Going Home for a Fresh Start

Last week I got a text from my friend.

“This might be something you want to do,” he said.

It was an opportunity to share a story on stage at WGBH: Stories from the Stage in Boston. I replied, “UM, YEAH!!!”

And so that’s what I did.

I left at 4:45am in the morning and drove back Home to Boston where I lived from 2006-2016 to tell a story on stage about coming back home to New Jersey this year and what it’s been like for me. I had less than a week to work out all the details and the hardest part was how to navigate the major point of why they invited me to share: because I’m transgender.

I struggled with it, wondering if I was being tokenized or provided an opportunity to share my story. After feeling a lot of feelings and almost not going at all and then processing since leaving the stage that evening, I’ve come to realize it’s always probably going to be a little bit of both moving forward. It comes with the territory of having a marginalized identity in a time of rapid cultural change. I’m choosing to embrace what feels uncomfortable about that and be grateful for what’s wonderful about it. Just surrendering to it being both/and, the Middle Way that Buddhism teaches me to embrace.

It’s the best way to be myself, which is the talk I walk for my readers and fans and followers and friends. I’ve been doing it since becoming a coach in 2009. After spending six years navigating my business “rebrand” by myself, I felt relieved to have words to share in ways I wanted to for the pre and post interviews at WGBH. And I told my story in a way that shared my experience and helped evolve our culture forward a few notches. At least I hope so.

I told a story of going back to a place I once worked and how it felt to be there among people who once knew me. It involved having a major panic attack and calling my mom and was full of really relatable themes and issues any person can relate to. I am really proud of that story and I hope I’m able to share it more widely soon.

Going back Home has been a deeply intuitive journey. I stopped trying to plan or strategize back in 2016 when my Vermont move showed me how wonderful it is when we let go and jump. I lost some of my joy and playful spirit when my sublet in Boston last June coincided with Jim’s sudden death. He was my therapist of ten years and my rock. The shock of that sent me reeling and I struggled to find my feet and know what to do next. I just kept following my gut and ended up right back where I left in 2006.

And wonderful things are happening from this fresh start. I’m reuniting with my mom and forging a wonderful relationship. I’m meeting new people and making new friends and catching up and building new relationships with people I knew before. I’m spending most of my time alone, actually, having become a bit of a hermit these past few years. I don’t mind it and actually prefer it. I’m consciously integrating past and current versions of me and it’s making my brain explode but it is an essential part of my journey so I can help others. I couldn’t have predicted this is how my life would go but as it all unfolds, it makes perfect sense.

I think it’s true for every person. We grow and evolve as much as we allow ourselves to do it. Most people limit themselves more than anything. There’s a safety in staying the same but we stay stagnant to the extent that we let fear ride shotgun.

I spoke to someone in Boston who was born and raised there and has been very successful with his business. “But I’m really bored,” he said. I could see why he said that and I’m anything but bored and actually sometimes crave the consistency other people, like this man, have in their lives. But that quality about me, my literal inability to sit still for any extended period of time, has made me who I am today. I’m constantly seeking and searching for what’s next or the newer version of myself. It’s a gift for the work I do, and I keep this in mind when it feels challenging. It seems to be why I’m here.

And that was the fresh start I shared in my story on stage. I talked about how I’ve had to continually find more patience with the things people do and say to me since I came out as transgender and how much I’ve grown up from that experience. I literally am not the same person from the inside-out. Changing on the outside generated a total transformation and fresh start on the inside. But it isn’t all unicorns and rainbows as it may sound in hindsight. It’s been a difficult adjustment. It’s tested me like nothing else. But from the past six years, I’ve learned the invaluable lesson that we always control our response to any situation, we get unlimited fresh starts to be our most compassionate and patient self.

I had to leave Home to become this version of myself and come back Home to apply it. And then go back Home to Boston for a brief stint to see if staying where I am in New Jersey is what I really need to do. It was so tempting, to be back in a place that was familiar and fun and full of things that would make my life much easier than it feels right now. Where I am living, I am really being a trailblazer and I feel self-conscious much of the time. Rural New Jersey isn’t the metropolis of queer-friendly Boston. But it isn’t all that bad, either. In fact, I’m finding surprises around every corner and in people I would have ruled out based on my own assumptions. Isn’t it funny how we can do that? The way we make reasons why we can’t find freedom anywhere we choose to feel it.

Often we’re the very reason why.

And then I look down and see the tattoo on my arm, scrawled in my own handwriting that says, “the true home is within.”

