The holidays are a funny time, aren’t they? Just about everyone gets wrapped up in holiday shopping, decorations, food, and tradition. We all have traditions. My thanksgiving tradition used to mean dinner at my parent’s house with both sets of grandparents my brothers, my aunt, uncle, and cousin. My Dad would get up early to cook the turkey, no matter what he did it would always be dry. My Mom would make orange salad and tea.
And every other year my Dad would accidentally burn the crescent rolls or a pumpkin pie, or both. My Mamaw would show up with her own 2-liter of Coca-Cola because she knew that my Dad would buy the off-brand soda.
Dinner was always in the basement. My Dad would set up two, 8-foot tables and adorn them with fancy white tablecloths. My brothers and I would help set the table and make conversation with the family we only saw a few times a year.
The meal will always be delicious, but equally as awkward. Always small talk things about school and jobs before someone would inevitably bring up politics or religion. Finally, after an hour or so of offensive and insufferable conversation, we’d start setting up for my favorite tradition of all, Pictionary! We played every Thanksgiving right after the meal. We split up on teams, laughed, encouraged and poked fun at each other as we frantically scribbled on the large whiteboard on the wall. Pictionary was an equalizer. It took the focus off all of our differences and brought us together in the spirit of camaraderie. That was truly my favorite part of Thanksgiving, and I always felt sad when the game would end and things returned to normal.
I am a person who really values tradition. I think I love it because I have such special memories of the same things happening each year like clockwork. I’ll never forget the Thanksgiving that I decided to go with my friend to Missouri to visit her family for Thanksgiving instead of staying in town for mine. Her family was nothing but welcoming, but on Thanksgiving morning it just wasn’t the same. I felt empty and sad despite having my girlfriend and my best friend with me. Don’t get me wrong, I had a great time, but I remember standing on her parent’s porch in the Ozarks as my family was sitting down to dine. I felt left out and alone. I missed home.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that missing home and missing Thanksgiving with my family was going to be my new tradition. The following summer I began my social and medical transition. A week or so before Thanksgiving 2017, I got a 5-page typed letter from my Dad. It was like a package of anthrax hidden in an unassuming Prime box. The contents were a mixture of love and excitement surrounding the memory of my birth in 1984 + intolerance, judgment and disdain for my “life choices”; and regret for having been so welcoming to my previous partner, because she was a woman.
In the letter, my Dad made it clear that he loved me and that my “friend” (aka my girlfriend at the time) was welcome at Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving was a time for friends and family, he explained — but she or any other woman would never be welcome at Christmas. Christmas was “for family only, or potential family, like my Brother’s fiance”. Since my parents don’t recognize marriage equality as marriage before God, no partner of mine would ever be welcome.
With a heavy, and broken heart, I decided I would no longer give my adoration and time to people who picked and chose what parts or me to love. I value myself far too much to return to an abusive relationship in the hopes of a different outcome. Here’s how I cope with such a great loss during the most magical time of the year.
The first thing I did for myself was set boundaries. This wasn’t easy. It was full of heartbreak and longing. At the beginning of my transition, I was more understanding. I understood that I’d used my birth name for 32 years and that it would take time to adjust and get it right.
My first time seeing my family for dinner was 2 months into my transition. My parents, my brothers and their cisgender, hetero partners, all seated around my parent’s kitchen table. We were celebrating my Mom’s birthday. I sucked up being misgendered and misnamed, mostly for the sake of peace, and out of respect for my Mom. I self-soothed and took deep breaths. I told myself to not make a big fuss at the table and that I’d likely have more success with a 1:1 conversation after the meal.
Every time I heard that birth name, it felt like a little jam in my chest. It felt like the name was being used more so than usual, and with intent. After the meal, I pulled my Dad aside. I reiterated that my pronoun was “he” and my legal name was “Kasen”. He told me he wasn’t going to have that conversation right now. I was hurt. I said that I needed to be respected and that if it continued to happen, I’d leave.
Not thirty seconds later, he intentionally birth-named me, really loudly as he offered leftovers from the meal. This jab penetrated my heart. I remember freezing for a moment, staring at him in disbelief, then turning to face the rest of the room. I looked at my brothers and their partners and said “well, thanks for dinner. Love you all.” Then I walked out the backdoor. I sat in my car for a few moments as my brothers came out to say goodbye. It’s been years so I can’t remember all the details, but I think my Mom came out too. I told her I had been gracious during dinner, but that I wasn’t going to be treated with disrespect. I haven’t been back to my parent’s house since. That was Sept 2016.
