Happy December and Merry Christmas, Hannukkah, Kwanzaa, Yule or whatever you celebrate this time of year. I struggled a bit with this month’s blog. I put off writing it longer than any other blog to date. Part of that could be the time of the year. It’s busy, right? Work, friends and all the holiday obligations. Add in shopping, wrapping and trying to take a moment for myself, and it can get to be a lot. Sure, I’m busy. Anyone that knows me knows this to be true, but that’s not entirely why I struggled so much this month. The holidays are a painful and lonely time for me.
It’s no secret that my holidays have looked different the last few years. When Thanksgiving and Christmas roll around, I want nothing more than to jump back into the joyful traditions I held so dear for 30+ years. I want to spend the day baking cookies with my Mom and brothers. I want to pull out board games and beg my Dad to play with us. I want to spend Christmas Eve squished in my parent’s living room opening gifts, laughing and throwing balls of paper at one another. I want to go to the 11 pm candlelight worship service then drive with my Dad to Centerstone to play Santa Clause for the kids at the Brooklawn and Bellewood Campus. I want to get home around 3 am, fall asleep in my old room and wake up to find my Christmas stocking, the one my great-grandmother hand-sewed for me, hanging on my door, full of goodies. I want to spend Christmas morning with the rest of my family, eating Entenmann’s doughnuts and having a Nerf gun fight in the front yard, while my Mamaw and Aunt look on, mortified. I want to bum a ride to Hodgenville with my brother, falling asleep to and from my Mam-maw’s house, where we went room to room, counting all her snowmen decorations. (over 130 snowmen the last time I counted). Then, I want to come home with my Honeybaked Ham and bags of presents, sad that it’s over, but grateful for the time together.
That’s what Christmas used to look like before I decided to live as my full-self. There is a great deal of joy and gratitude wrapped up in those memories, but there is also a great deal of pain. Afraid that I wouldn’t be accepted, afraid that I’d be silenced, scolded, judged or even cast out, I put on my mask and went through the motions. I played the part that was excepted of me and didn’t ‘rock the boat’ too much. I put the comfort of others before my own truth and well-being and when I finally decided to take off the mask, my worst fear became a reality. I was met with judgment and hurtful words born out of intolerance and fear. That hurt. It still hurts.
Let’s open up this can of worms and jump into the points of pain for this little trans boy. Allow me to be your Jacob Marley as we explore the ghosts of my Christmas past.
1. The Ghost of Gender Clothing
I know, I know. If you’ve been reading my blog or following my story, you know that clothing can be a huge point of pain for trans kids, both in the moment and in the future. Why was it so important to dress my brothers in little dress shirts and bowties and force me into a red and white dress? Surely my parents remember the tantrums, the scowls, my misery. Parents: here’s a sign. If your kid is fighting you tooth and nail over clothes, pay attention. They don’t feel comfortable in that attire, so don’t force it.
Now, as an adult, and a man who “passes”, I hate those old Christmas pictures even more. It should be fun to reminisce and show off baby pictures, but I don’t. I am embarrassed by those pictures. They are a sore of pain. Why couldn’t we have all dressed in matching Christmas pajamas instead?
December 14, 2019: Christmas pajamas for Friend Family Christmas
2. The Ghost of Gendered Presents
I will give my Parents some credit here. I can’t recall ever receiving a gendered gift from them. The most painful were items from my Nanny (great-grandmother). Rest her soul, she was a small, soft, kind woman who loved her baby dolls. Her small-town, southern, Pentecostal roots made her a God-fearing woman who was very much caught up in gender roles and expectations. In fact, at her 2-hour long funeral, the only 2 things the Pastor said about her was that she always attended church, sitting in the same pew every week and that she was a good wife, who always met her husband at the door, dressed and with dinner ready. The radical feminist loved my Nanny but loathed the religiously fueled, heteronormative patriarchy that dictated her life and limited her choices.
My experience with the Pentecostal church is not far from the Hand Maidens Tale. Women are treated as ‘less than’, only allowed to wear floor-length dresses/skirts, and called to let their husbands (cisgender, of course), make all the decisions.
Like clockwork, every year, my brothers and cousins (all cisgender male) would get pajama pants, wallets and men’s hygiene kits for Christmas. What about me, you wonder. Oh right — always something super feminine. A doll, a dress, and other things I’ve repressed so far down that I can’t recall. I just know that I always hated what I was gifted with and was jealous that of all 5 great-grandchildren, my gift always looked different.
I’ll give my Mom some extra credit. As I got to be a teenager, she picked up on my discomfort of gendered presents from my great and grandparents and tried her best to shield me. Since all the women in my Mom’s family did the Christmas shopping together, my Mom started buying me the same pajama pants and gifts as my brothers. She wrapped them as gifts from Nanny. My Mom may not realize, but that was a big, big deal to me. She helped turn the Christmas experience I most hated into a moment where I felt seen. I still have many of those pajama pants today.
3. The Ghost of Gendered Ornaments
Probably like you, putting up my tree is a special tradition. As a child, this meant we got to get out a ladder and climb into the storage area my Dad built above the stairs. I LOVED it up there. It was like a secret little hideout filled with all the happy Christmas treasures. My parent’s tree was housed there, the ornaments, the 3-foot candles for the porch and all the Christmas lights for the roof. We carefully pulled everything out, filling the kitchen with piles of boxes, and when everything was out of storage, I was able to spread out and lay down in the dark space above the stairs. I loved every minute of this Christmas tradition.
