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I’m Drawn to the Ones That Ain’t Afraid

This is the first time I have sat down to write in a while. These June days are long and tumultuous; the nights are broken into chapters of sleep, interrupted by pain. I have found myself startled awake by the cries of both my beloved and my baby only to find salt on my own cheeks. I look at this tiny, wondrous creature and despair at the world we have brought her into. I look at my beloved, with a strength and resilience I have yet to see matched, and my heart wrenches with silent sobs.

Today is our wedding anniversary. We married in Pride month, during an art festival under an administration elected on a platform of hope and change. We were married legally as two women, in a church, with 8 people fit into a limo, not a thought to sharing the close quarters with each other’s laughter and singing.

The then-and-now picture that emerges next to that happy day is in negative, a strip of film that had fluttered away when the photographs were last handled. The sun is shining still, but the golden light has never felt more temporary. June is still Pride month, and we are still married; but the rainbow that shone so brightly has wavered and dimmed. 

The art festival, shared limousines, and singing in enclosed spaces have all been paused by the coronavirus. Infections are rising as restrictions lift across the country. Pride month has given way, rightly, to gay wrath month. We hold our platform steady and try to use our voices to amplify those of the black community, who have been disproportionally killed by the police. We remember who stood for their rights in 1969 so that we may stand together today. We have lost a son, and felt his spirit when our daughter touched down earthside on Dia de los Angelitos. And my partner-in-crime, by beloved, is no longer a woman. 

Simone de Beauvoir said that “one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.” To me it makes sense, then, that a woman can continue to become – even if it means that “woman” is not inclusive enough of a term, it can be a resting stop on a person’s journey of identity.    

Hawthorne is the not the first first name of my love. She/her pronouns do not encompass the wonder that is this person. The love of my life transcends the binary, genderqueer and proud. They have never been one for conformity, so why should their gender be any different? 

Two days ago, the Trump administration rolled back healthcare protections for trans* folks as defined by the Affordable Care Act. I was immediately incensed. It felt like a tipping point; I felt like the world was exploding around me as I stood, screaming, hands clamped over my ears so I could not hear the impacts of the shrapnel on the disenfranchised. How much more can I take, I wondered, rage pulsing through me. I can feel the echo of it in my blood still. 

We had fought so hard for marriage equality, which was passed and the most prominent house in the land was lit with rainbows. We were acknowledged, we were validated as a community. Congratulations, you are people too! Enjoy it while you can! is what the cake should have read. Hawthorne saw that then; I foolishly held more hope. 

Hawthorne is due to have surgery on their back in 9 days. This new injury occurred over 5 months ago; this is not their first tangle with the healthcare system, but it is the biggest one since they have advanced on their identity discovery journey. We live in a progressive state – at least one that is progressive in their practice, even if it takes some time for the laws to catch up. There seems to be an air of, “oh, we have to spell that out for people?” in our legislature. The majority of the time, it is an accepting place. And when it isn’t, people take action. I know that this move by the administration to redefine sex-based discrimination as based on biological sex (as well as decrease abortion access and decrease translation resources for non-English speakers) will not fly here, nor will it impact Hawthorne’s long and desperately-awaited surgery next week. But I worry. 

Covid-19 put off one particularly important thing. Hawthorne was in the process of changing their name before non-essential work stopped and travel was restricted in March. Here, it’s not a terribly hard process, but it does require certain government offices to be open. We are now looking at how to relaunch that process; it’s difficult for people who operate outside the gender binary to constantly hear their former name in the already fraught setting of healthcare. Electronic medical records are also notoriously slow to update with changes to the capture of demographic data. All this coalesces with the injury itself and the excruciating nerve pain to make every healthcare appointment a daunting endeavor. 

Right now, Hawthorne cannot carry our child easily or safely; walking is manageable, but stairs and sitting upright for any length of time is difficult. The nerve medication is a time-thief that steals the words and slows the speech of my favorite conversationalist. I miss seeing their ocean eyes unclouded by constant and debilitating pain. I wish I could alleviate that pain, even for a minute, and give them just a moment of sweet relief. I don’t know how they find the strength to carry it day after day. 

The amount of pain they have been left to languish in is inhumane. To add the constant need to correct their name as others speak it adds emotional overtime; then, for this embroiled country to put such hard-won progress in reverse and reclaim the ability to deny rights to trans* people removes even the vestige of respect. And still they rise: they make the calls and complete the paperwork and attend the appointments. The definition of insanity is not repeating the same action and expecting the result to change; that is tenacity, that is perseverance in the face of the storm. Hawthorne stands against the winds that buffet them with inadequate pain relief, with judgments about weight, mental health, and addiction thinly disguised as medical concern, and tangles of red tape. 

And here’s the kicker: they are afraid. Of the surgery, of the disregard for black and brown lives in this country, of the Republican National Convention now announcing their platform will still oppose marriage equality and support conversion therapy. They are afraid as I am, and that fear crowds out their anger while it elevates mine. But still, they stand and make their progress, inch by excruciating inch, intent on clawing back to their true self. They do it afraid. Their courage is nothing short of astounding.

They are my Pride. And whenever need be, I’ll be their Wrath. 

