For our weekly Family Popcorn & Movie Night last night we watched a cute little movie called Finding Rin Tin Tin. It’s a children’s version of the story of the famous German Shepherd who was adopted by an American soldier during World War I and went on to become a beloved screen star in the 20’s and 30’s. It was a cute little film–the rare live action kiddie tale that can keep the interest of our whole family, from our four-year-old right up through Mom and Daddy.
This telling of the story has a sub-plot that centers on a French orphan boy, Jacques, who becomes separated from his parents when Paris is bombed. Rendered mute by the trauma, Jacques is placed under the care of the ruthless camp cook, who abuses him and even tries to sell him into slavery before the plot is uncovered by Rin Tin Tin. In the film’s final scene, Jacques is reunited with his parents as Rin Tin Tin prepares to leave France with the victorious American forces.
As my wife and I were laughing about the unabashed sappiness of that scene, my seven-year-old daughter, who was watching from a pile of pillows on the floor, turned around and started to climb into our laps. That’s when I noticed that she was crying. In fact, she was wracked with sobs–so much so that I assumed one of our boys, sitting on the couch behind her, had kicked her in the head and hurt her. (These things occasionally happen in our house.)
“What’s wrong, honey,” I asked. She was crying so hard it took her a few seconds to respond.
“Tears of joy, Daddy,” she sobbed–at which point all our cynicism about sappy movie endings dissolved and my wife and I joined in. Before the credits had finished rolling, the whole family was weeping tears of joy together, cuddled on the couch, relieved that after all he’d suffered, the probably fictional Jacques would have a chance to live happily ever after with his family.
I’ve taken pride in the past that my wife and I are raising children who are so in touch with their feelings and so unashamed to let them show. But when I shared my daughter’s story with a colleague this morning, she helped me see it in a way I hadn’t before. “I was just thinking about all that time you spent separated from your wife and kids while you were job hunting,” she said. “I wonder if she was remembering that.”
It hadn’t even occured to me to make that connection, but as I’ve thought about my friend’s observation, it makes perfect sense. Longtime readers may remember that our family was separated for almost ten months while I searched for a job after finishing grad school and transitioning. In order to minimize expenses, my wife and kids lived with her parents in Montana; because they did not approve of my transition and would not allow me to live with them, I stayed in Arizona with my mom. Though we did all we could to stay connected while we were apart (we spoke on the phone daily and I wrote letters to the children almost as regularly), it was still incredibly hard on us all. As my daughter’s sobs seem to show, the anxiety it created in my children lingers, almost a year later. I wonder how long it will last?
I know we’re not the only family that’s had to endure a long separation–families do it every day, and it has nothing to do with being trans. And yet I can’t help but think that it was avoidable in our case. If only my in-laws were more accepting, if only their church would speak from a place of compassion for trans people and not one of domination and oppression, if only it weren’t so hard for trans people to find meaningful work through which we can support not only ourselves but our loved ones as well…if only.
It has been said that all politics is personal. I think it’s truer still that all activism is personal. My reasons for doing the work I do are very, very personal. My daughter shouldn’t have to worry that our family will have to endure long-term separation again just because her daddy is transgender. Nobody’s child should. Nobody’s wife or husband should have to worry about the social cost of supporting a transitioning spouse. Nobody’s parents should have to be afraid of violence against a transitioning child. No trans person should have to be anxious about finding a job or a place to live or walking into a public rest room.
These anxieties have a very real psychological impact on a person and, I would argue, a spiritual impact that is just as real. They can cripple you, hold you back, hold you down, hinder you from fulfilling your beautiful, awesome, awe-inspiring potential. For me, turning my anxiety into action has helped mitigate those negative effects. By making my own small contribution to healing this hurting world, I heal myself. Not only that, but I help make it possible for my kids to grow up in a world that is a little less scary.