A holiday family portrait

The wintertide holidays and the end of one year and beginning of the next are a time when family comes center stage. We try to reconcile, come together, and find joy or comfort in the presence of one another. Sometimes it’s beautiful, and sometimes it’s ugly, as we are only human after all, and sometimes instead of an embrace we find that we clash with those we love, even as we love them.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what family means to me lately, and I still don’t know; the only thing that I’m certain of is that it is: beautiful, critical, and terribly difficult.

We are a family that has traditionally celebrated Christmas, and up until now we have done pretty much the same thing every year since my cousin and I were babies. It’s gotten harder since my grandma died. She really held us all together for our family traditions, especially Christmas; she loved to sing carols, she orchestrated the making of the sugar cookie family recipe, and she provided us with much of our good spirit. Since she passed away, I haven’t gone a Christmas Eve without waking up to my household having a cynical or despondent argument about how maybe we just shouldn’t have Christmas this year.

I don’t pretend to know what to think of that, or pass judgement in any way. I know it must be hard, and I miss her too. But I also know that if she saw the emotional turmoil left by her absence, she would tell us all to get it together and have a joyous holiday, even though she can’t be there.

There’s also the fact that, for quite a while now, I have been mulling over my connection to Judaism and what that means – for me and for my family, both the one that I have and the one that I’m making. I want to convert, though I haven’t had the chance yet. The process usually takes a year, and I haven’t stayed in the same place for much longer than that since I graduated college, which is when I knew that that was something I wanted to do. But despite the fact that I haven’t gone through the technicalities, and there are still lots of things I have yet to learn, I’ve been exposed to enough culture and taken part in enough of the services and holidays to consider myself Jewish more than anything else.

Because of this, it feels strange to celebrate Christmas, which is still a religious holiday for a faith that I am not a part of, even though it has been thoroughly filtered through capitalism and secular culture. To me, the holiday is one for celebrating family, for baking cookies, decorating the house with beautiful lights and baubles, for sharing meals together, singing together, and spending time together that we don’t normally get for the rest of the year. But I know that that’s not what it means to everyone, and despite my fondness based on experience, I’m frustrated by the assumption of Christmas as default as compared to other religions or cultures, and I’m frustrated by the aggressive commercialization.

At this point, I find myself at a standstill. This year, I didn’t have the means to celebrate Chanukah by myself. I think of my fiance, an amazing and beautiful human being who I’m so excited to share my life with, and how much I waned to join them for candle lighting, and make latkes together, and how I wasn’t able to join them and their friends for a lovely Chanukah party this year because we’re currently separated by distance.

I think of my family, who will be spending Christmas Day apart for the first time that I can remember, because some folks are going to spend it with my cousin’s fiance’s family. I think of how I put up a string of lights and ornaments in the veil of night one evening, “from Santa,” just to try and get my grandpa to have even one genuinely happy Christmas moment.

And, looking into the crystal ball of the future, I run over and over in my head thinking about when my fiance and I make a family, will we be a Chanukah-only house, or do I want my kid/s(?) to be able to spend Christmas time with my family too? Will I celebrate the holiday with my blood family, if I can? I can’t make the decision on my own, of course, as it touches so many other lives and not just mine. But of course I’m thinking about it constantly, during this time of year where everything is so close and raw.

I don’t have answers for any of this. This year’s holiday season is definitely a waystation on a journey. I am transitioning from one life into another, and yet, they are still one and the same.

But I want to keep love in my heart for both my old family and my new one, and I hope that I can find peace this year – and be excited for what the next will bring.

It's finally happening! The journey begins...

I am so, so grateful and excited to say that beginning on November 7th, I will begin taking actual classes on how to be a birth doula!

The world of families and babies and birth is really new to me, and I don’t know much about it – of course, I’ve been doing research since I wrote this. As an only child in a relatively small family and a small, young, queer community, none of my family members nor any of my close acquaintances have been pregnant or had a baby since my cousin was born in 2000 (we just celebrated her 18th birthday)! So you could say that right now, I don’t have a lot of experience. Hell, I don’t even know if this is a world which I really would love, and would fit into, or if I’m just having an imaginative heart-feeling that I would.

