Macrocosmic Marvels, Memoir, Menagerie

On Being an Ally

Transgender Day of Visibility is March 31

**UPDATE**: I wrote this in 2019 to speak at our church, alongside my son, Eddie, on Transgender Day of Visibility. So much has happened since then. We’ve both grown in knowledge and experience. 

On March 10 of this year, 2022, Eddie just achieved his goal of gender affirming top surgery, and I spent the post surgery week caring for him. I have so much I want to say about how utterly meaningful it was to be there for him and witness his joy and healing. I wanted to shout it from the rooftops that here, here is my beautiful boy and I am so proud to be here beside him.

My son, Eddie, just after surgery

 Instead, I simply witnessed him becoming even more himself. I watched as they pulled away his bandages and he saw his scars, already healing on his now flat chest. I saw his wonder and relief that this moment, so long awaited, was finally here. It was a moment I will treasure forever. My amazing son is at peace and happy in his body. His inside and outside finally match up in a way that matters most to him. I am thankful and humbled to have been allowed to care for his needs and  share this time with him. 

Right now, across the country, there is legislation in far too many states that would, if passed, rob teens as well as some adults of their human rights to simply live as who they are.  Some of these laws require teachers to report transgender kids. These kids, these people, want nothing more than to live their lives in peace and get the medical and mental/emotional support they need in order to do so. They are not harming anyone. They deserve love and all of other basic human rights that cisgender people have and take for granted. If my child had been denied the care he received, I’m certain I would have lost him. He would not have survived. 

If you are at all able to do so, please call your state representatives and urge them to vote no on these ‘slate of hate’ laws that will, if passed, do great harm to transgender teens and their families. And then, if you know a trans kid, show them some love. Use their correct pronouns and correct names at every opportunity. Tell them you love them, no matter what. I guarantee you they need that love and support. 

And if you have transgender folks in your life but don’t know how to talk to them, how to help them get the help they need, message me. I’ll help you find the information you need. Please, just love them, and be the ally they all need.

– March 31, 2022

As a UU, I’m ready, like most of you, to make signs, march, protest, and to help register my neighbors to vote. I’m ready to feed the hungry and welcome the stranger. I’ve studied world religions and tried to meet my conservative angry neighbor where she is, fresh baked cookies in hand.

As UU’s we know just how to save our world right?
Parenting has taught me that saving the world begins at home.

About 20 years ago, as I prepared to become a mom, I studied all the parenting books and joined this church, so that I could provide my children whatever support they might need as they grew into the kind of enlightened adult I thought I was. I got involved with the youth group here, believing that working with teens would teach me plenty about parenting my own eventual teenagers. I was not disappointed. I’ll get to what I learned in a moment.

Memories of my own misfit teen years were still fresh, and I wanted to become the kind of mom I’d needed– for my own kids. I told my children, often, that they could be anyone or anything, and that I would always love and accept them, no matter what.

They knew they could tell me anything without fear of judgement.
We were ready to face anything and everything together.

Imagine my shock and confusion when my kid came out as non-binary transgender– not to me– but to all of facebook! What? But they HATE facebook! Why did they feel they couldn’t come to me? How did I screw up the thing I was the most prepared for?

I was devastated. Not because they were transgender, but because I felt excluded from something so deep and so important to them. I hurt because I wasn’t helping them carry the frustration and anxiety they’d expressed so publicly.

What did I get so wrong? What did I miss?

The thing I missed, the thing I’d forgotten was the most important thing I’d learned from every teenager I’ve ever known.

Our main job, at this point, is to be still and listen. It is on us to create and hold a safe space for them to cry, rage, vent, or rejoice.

Then–and this is harder but more important–don’t try to fix it.

I’ll say that again. Be silent. Listen. Don’t try to fix it.

Just Be there. Even when they aren’t speaking. I know, you’d do ANYTHING to protect them, and so much more. But now you’re called on to do the hardest thing. NOTHING. If you just leave that door open, they’ll come to you. If they need help solving it, they’ll ask.

It may look like they’re just sitting there, inactive, lazy even. But I promise, they’re doing the hard work of sifting through choices, determining goals and how to achieve them. Seeking their own paths, fighting their own demons. Don’t try to do it for them.

Do honor their struggle. Offer your shoulder to cry on.
Remind them you love them.
Listen when they tell you what they need. And respect those needs.

They need to know you love them, unconditionally. Regardless of name, identity, appearance, and grumpy moods.

