I will not apologize for being me…

Pain is a powerful deterrent. The emotional pain of seeing every adult look over at me with patronizing expressions and knowing nods because, once again, I was doing something that was normal to me and odd to everyone else. The physical pain after school when my classmates ran after me or chased me down on bikes because I was an easy target since I stood out. The humiliation of being ostracized repeatedly because no one else wanted to be tarnished by my presence.

So I shrunk myself small and hid myself close in an attempt to fit… and was still seen as odd.

I married the first person to date me. Years of thinking no one would ever want to date someone as weird as me turned into worries that this would be my only chance at marriage and children. Which is so not a good base for a relationship. Then I had kids and worried that my weirdness would hold them back from making friends. If the parents thought I was too weird, would their children be allowed to come over? And I shrunk even more.

Then came work. I needed a job to raise the kids and needed not to stand out, so I put on the most normal mask I could make and tried to be quiet but productive. I tried my hardest and hid until I could no longer find myself. And I never really noticed. It took a year before I noticed I’d lost interest in reading. Me, who read a book a day for years. I spent a year and a half without writing. I’ve been known to write for 12 hours at a time and carried a notebook and pen with me.

I never noticed when my shrinking turned into apologizing for everything that I did oddly, until I was apologizing for my mere existence. For using the air the more normal people needed to breathe.

I never really noticed until I found myself standing on the ledge to my balcony pondering how long it would take to fall and how quickly the pain would stop. My mask broke then and it’s never going back on again.

I will not apologize for loving bright colours and glitter
I will not apologize for loving stuffed animals and butterflies and rainbows
I will not apologize for hand flapping
I will not apologize for squeeing when I’m happy
I will not apologize for singing (yes, even in the grocery store)
I will not apologize for caring
I will not apologize for my thoughts being a step off from expectations

If I continue to apologize for being born autistic in a neurotypical world what am I teaching my autistic offspring? I’ve told my kids for years that, as long as I pay my bills, it doesn’t matter how weird I act. It’s time for me to believe that. My life depends on me believing that.

hand drawn daisy

I drew this at the hospital. The perspective’s not the best but I also haven’t drawn anything in twenty-five years.

So I’m reconnecting with myself. Writing poetry, reading, scrapbooking, sketching, and editing my novel. I’m singing again. To Jeremy, to the cats, and most of all to me.

Tomorrow I have errands to run, appointments to attend, and a cake to decorate. Then Jeremy and I are joining my parents for a family camping trip. I’m going to be 100% myself, even in front of the rest of the family. It will be fabulous!

don't shrink yourself

 

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Seventy-two hours…

Content Note: frank discussion of suicidal thoughts

It was a gorgeous day. I carefully packed my bag for group therapy. Water, notebook, phone, sparkly pen, tissues. I didn’t usually bring Chapstick but was reasonably sure I was going to get admitted to the hospital. It went into the bag as well. I should have gone to group the day before but I’d been crying for most of the night and was too exhausted when my alarm went off. Today I was determined to go.

The therapy class was more of a holding class until space was available in the main group. Most of my classmates had already moved up (I was due to move on Monday) and only three of us were left. Everyone else was new. And quiet. My group spilled out everything in the introduction. This group shared first names and ages, nothing else. The instructor tried to start up a group conversation only to have it fizzle. Then she tried again.

“Yes?” she asked. Why was she staring at me? And when had I raised my hand? What should I say?

“I’m thinking about suicide,” I replied.

Apparently that.

“Thinking or planning?”

“Planning”

“Not every suicidal thought is serious,” she pointed out. “Sometimes people think about suicide but have no intentions of following through. Is this something you intend to do?”

Jeremy had brought in my fairy garden the night before so I didn’t need to go onto my balcony. Several nights earlier I’d messaged a friend in tears and sat chatting with her on Facebook until Jeremy came home, terrified I’d jump. And I couldn’t stop thinking that it would be like flying… and then nothing. I couldn’t keep living like that and, while I wanted to die, I didn’t want to hurt anyone. Someone was going to be hurt finding me and it was going to happen sometime soon.

