Even aware of the transgender journey he was on, for me, when I met Lex, I met a man. Not a woman, not even a “transgender man”. Just, a man. I have not known him as anything different even though he has been know by others as a girl, a woman and a lesbian. For one woman, in particular, Yolanda Beatty, he was a daughter.
Lex has just completed some significant surgery. I only know about it because it holds significance for him, not because it changes who he is as I personally know him. My identification of Lex is as much from his work as a poet as it is from meeting his physical persona. His poem “Break This Skin” is profound. It is a statement of redemption in the life experience when we all find ourselves beyond our flesh limitation, and embrace the spirit of the real us, buried deep within. As Lex puts it, “Below the flesh, there must be a place that has never been hurt, never been touched or tarnished.” It is in that place, he implies, we need to live “in the light” in between the start and end of our lives, both of which are “in darkness”.
So, when I think of Lex, I do not think of his flesh, what state it is in, nor where it has been. I think of Lex, the man with the masculine spirit, living his life.
That is easy to say as a new friend. It has to be harder for those around him. When a loved one changes, in whatever ways, there is a sense of mourning and goodbye as the person they were disappears, sometimes forever. One instance, in my life as a dad, which sent that message happened in the most benign of situations.
From the time I got my son Jason at birth, the routine at bedtime was for me to rock him to sleep on my chest, before putting him into his crib. I self trained to get him to the level of sleep where the motion from my chest to the soft bedding would not wake him, and start the process all over again. One night, as I started to rock him, he reached out for the crib directly. Without thinking twice, I followed his lead and placed him in the crib, where he put himself to sleep. We never went back to the old way of doing it again.
In retrospect, I cry inside for at least a warning that things were going to change, that my baby was going to go in a different direction and I was only going to get to enjoy the process a few times more. I didn’t get that warning, and it changed outside of my control.
Change outside of her control is certainly something Lex’s mother, Yolanda, is well acquainted. Like me, she also did not get a clairvoyant sign to not set expectations, and that her offspring would be called to a different direction. She put her thoughts on that direction into words this week. She wrote a public note commemorating Lex’s surgery:
“On March 14, 1983, I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. One of my bosses said she was the most beautiful baby he had ever seen, including his own and his grandchildren. I humbly agreed with him. After much discussion and arguments, we named her Alexis Diane. I happily bought frilly dresses and cute little outfits, which she happily wore until she turned three. After that, there were huge, silent tears as I tried to put her into a dress or anything frilly. I gave up the fight.
From the age of two, her best friend was my godson. They were inseparable, spending many days and evenings in each other’s homes. When Carlos moved away, she spent summers in his small town, riding bikes, swimming and just being kids. She liked the idea of being “one of the boys”.
We are now on the verge of life-changing surgery. I find myself thinking of that adorable baby girl and tearing up. I wanted her to be the cheerleader, she wanted to be the quarterback. I wanted her to buy a gown for prom, she wanted the tuxedo. She made history at her high school by taking a girl to the prom. I am not opposed to the change. In fact, I think it is long overdue. But I am mourning the loss of my daughter. There won’t be any outward changes but inside, everything changes. I find it interesting that this one surgery will make psychological changes and I will have to revise my thinking of her and start thinking of him.
I have many memories of my Lexi over the past 31 years. She literally saved my life when I foolishly thought that Tylenol was the cure for everything that ailed you. She has always been a happy kid, silly and charming. Her father thought the sun rose and set on her, told her every day that she was practically perfect in every way. Now you can understand where her confidence comes from. And then he didn’t. I’m sure you can guess when it changed. Life changes made her sad and angry. I could read her poetry and know where she was in her head. Yet she continued to excel in school and sports and she continued to be my little girl.
I will miss my girl. But I will embrace my son and will love him proudly. He will be a credit to the male species; he’ll continue be a wonderful father; he’ll continue to be a good brother and uncle. But most importantly, he will finally feel at home in his own skin. I want that for him more than anything because everyone deserves to be the person they were meant to be, whole and happy.
Alexis Michael Anthony Beatty, I have always wanted a son. It took 31 years, but God answered my prayer.”
For Lex, this week, the skin that held him back to the full actualization of himself has indeed “been broken”.
For his mother, Yolanda, there are broken expectations and dreams of a daughter who would be a certain way in her life. As a person whose own self-definition is that of a parent, she has not allowed that breakage to dwell and reside in grief. Instead, she lifts it as a sword and testament to rebirth, and breaks the paradigm of parenthood for all of us.
A good parent is one who may mold a child into the person they are going to be, a great parent is one who celebrates the emergence from that mold as our redefined child, a magnificent human butterfly, perched for flight, to soar with confidence in the light of true identity.
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