Respect who they are in this moment, even if it changes tomorrow. Know that this is not just a phase, though it may take time to sort out. Some people are male or female, others are non-binary or gender fluid. Trust the work you’ve done to help grow this human. Trust them. They won’t disappoint you. They’ll exceed your wildest expectations.

Celebrate their victories and joys with them. And there are so many joys. Even as you might grieve the person you think you’ve lost, and plans and hopes you may have had for them when they were born–accept the gift of getting to know who they are now, and who they are becoming.

Over the past couple of years I’ve learned so much. I have witnessed so much beauty and profound happiness as Eddie has become, outwardly, the amazing person they’ve always been on the inside.

I am humbled and honored to be part of this journey with my child.

It is a gift to see their unbridled joy in the small random moments.
That moment when someone sees, not a gender, but a person. The first time they receive something personalized with their chosen name. That moment when we started to research counseling and hormone therapy, together.
The moment when we helped another transgender teen on their journey, together.

And the pride they have when they tell their friends they’re out to their parents and that they can tell us anything.

I know this hands off approach hurts. It’s too soon right? We need to be needed. And we are still needed. But in a different way now.

They need our help finding legal, medical and mental health support. They need friends and family modeling how to be helpful allies in our communities. As parents, standing together as advocates and allies for transgender teens, we could be a force for change. We can share hopes and fears, resources and support to help make our world better for all transgender people. I’d love to talk about it with you. My door is always open.

March 31, 2019
Manderley Swain

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Madness, Memoir, Musical Monologues

Flashback

Scared
Body trembling
Tremors, shivers
Cold, not cold
Alone in my head
With my memories
Filling my body
Can’t breathe
Wild eyed
Chest tightening
Dissociating
Dizzy falling feeling
Confusion, chaos
Dissolving, distrusting
Destabilized, disorder
Drowning, smothering
Fighting, clawing, crying
Lost, dying
Of shame
And misplaced blame
Not my fault
All my dreams
Slammed to screeching halt
It’s my body
I scream
Mine
He hurt me
It’s his crime
So why am I
Doing the time
In my solitary hell
Imprisoned inside myself

–Manderley
July 12, 2018

This companion piece to the poem, Aftermath, written a few years earlier, is a peek inside the moments when my body remembers and makes me revisit, rewatch, relive trauma from the past. It can feel like I’m just flung back through time and into the body that was, without my consent. Getting the words down in poetry, and out of my brain helps me to feel and reclaim some small bit of control again. It helps me to process what happened and what’s happening still when I have flashbacks to that horrible time. I hope that, if you’re reading these words, it helps you to process and heal or to understand, if you haven’t experienced this kind of trauma. Thank you for reading.

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Memoir, Menagerie, Musical Monologues

Ever Underfoot

Always there
Ever underfoot
In my hair
Always there
His voice
Constant sounds in my ear
Talking, singing, random noise

Lost in my own hell
I lashed out with fire
Wrapped up in myself
I held my selfish world tighter
A wounded wild thing, confused
Tried to scare him away
Unwilling to see the truth

Always there
Ever underfoot
And in my hair
Always there
His voice
Constant sounds in my ear
Talking, singing, random noise

My world
Upside down
Tilt-a-whirl
Turned around
His outstretched hand
Direction found
Light glimmered in the dark
Followed the sound
His voice, sweet sparks

Always there
Ever underfoot
And in my hair
Always there
His voice
Constant sounds in my ear
Talking, singing, random noise

Unflinching steady
Friendship’s light
Helping hands ready
Soothing, restoring my sight
Seeing him with new eyes
Perspective shifts
Heart opens, passions rise
Love stirs, closes the rift

Always there
Ever underfoot
And in my hair
Always there
His voice
Constant sounds in my ear
Talking, singing, random noise

How did I miss him there before?
His fierce loyalty and love
He was always there, giving more
Too busy hiding in my fortress
Trying to stay above
When I should have listened
Should have loved

Always there
Ever underfoot
And in my hair
Always there
His voice
Constant sounds in my ear
Talking, singing, random noise

Sparks play across his eyes
His voice, singing softly in my ear
Our passions rise
His hands tangled in my hair
Our duet of heated cries
Growling clawing biting kissing
Love and lust in fevered pitch
Coming down, blissful sighs

Always there
His voice
Constant sounds in my ear
Talking, singing, random noise
Ever underfoot
And in my hair
I’m forever thankful
He is always there

Manderley Swain
July 23, 2018

This is a poem about my partner Zen. Before we fell in love (realized we were in love with each other), we found each other irritating for a time. We were each suffering in our own silent darknesses. When the tide turned, I found I was so profoundly grateful he’d remained underfoot and in my heart no matter how hard I pushed him away. This poem is our love story.

