and giving.)

Despite the effectiveness of Joe Sol’s Adoption Healing exercises,  I still wallow after our conversations in a strange limbo of being an alien in her made-up world.  I belong to my first mother by blood, but unlike her other children (the kept ones) I cannot experience the true/unconditional state of her motherhood. Unconditional love is a feeling I understand and define by my adopted mother.

If you ask me what makes conversations with my first mother so debilitating, I would say it is that she reacts to the kept siblings in a manner consistent with shared experience. While I have shared two adult decades with my first mother, the essential bond of being present in my formative years is missing.

We have all witnessed the ribbing, joking and comfortable behavior of family units. Most have a relaxed, informal way of acting around each other. This family interplay is a representation of years spent living together, agreeing, disagreeing, and seeing the world through shared experience. They are a unit.

As an adoptee, I can never be an ordinary member of my first family. No matter what is said or shared, she raised my siblings. She acts differently around me, less comfortable, more formal, guarded. For years, I thought I imagined her awkwardness when we visited, and the opening blossom of her real self with my half-siblings. Only a close family friend’s comment assured my that it was the truth when he said, “she acts so differently around you.”

I am a grown ass woman and a long-reunited adoptee. Still, the ripples of my relinquishment tear at my heart in ways I was sure reunion would settle. Bonds stolen at the moment of separation can be yearned for, but never fully repaired. I am still happy that I searched, but hate the awful truths that adoption has cast on my life.

Blessings for reunion and healing,

V.L.

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Healthline Names Adoptionfind a ‘Best Adoptee Blog for 2017’

As a blogger, reunited adoptee. abuse survivor, and writer, I live in a whirlwind of emotion. Occasionally, I am able to capture those feelings and heave them onto the page. The result, when I don’t delete the post, is this blog.

This morning, I am honored and blessed to report that adoptionfind has been name one of

Healthline’s Best Adoptee Blogs of 2017.

“V.L. Brunskill is an adoptee and acclaimed author who found her birth parents 25 years ago. Her writings about how the current political climate impacts adoption have a literary quality. One of her most touching posts was from Mother’s Day. She wrote a moving piece in which she speaks fondly of her adopted mother and birth mother.”

Thank you readers and heathline for the love.
I promise to share more and to stop deleting the tough stuff.
Blessings that you may live your truth,
 V.L.
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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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Hidden Truth and Bad Behavior- A TransDad Twitter Reply

Happy New Year blog friends!

As I write my next book, Transgressions in Rouge, based on the story of my abusive, adoptive father who died in 2015, I’ve been thinking about the connection between hidden identity (stolen by adoption or squashed by society) and emotional/erratic behavior.

I have also been exploring #healing thoughts on my Twitter feed @RockMemoir.

My adoptive father was a transgender woman who transitioned very late in life. During the years when he abused my family, he hid his gender truth. He was tough, tortuous, and egotistical. I never knew him as a woman. I only knew him as a horrible father.

A transgender father named Erik tweeted to me yesterday, writing “Being trans didn’t make your dad evil. Sorry you suffered his turmoil! He was evil because he was evil, not because he was trans.”

My reply is way too long for a tweet, so I’m answering here.

I wholeheartedly agree that being transgender has nothing to do with being evil.

In fact, I did not contest my father’s will (which I was left out of) because I didn’t want to go to court, and say that he was not of ‘sound mind’. If I did, my lawyer would have used his transgender status to prove he was not mentally capable of deciding who to leave his/her estate to.

My father was mentally ill, but not because he was transgender. So I agree that his evil was not born of his gender. However, I do think his behavior was magnified by his hidden truth.

My father lived chaotically in self-imposed, and societal hiding. He was angry. He beat anyone who disagreed with him. His behavior was hyper-masculine. He overemphasized physical aggressiveness in interpersonal relationships. Inside, he was a woman, while outside he was compelled to prove he was a man.

I’m no psychiatrist, but I have experienced living with two separate identities, one assigned by adoption and one genetic. I believe that there is a degree of madness associated with living any life that does not reflect your truth.

What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear from you.

Blessings for knowing and living your truth,

V.L. Brunskill
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