Book Review: American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

Becca Benz Good Reads with Becca

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

This book surprised me in many ways. I almost put it back on the shelf at the library because a book about a First Lady is not something which would normally appeal to me, but Curtis Sittenfeld is an author I recently discovered so I figured what the heck, I’ll give it a try. It was the last book I read from the stack I’d checked out, and I have to say it was much better than expected. The story is a first-person narrative told from First Lady Alice Lindgren’s point of view, and is focused more on the personal relationships of the people rather than politics, which helped because I read for enjoyment and politics is the absolute last thing I want to read about. At 555 pages it’s a hefty book but surprisingly it was an easy and enjoyable read, given the subject matter.

A kind, bookish only child born in the 1940s, Alice Lindgren has no idea that she will one day end up in the White House, married to the president. In her small Wisconsin hometown, she learns the virtues of politeness, but a tragic accident when she is seventeen shatters her identity and changes the trajectory of her life. More than a decade later, when the charismatic son of a powerful Republican family sweeps her off her feet, she is surprised to find herself admitted into a world of privilege. When her husband unexpectedly becomes governor and then president, she discovers she is married to a man she both loves and fundamentally disagrees with–and that her private beliefs increasingly run against her public persona. As her husband’s presidency enters its second term, Alice must confront contradictions years in the making and face questions nearly impossible to answer.

Curtis Sittenfeld American Wife Becca BenzI knew the book was a fictionalized account of the life of a real First Lady, although I didn’t know which one, but it became clear early on that Alice Lindgren was based on Laura Bush, husband of George W. Bush. I never liked or supported Bush during his two terms as President and felt he was basically just a big dufus, and Laura Bush always seemed like a stuck-up bitch. I have a lot more respect for former President George H. W. Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush; they both seemed more genuine and competent, and likeable, especially Barbara Bush. So, it was rather shocking that the fictional portrayal of Barbara Bush painted her in very unflattering light, although I have not checked into how accurate that is. And to my amazement, Laura Bush was portrayed as a very down to earth and decent person who was not always in agreement with her husband’s policies or life choices. As I got deeper into the book and realized I liked Alice’s character and felt empathy for her, I had a hard time reconciling the fact that this likeable person was the same person I spent my life feeling utter contempt and loathing for.

The half first three sections were the most enjoyable because they focus on Alice as she grows up and builds her identity and life; the last section muddled along as the story got bogged down in politics. It was interesting to get an inside glimpse into what’s it’s like to be a First Lady and all the logistics involved, as well as the sacrifices. This is a fictionalized account of her life, but while I was reading the book I spent time online learning more about the real Laura Bush, and the book is a very accurate portrayal of her life. And I must admit I have a newfound respect for Laura Bush as a person and as a First Lady, and while I will never change my view about what a terrible president George W. Bush was, this book gave me new insight into his life and his administration. I’m even planning to read Laura Bush’s autobiography, which is something I’d never thought I’d say lol

This was an enjoyable book which I recommend and reinforces my view that Curtis Sittenfeld is a powerhouse writer.

 

Book review: The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman

Becca Benz Good Reads with Becca

I’ve read a lot of books which were entertaining and enjoyable even though the characters or plot were not completely believable, or the dialogue was choppy or the humor forced. But occasionally you are blessed to come upon an author whose writing style and dialogue flow seamlessly and the humor comes naturally, and the characters are real and dealing with situations in a way which is believable, and Abbi Waxman is one of those authors. And I knew as soon as I read the “About the Author” section that I was going to love this book: “Abbi Waxman is a chocolate-loving, dog-loving woman who lives in Los Angeles and lies down as much as possible. She worked in advertising for many years, which is how she learned to write fiction. She has three daughters, three dogs, three cats, and one very patient husband.” I mean, how could you not be excited after reading such a great into!

The Garden of Small Beginnings Abbi WaxmanThe Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman is the story of Lilian Girvan, who is the single mother of two young girls and Frank the Dog, along with being a widow after her husband died in a car accident three years earlier. Surviving a mental breakdown and thoughts of wanting to give up, she’s now trying to get back to living life again with the help of her supportive sister and a memorable cast of characters. Her job as a textbook illustrator leads her to a gardening class as part of her research for a new assignment, and the group of people she meets in the class soon become a big part of her life, and her healing.