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Madness, Memoir, Musical Monologues

Grief Poem

I look out at her things
Her dishes, her quilts, her earrings
They don’t belong here, I scream

Put them back!
Put her back!
Turn the clocks back!

More than five years gone
Their bones rest beneath their stone
Oh, how I still yearn for home!

Written 8/23/21
Manderley Swain

I still miss my Grandmother fiercely. I have many mementos of her life and of my life with her. She is still a thread woven through all that I am and do. Those dark moments when I need comfort are when I miss her the most. This poem is about that.

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Memoir, Menagerie, Musical Monologues

The Spaces Between

Living in the gray spaces
Between dark and light
Living in Liminal leys
Between the lines
Living in the twilight traces
Between day and night
Living in the graces
Between spaces and times
Living in the changing faces
Between the blinks of your eyes
Living in the embraces
Between inside and outside

Living on the threshold
Between the aged stones
Living in the darkened hall
Between the ghostly moans
Living inside the call
Between the numbers on the phones
Living in the bitter cold
Between flakes of ice and snow
Living in stories yet untold
Between the notes of the song
Living inside your soul
Between right and wrong

–Manderley Swain
3/14/21

I wrote this during a breakup/reset period with one of my partners. We’re both intense people in relationship. We both have trauma behind us and within us. During this time, we committed to remaining friends. We agreed that we could not un-know or un-love each other. We hoped that we might take this time to learn each other’s contexts and needs better. And we did that. But in between the new relationship energy time and the back to good time, we struggled with love and longings we could not unknow or unremember. We lived in the between spaces, waiting to be whole again. It was bittersweet and tragic and beautiful.

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Memoir, Musical Monologues

Restless Love

Poetry fragments
Flowing freely
Flickering flash flood

Fanciful Fae sent
Glimpsing the Unseely
Pages paid in blood

Word swords rent
Elven armored feelings
Missives mangling moods

Raging river torrents
Leave hearts reeling
Crying to the moon

For rose petaled scents
Wistful waxen sealing
Sacred scripted runes

Hinting love’s intent
Once and future revealing
Restless spirit swoons

Manderley Swain
4/7/21

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Memoir, Musical Monologues

Recollections

My skin remembers your touch

Tracing the path across my collar bone 

And down to my heart

My neck remembers your lips

And the whisper of your kiss

My lips remember playing tag with yours

Catching you with my teeth

My breath remembers catching

My heart in my throat

My eyes remember gazing out

At the gray green waves

Adrift in your own

January 27, 2020

Manderley Swain

“Blodeuwedd” watercolor by Manderley Swain
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Memoir, Menagerie, Musical Monologues

Pale Flower

I once knew a pale flower
She flew away upon the wind
Spring storms her petals did rescind
Retreated she unto her bower

Another season lay she dormant
Hidden and warm beneath the grass
Unseen by all souls who pass’d
Counting days in reverent silence

I once knew a pale flower
She flew away upon the wind
On her return my heart doth mend
Our friendship lights my darkest hour

Manderley Swain
April 12, 2021

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Memoir, Musical Monologues

The Unrequited Quiet

In the unrequited quiet
We lay restless beneath
The star sprinkled blanket
Unspoken desires retreat
Gasps of withheld breath
No whisper of release

In the unrequited quiet
So near yet so far apart
Deafening edgy silence
Discordant harmonic hearts
Resonating passion of poets
Bittersweet chaotic art

3/17/21
Manderley Swain

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Memoir, Menagerie, Musical Monologues

Constellation

Written February 16, 2018. This was the Valentine I wrote for my two partners and my meta that year. The originals feature paper cut designs of each person’s symbolic animals on black cardstock with color cardstock backings.

Zen and I had been dating only since October of 2017 and I wanted to express my love for partners and meta alike. I also wanted to express how I felt, and still feel, about this polyamory adventure we embarked on together. It took us all some time to find our way together, but here we are 4 years later, having added yet another partner to the polycule and still strong together, still finding our way. Still strong.

This year I would dedicate the poem to all of us, including Maurice. It still feels right and whole and beautiful.

Together we four
In love’s constellation dance
The stars rewritten
By courage and chance

Sharing dreams
The world cannot comprehend
Through our hearts’ prisms
Perception and starlight bend

The wave of a wand
Forms a magical polycule
An intrinsic bond
Elements in a molecule

Our love is no mystery
Only a glorious testament
to the curious alchemy
Of friendship’s sweet sacrament

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