Larissa. And the Rest Of Us....
A poem was handed out sometime in junior high, maybe early high school. I've thought about it over the years, it's impact and truth. It's called, "Please Hear What I'm Not Saying" by Charles C. Finn. I was jolted out of bed this morning as the poem came to mind. Why was I thinking about this old poem? Who knows. But I jumped up and here I am, before coffee, trying to get this all down before it's gone again. The coffee would have helped, but, well, you know..Here'spart of the poem:
Don't be fooled by me. Don't be fooled by the face I wear for I wear a mask, a thousand masks, masks that I'm afraid to take off, and none of them is me.Pretending is an art that's second nature with me, but don't be fooled, for God's sake don't be fooled. I give you the impression that I'm secure, that all is sunny and unruffled with me, within as well as without, that confidence is my name and coolness my game, that the water's calm and I'm in command and that I need no one, but don't believe me. My surface may seem smooth but my surface is my mask, ever-varying and ever-concealing. Beneath lies no complacence. Beneath lies confusion, and fear, and aloneness. But I hide this. I don't want anybody to know it. I panic at the thought of my weakness exposed. That's why I frantically create a mask to hide behind, a nonchalant sophisticated facade, to help me pretend, to shield me from the glance that knows.But such a glance is precisely my salvation, my only hope, and I know it. That is, if it's followed by acceptance, if it's followed by love. It's the only thing that can liberate me from myself, from my own self-built prison walls, from the barriers I so painstakingly erect. It's the only thing that will assure me of what I can't assure myself, that I'm really worth something. But I don't tell you this. I don't dare to, I'm afraid to. I'm afraid your glance will not be followed by acceptance, will not be followed by love. I'm afraid you'll think less of me, that you'll laugh, and your laugh would kill me. I'm afraid that deep-down I'm nothing and that you will see this and reject me.
(For complete poem, click on the link above.)
I think about all the masks I've worn throughout my life. The coolness I unsuccessfully tried to convey. The jokes I laughed at that weren't funny. The hairstyles, the clothes. The panic at parties that I don't fit in, won't fit in. They'll know I'm a fraud. Do I like the right things? The wrong things? Will I be so far down my thought path that I make a joke no one gets, that's so far out there, it'll illicit stares? Hey, it happens. And the joke would be funny if they could see the thought process that took me there. I think about being five. I never had to think about it. I was Annie. I played the stuff I wanted to play. Then I climbed the stairs on that bus. I came back a different girl. School is probably the first place we learn that some people are different. And different is not good. My mother in law tells a story about my husband coming off the bus the first day of kindergarten. He was sad. "Everybody doesn't like me." He was shocked. Not everyone was going to like him. Was he changed that day? Was that thebeginning of a journey to know how to fit in in the world? How to read people and what they wanted? How to be a boy? I have a child that is to be admired. At nine, she's still unmasked, and boy does she make people uncomfortable! The more masked you are, the more uncomfortable you will be. The more tied to social moires you are, the worse it will be- for both of you. I've tried for years to get her into a holiday dress with ribbons in her hair. No, she will not wear her hair curled just because it's Easter. She'll say, "Just let me be me! You want me to be somebody else!" we've gone around and around about this, but she wins. She always wins. Nobody tells MY girl, "Just be yourself!" She just is herself. Always. And damned if she isn't right. Yes, I want her lined up with the proper, perfectly coiffed kids with their perfect stainless dresses. They look like their mom cares about them. My kid looks like something the cat dragged in. I worry about how I will be judged, as a mom, as a woman. I don't want people to ask if her mother ever taught her to ...fill in the blank... But dammit. She knows who she is and she doesn't need the mask. She doesn't want it. She refuses it. I admire that. She reflects all I wish I had been courage to be. As a child, a teenager, a woman. I wish for the courage to be all that I am and just stand in it. Which brings me to Larissa.
“A woman shall not wear a man's garment, nor shall a man put on a woman's cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God." Tough stuff. Especially if you are mentioned in the text somewhere. I have, on occasion, eaten shellfish and pig.
"I would view that text as just one of hundreds of intricate rules that God brought to a close with the coming of God's son into the world."
Rev. Allison Robinson
I have been friends with Larissa on Facebook for a couple of years. I hadn't ever actually met her, but her posts came through my feed on a regular basis. I can only assume we became "Facebook friends" through people who came to my photography workshops at the Council of Light Center in Lee's Summit. Her story intrigued me, because she is a Trans woman, and I had never personally known any. I'm a supporter of LGBT rights, and I feel for her as her story is relayed through her posts. The losses of jobs and friends, the struggle to find funding for surgery. Insurance let downs, vulnerability and safety concerns -all of it. This woman defended our country. She fought for her freedom, just to have her right to pee in a public restroom questioned. She watches as state by state falls to bigotry, wondering when it will spread here. Is she a danger to our kids in the bathroom? Or is she in danger as a trans woman in the men's room? Who would hear her calls? Would anyone care? She decides to hold it till she gets home. Wouldn't want to upset anyone, make others uncomfortable. To think I would compare my need to pretend to be cool when I'm a dork is ridiculous. To think I admire my kid because she refuses ribbons at Easter. We all have those masks. We all fear being exposed and rejected. We want to break out and be our authentic selves. We want to not be tolerated, but loved. That's why everyone who reads the poem is crying a bit. It hits us all where we live. Love, acceptance. Einhorn, Finkleman. (That was an obscure joke, the inappropriate kind I like that may make people uncomfortable, so I thought I should take it out- but I'm leaving it in.) But anyway, I digress. I, of course, had to ask her thoughts about Caitlyn Jenner. You know, because she's all the rage these days. And causing all the rage from both sides.
"We'll have to see where she is in two years. Either she'll be really strong or she'll be dead. She doesn't know yet that when she's finally comfortable in her own skin, she'll never be comfortable anywhere else again. We'll see how she handles it."
Talk about a act of courage. Wear your mask, fit in, and hate yourself for it. Break out and take off the mask, face the world. Could I do it? When I have a hard time being myself at a party? Mary does it, and I've got the calls, emails, and texts from every teacher she's ever had to prove it. But she's blond, blue eyed, adorable in her craziness; and she's lucky enough to have been born in the body that matches who she is. It seems like such a small thing. Until you think about it. Most trans women aren't going to be invited to pose for Vanity Fair. They aren't going to "pass." They are going to stand up, face to stares, and put on their makeup and ribbons. Funny, isn't it? For one, being unmasked means her hair isn't even blown dry in the morning. Being Larissa means putting on your face. Ain't it grand.
Last summer I started a campaign to photograph women of all sizes, shapes, and ages. I call it "21 Days of Gorgeous." The purpose was to show women how beautiful they are in a real, tangible way. It didn't turn out to be 21 days, due to scheduling conflicts, but it sure was gorgeous! The variety of women who responded was amazing, and I got to know and work with lots of great people. I invited Larissa to participate, and she loved the chance to feel beautiful, womanly, and of course, pampered for a day. I love how her photos turned out, and how she responded to seeing them for the first time.
"Thank you again so much. I felt like a goddess... I am still picking up my jaw...I am getting all choked up"
I really love how her friends responded to her photos!
"Love,love,love this picture""This is my Favorite!""You look beautiful! Love your makeup... you glow!"