A Message from Purgatory

I set out on the morning of October 10th to get ready for a conference I was to emcee in Miami. Specifically, I sought to get my ragged fingernails tended and mended. I had heard about a new nail place from a friend and drove there first. They were closed. So, I headed across town to my usual spot.

I settled into the kneading joy of the pedicure chair, and the owner (whom I have known for years) introduced the ladies sitting next to me. “What a group we have this morning,” she said, “a powerful trio.”

One of my pampered cohorts explained how she mends broken victims of sexual abuse in a medical care center she established. With little community support and zero funds from the state and local government, she is an outspoken angel for voiceless victims.

The third of our trio is filming a movie at a lovely antebellum mansion in our area. She is also a screenplay writer.  Her movie, based on a novel, is a controversial look at mixed-race relationships in the 1800s.

We chatted and the filmmaker suggested that my father’s story, which is the basis of my memoir, The Killing Closet is important and that getting it picked up by a literary agent is all about timing. She explained that the author who wrote the book upon which her film is based penned it more than a decade ago and was self-published. The story (at the time of its original publication) was not popular. Yet, fast forward a dozen years and here it is being made into a movie that will be played at major film festivals around the world.

As an abuse victim who has authored a transgender story that the literary world seems hesitant to hear, meeting a victim advocate and a brave filmmaker at my early morning nail appointment seems rather incredible. Especially, in my small Southern city.

submersion-in-lethe.jpgLarge-e1571944500689However, as I sat there, it dawned on me that it was no coincidence. The same spirit that saved me from despair as a child, intervened that day. Or perhaps, it was my father Jo sending a missive from purgatory (where I like to believe she is reviewing her life and my book options).

October 10, 2019 would have been my adoptive father’s 84th birthday. Thank you, Dad, for reminding me that our story matters.

Blessings to be who you are and always be right on-time,
V.L.

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Santini Shrugs- My Wound is Paternity

My wound is paternity. Southern author Pat Conroy wrote in Prince of Tides, “My wound is geography.” I disagree. Pat’s life in our low country became a healing irrigation for the legacy left by his sulfur-veined father. I believe, paternity is our mutual wound.

I once shared my life story on a Southern writer’s panel, and a fellow panelist proclaimed, “Whoa, That beats Conroy.” No one will ever beat Conroy. That’s a given. But when I tell you that my Daddy died a woman on the steps where I hoped to kill her, you might have to take a breath. I do. Living with something so true and outside, robs me of clarity, self-definition. I can hardly believe it is my story.

Hating my father was easy. A New York City iron-worker, he was a tall drink of water with a leathered, fists-up attitude and a penchant for killing cats, dogs, and (if rumors hold true) men. Kids ran from him, coworkers fell from bridges he worked on. His size twelve work boot left an indelible mark in my mother’s ribcage. He was that ugly, domestic monster you hear about and pray your daughter does not marry. I came to my father’s home in the arms of a social worker.

To exit the womb on Christmas Eve and fight jaundice without a parent’s love was easy because it transpired before language. In the fleshy dialogue exchanged since I found my biological family, the reality of my given home singes. I spread roots in assigned cement, only to watch it crack under the constant pummeling of my adoptive family. So went adoptions in the 1960s. In the best interest of the child, they sealed me from familiarity and set my feet on fire.

Dad could not love the families he decimated. There were two. Ours and another secret clan, which ran from him changing their names for safety. Dad could not stop his angry tornado from pounding us into a shelter for battered families. His storm formed in the windswept years of his youth, while stealing women’s underwear from a laundry line in College Point. Gender was a given, so German mamas punished with rank sternness, and German papas crushed any hint of girlishness from their sons.

Act like a man, I told my ten-year-old self as I sat in the hall closet, clutching my father’s weapon.  Risking death if discovered, I reminded myself that Dad wouldn’t hesitate. Just kill him, I thought. Faith and femininity ordained my failure that day. I chickened out at the sight of the marble crucifix in the hall. Did Jesus move? Dad’s malevolent masculinity would always win in my teary eternal truth.

The truth, not beholden to scared little girls or damaged women, held its tongue for five decades. Dad died in 2015, on the stoop of the three-bedroom prison I once called home. He wore rouge and the full form of a female. The vile man who spun to toss my baby brother against the dining room wall died a woman.

Hyper-masculine behavior? Madness born of hiding her truth?
A risk too painful to take until it was too late?

My wound is paternity.  Daddy’s was her gender.
My forthcoming memoir explores both.

Blessings for healing of all wounds,
V.L.