“Yes,” I said quietly. Every single person in the room was staring at me.

“I can’t hear you,” she said.

Seriously? Like this wasn’t hard enough already.

“Yes,” I said a bit louder and nodded for emphasis. She informed me I needed to see her at the end of class.

Class ended, she arranged for someone to cover her next appointment, then set off with me through the back halls of the hospital… right back to where Karen and I started a month and a half earlier. Thankfully this time the waiting room speaker had been disabled. Once again we went through triage and to the nurse’s station.

“She needs to be put on a form one,” the instructor said urgently.

Form one? Oh, she’d discussed this in class. That was a seventy two hour involuntary admission. As long as there was a bed somewhere relatively quiet I didn’t care. I’d only been up for three hours at that point but I was already exhausted.

I saw a doctor next. All I remember is him handing me paperwork explaining my involuntary admission and that the number 42 was on top.

42 ~ the meaning of life. There wasn’t anyone to share that bit of information with. Security was on the other side of the room, carefully keeping an eye on me. A volunteer saw me hugging myself and gave me a sheet. A security guard told me I could have another one if I was still cold and warned me I’d lose my phone soon and to copy down any numbers I needed. I knew Jeremy’s number, and my parents still have the same number from my childhood, but I didn’t know Karen’s number.

The psychiatrist called me into a room. It was bright and had plexiglass windows in the middle and a door. She sat down and gestured to the seat in front of her. Had anything happened recently?

A madman shot up a bar.

But that was half a continent away in a different country and would bring up too many questions.

“My boyfriend and I broke up at the beginning of May,” I said hesitantly. Hesitant because I’d answered these questions multiple times before and pretty much knew what to expect.

“Who instigated the break up?”

“It was mutual,” I replied quickly. It hadn’t been but I didn’t particularly want to get into blaming. “It wasn’t a good time for a relationship, there was lots going on.”

“Like what?” she asked, leaning forward.

Great.

“We’re both struggling with mental health issues and [boyfriend] has some physical health issues too.”

“And what else? You said lots.”

“[Boyfriend]’s just starting his transition,” I replied. Maybe she would know what transition meant.

“What does that mean?”

And maybe not.

“Gender transition,” I replied.

“Oh… he’s going from male to female?”

“Umm no. He’s…” [Boyfriend] wouldn’t want to be described as female in any way but I couldn’t think of a way to explain.

“So he was born female. Did you know this ahead of time?”

I nodded and was relieved when she didn’t appear shocked like the last professional. Although leaning back in her seat wasn’t much of an improvement.

If I fall in love with a woman, would that be seen as wrong?

The questions went back to suicide and the final question, “If we released you, would you feel safe?”

It would be like flying… and then nothing. I remembered curling up in my chair, hugging my stuffed animal, scared to even go near my balcony and shook my head.

“Okay, follow me,” she left the room and gestured to a security guard, the same one who’d offered me a second sheet earlier.

This time he gave me pants, complete with a hole in the front, and a three armed shirt. I knew what the hole was for though I’d never worn pants with one before. The shirt left me baffled.

“Here,” he said as he took back the shirt and mimed putting it on. It wrapped around so that one arm went through two holes. Then he took all my belongings and gave me a pair of blue throwaway slippers with a seam across the soles.

I spent most of my time in emergency sleeping, which I’m sure relieved the guards. Actually, I know it did because one commented on it as he relieved the other.

“Whew,” the second guard said. “It sounds like an easy shift.”

One guard gave me a heated blanket when I started shaking and talked with me about books. He told me about a new movie too but my thoughts were too scattered and I couldn’t remember the title. It sounded interesting through.

I stayed in the emergency room hallway until 8pm, missing both lunch and dinner, before being wheeled to the psychiatric ward. It’s a small ward with a P shaped hallway, a TV room with plastic chairs, and a cafeteria that doubles as an entertainment room. The blinds are tucked away behind a window pane so no one can hang themselves. The mirrors are silvered metal. And there’s no bag in the garbage can. Meals are served at 8am, noon, and 5pm with a plastic fork and spoon. Have you ever buttered cold toast with a spoon before? It’s, umm, interesting. And chewy. The toast, not the spoon.