That was a pivotal moment. That was my first line in the sand. I am valid and worthy of respect. You don’t have to understand what it means to be transgender, but you do have to respect me.
2.Chosen Family & Friendsgivings
It hurt to miss Thanksgiving in 2016 because I was out of town. It hurt worse to miss Thanksgiving in 2017 and 2018 because of intolerance and disrespect. It will hurt to miss Thanksgiving 2019 — but, as Hector Xtravaganza, Godfather of the iconic House of Xtravaganza (yes, that House from Pose is based on a real House), said, “Blood does not family make. Those are relatives. Family are those with whom you share your good, bad, and ugly, and still love one another in the end. Those are the ones you select.”
Yes, this will be my 4th Thanksgiving away from home, but not one of the years missed has been lonely or empty. I have a chosen family that is so robust and abundant that it deserves its own sitcom. My friend-family shows me love and support in all things. They weep with me when I’m sad, they lift me when I’m feeling low, they laugh with me when I am celebrating and they glue me back together in the most beautiful and perfect way when I am feeling broken.
3. Exercise & Sunlight
I love to exercise. Couple my airpods with a good Spotify playlist and nothing clears my mind better. If you’re one of the folks in my weekly Fitbit challenge, you probably hate me. I’m super competitive and there’s nothing quite like social pressure, personal fitness goals and the free time of being single to keep me motivated. As of 11.24.19, I average 21,184 steps a day.
My exercise is extremely intentional. I work from home and live alone. The sun goes down around 6p and if I’m not careful, it is really easy for me to spend an entire day inside my house.Seasonal Affective Disorder is a real thing. Though I’ve not officially been diagnosed, I have certainly been feeling pretty blue lately. My mental fitness is extremely important to me. I’m not naturally a sullen person. I thrive off the energy of others, and being so remote can certainly make me feel isolated at times.
When my ex-girlfriend moved out last month, I made a pact with myself to get outside. Every day, I get out of my house and spent at least one hour outside. As the daylight savings has forced an earlier sunset, I try to get outside right at 5p — but sometimes work, Boards/Committees and other social obligations take precedence. On those days, I get up earlier to walk around my neighborhood or the park – or I go after my event, even sometimes at 11p. It’s a commitment I made to myself, and like deciding to transition, getting out and moving is something I never regret. (Plus — it keeps me taking the crown on those Workweek Hustles.)
4. Stay Busy By Giving Back
One of the real keys to happiness is not only taking care of yourself but taking care of others – especially others who you will likely never meet and who can never repay you.
There’s this quote by Denzel Washington that sums this up. He said, “at the end of the day, it’s not about what you have or even what you accomplished. It’s about who you lifted up. Who you’ve made better. It’s about what you’ve given back.”
Community involvement has been a huge part of my life, even more so during my transition. Giving and doing for others has helped me to feel even further connected with this community. I love serving and doing for others.
“Acts of service” is my love language. My time is my most valuable asset. When I give it to a person or an organization, that means something. Ever interaction fills my cup. Amid my own stuff, I appreciate the distraction of focusing on someone else. This month has been pretty emotionally trying for me. The days I’ve volunteered or stopped to help a stranger have all fed my soul in ways I didn’t anticipate.
The give doesn’t always have to be planned or extravagant. It can be something as simple as keeping bottled water, socks, and ponchos in your car in case you run into a homeless person at a stoplight. It can be carrying jumper cables, even though you have AAA — just so you’ll have them when someone else needs them. It can be driving across town with your tools to help someone fix their deck, or serving on a Board or Council. Arriving early to help set-up and staying late to clean-up. Carrying your neighbor’s newspaper to their front door or bringing in their trashcan. Holding the door, walking someone to their car or leaving a larger-than-normal tip for your hairstylist or waitperson.
Small things add up. My Mom used to say that our acts of service here on Earth are storing up our treasures in Heaven. Perhaps that’s true, but the world also changes with each act of love and kindness. So can your outlook and attitude.
If you’re looking for some great ways to get involved, consider this stuff:
Participate in #GivingTuesday on Dec 3rd. Facebook is matching your gift, dollar for dollar. I’m hosting a fundraiser for the Louisville Pride Foundation. Consider throwing some of your cheddar in. (Do it after 8 am on Dec 3rd so your gift will be matched… Or do it now if you are afraid you’ll forget).