I thought I was going to write about anger today. Instead, the love came pouring out of me. If blog posts have dedications, then this one goes out to you, my love. I’ll be by your side through all that is to come, as I have all we have been through. You have stood by me, strong and indominatable, fluffy and dented, maybe bent but never broken. We have had ten years together, six married; two births, what feels like countless deaths; joy personified and vast rolling oceans of pain; a hundred storms, a thousand rains. Let’s get back to the garden, there are new greens to tend. Here’s to the next step in our forever. 

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Guest post from Hawthorne Barber-Dubois

Clark Franklyn Barber died his final death at 4pm September 20th, 2016. I saw his final death because he was a man who died 100 times. There wasn’t much for him to leave on the 20th. Gone are the blind eyes that saw only light and shadow. My father was an intensely private person, so much so that there are probably people in this room that never saw his eyes. I was surprised that Aunt Lynn and Mom were able to find this many pictures of him not wearing his sunglasses.

Gone are the atrophied muscles and arthritic knees, shoulders, hands, and wrists. His was a body well abused. His physical feats not sound legendary. He ran up Mount Marcy carrying a backpack loaded heavy with rocks, ascending and descending in the same day. He did a 40-mile day hike in Sweden and slept in the mossy turret of an abandoned castle. He won a fist fight against a group of Russian sailors who were displeased with his banjo rendition of Norwegian wood.

Gone are the hands that held our hands, held micrometers, held guitars, held banjos, held maps, held motorcycle handlebars. 

His broken back is gone.

A few months ago, Dad told me that the CIA attempted to recruit him out of high school. He spoke fluent German and they wanted him to infiltrate Baader-Meinhoff in East Germany. My dad refused. I asked him why and he said it was because he didn’t want to serve his country. He lost too many friends and classmates to Vietnam. He told me once that Grandpa was the last hero in this family, but I disagree. He waged a different war. One fought in factories, standing over machinery and enduring the physical demand and the mental tediousness that the work required. I remember waking up one morning after his first stroke to the sound of him crying. He was sitting in the living room struggling to lace his boot, he had forgotten and then remembered that he no longer worked. 

He was freed from his shattered mind. Once exact, and sharp – his trade was so obscure that we all had to Google how to spell it for the obituary. After putting in over 20 years at Cutter he was laid off. Unable to find trainings for other work, he taught himself physics using college textbooks that he bought at yard sales. He measured his world with micrometers, he underlined books with rulers. He raised us to look at the world with wonder and curiosity. We listened to far-away lands on the shortwave radio, peered out at the night sky through telescopes, and hiked through the forest preservation looking for fossils.

Gone is his beat-skipping heart, the heart that loved us. I was able to go back home for several days last month and we were able to spend some time alone together. He was still lucid. We talked about music, and movies and shared memories but mostly he talked about his love for us. He showed his love in the same way that his mother did, by asking us, telling us, and reminding us at every conversation to be safe, be careful, drive carefully. He told MJ to remind me to wear my seatbelt in the car. He also showed his love by making sure we had enough to eat. When we would go out as a family, he would often order nothing so that we could get shrimp dinners and beef hash. He would eat the shrimp tails, we would re-enact the scene from The Blues Brothers, “How much for your women, how much for the little girl.” He would eat the solitary leftover egg and then go home and make himself a bean sandwich for dinner.

He was thoughtful. When Mom and him met it was love at first sight. Mom saw him across the dining room at Potsdam and turned to her roommate and told her, “that’s the man I am going to marry.” Later they would go sledding, Mom took a bad spill down an icy hill and got pretty banged up. Mom went home to get cleaned up and thought to herself that if really is the one, he will show up with hot chocolate – and Dad did.

Dad’s thoughtfulness took many forms. He used to proudly tell anyone that would listen that he was an ex-Baptist deacon with a lesbian daughter. He went to Pride every year he was able, and he would stand outside of Spot Coffee during the Dyke March and wave to us. One rainy year he showed up to give me his umbrella and to give me a hug.

Even in his last moments his love for us was apparent. He wanted me to tell Mom that he knew it was a hard 9 years for her and that he wanted her to go out and have fun. To find a social group, to go to church, but most importantly have some fun.

He wanted Matt to know how proud of him he was and proud he was the kind of man that Matt is, that he has a good reputation and that people respect him. That he is a good father to Geneva and that he is a big guy but doesn’t use that to intimidate anyone.

I asked him what he was going to do when he got to Heaven. He didn’t think about his response very long. He was that he was going to meet the Lord and get a bike. He wasn’t much of a church-going man but he told us that riding his motorcycle was like being in church. That sometimes he would ride down country roads and that the trees towering overhead reminded him of being in a cathedral. 

He looked forward to being reunited with his Mom and Dad, with Buster and Quigley. 

He looked forward to not being confined to his well-abused body, the broken back and shattered mind. 

He wanted everyone to know that someday we would all be reunited.

His last days were ones where he was with Mom, at home, and in no pain. He had his music and all of our love.

To quote his favorite writer, Kurt Vonnegut.

Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.

His ending was beautiful and nothing hurt.

Clark is in Heaven now, and everything is beautiful and nothing hurts.