I’d been terrified of going into the ward. I knew I needed the help but had no idea what to expect other than, well my mind drew a blank. Honestly, while I hated being locked in… unable to leave, the ward itself wasn’t bad. The nurses were uniformly kind and the patients were friendly and understood “sorry, I’m getting overwhelmed… I’m going to have to go lie down”. I made three friends immediately and we hung out together, playing cards, colouring in those intricate adult colouring books, and singing. I’d been told that people don’t like to remember being in the psychiatric hospital but the other patients showed no sign of that. Multiple times I heard people conversing and reminiscing about previous visits. Remember so and so from two visits ago? He’s here now. Oh hi doctor! I was your patient during my last admission.

One thing that I love about this hospital is that the ward is mixed gender. During my stay there was one very effeminate gay young man who was much happier and comfortable hanging around the women and one young person struggling with gender dysphoria who had no idea what their gender was. Considering they commented on hacking off their long hair to buzz cut length because they’d have died if they didn’t, I think being forced into a women’s only section and female garb would have been very detrimental. And, yes, I did assure them it’s normal to be unsure of your gender and that it can take years to sort out.

some won't come and that's okay

People say that you learn who your real friends are when you hit your lowest point and that is so true. One of my friends, who I trusted completely and was positive would always be there, walked away from me completely during this time. It was a heartbreak and one I’ve sobbed about more than once. However that friend’s abrupt departure was more than offset by the number of people who walked in. The friends sharing messages of hope and love. My fellow patients who repeatedly commented on my kindness and showed me kindness of their own. And the anonymous person who left a spray of daisies on my bed the day I left the hospital.

I have no idea about the future. Right now I’m considered emotionally fragile by the psychiatric team, too fragile for the group I was to attend. But I’m feeling better now than I have in years and am ready to take each day one step at a time.

coming home

Me leaving the hospital after a week’s stay with one of my anonymous flowers.

Audition

When do I smile?
Is that my mark on the floor?
The lights are too bright
I can’t see the expressions on the faces judging me.

My lines are jumbled
They don’t seem to fit the dialogue
Maybe my script was dropped?
There’s no numbers on the pages.

My voice is too soft
The director can’t hear me
Even the people in the front are complaining.

I’m failing at the audition for my life.

Battling depression…

Today has been one of the hardest days of my life. I told the truth. It’s not that I’m a chronic liar, it’s just that I don’t tell people anything. Telling people things hurts, it makes me feel exposed, and I’d rather just curl up in a ball and hide. But depression doesn’t wander off, it hides right along beside me, whispering in my ears… telling me how worthless I am and how everyone would be better off without me.

L convinced me to tell people and I sat at my computer this morning, still crying, and wrote a heartfelt message about how I felt. It was messy, ugly, and the truth. I figured people would think I was whining for attention. So many people have it worse. But people listened.

Karen listened. She called me from work and drove me to the hospital, where she sat beside me for hours, while I told the truth and explained over and over, how badly I’m eating and sleeping and exactly how I was planning to die. Then my Mom took over because I wasn’t supposed to be left alone and she held my hand while we waited more. I finally saw a psychiatrist, who’s taking me as an emergency patient, and I’m staying with my parents for a few days. I don’t fly. No one wants me near the balcony. I don’t want me near my balcony either, at least not until my meds increase.

Depression lies. I thought my family didn’t want me around. The truth is I get overwhelmed in crowds and scroll on Facebook or talk to Lenny to calm down. They saw me hiding in the corner on my phone and figured I didn’t want to be around them.

I’ve had a headache for several days and am not at my best. I’m fuzzy headed and forgetful and exhausted. But I’m here and I’m safe for a few days and hopefully I’ll get better. I’m so tired of grey.

Life… and all that stuff…

Jeremy’s off visiting zir sister Emma for the day, leaving the apartment quiet… almost overwhelmingly so. Jeremy is not a quiet person. Zie putters all day, long building elaborate water systems for zir plants, upgrading zir computer, and rebuilding zir remote control cars.

plant watering system

This is only half of zir plant watering system.

