Wednesday, December 23, 2015

2015 Christmas Letter

This year I invited my family to give me a quote that would help people understand them, and their experience in 2015. Enjoy.

I’ll start with 10-year old Sabine’s quote: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” as stated by Edmonton Oiler’s very own Wayne Gretzky. This girl loves sports! After her first basketball game this season she said, “I forgot how much I love playing basketball! I wish my team wasn’t so big so I could play MORE!” She’s building up the resolve to steal the ball from other players’ hands. In March she had the excitement of playing in Provincials in Calgary where her team came SO CLOSE to beating some first rate teams; it was exciting and memorable. Then she played outdoor soccer in a marvelous mosquito-less spring, which was its own kind of miracle.
Lookin' fierce at the provincial finals.

Now, Everett spent some time searching the Internet for a quote. I’m not sure what words he used to direct his search but he came up with, “Only trust people who like big butts: they can not lie.” (Grandma, it’s a little word play on a popular song.) Anyway, I think that this quote choice really does capture 2015 in Everett’s life because he graduated from innocent elementary school and started junior high so his little pubescent brain has been marinating in the conversations of 12 and 13-year old boys. He’s transitioned nicely; he is learning how to play the trombone, plays on a community basketball team, and bakes tasty treats for us once in a while.
Everett's Grade 6 grad.

Perhaps you can guess who chose: “You’ve really gotta hand it to short people… because usually they can’t reach it.” It won’t be long until I’m the ‘short people’ in this house! At his Grade 9 grad, Kepler danced to an original song featuring a recorded phrase of him saying, “My name is Kepler and I’m almost six foot four.” [Click here to hear the song - the internets is so fun.] Now in Grade 10, his height has helped earn him spots on the senior volleyball team, and now the senior basketball team. In three months of school he’s had maybe five weekdays without a two-hour practice but he loves it and it has been fun to watch his games. This just in: Kepler is almost six foot five.
Posing with friends at Grade 9 grad ceremony.

Our oldest child, Robyn, emailed me her quote: “I won't eat invertebrates, because I can fight a skeleton, but have no idea what kind of spooky warrior a squid leaves behind.” Intriguing! I searched the phrase and discovered that this quote is from a comic strip called xkcd, created by Randall Munroe [click here]. Munroe has a degree in physics and prior to his career as a professional webcomic artist, Munroe was a roboticist independently contracted with NASA. “Often strips are based on his frustrations or things he finds ridiculous.” Luckily for me, the comic strip, about what a physicist roboticist finds ridiculous, has a website to explain each comic strip under the heading of “Explain xkcd: It’s ‘cause you’re dumb”. Robyn’s quote is from a comic strip entitled: “My Food Rule” which is poking fun at peoples’ complex dietary restrictions. Then I watched Munroe’s charming TED talk [click here]. I am so excited for this glimpse into Robyn’s genius mind!
Testing out Lake Okanagan

The ‘One Little Word’ that I chose to inspire my choices in 2015 was ‘fight’, as in ‘fight my bad habits’ and ‘fight for right’. It turned out to be just what I needed for 2015. But which quote to choose? This one really resonated with me: “Just be grateful and kind and brave. That’s all you ever need to be.” by Glennon Doyle Melton. Society places expectations on us, and we place expectations on ourselves, but we need to focus on what matters. Melton’s book “Carry On Warrior; the power of embracing your messy, beautiful life” has an inspiring message of the power of sharing your truth with others. Perhaps ‘truth’ would be a great Little Word for 2016.

Taken at my cousin's wedding at Lake Louise.

Doug chose to Canadianize a quote by comedian Dave Barry: “Sharks are as tough as those football fans that take their shirts off during games in Canada in November, only more intelligent.” A great quote to introduce Doug’s experience at Shark Alley in South Africa back in May [click for link to captain's entry on the day Doug went]. Doug was in Capetown teaching therapists about assessing injured workers for return-to-work, and made sure to spend some time in a cage in the ocean whilst 10 great white sharks thrashed about, the biggest being 4.3m in length. My husband is so brave!

Taken by a crew member on Doug's excursion. 