Each chapter is preceded by a short blurb about gardening and how to grow specific vegetables, which was both informative and hilarious. Who knew gardening could be so funny! The story takes place in Los Angeles, and having lived there and knowing a lot of the locations gave the book added depth and made it more enjoyable for me. It also introduced me to Pinks Hot Dogs, a landmark hot dog restaurant in Hollywood since 1939, and made me wonder how I managed to have missed this wonderful establishment when I lived there? That is definitely on my list of places to visit when I’m down there next!

In case it’s not obvious, I LOVED this book and Waxman’s style of writing! She writes with a witty style that had me laughing out loud and unable to put the book down. The characters had depth and it was easy to connect with them and the story just drew me in because it dealt with some pretty intense issues in a realistic way. I felt such empathy for Lilian when she was content to maintain living in a safe rut and not venturing out of her comfort zone, despite knowing she should get out and re-engage with life. Lilian’s character deals with the adversity life has thrown at her in a way that is both heartbreaking and inspiring as she fights to allow herself live life and be happy again. And she does it with a lot of attitude and snark!

It’s a beautiful story filled with such emotion and insight, and it also made me miss gardening and digging in the dirt! This was a thoroughly enjoyable book and I highly recommend it. It was one of those books which I couldn’t put down yet I hated for it to end because it was so good. I can’t wait to read more from Abbi Waxman.

 

New feature: Good Reads with Becca!

Becca Benz Good Reads with Becca

I have always been an avid reader since I was a young child, which I got from my mom who always had a book with her and encouraged my love of reading. I had a subscription to National Geographic at an early age which opened up a whole new world to me. I still have some of those original issues from the Apollo moon landings and various other significant events. In grade school we used to order little paperback books from the Scholastic Book Club, and it was always so exciting when the books arrived and the new order form came out, trying to convince my mom to let me get a bunch more books. Most of the books I ordered were about sports, but my reading interests grew more diverse as I got older. A few of my favorite books from when I was young were Curious George, Where the Red Fern Grows, Flowers for Algernon, The Odessa Files, and the Encyclopedia Brown series. For some reason I was never interested in the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew series. I went through a phase where I was really into geology and plate tectonics, which led to nature books and I discovered Edward Abbey and loved everything he wrote, especially The Monkey Wrench Gang, which is a classic. As I got older I became more interested in history and read everything I could find about the Vietnam War, and later World War II, and amassed a large collection of military history books. I was also very interested in military aviation and loved to build plastic models, like B-17s and Huey helicopters, but I digress. Sadly, books eventually got to be very expensive, and having to move a few times forced me to give up my book collection. So now I rely on local libraries, and I have quite a collection of library cards from along the west coast to make sure I always have access to books. I read for enjoyment, but also because reading is one of the few things which allows me to focus and block out the depression and the difficult things going on in my life, and having that distraction is so important for self-care. I visit the library regularly to browse through the stacks and pick out books that sound interesting, and once I find an author I like I work my way through all their books. Some of my favorite authors are Charles Martin, Barbara Delinsky, Jonathon Tropper, Jodi Picoult, Abbi Waxman, and Emily Griffin.

I’ve thought about doing book reviews on and off for a while, because it makes sense given that I read so much and enjoy writing, and I finally decided the time was right to start! I’m really excited about this and look forward to having the opportunity to share some of the books that I enjoy!

My first book review later this week will be The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman.

 

Hope

I’ve been mostly silent for the past week and a half, but I’ve still been writing, a lot. Writing is like a form of therapy to me, it helps me to think and make sense of what goes on in my life. Sometimes I just write like I’m journaling, or sometimes I’ll write to someone in particular, with no intention of that person ever reading it. It’s sort of how I vent and process things and get it out of my system so I can move forward. For the past two weeks I’ve been working on a piece about trust and the heart, and I keep editing and revising it every day, and it has evolved into something much different than what I originally wrote. It started out full of anger and pain and frustration, but those feelings have eased a bit and the piece has softened and has lost a lot if its edge. I think I conveyed my feelings and emotions pretty clearly in the previous post Betrayal of the Heart, and I didn’t want to rehash all that. This one is more about how I am feeling and where I go from here. But if I don’t post this soon I’ll just keep revising it and it will lose any resemblance to what it started out as, so I decided to write this new opening to include with the part I’ve been working on the past two weeks so I can finally get it posted. The original working title was “Trust; the latest causality in the battle I wage against myself” but I’m not sure now what I’ll use for the title.