Donate blood. Did you know that one pint can save 3 lives?
Sponsor a child or cottage’s Christmas. Centerstone has a holiday wish list of items, plus, they are looking for help to sponsor matching Christmas stockings for cottages of kiddos. They also need some cottage gifts, like DVDs, Board Games, kitchen items, and gas cards so parents can come to visit their kids for the holiday. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to get connected.
5. Express Gratitude
In October 2016, I read the book, “A Complaint Free World”. I know I’ve mentioned it before and I’ll likely mention it again because it was so impactful to me. The book walks you through a 4-step challenge, to go 21-days without complaining. You start with realizing just how much you complain, criticize, or gossip and work through 2 more stages of awareness before you unconsciously stop complaining. Complaint-free is the space I prefer to live in. I’m definitely a glass-half-full, silver-lining, there’s a lesson in here space kind of guy.
By focusing on what I have, what’s going right, and what was a success, I can stay positive. Even in the crappiest of situations on the darkest of days. It certainly takes practice, but once you get accustomed to seeking the positive, you rarely see the negative, or you at least when you do see it, you can accept it and process it differently.
I try to express gratitude daily. Sometimes I do this as thought re-framing, sometimes as journaling or prayer. I even have a little basket of affirmations that I pull out and focus on when I’m having a really difficult time finding something positive during tough moments or day. My affirmation basket was initially a gift from 2 dear friends at the beginning of my personal growth year, but I still add to it. There’s always something to be grateful for, sometimes it just takes a little longer to find.
Being Thanksgiving, I’d be remiss to not mention some things I have to be grateful for. Even estranged from my bio family, I appreciate them. I hope and long for a day we’ll be together and this time will be behind us, but in the meantime, I’m grateful that I felt physically safe and cared for when I was at home. I’m also grateful to know that if I were to get into trouble or need immediate help, they wouldn’t turn me away. This year my birthday card weren’t addressed to my birthname. They were addressed to “K Meek”. That was a really small gesture that meant more to me than they probably realize. It showed effort and concern for my feelings. I sent a thank you text expressing that, but no reply, yet.
I love to stop and view the sunset from the Water Reservoir on my walks.
I’m grateful for the bio family that has shown up for me during my transition. I’ve got some Aunts and Cousins that are proud of who I am and have taken the time to tell me so.
I’m grateful for my job and co-workers that accepted me during my transition, without question.
I’m grateful to my friends for loving me and having my back — and for always seeing me, even before I officially came out as trans.
I’m grateful for Jess and her family. They welcomed me with wide arms and continue to make me feel like a part of the family, even though Jess and I are no longer dating.
I’m grateful for my home, my neighbors, the opportunity to serve this community and the incredible people I get to serve alongside.
I’m grateful to Yes Louisville for giving me this incredible platform and to you, my readers, who show up with open hearts and minds to better understand the joy and pain that comes along with being trans and living your truth as such.
All-in-all, I’m grateful for this life. I truly believe that God doesn’t give us more than we can handle. Being trans is hard. I sometimes wish I’d been born cisgender, but I’d be a very different person. Without this life, I wouldn’t be able to share this story and (hopefully) affect change in the world in this way. I’m grateful for this body that I now claim as mine and all the new adventures we will go on together.
6. Give Yourself A Break
Friends, exercise, volunteering, gratitude – it’s all good stuff. All have been vital parts of my transition story, but life can get to be a lot. I have to remind myself that it’s ok to slow down and sit in the discomfort sometimes. It’s ok to say “no” or to permit myself to take a break. If we are always going full-speed, we can get burned out and overwhelmed. I like to give myself permission to stop and veg on the couch for a bit or lay down and close my eyes for a few minutes, and yes, to even say “no” when asked to do one more thing.
Part of giving myself a break is also extending myself some grace. I’m a human person, and humans make mistakes. When I mess up or do something then start to regret it, I try to remind myself that it’s ok. I messed up. That’s ok. I’m not dead or dying. I pause then look for the lesson. Everything happens for a reason and exactly when it’s supposed to. It’s a corny little saying, but it’s so true. And sometimes a break and some grace is the thing that’s supposed to happen right now.
As always, thanks for taking an interest in my trans life and better equipping yourself to be an ally. Have a great Thanksgiving. 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!