Jeremy is not quiet during any of this. Zie either has zir music on, a video, or both and zie talks to zirself the whole time. Zie answers zirself too… holding complete conversations. The only time there’s silence is when zie puts on headphones, at least until zie laughs.

I’ve made the most of my quiet day. So far I’ve taken a nap, made myself chocolate pudding, and done some scrapbooking; including a layout of one of my favourite pictures of Jeremy. It’s a selfie zie took last September at the beach.

Colin

And now I’m finally settling down to write before zie gets home. I’ve been meaning to write here for a while but life got hectic. The biggest change is my job; I transferred to a closer location. This is amazing for us because the store is a five minute walk from home instead of an hour long bus ride. At the same time, it’s a huge change for me.

I don’t handle change well *huge understatement*. I left a store where I’d worked for six years. I knew the rules, the location of everything, and all the people. I had coworkers who would hug me as soon as I got to work and coworkers who waved and said “bye” when I left. I knew most of our regulars (and we had regulars that treated the store like their second home).

I’ve lived here for three years and had previously been in the new store four times. Once to drop off a resume, once to pick up tickets to Canada’s Wonderland, and twice to order food. I was so not a regular. I didn’t know a single person who worked there either. I spent just over a week fretting that I made the worst decision of my life. Then I went to leave work one afternoon and several of my coworkers smiled and said “bye” while my supervisor looked sad and said, “you’re leaving already?”. I think it’ll be okay.

The part that’s better than okay is Jeremy. This job means that I wake up at the time I previously had to leave and am home before I used to get on my first bus back. Jeremy sees me for almost two additional hours a day and knows, if zie’s really lonely, zie can meet me at work. Zir mood has perked up dramatically. Zir sleeping is still horrible but a pleasant mood makes up for a lot!

I’m moving forward in other ways too. I got my passport and bought a plane ticket so I can visit L in 201 more days (and 1 hour and 30 minutes)!!! Plus I’ve filed for a divorce from my emotionally abusive ex-husband. As expected, he did not take this well. Since Jeremy is the one who served him, zie got stuck listening to him rant about how much he hates me and how he wants to buy me a one way ticket to London.

Jeremy rolled zir eyes when zie told me this. “I don’t think Dad understands how immigration works,” zie said dryly.

My ex called a short time later wanting to know how he can file a counter claim… for a simple divorce. We’ve been separated for fifteen years, I have no idea what he could want to counter claim about. Child support has long been hashed out and he’s 15 years behind in that. Custody has been dealt with as well. Besides, Jeremy’s almost nineteen years old, I’m reasonably sure any judge would laugh in his face if he wants to renegotiate custody.

Then the call moved back to Jeremy.

“He’s my son!” my ex retorted.

That’s when I lost it.

“Zie is not your son!” I snapped back. “Zie is your teen.”

“What?” his tone was both angry and confused, not a good combination with him. But it was too late to back down now even if I wanted to. Which I didn’t.

“Jeremy isn’t male so zie isn’t your son. And zie doesn’t use he or him for pronouns.”

“Jeremy has never told me this,” my ex replied haughtily. “Until he tells me himself that he doesn’t want me to call him my son, I’m going to continue to use male pronouns.”

That was it. I held the phone out to Jeremy, who’d been sitting beside me the whole time.

“What pronouns do you want your Dad to use?” I asked. I’d expected a quiet zie and zir.

“I am not male!” Jeremy said forcefully. “I don’t want to be called he and him. I want you to use zie and zir.”

I put the phone back against my ear. “Did you hear zir?”

I’ve never heard anyone splutter before but that’s definitely what he was doing. “That doesn’t count! It doesn’t count until I feel like asking him what pronouns he wants me to use. Until then I’m going to keep on using he and him.”

If you ever wanted to know what Jeremy’s father is like, this conversation sums him up completely. Along with the fact that he’s been arguing with Jeremy for weeks now, telling zir that we need to carpet bomb the entire Middle East. That “we” is presumably North America and not the two of them, but with my ex it’s hard to tell. The good thing is, he has nothing more flammable than his own flatulence and a cigarette lighter. Jeremy keeps trying to explain to him that there are millions of innocent people there but zir Dad isn’t overly concerned about things like morality and ethics. Unsurprisingly Jeremy has been cutting zir visits short and they weren’t exactly long to begin with.