Much love from the super Gross family. We’d love to hear from you.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Our Society’s Weak Spot

Years ago, one of my children brilliantly coined the phrase “weak spot” when he was trying to politely communicate that he had just impolitely hit his sibling between the legs. So clever! ‘Weak spot’ worked on multiple levels, I thought: physical, and sexual, but lately I’ve noticed that it also works on a societal level.

I've noticed because my oldest child is transgender.

Last year, while Christmas shopping, I had a cashier who was tall with lovely make-up, long hair, and a conspicuous 5 o’clock shadow. I saw the uncertainty in this person’s eyes and was polite, but I did ignorantly wonder why anyone would choose to live like that. In March of this year we discovered that our oldest is transgender and I immersed myself in trying to understand what that meant, because I obviously had no idea. Now that I’ve studied it and I’m faced with the prospect of sending my adult transgender daughter out into the world, I want to educate the whole world about “why anyone would choose to live like that.” So here is your chance to take my Transgender 101 course!

You are familiar with the idea of opposites: there are opposite seasons, and opposite poles on a magnet. I feel pretty confident in offering the idea that everything that you have thought or experienced, someone has thought or experienced the exact opposite. You were likely born with organs on the inside of your body, and there are people born with their organs on the outside of their bodies.  Obviously you love chocolate, but our law of opposites says that some one out there hates it (but probably only ONE person, right?). You can recognize the face of a loved one, and there are highly functioning people who cannot (prosopagnosia). Your sense of gender matches your biological body, and my daughter’s does not. Why is that last one so hard to accept? Because our society’s perspective on 'weak spots' is a weak spot.

Close up of the Genderbread Man from the link below.
Your first reading assignment is found here, a link to the Genderbread ManIt’s illustrative and short. It defines the four aspects of self. The one that everyone is best educated about is biological sex (A.K.A ‘the weak spot’), or what the doctor looked at when you were born so that she could inform your parents as to whether you were a boy or a girl. Once they heard that, your parents assumed that you would dress accordingly, align your gender with this announcement, and fall in love with someone of the opposite sex. Those are three assumptions based on one declaration, and in about 90% of people, it works out that way. But in reality, each of those four aspects is independent of each other: biological sex, gender identity, attraction, and gender expression. But you already know that because you just studied the Genderbread man!

Nature fascinates people. People were so excited when those Planet Earth videos came out. Scientists love to study nature and marvel at the uniqueness; the animals that operate outside the majority. There are male sea horses that carry the young, girl reindeers that grow boy-sized antlers, and then there is the platypus. If any animal can empathize with the scrutiny and disbelief that transgender people face, it's the platypus! We marvel over how these animals operate outside the realm of the majority. Yet we struggle to accept the minority in our society – it’s a weak spot.

A person who is transgender has gender dysphoria. Their mind identifies with a gender that does not align with their biological sex. Reading #2: link here to a medical definition of gender dysphoria. That was the first article I read after hearing that my oldest may be transgender.  Then I scoured YouTube, watching transgender people bravely share their experiences of changing their bodies and appearance to match the gender that they identify as. And after a month of study I had my answer to why anyone would choose to live like that. It is really pretty simple: because it is their physical challenge and they are trying to deal with it. To me, it’s parallel to why a diabetic needs insulin: because their body failed them. A transgender person needs hormone therapy because their body failed them. I believe that the reason that our society can support insulin for diabetics, but not hormones for transgender people is because the latter has to do with “the weak spot”.

Finally, after talking a little science, I want to talk a little religion. I know that God loves my daughter. I plead with you to focus your energies on something that God has made clear, and that is "that ye love one another". And if you think that you are showing love by pointing out what you consider to be a sin, then I ask that you focus on Matthew 7:12 and treat others as you would want them to treat you.

As we have shared our daughter’s challenge with family, friends and neighbours we have only been met with loving and supportive responses. This experience, although challenging, has not been without truly beautiful moments. Following the example of Glennon Doyle Melton, I will be closing the comment section to my post, so that it stays a safe place for my daughter to visit. Unfortunately, that leaves no way for you to leave your address so that I can mail you your Transgender 101 certificate, so just demonstrate your new found knowledge by making the world a more accepting place for transgender people.

As a reward for completing Transgender 101, please listen to Sara Bareilles' upbeat song BRAVE(Thanks, Katie!) which puts into words my hope for my daughter, Robyn.