Still, though, I feel like it’s a journey that’s worth setting out on. I’m so grateful to have been exposed to childbirth education and reproductive health and people who help families go through this whole new world. Before I had started thinking about all of this, I felt like I was missing something that I’d once had – a softness, and a kindness, and a lens through which to see beauty in the world. Everything that’s happening right now in politics and the environment and people giving in to their hate is heartbreaking to see, and I’m constantly trying to keep a tender heart and find the seeds of sunshine in places that are otherwise dark. But it’s hard sometimes, and through this work I found some of that. I see all sorts of beautiful things, new potential in these new lives, women being empowered, partners who are dedicated to creating loving homes, and most of all just people celebrating what it is to breathe and live and be together.

So when I start my workshop in November, I think I’m going to be nervous. I think I’m going to feel a little bit like I don’t belong there. But I’ve decided that I’m willing to experience that, and not let it chase me away. There have been times in my life where I’ve let the intimidation of something new prevent me from taking action to achieve my goals, but I don’t want that to happen this time, both because I need to do this and because I think that the world needs more chances for love and human connection. If I can do anything to make that happen, I want to.

Realizations on Pride

Note: I wrote the following post in early June, but due to anxieties about who would see this and what they would think, I've kept it fairly under wraps. I'm publishing it on the last day of Pride month in the hopes that by the time this goes out, I will have forgotten about it and by the time I remember people will have discovered it and it will be TOO LATE!

On Love

For me, coming out to my family was as easy as texting my mom to say that I had developed a crush on, and kissed, the person who would become my partner. I remember being vaguely nervous about what she would say, but I was just as nervous because it was my first kiss and my first relationship as I was about the fact that it was not with a cis man.

My first realizations that I wasn't straight came in late high school. I can remember having crushes on girls before I was fully cognizant of that – it seemed difficult to tell at the time what was a crush, versus just wanting to be like that person or be their friend because they were so cool

When I got accepted into Mount Holyoke College in my senior year and told people that I was going to a historically women's college, one of the very first comments that I heard almost every time was that if I went to a women's college, I would surely become a lesbian. It seems a very common story for the up and coming MoHo! 

Of course I would always insist that no, not everyone who attends Mount Holyoke is queer! Hindsight being 20/20, the people who made those comments were more correct than I gave them credit for, though I think for different reasons. Regardless, at the time, I remember spending the 8 or so months in between enrolling and flying out to Massachusetts thinking, "What if they're right – would that really be so bad?" And I remember being accepting of the fact that if I did end up falling for a girl during my time at Mount Holyoke, I would be okay with that.

On Gender

Something that has been more difficult for me to navigate is the issue of gender.

During my junior year at Mount Holyoke, I began to wonder whether or not I really identified as a cis girl/woman, or whether there was something further that was yet to be explored within me.

I don't know how to explain the feeling that I felt, that spring and into the summer. It was a certainty, the certainty that I did not fit into the category of "girl" and I did not fit into the category of "woman." I rejected those categories in reference to myself. But neither was I particularly masculine, and I certainly didn't want to be "boy" or "man." I wasn't particularly comfortable with using they/them pronouns, but it seemed the thing to do when I didn't know how I identified.

I spent a lot of time in those months agonizing over this, trying to find the answer. Even now when I think about the way that I was struggling with this loss and falling away of identity, I can feel the pain that I did then. It's like a deep hollow in my chest, where I would realize how empty I felt, not having a place to call home in my own body. And I was not proud of my body then, either, so I didn't know what to fall back on.

Fortunately and unfortunately, 2015 was possibly the worst year I have experienced so far. There were a lot of highs where I felt on top of the world, and a lot of lows where I felt as if I was being buried alive, and almost nothing in between. But with everything that happened, at some point I completely forgot to be anxious about what my gender category was or what pronouns to use, simply because it was all I could do to stay alive and remain functioning in school, work, and keeping the few friends who didn't let me push them away.

I came out the other side eventually. Not unscathed, and I think that the person I am right now has been deeply scarred and shaped by the past couple of years. But during that time, somehow, without really thinking or analyzing it, my body realized a certain kind of truth. I am not cis, that much I know. I do celebrate my femininity, but there is more to me than just that. And for now, that's enough.

I do not owe anyone explanations of what that means for me. It is enough to recognize that feeling in my body and what it means for me, and I do not have to put a label on myself or change my pronouns in order to acknowledge that there are ways in which I both do, and do not, identify with the gender I was assigned at birth.

If you are going through something like this at the moment, I want to look into your eyes and tell it to you – you are enough, the way that you are. For some of you, finding a specific community or defining that specificity might be important, and that's valid. But if that's not what you want or need, it is okay to simply be, and to acknowledge the way that you experience your own body.