 

The original post:

With leprosy or gangrene you can see where it’s spread and the pieces you lose, but when things get hurt in the mind and heart the damage we suffer is not always so readily apparent. But the damage and pain are just as real and felt just as deeply, if not more so, than if it were merely physical pain.

For me the heart has always been much more than just an organ, it’s been my compass in life as it guides me and keeps me on course. I’ve always been someone who feels things deeply and follows my heart, and I used to believe that was a good thing. I never wanted to be someone who drifted through life without feeling all the ups and downs, to miss those experiences. I used to say it was better to feel too much than too little, but now I’m not so sure. Once again I’m hurting; my heart is aching and I’m left to wonder what went wrong. What happened and why is not important; blame is not the issue, it’s the bigger messages that I need to take to heart, namely that I am an utter failure when it comes to dealing with people and relationships, and that I can no longer trust what I feel in my heart or trust my judgement and how I react when it comes to those two things. I’ve lost trust, not only in myself, but in others. I feel as if I’ve just lost my sight and have to figure out an entirely new way of navigating through life. Trust is a big thing with me, and to lose that is to lose a big part of who I am. And without trust there is little hope, and without hope what do we have left? What is left is an existence in which I am alone. As much as I would love to have someone special to share my life with I’m not sure if I’ll ever get past the fear of getting hurt again. I thought I had learned and was getting better when it came to dating and relationships, but it’s apparent I’ve learned nothing and remain as hopeless as ever. I can deal with loneliness a lot easier than heartache.

So, I’ve retreated into myself as I always do when I’m hurting, shutting out everyone as I wait for the pain to subside. There have been no tears this time, just lots of introspection, along with anger and frustration in trying to understand why. I have tried to be a good person and live a respectable life and contribute something positive to society and my community. I have tried to be a good friend and to show the people I care about how much they mean to me. I have tried my best. Yes, I’ve made my share of mistakes; I can be overly sensitive and quick tempered and say snarky things when I should just keep my mouth shut. But I try. And yet I seem to mess up the things that matter most to me, especially when it comes to the people in my life. I don’t feel like I’m stupid or insensitive; I’ve always felt I was a good listener and a caring and compassionate person, and that I could make someone happy, but I just can’t seem to figure out how. I suppose there are things we each struggle with and ultimately never up end up figuring out, and for me that is understanding people and relationships.

So now I’m back in the familiar darkness that I can’t seem to ever escape. There was a time when I felt certain that at some point I’d figure things out and get my life back on track, and the depression would go away and I’d be normal. But I’ve come to realize that was just a naïve fantasy, that depression never completely goes away; it will be something that I have to battle until the day I die. There will be times when I’m happy and life is good and everything feels right, but I know the depression still there, lurking in the background, ready to reassert itself at any opportunity. And that is a very sobering thought. Depression is a battle; it’s a grind to fight through the dark times and get back to being okay again. It feels like I’ve been in this drag-out brawl for so long, and I’ve been able to survive taking the blows and going down, always finding the strength to get back up and resume the fight. But lately it’s gotten a lot harder to get back up, and that scares me. There are times when I just want to give in and stay down; that I have no more fight left in me.

I can look at this rationally enough to know that this will eventually pass and things will get better. I’ve been through this enough times that I know the drill; I know how I think and feel and react during these dark times, and the things I need to do for self-care. I volunteer for a crisis hotline so I know all the right things to say when someone has lost hope and is on the edge. And when I say those things to other people I firmly believe them; that no matter how bad things seem it will always get better. But the sad part is that when I tell myself those same things I just can’t find a way to believe them, even though I have seen time after time in my own life that things will get better, eventually.

The recent bridal show I was in was one of the most wonderful experiences of my life. And I had met a really special woman. Life was good and things were going so well, and then in the blink of an eye it all came crashing down. I manage to fuck up every potential relationship, every time without fail, which leaves me to wonder, what is wrong with me? Every time things seem to be getting better and I think I’ve turned the corner, it all falls apart. Every. Single. Time. There are times when I get tired of this life that seems to be my destiny. I know life is not fair, but I’ve never felt like I was asking for much; just to love and be loved, and to find some measure of happiness, and I just don’t understand why those seem to be so unattainable for me. I just don’t get it.

