My late son, Adam, thought my Dad humour sucked.
Except, there was that day I called from Venus Envy, the Ottawa adult sex and book store Adam and friends loved to visit.
Adam threw me a long, deep chuckle.
"Why are you there?"
"Remember? I promised to buy you those better (more expensive) binders."
Binders suppress those breasts he wanted to disappear as he looked in vain for the "boy in the mirror". His cheaper binders cut and hurt him. His remarkable doctor, Jennifer Douek, was trying to harness his fast-lane, impulsive rush to manhood, reminding him that the physical changes demanded emotional, psychological, and other evolving into Adam.
Adam has been my primary transgender teacher through his coming out and coming home to himself, both up to his tragic, seizure-related drowning at 22 in 2016 and now, still teaching me on my Soar, Adam, Soar memoir book tour that always includes a selection from his 125 whimsical and wise social media posts reprinted in the book, either as Adam or from earlier years as Bekkaa.
"I don't look like me at all!" Oct. 31, 2010
"I need to get this all fixed." Feb. 25, 2015
"I wonder if clouds ever look down on us and say, 'Hey look! That one is shaped like an idiot." Aug. 3, 2015
"People drive me nuts sometimes." (March 22, 2015)
"Human sexuality teacher showing us PowerPoint about penises and human structure and all of a sudden, "Looks like an Aerobar, doesn't it?" Okay, no more Aerobars for me now...lol" Oct. 2, 2012
Adam and my new transgender friends have given me a much deeper appreciation of gender dysphoria, as they discover they don't fit in the body they are born with. Change demands navigating a normal world full of discrimination, violence and barriers. Staying in the closet feels safe until the realization it is smothering who you are.
Adam and other transgender stories.... Expanding my heart, growing my understanding, re-examining my beliefs.
Listening, learning and loving served Adam's family and me as Dad in our accepting him. The same listening, learning and loving work well on tour as community transgender or PFlag or Affirm United Church speakers accept my invitation to put a local, human face on this issue that we remember especially this week on Nov. 20, International Transgender Day of Remembrance. We memorialize those who have been murdered as a result of transphobia. We draw attention to the continued violence endured by transgender people.
Let's also have the backs of the heroes in our communities who work courageously for human rights for all. While it's impossible to ignore the reality of the murders and violence, it's far from doom and gloom news. I see so much "normal" in Adam and others' stories. My editor at Dundurn Press once asked me what Adam meant by just wanting to be normal. Adam knew it was all about a journey home to himself, to everything we understand as human, ordinary and what fills up our daily lives. Going by the wrong name, not dressing as yourself, was getting in the way.
On this Transgender Day of Remembrance, in the year Soar, Adam,. Soar was released (Dundurn Press, 2019),I remember...
A closed Parents of Transgender Children Facebook group I'm on...Dozens jumped all over my post when I asked if there were any other "smart moms" like Adam's Mom who, with or without ultrasounds, sensed the real gender identity of their kid, no matter the gender identity announced at birth. They did! Adam's Mom knew she was having a boy. Indeed, Suzanne and I started calling our baby Adam by the fifth month of pregnancy. (A Beautiful Baby Girl! Chapter 3)
The two, 85-year-old transgender women who in separate towns recount identical stories of knowing at 5 years of age, when the kindergarten teacher formed the boys' and girls' lines, that they were in the wrong line.
The young people I speak with in Pride clubs; the 350 at an Ottawa Carleton District School Board Rainbow Alliance Forum singing Adele\s "Someone Like You", knowing the love that hurts sometime.
My angel, Adam, leading me to talks or book signings, Queer Sphere Expo in Ottawa, a magnificent Trans Quinte Belleville fundraiser Stacey Croucher magically birthed in Picton, the Spring Gala in Gananoque that gathered some of Ontario's transgender pioneers. Receiving love notes from strangers who tell me they knew so little of this world.
Sadly, hearing of the Mom who, told by her child he was coming out, punched a fist through a drywall. The teen moved out to a friend's family. A teacher asked by her student to sit with him as he broke his gender identity news to his Dad. A small Adam-like lad at a high school who cried as I spoke. He's not out. He's looking for acceptance. I gave him my book and was happy to see him talking afterwards with a local ally organization and a teacher.
the question or comment I get sometimes as those in audiences presume Adam's death was by suicide because of the prevalent harm done to trans youth. Indeed, there was a suicide of a homeless trans youth the week before I visited one community. The mental health challenges are intimately related to self-acceptance that in turn is inextricably linked to acceptance by others, especially family and friends.
How Adam soared when his boss, Joel Frappier, at Cafe Nature, Canadian Museum of Nature, approved a Adam ID tag for his assistant chef job even though legally he was still Rebecca. Joel told me that job interview story at my book launch right at the museum where Adam worked and where his Celebration of Life happened. Adam was staring at the ground until Joel told him he would be Adam there. From that moment on, Adam looked at his new boss straight up, eye to eye. Read here his post that day!
On that same FB parents group, I reminded parents that our acceptance of our children does not, cannot, bypass our feelings. Our love and acceptance include our questions, worries, fears, reading everything we can get our hands on.. Love can come with many questions. As I say in Soar, Adam, Soar, I kept revising my parenting manual, while fastening my seatbelt for the rollercoaster ride of my life.
Courage defines Adam and these beautiful people I meet in every town, some now extraordinary advocates. Unmistakable, breath-taking resiliency. Adam wanted to be who he was and love who he loved. That was good enough for me, parental fears and all. As a former Catholic priest, I never got that memo from God to judge anyone. I did hear the call to love, accept, forgive, challenge and walk alongside our loved ones. That's a tougher love for us to embrace.
Adam and others invite us to come along, to witness their struggles, intimate thoughts and victories. In bravely choosing life, he found his courage. He found his voice too as he chartered a course home to himself.
This Day of Remembrance is a one-day reminder of year-long work.
As in life and the book, Adam gets the last word here:
"Bekkaa shared Steve Atchison's post, true love isn't finding someone else. It's finding the missing piece of yourself :)" (May 4, 2010)
"Adam shared, Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway." (Sept. 15, 2015)
"If only people could see through another's eyes and truly understand what they go through, think and see. It's not as easy as it seems. We all need help, love and support. No judgment." (Adam, 2015)