Finding Freedom from Fear

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
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 occurred 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

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

(Cross-posted at
Crossing the T