With any luck, in another month I can start planning my divorce party. I’ll post pictures of the cake once it’s made.

I should have some sort of conclusion to put here but we’ve got thunderstorms rolling in and I just took a couple of Advil so you’ll have to settle for “The End” and a picture of Jeremy posing with zir Easter dinner.

9581_10156737268695434_1740260815011647502_n

Happy spring!

The End!

Is there a diagnosis for weird?

The part I remember the most was that I actually had a friend over. She’d come over as my friend, wanting to hang out and do stuff with me. For the first time ever I could have someone in my room to share my toys and activities. I sat on the floor beside my closet and happily showed off my favourite books and toys. Then I asked her a question and got silence for an answer. I looked up and she was gone.

My heart pounded. I was positive she’d just been there a second ago. Where could she have gone? My room was silent… the hallway empty. I raced downstairs and ran into the kitchen.

“Mom! Mom! My friend just disappeared!”

My Mom gave me this sad smile. “Michelle, she’s right here,” she said as she pointed over to the table. There was my friend sitting calmly eating a snack. “She’s been downstairs for at least ten minutes.”

I don’t remember anything about that friend. I have no idea what her name was, her hair colour, or how we’d even met. What I do remember was the soul crushing shame as I realized I’d sat alone for at least ten minutes talking to myself. The realization that the things I was interested in really were boring and pointless.

I was the kid who collected worms off the side of the road so they wouldn’t drown. Who skipped instead of walked. Who sang in school. Who daydreamed through math class and read through everything else. Who took forever to get dressed because clothes were too finicky and the seams too uncomfortable. Who couldn’t wear jeans. Who couldn’t bounce on a pogo stick even once but could climb to the top of the tallest tree. Who struggled to ride a bike and tie my shoes but could run super-fast. Who hated water on my face but loved swimming underwater. Who mistook a classmate for my own sister because their faces were similar. Who forgets what their own sister looks like? Who can’t tell faces apart that badly? It was even more embarrassing than my Mom drilling me on my classmates faces after picture day and realizing I couldn’t name a single one.

One thing my Mom remembers about my childhood is how well I could hear. As a toddler I recognized my Dad’s step because his knee clicked slightly and, when I was a bit older, I recognized his car by the pitch of the engine. Right now I can hear the hum of my netbook’s fan and the clicking of the CPU. I can hear the cars on the road a block away and my cats breathing. Jeremy chatting in zir room. The faint hum of my ceiling lamp (thankfully not the whine of some fluorescent bulbs). People walking upstairs and moving a chair. I’m reasonably sure most people would say it’s quiet. Sometimes I plug my ears when I’m out. The sounds can get painful.

The school worried about me when I was little and so did my parents. I was sent to Sick Kids for testing in the mid 1970’s and the doctor gave my parents the very scientific results; I’m a square peg in a round hole. He went on to ask them not to let the school board chip my corners off. I wonder how that would fit in an IEP.

I tried to fit in for years, mimicking people’s behaviours and conversational techniques. The end result was an ever present label of “weird”. I talked funny. I sounded like a college professor. I finally gave up on trying to fit in because there doesn’t seem to be much point when the end result is the same. Most jokes confuse me, the raunchy ones especially. I love elephant jokes. They don’t hurt anyone and they make sense. My best social interactions happen online.

The first time the word “autism” intersected with my life was when Jeremy was a toddler and zir occupational therapist brought it up casually. The images my mind dredged up were vague impressions of head banging, rocking, and screaming. My happy, social child didn’t fit any of that. Then the school brought it up and finally Amy. Three separate times was enough to make me do some more investigating and, by the time zie turned seven, I was determined to get zir into testing. Jeremy was diagnosed through the school less than a year later.

Then people started using the word against me, this time as an insult. Amy, who insisted that I should get Jeremy diagnosed because she worked with autistic youths and knew the symptoms, was the first.