—————
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Jekyll Island Club Resort – A Writer Retreats

Last week, I retreated to Jekyll Island Club Resort where I completed my book about growing up in an abusive home, having a transgender father who hid his truth until he reached his seventies, and finding a way to forgive her and myself.  I had planned to share a pictorial of my writing residency and not get too wordy. However, when I opened WordPress this morning, I found a draft of this blog entry. So it is with gratitude beyond measure that I share my Jekyll retreat.

There is grace in an ancient oak tree, creaking entry doors, and floors so old they weep and moan as you pass over them. I arrived at Jekyll Island Club to find myself housed at Crane Cottage in a room with a majestic view of the Intracoastal waterway and a courtyard garden. Spiral stairs led to my room at the end of the hall where inside a jetted bath, and comfy-as-a-cloud bed awaited me.

Dinner in the Grand Dining Room found me alone in the front dining room and waited on by Ola, who works three jobs and still finds time to smile. At least when she’s not sad, which she had been of late. She lost her son last year and can’t seem to get over it. Can anyone ever get over losing a child? We agreed no one could, or should.

After dinner, I headed to one of my favorite spots at the resort, the rocking porch. Newly decorated with comfy wicker seating, the club has moved its famous white rocking chairs forward to give guests a better view of the spectacular sunset.

There, I met six-year-old Sarah, whose family was visiting Jekyll to celebrate her 7th birthday. An only child, like my now 19-year-old, Sarah told me she did not like Junie B Jones books, and that she liked St.Simons Island better than Jekyll for its restaurants and for visiting friends (who she called family). What a joy it was to recall my daughter at Sarah’s age as we watched bats spin through the night nibbling up pesky insects. Sarah was sure that at any moment the bats would dive into the pool for a tasty beverage.

Back in my room, I contemplated the story at hand. The one that had given me hives (literally). The one that Ola said must be written for all the “hiders and heartache” in the world. Contemplating Ola’s wisdom and the task of completing the second draft of my story, I stepped out on the balcony amid a cacophony of cicadas. There in the grass, nearly camouflaged by a massive oak,  meandered a mama deer and her fawn. I watched them munch on the lawn or whatever they found so delicious, and quieted my breathing for fear I might rush them from their meal.

For the next three days, I saw less of Jekyll. Immersed in my luxurious room, I wrote for seven hours one day and eleven the next. As I hit save on the completed book and headed to the balcony for a private toast, the phone rang.

It was my mother, and she was sobbing. My dear Aunt Shelley had died. A cherished friend of our family for 40+years, Shelley and her husband Ronnie, were the rescuers of my childhood. Celebration turned to sorrow in an instant.

While I will mourn my Aunt Shelley for all my earthly years, I find some solace in the fact that she will live on in the pages I completed at Jekyll. She was there in good times and bad. Mostly bad, when she would stop whatever she was doing to come and get my brother and me. When Dad had Mom committed to an asylum after he beat her into delirium, I called Aunt Shelley. When the parents in my life could not parent, I lifted the phone to dial her number.

Transgressions in Rouge is complete. Aunt Shelley is gone.

My writing residency at Jekyll Island was a bucolic, heartbreaking slice of life. The whims of fate are fickle. But in the end, all that matters is that we love deeply and share our stories.

Blessings and heartfelt thanks to the Jekyll Island Club Resort,

V.L.

—————

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Bully President- Daughter of Transgender Dad on Trump Rescinding Bathroom Law

Yesterday, President #Trump rescinded the rule on #bathroom choice for #transgender students. Without an iota of empathy or understanding the President (under pressure from right wing, ding-dong Attorney General Jeff Sessions) took away non-discrimination rules put in place by the Obama administration.

Our bully president demanded that Education Secretary #DeVos agree with his bold-faced bigotry. Telling her, according to The New York Times, “that he wanted her to drop her opposition. And Ms. DeVos, faced with the alternative of resigning or defying the president, agreed to go along.”

The reason behind this heartbreaking decision is right winger’s fears that transgender people using the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity will create an unsafe environment for children. Nothing could be further from the truth.

As the daughter of a brutally abusive man, who transitioned to become a women in her seventies, I have a unique view on this topic and can tell you that fearing transgender people in the bathroom is about as set in reality as having Mexico pay for a border wall.

Here’s what I want all the bathroom quaking, fear-mongers to know:

  1. You are already using the same bathroom as transgender people. You have been for years. Are your worse off? Have you been harmed? Attacked? Please get over it.
  2. Forcing a person/student who lives as a girl/woman (or visa versa) to use the men’s/boy’s restroom will incite violence, bullying, depression, and suicide. In the case of public schools, yesterday’s ruling is nothing less than publicly mandated child abuse.
  3. Forcing trans people to hide their truth is a ticking time bomb in terms of mental illness and suffering. My father was from an entirely different generation and denied her truth for more than sixty years. While it was by no means, the cause of all her dysfunction, denial and hiding certainly ignited hyper-masculine, coping behaviors which resulted in the brutal abuse of two families.
  4. Transgender people do not want to be called out for being different. They are not trans for attention. It’s not a phase. These fellow human beings were born into the wrong bodies. Like squeezing a size fifteen foot into a size four shoe, their bodies never fit, and no amount of force will make it so. They are not the gender of their birth. Genitals do not define gender.