On Life

On Friday, March 23rd, I woke up around 6:45 a.m. having just had a dream that has changed my life. I don't remember any of the actual events of this dream. I'm not even sure anything really happened in it.

I remember standing somewhere in a silvery-blue expanse. I was alone, except that I wasn't really alone. I knew – inexplicably, but with complete certainty – that I was pregnant. A baby! I was not far along enough to show anything, but I knew, and I put my hand there, where I knew the warmth from my fingers would find them. This image was the last thing I saw in the dream before I woke up.

It would be impossible to really and truly describe the feeling that I got during this experience. It was nothing less than magical, but also so much more. There was a sense of completeness and of meaning, like everything I had seen and done in my life was meant to happen so that I could be brought to this moment of both unity and individuality between the two of us – me, and this small life that I was now meant to nurture and protect. There was joy, and tenderness, but also strength and resolve. Every moment was a blessing.

And then I woke up. You know those dreams where you dream about something that is actually possible, and then when you wake up it takes you a few minutes to say, "Okay, I'm here, that was not real," and you slowly come to remember where and who you are? It was exactly that, except this time, I was left with such a strong feeling of emptiness and loss. Loss, because I was so looking forward to getting to know that little person, and I had already felt like I was starting to get to know them. Awakening to the realization that I would never meet that baby – on top of the fact that I was very alone in my apartment, with a full schedule that day that had nothing to do with them – was like smoke escaping my grasp.

For the majority of my life, I did not particularly want to have kids or babies or anything. There are so many reasons not to have children – the stress of raising them into a world that can sometimes seem so cruel, the uncertainty of the future of our government and our environment, the freedom to live a life free from responsibility to another human who depends on you, and avoiding the toll that pregnancy and childbirth can take on your body. Among other things.

And so, this was never a feeling I had ever expected to experience. Is it just the ticking of that fabled biological clock? I don't know. I've had other baby dreams before over the past couple of years, similar to this but with nowhere near the same amount of emotional and spiritual intensity. 

In the weeks and months since I had that dream, I've been exploring just about everything I can about pregnancy and childbirth. From listening to podcasts, to watching documentaries and shows, to reading articles and even wondering vaguely about being a doula, I've absorbed so much information to try to figure out what the hell is going on with me.

But why am I talking about this in terms of a Pride-related post? 

The other day, something made itself clear to me that honestly sent me reeling and I've been thinking about it ever since.

At the point when I was a pre-teen and teenager who definitely Did Not Want kids, people would always tell me that even if I didn't want one, I would probably end up having one someday anyway. They made it sound like it would just happen by accident or by surprise – which I guess a lot of babies do, although birth control methods nowadays are pretty darn good. But there was always this assumption that A) I would end up with a penis-totin' individual and it would just happen, and that B) this was inevitable and that I would come to accept it when I was faced with the advent.

And now here I am, a queer person in this world who doesn't particularly care for penis-totin' individuals, who isn't able to have a baby by accident or by surprise. If I want a child, I'll have to go through hoops that people who can biologically create a child together rarely have to go through (although fertility issues are real and should be acknowledged). Every step of the way will have to be paved with intention.

It hurts to confront the irony of the fact that now, when I so deeply want to meet that baby from my dream it is a vastly more difficult process than I ever imagined it would be when I was young. (Although, I find humor in the fact that at one point I thought you could get pregnant from just sitting within like an inch of a boy on the bus.)

So for Pride month, I am in a very deep appreciation of LGBT and queer folks who choose to have children. Families come in infinite structures, but for many of us, there is a love and a desire to build something beautiful together that we have to work incredibly hard for, whether we choose to adopt, use sperm or egg donors, surrogates, fertility treatments, or other means of having children. Economic factors may place limitations on what you can do, and there are still people out there who would (wrongly) argue that LGBT folks are not fit to be parents, that it is unnatural. And yet, there are so many amazing queer parents out there who choose set out on this journey, something that even without those things would already be a huge commitment and a long, hard path.

In my heart, I feel that someday, I will meet the baby who I held there in that blue expanse. They're already here with me. Part of them, anyway. The other part, well, that is yet to be determined – as so many things in my life are right now! It's hard, not knowing who they are or when I will meet them or what my world will look like when I do. But I also find purpose and comfort in the fact that when that day comes, it will not be because I was pressured into it by anyone else, or because society told me that this is what I am meant to do as a woman. (Being someone who would have a child does not make me a woman.) I'll know on that day that we are meeting because through all of the challenges and pressures that face LGBT parents, both I and they fought to exist together in this world.