As an adult, I came up with my own Christmas tradition. I turn on Christmas music, make cups of hot chocolate and in a similar fashion, pull out the decorations and spend hours reminiscing over each little piece of my past… Including my ornaments
Most parents love to commemorate their child’s first Christmas. I get it, you’re a proud parent and Hallmark has so many cute little decorations, it’s hard to not get caught up and blow your whole paycheck. I’m a huge fan of pulling out the Christmas ornaments and reminiscing on the memory behind each one. Bonus points if the ornament has a year on it!
1984 ornament: “A baby girl is a precious gift of love”. ????
I’m grateful to have my “1984, baby’s first Christmas ornaments”, but I’m sad that many of them are pink and even include words like “baby girl’s first Christmas”. They make me cringe. When I come across those ornaments, I have to take a deep breath. I reflect on the gratitude to have something that’s traveled with me for 35 years and every Christmas. Then, with care, I place it on the backside of my tree, out of sight.
4. The Ghost of Birth-Named Ornaments
Spoiler alert: Santa talk.
This is a tricky one. My Dad was the absolute BEST Santa Claus. I mean this whole-heartedly. This man was an absolute Santa mastermind and thoughtful genius. My family has always celebrated Christmas in stages. Christmas Eve, after church, was when we’d do our family Christmas. My favorite of all the Christmas’ – the one with just me, my brothers and my parents. When we’d go to bed, we’d hang out stockings on our doors and wake up to find that Santa had visited.
We’d wake up to find our stockings full of goodies. We’d race to the kitchen to find that Santa had eaten our cookies, then we’d race to the living room and discover an unGodly amount of gifts under and alongside the tree.
My Dad was the best Santa for a few reasons.
- We never found the presents… Despite exhaustive searches, even in the attic, we never found a single Christmas present in advance.
- Santa used unique wrapping paper. I didn’t realize this until I was older, but the presents from Santa were always wrapped in Santa paper. Not only that, but my brothers and I each had our own special Santa paper. The presents from my parents, the ones we opened on Christmas Eve were wrapped in anything but.
- My Dad hand-wrote the to/from labels on the presents, but not Santa. Santa presents were labeled with Santa stickers. At a time when home computers weren’t yet a thing, Santa used the whitespace of his beard and TYPED, yes, TYPED — as in, on a TYPEWRITER our names. Furthermore, we each had our own label color. My presents were always in red. (Not sure if you know much about typewriters, but that is an absolute labor of love and an impressive level of detail).
- Ornaments. We’d always bake cookies with Mom and leave out chocolate chip cookies for Santa. (My Dad insisted that was what Santa liked best). When we’d wake Christmas morning and run to the kitchen we’d find that Santa ate our cookies and left us matching ornaments. Every year we got a new ornament with our name on it.
Some of my childhood ornaments from Santa.
Much like the gendered ornaments, my birth named ornaments bring me joy and pain. I love all those little ornaments. There is such a thoughtful and special memory behind each one. When I pick them up, Jacob Marley takes me back to my parent’s kitchen, standing at the table, taking in the joy of Santa’s gift. I hold it in my little hand then place it on my parent’s tree. I am happy. I feel loved and I feel the joy of Christmas coursing through me. Then Jacob shows me the Ghost of Christmas present as I stand alone in my living room. I hold each one, then place it on the backside of the tree with care. Out of sight with my gendered ghosts of 1984.
My Great-Grandmother made me a stocking, but it’s got my birth name on it, so
Jess had a new stocking made for me the year I transitioned. ❤️️
5. The Ghost of Gendered Conversation and Heteronormative Expectations
Oy vey! I loved spending time with my extended family, but I hate, hate, hated the dreaded questions and conversation. You know the ones I’m talking about… “How’s school? How’s your job? Do you have a boyfriend yet? You’re so pretty! Why not?”
In the words of my celebrity crush and idol, Taylor Swift, “You are somebody that we don’t know
But you’re comin’ at [me] like a missile… You need to just stop… You just need to take several seats… You need to calm down.” For real. These conversations and questions were and continue to be the worst.
I grew up in an environment where I was taught that it wasn’t ok to love who I love. We didn’t talk about it and I was supposed to keep my mouth shut. Not only could I not talk about my girlfriend, if I had one, but I wouldn’t be honest and mention that I was her boyfriend. It sucks to want to be honest about who you are, but know that it’s not ok and won’t be well received or acknowledged by the people who are supposed to love you the most.
Dec 2019: Me & my bestie, Shan.
Thanks for once again hanging in there and sticking with me during my journey. The Ghost of Christmas Future is optimistic for a day when I can be fully and unconditionally loved, accepted and embraced by my bio-family. Lucky for me, Jacob Marley also brings the Ghost of Christmas Present. Sad as I am to not spend the holidays with my bio-family, I am not alone. I have been given countless invitations to join Christmas celebrations. Many of those invitations came from you. THANK YOU. I see, hear and feel your love. Thank you, thank you.
Dec 14, 2019: Friend Family Christmas
Worry not for me this season. I get to spend Christmas Eve with my brother and his family, then my Church family (and the inclusive and affirming Highland Baptist), then my chosen/friend family. I get to play Santa for the Centerstone kiddos at midnight with my work family then I get to join my adoptive family for Christmas Day. The people who took me in embraced and loved me as their own while I was dating Jess. Even though we aren’t a couple, we are still a family and they’ve included me in every part of the celebration. Being with them feels like home and means more to me than any of them realize.
I know the holidays can be difficult, sad and lonely. As a reminder, you are not alone either. If you feel like you are a risk of hurting yourself or someone else, please call one of these 24-hour crisis lines. You’re not alone.
- Centerstone, Adults 502-589-4313
- Centerstone, Child 502-589-8070
- Trans Lifeline 1-877-565-8860
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255
Merry Christmahanakwanzikayule! I hope you get to spend the day with the people that matter the most.
Want more but can’t wait? Follow my transition on Instagram @trans.parent_kasen!