You’re so fucking autistic, Michelle. You have no idea how to relate to people.

I looked at Jeremy, who was friendly, helpful, and honest. Amy threw autism like it was an insult but there was nothing wrong with my child. However, she was right in one way; being a square peg in a round hole isn’t a diagnosis… neither is being weird. I joined a group for autistic women on Facebook, explaining honestly that I don’t have an official diagnosis. One immediately posted an online test. This was my result.

ASD online test

Apparently I’m an over achiever.

Jeremy and I are on a waiting list to see a psychiatrist who does talk therapy. I’m hoping he’ll be able to help Jeremy with zir anxiety and I’m hoping he’ll be able to help me with my depression and an actual diagnosis.

For now I need to remind myself that the things I like aren’t weird, boring, or pointless… they’re just uncommon. Because I need to be kind to myself too.

Which would you choose?

The question was innocent, posed in the form of a meme on Facebook. The choice of two pills, red or blue. One instantly gave you ten million dollars while the other allowed you to go back in time to fix your mistakes.

My first instinct was to chose the ten million. I could pay off our small (but large to us) debt and fly the two of us to England to visit L. We could also afford to go on the big family holiday to Cuba this winter. We could paint our whole apartment, get Jeremy a better computer, and enjoy the rest of our lives. Then I pictured Emma’s arms.

We moved to a big apartment complex when Emma was eight years old and Jeremy was six. We’d loved our old apartment, which was a lot more like a townhouse, but it was only two bedrooms. The new apartment had three bedrooms plus the building had a daycare on the ground floor. At first it seemed like a good move then both kids started getting bullied. Rumours flew around that Emma and Jeremy were having sex with each other. One girl even claimed to see them through Emma’s bedroom window (ignoring the fact she’d need either scaffolding or the ability to fly in order to do so). I told the kids the rumour was too weird to be believed. I was wrong. Years later, Emma was introduced to a friend of a friend and the first comment he made was “aren’t you the girl who had sex with her brother?”. I had to pull Emma off the elementary school bus and sent her via public transit instead while Jeremy was the target of homophobic slurs.

If I could go back in time, I would have stayed put in our small apartment, despite the lack of kids their ages.

Then there’s their father. He still contacts me and attempts a relationship with Jeremy. He comments that he doesn’t understand why I speak to him, mentioning repeatedly how much of an asshole he is. He recounts snippets of conversation with a friend where he admits that he deliberately lied to his father to turn him against me. My ex doesn’t understand why Emma won’t speak to him or even look at him if she runs into him, why she blocked him on the phone and on Facebook. He understands that she’s mad at him for things he did in the past but claims he doesn’t remember any of them so it shouldn’t count.

“Quick! Tell me what you had for breakfast on June 21, 2002. Tell me! You can’t can you. It’s not fair for her to expect me to remember stuff that happened that long ago.”

As if his abuse of her is on par with what I had for breakfast.

One of the worst incidences I remember involved a trip to Wal-Mart. Their father took them to McDonalds and settled them down with a snack while explaining that there was this woman who wouldn’t leave him alone, so he had to lie to her in order to get her to stop calling. He called her repeatedly through their whole visit, leaving them in the restaurant while he went outside to smoke and lie. Both kids insisted he was gone for ages, they were all alone in the store and didn’t know what to do. Then he jaywalked with them across a local highway, with traffic coming from both directions. The kids cried when they told me about it; Emma tearfully describing feeling the wind from a passing car against her feet as they jumped off the road. There was a large, clearly marked intersection not ten feet away. My ex claimed he didn’t see it.

Emma begged for supervised visits, she’d feel so much safer with someone else there to make their Dad behave. Jeremy agreed. I found a local place that offered supervised visits. They would be held in a room with someone taking notes. Emma wasn’t fond of that idea, she liked going out and doing things with her Dad. Maybe Gramma could go on the visits with them. Their Dad was furious at the thought. He would not do supervised visits. If she insisted, he’d never see her again. I wanted to step in and tell him it was an adult decision and had nothing to do with the kids. Emma begged me not to. She needed her Dad and begged me to not set up the supervised visits. I backed down then cringed as he forced her to apologize as if she’d done something wrong.