The idea that Secretary of Education DeVos, is so weak-willed that she kowtowed to Trump, sentencing a segment of America’s school children to torment, torture and horrific discrimination, further proves her unworthiness and the hateful spirit of this administration.

A transgender woman (living in denial) beat my family into a homeless shelter. Yet, even I can see the truth. Why? Because as I write my memoir Transgressions in Rouge, I am taking the time to learn. I have researched my father’s behavior, her transition and what is means to be a transgender person.

Please, right wing America, I beg you to take your head out of the toilet and attempt to understand the truth of being transgender.

This nation needs to quit worrying about who has balls and who does not. It’s none of your business. Except for when it comes to Trump, whose actions yesterday are a clear indication of a testicular deficiency gone wild.

The Danish Girl- Not my Transgender Story

Everyone wants to believe in heroes. Some want to be one. Some want to be rescued by one. Others are them–held above the masses, if only for a moment, based on an unfathomably unique, or above average feat.

The definition of heroism morphs based on society’s beliefs at a certain moment. In our society; being the first to try something risky is heroic. So is putting your safety in jeopardy to save another. More than ever before,  the youth of this generation define heroism as the breaking down of boundaries and stereotypes that keep humans from living their truth. By these terms, the protagonist in the movie The Danish Girl is a hero. danish

I wept throughout the beautiful movie, falling head-over-heels into the romance of the script, which tells the story of the first gender re-assignment surgery, conducted in Germany in 1930. The patient was Einar Wegener, a married man, whose wife Gerda recognized a femininity in him, and gently coaxed it to the surface with her art. The shock for Gerda was, that once released, Einar’s feminine side took over. He was she, and had been all along.

I wonder, after watching the movie, if every hero must in some way be his or her own antihero. For with his gender choices, Einer (who becomes Lili) breaks Gerda’s heart. Does every heroic decision require that someone suffer? Whether it is the hero, or the person being saved, does someone have to be victimized? For to require saving (by definition) means that you have been a victim to something, or someone.

The story of heroism portrayed in The Danish Girl made me think of my transgender father’s choice to have gender reassignment surgery in his late sixties. He had lived a long, unhappy life in a body that was obviously not the one in which he felt he belonged. In his endless discontentment, he chose a life of self-inflation, constantly building himself up at the expense of others. He created victims along every path he traversed.

Now, as I watch the world embrace (at least the idea of) gender confusion/reassignment with love, reverence, and a sort of hero worship (as displayed so beautifully in The Danish Girl), I have an aching wish to make my father a hero. Heck, I’d give up a few years of my own life to know him/her as someone heroic. But alas, I cannot.

Why? Because while the decision to go through with gender reassignment surgery takes guts, in my father’s case it was not heroic. It was a relief for her, yes. It was what she needed, yes. But not heroic. Because in the path to reassignment, while she was still living and breathing in a man’s body, he was one of the cruelest, most damaging, and hateful men who ever called himself “Dad”.

Watching The Danish Girl made me want to love my father because he bravely had his genitals altered to match his internal reality. But he was no hero. In fact, he was an anti-hero.

My father (who died in February 2015) was weak, and lived a distorted version of reality where he could beat my brother and mother to a bloody pulp for the tiniest infraction. Speaking too loudly; not eating your most hated food; not brushing your teeth correctly; leaving an dirty dish on the counter- each was rewarded with ambulance worthy brutality.

Knowing that my father envied my being born a girl makes me hate him even more. Leaving me out of the physical abuse he delivered for 12-years of my childhood (and during the five years before my adoption), tripled the psychological pain of the mental abuse. Untouched, I became the forced savior for a family that he should have been saving. I spent every waking moment of my first twelve years trying to figure out an escape route from hell. While other little girl’s had Daddies they could look up to (their heroes), I had an enemy force to conquer.

The Danish Girl made me feel tenfold, the pressures of a society that wants me to shout from the rooftop- “Hey, My dad was transgender. She died a woman. Wasn’t she heroic?”

I must answer those expectations with a resounding, “NO!”

Just as no one can cast every person of a certain race, or ethnicity as having the same beliefs, behaviors, or tendencies- being transgender is not all goodness, light and love. Sometimes being transgender is evil, dark and hateful. Sometimes being transgender is not The Danish Girl story, and is instead a tale of cowardice and anti-heroism.

Blessings for knowing a real hero,

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