My mom and me.

“Will you send that to me? It’s one of the best pictures of me since I don’t remember when.” 

My mom said this today. This is us smiling. She came to visit me for the first time since I moved back home to New Jersey a year ago today. It’s one of two pictures we’ve taken together in almost a decade. It was a great day.

For most of my life, my mom and I had a very difficult relationship. I never understood why but she said today, “we are more alike than different, I think that’s why we butt heads.” She’s probably quite right. Our sensitivity and empathy run deep as does our impatience. It’s the Irish maybe. 

My father left her with my sister, who was a toddler about to turn 3 years old, and me when I was 3 months old. He left his wedding ring in the dresser during a business trip. My mom found it and called him out while home alone with us. Then he left for good. My mother never went to college. She didn’t have a safe or comfortable home life. She hauled us both in her car and got food stamps until she could figure out another plan. That is her version of the story. I’m sure my dad has his. I may never hear it because he’s been pretty M.I.A. except for a few years when he really was great.

My mom is the one who fought through her pain and confusion and grief to make peace with my decision to transition my gender identity in 2012. It’s taken us six years to be able to hang out and smile like this together. Six years and a lot of work and growth on both sides. During brunch today, I saw my mother as a completely new and different person for the first time in my 40 years on this planet. It felt like time stopped.

This post is a short version of the long story of my mom and me.

This picture exposes the tenacious love and compassion we have for ourselves and each other. All I am I learned from this woman. I’m the mirror that reflects her. She’s so afraid of life but she’s a warrior. She’s the inspiration for all I do in my own life, leaving nothing unexplored and being brave beyond all limits. She conquered a big fear coming to visit me today. I’m fearless from her example.

This is my mom and I’m who I am because she’s who she is. Perfectly her.

Showing up, being seen and seeing how shame serves us.

I woke up to a 3-alarm fire in my little town last night. Heard the sirens as the vehicles rushed past beneath my bedroom window and I figured they were headed somewhere far away.

I checked the local Facebook page and learned the fire was a block away from my little home.

I dressed and went outside into the dark and it was such a thing to experience, the flames were two stories high, as my neighbors wandered around at midnight watching and wondering how to feel.

Everyone is safe and a prominent and beloved local business was burned to the ground and is now gone. The apartments above, homes, also gone.

I thought of impermanence. I felt my ability to embrace how things come and go like this, overnight. The art of learning to let go takes tremendous courage and great skill.

It's a process. And humans need each other for that process.

As this community where I've lived deals with this loss, I'm thinking of ways to share my skills as a good listener to help people process the event and their grief. The loss of this staple business and the impact on the community.

And I feel afraid. I feel afraid to be seen. I've been sort of hiding out here, moving around and not really getting involved or even going out much. It's part of how I've dealt with all my trauma these past few years. It's so far from who I used to be when I used to LIVE HERE AND LOVE MY LIFE. Now it feels so scary and sometimes impossible. It's easier for me to stand in front of a group of people at one of my talks or events in New York than to be standing beside someone getting coffee in this tiny town.

Because the intimacy triggers me. It reminds me of being loved and losing. It reminds me of the things people have said to me that felt invasive and hurtful. It reminds me of feeling invisible when I desperately needed help.

It reminds me of the fearful act of merely being alive.

But all those triggers are the sharp points to lean into. Otherwise, we spend our whole lives leaning away from pain and never fully embracing it. We construct little mental cocoons where we feel safe but never fully comfortable. I lived in one for years. I felt cramped and self-conscious.

So I know how many human beings feel each and every day of their lives, as we confront the fear of being seen for who we are, wherever we are, whatever we do. This never frightened me before which allowed me such great freedom before it was time for me to feel the fear that's fueled by shame. But shame isn't all bad. It actually is a sign that we're awake and we're seeing life as it really is. It's a sign of our potential to evolve, it shows us where we can do more work to be our best self. We just have to keep the shame in check and make sure we aren't using it to work against us more than FOR us. 

It's something only we can shift for ourselves, seeing how shame and suffering limit the light and love we can send and receive. We shift this in service to and with others, coming first from love for ourselves. 

There's so much nuance to navigate to make sure we're not using other people to hide from caring for ourselves. Putting them or work first and saying, "it's love."

Real love never limits as it's unlimited.

So I'll offer to listen or lend my love in other ways to nurture more unlimited love in the world.

If we all started in our local communities, generating ripples where we live and work each and every day, love just becomes who we ARE.