If I could go back in time I would have stood up and told him “no” more. I would have insisted on the supervised visits. Maybe he would have disappeared, maybe not, but supervision would have helped.

And there was Jeremy whose favourite colour was pink. Zie loved stuffed animals and dinky cars… Barbie and Bob the Builder… playing dress up and driving toy vehicles outside.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

… and sometimes playing dress up while driving toy vehicles

I was bullied all through school. Not teased, bullied. For years I didn’t have a single friend at school and for the handful of years I did, she was too scared to let anyone know we were friends for fear of being ostracized. I’ve been chased down by kids on bikes, spat on, had my coat flushed down the toilet. I’ve hidden from gangs of kids behind car wheels and in stores. I checked my assigned seat daily for spit (and often found it). And I adamantly did not want my children to go through the same experiences.

I didn’t ban Jeremy from taking zir stuffies to school but made it very obvious zie’d be teased if zie did. When zie complained that the boys clothing section was boring and didn’t have any good colours, I agreed and said it was disappointing… ignoring zir looks toward the girl’s section. I definitely didn’t let zir know Lego had sparkly pink and purple kits, even though I knew zie would be over the moon with excitement over them.

If I could go back in time, I’d let the kids chose the colour of their shared room, even though I know Jeremy would have chosen pink. I’d have assured Jeremy that zie could have a pink shirt. I’d have bought the damn Lego and watched Jeremy’s over the moon excitement as zir favourite colours and Lego combined to be the best present ever!

Then I listened to my friends, two of which have lost (and regained) their children through their local children’s protection services this past year. Both solely because they are supporting their child’s gender identity. A third is struggling, being supported by children’s services but floundering with the legal system, also because she’s supporting her child’s gender identity.

The main reason I was worried about pushing my ex too far was the fear he’d get angry enough to retaliate; angry enough to lie repeatedly and often enough to get someone to finance him through court against me. Which is exactly what he did when Emma was thirteen… leading to years of living with my parents and in group homes… and culminating in self harm and a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder.

My friends are fighting in a society where Laverne Cox is winning awards and “I am Jazz” is on the air. They’re fighting while gender conversion therapy is being banned and we have access to a parents of transgender children group with over two thousand members. We moved to the apartment complex in 2004, which means I’d have to go back to 2003.

These days my ex is subdued. His health is poor, he struggles to walk and he’s had multiple strokes and heart attacks. When autism was brought up, he brushed it aside with a laugh and a comment that we always knew Jeremy was different. Court in 2003 was a different story. He was younger, angry, and vindictive. He insisted my diagnosis of apraxia (an oral motor sequencing disorder which causes delayed speech) was wrong. He wanted blood tests, an MRI, a CAT scan, and an EKG; despite the fact no doctor had ever requested any of them. He told the court I was putting the children’s lives at risk by refusing medical help and insisted he needed joint custody to ensure they got the help the needed. The court ruled on a second opinion with a local and well respected paediatrician. My ex agreed then was furious with the doctor, who not only confirmed the diagnosis but informed me that my ex wanted him to say Jeremy’s speech delay was a result of my poor parenting skills. My ex felt his personal attacks against me were supposed to be private and confidential. I’m assuming his lawyer convinced him not to ask for a third opinion.

We live in the Greater Toronto Area. The only doctor in the area who would have taken Jeremy’s case (at the time) would have been Kenneth Zucker. I know for a fact he would have had no difficulty blaming my “poor parenting skills” for Jeremy’s feminine behaviour. It wouldn’t have mattered to my ex that he suggested giving Jeremy zir first Barbie because, in the end, none of his actions were about the kids, they were aimed at getting back at me for daring to leave. The kids were casualties and pawns in his efforts to hurt me and Kenneth Zucker would have helped him right along.

So I’d take the ten million dollars because Jeremy’s sleeping in the room beside me wearing zir favourite lavender pyjamas. Because we’re going to paint zir room purple this weekend and put up purple floral curtains. Because our lives might not be perfect but we’ve made it. I’ll work on the future instead and leave the past where it is.