Today, I introduce you to my daughter, Jackie Lutzke. The day after I told her and her husband of my gender dysphoria, Jackie said something which I have since quoted often: “It’s hard being a person.” As you read her moving essay, I believe you will find that she has proven her point.
Thank you, Jackie, for allowing such private feelings to be made public for the benefit of others.
My father is a gardener. This is essential to know, to understand him. His father, my Grandpa Eilers, was also a gardener, and it was Grandpa who taught Dad. Taught him the tricks of the trade, like how if you want to keep cutworms from chomping through your vegetable seedlings you should wrap the stem at the dirt line in a scrap of newspaper. Planting my first garden as an adult, I did.
When we lived in Montague, Michigan, Dad had two huge vegetable gardens. Later, when we started moving around the Midwest so that Dad could go through seminary, each occupancy was marked in part by a garden—often, by the establishment of one where one had not previously been, or, in the unhappy case of our first residence in Fort Wayne, the complete lack of a garden.
There simply was no room in the tiny townhouse yard—we collectively disdained it as a paltry “grass patch” and eagerly awaited the days we’d move somewhere new and a garden would be part of life again.
When something about someone is certain, it becomes a joke. One of those happy jokes, based on an observed consistency, based on the comfort of knowing that we can count on that thing to be true, over and over again. So certain we don’t even have to think about it. The very essence of true: unchanging.
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In November, 2013, Dad and Julie sat on the couch in my living room to tell my husband and I the real and complete reason Dad was retiring from parish ministry. Prior to this meeting, I had tried to imagine what would necessitate the in-person conversation that Dad had insisted upon. I hoped it was simply because the matter would carry with it an exciting complexity—perhaps Dad felt called to serve as a missionary to some faraway location and the conversation would sort through the logistics, assuaging any fears of never seeing them again. Or maybe Dad really was going to become the traveling motivational speaker he’d sometimes joked of becoming, and during our chat he’d brightly but firmly debunk any belief that this would be an absolutely bonkers life change.
There is nothing that could have prepared either of us for the conversation that did take place. As much as you want to think you are ready for anything, until something actually happens to you, until it’s your life, you don’t know jack.
Are you familiar with the term ‘gender dysphoria’?
You sort of freeze as you let the words into your head. Put your expensive English MA to work for a second, sort of shrug at it, yeah, yeah, sure, as you place together a couple words you’re certainly familiar with but no, you’ve not really spent a lot of time thinking about them together, and no, not really so much in the same context as your father.
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I have said to my husband, I have said to some friends that finding out that my dad is transgender makes me feel like my entire childhood is a lie. Some have wondered about this assertion—isn’t my childhood still what it was? Isn’t there some infallibility of fact, something enduring and unchangeable about the past?
Yes . . . and no. The past is unchanged in the same way that a black and white movie that’s been updated to color is unchanged—the sequence of events persists in the same way, the actors still do everything that they did before, but the experience, and our understanding of the movie, is slightly different. The 30 years that preceded that moment in my living room when I heard my dad describe a mind-body disharmony that had been eating away at him his entire life, that threatened to destroy his sanity, that left him at a complete loss for how to go on- – –
Imagine the shock of discovering a character in what was supposed to have been an inclusively idyllic story was miserable.
That what you thought was pure contentment of being, your happy family, was not.
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I have felt every emotion since that night.
I have cried, feeling the sting of loss—the loss of simple truths, the loss of uncomplicated normalcy. (“Normalcy,” right? What is “normal,” anyway?) I have yelled and argued, hating the unfairness of the whole situation, hating that my dad has suffered, hating what this situation puts my family through, hating the confusion, hating the complexity. I have felt brave, thinking about the opportunity to use our experience to help others. I have been afraid, imagining the struggle ahead, imagining the gossip and hatred that would come my family’s way, and possibly even the danger—stories of attacks on transgender people don’t pass by me anymore. I have felt energized, swirling writing ideas through my brain, excited to bring perspective and nuance to a topic so few bother to think about, much less understand. I have felt exhausted, overcome with the not-wanting, not wanting any of this, already too busy, already stretched to the absolute limits of my own life.
I have mourned the malleability of what I thought was a fixed past. This has been perhaps my greatest loss: the upsetting of what I think I can know about my life. What I can count on. It makes life feel unsafe. It makes you wonder whose hands are grasping the edge of the rug you’re currently standing on—and when they’re going to pull.
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I am trying to imagine each one of you out there reading this blog post, where you are, what you are thinking as you read Dad’s blog. I admit I stay away from the Facebook posts, the comments. It would be easy to let this matter overtake my life and there’s part of me that just can’t—I have a husband, two children, a job, a house, a million obligations, etc etc you get the point. So I give a bit of distance.
But Dad told me that others have wondered, “How are the kids?” Possibly, “WHERE are the kids?”
And I felt ready to say something.
I am not here to give you the definitive answer on How Children of Transgender Individuals Deal With All of This. But, I can tell you about me.
As my father is a gardener, I am a writer. It is my thing-you-can-always-count-on (that, and that I’m 100% guaranteed to get mad while playing a game of Monopoly). Writing has always helped me figure out what I know, not just express what I think I know. Figuring out what I know helps me figure out where I’m going. So, hey. Thanks for that.