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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Sibling Bonds- Formed in the Belly of The Beast

I had a surprise visit from my baby brother over the weekend. Spurred by a recent health diagnosis that is not life-threatening but is life-altering, my brother decided I needed some cheering up. So he hopped on his motorcycle for the five-hour trek from North Carolina to Savannah. It was the best gift I’ve received in some time, for along with the familiarity of family, his visit gave me a new insight into suffering.

As most of you know, my memoir Transgressions in Rouge in almost complete. I’ve been working on it for eighteen months. It’s the story of my adopted father who beat, blamed and denied our family without remorse. It is the story of the family secret that made fists fly and turned suppressed identity into constant rage. My father Joe became Joann in her late seventies and died on the very spot where I had planned to kill her. His gender was my family’s albatross.

But, was it also a gift?

My brother’s surprise visit convinced me it might be. Re-framing the darkness of our childhood in the calm of sibling care, I found a long overlooked purpose for our suffering. In addition to a life estranged, the evil of my childhood gave me a life attached.

As I chatted with my brother about work, health, life’s struggles and triumphs, I found myself listening. I mean the most beautiful kind of hearing; an audio experience that transports one from inner ramblings and into the cosmos of another. I find that of all the people in my life; I listen to my brother best. Mostly because once upon a time, the ability to sense his state of mind and body was essential to avoiding death.

This weekend, I rode the waves of our conversation keenly. My brother’s presence calmed me. He was aware that it would. To have my brother nearby enveloped me in the same peaceful state I felt at ten years old, sitting behind my bedroom door, peeking through the crack, on guard for Dad’s approach.

Sibling love, when born of shared experience and years living under the same roof is a powerful bond. No other relationship can compete with the sharing of childhood wishes, secrets, survival tactics. We never have to explain the past. We know its scars and escape routes. Adopted from two different families, we are closer than any siblings I’ve met. Like Sully’s Hudson survivors, we faced what we knew was the end and survived.

Thank you, Rob, for visiting and for reminding me that sometimes suffering breeds miracles.

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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