But life goes on and I’m not a quitter, so I’m doing the things I need to do to keep going. I’ve been taking more time for myself, just trying to get my footing again and figure some things out. I’m going to start volunteering at a dog shelter because I love dogs and I know being around animals always makes me happy. And I have finally found a new place to live so I can escape this nightmare in my current housing situation. That by itself will make a huge difference in my outlook. I still have nearly a month to go before I move, but knowing that I will be moving will hopefully make it easier to deal with all this drama and stress. And later this month I’ll be going to see my mom, and also participating on a trans panel at a local college, which is always a positive experience. So I have things to look forward to, which is important. And then at the beginning of May I see the doctor for the consult for my reassignment surgery, so things will get busy after that. I’m reengaging with life and with people and feel like the funk I’ve been in is starting to lift, so I’m healing and moving in the right direction. There is hope. And as spring approaches and the coldness of winter recedes, I’m hopeful that my heart and soul will be nourished by the warmth and sun and that there is still something left inside me that will come to life and grow once again. Hope springs eternal 🙂

Betrayal of the heart

I’ve always felt love would happen for me when the time was right. As I’ve gotten older I’ve learned through trial and error that love can’t be forced or rushed, and that the harder I look for it the more elusive it is, but I’d become more confident it would eventually happen. I feel like I’m a good person and have a lot of love to give, but I just have to meet the right person at the right time.

I’ve been fortunate to have experienced love earlier in my life, to have found my soulmate, and to know how amazing it is when you meet that special person. It took me a long time to believe there is more than just one person for each of us, more than one soulmate, but I finally understand it now. Love is different for each person and in each relationship and it’s not fair to compare the love for one person or relationship to another. We as people evolve as we age, just as our concept of love does, and just as relationships evolve.

Dating has never been easy for me, mainly because I’ve had so little experience at it. I didn’t date in school, and the first dating experiences I had were in the Army, which is where I met my wife. After 16 years of marriage we divorced, and it took me a long time to get over the divorce. And I was so focused on raising my sons and being a good dad and providing as much stability for them as I could that I didn’t feel right dating, so I didn’t date until they were a lot older. I went on several dates, which were very stressful and not all that much fun, and needless to say nothing much developed from any of those dates, other than showing me how much I sucked at dating.

And then I began transitioning and had to deal with all those emotions, along with unemployment and depression, and I knew I was not ready to date, and felt like my life was so screwed up that it would be unfair to subject anyone else to mess that my life had become. And my self-esteem was so low I felt I wasn’t worthy of being loved.

It’s only been in the past couple of years where I felt I was ready to date, largely because of my life being more stable and the self-confidence I’ve gained, and also being happier. So, I dated a few women and had positive experiences, but even though they didn’t work out long term I gained experience and confidence and started believing there was hope for me. But it’s difficult to date being trans, and especially when you’re a trans woman who is attracted to other women. For some strange reason lesbians seem to frown on me having a penis, which I never fully understand because strap-ons seem to be pretty popular among lesbians from what I understand. But I digress. And online dating is especially difficult for knowing when to tell someone I’m trans, but I always try to bring it up sooner rather than later if I feel there’s any sort of connection. I used to put it in my profile but it became obvious very few people actually took the time to read my profile, which led to some awkward moments.

I used to love the idea of online dating; since I was shy it was easier for me to get to know someone through words, which is my strength, before meeting them in person, which is when I usually struggle. It seemed perfect for me and I’ve tried it on and off over the years but never had much success. I dated one woman for a while who I met on a dating website when I was in Missouri before I transitioned, and even though it didn’t work out we’re still friends after all these years. And I just found out she is engaged!

I finally gave up on online dating a few years ago and disabled my profiles, having come to the conclusion that if I’m going to meet someone it’s going to be the old-fashioned way; meeting in person. I would periodically check out dating sites just to see who’s out there, but just out of curiosity.

The week I got back from Los Angeles I was bored that Saturday night and reactivated my OKCupid account just to look around. I even messaged three people whose profiles I really liked just for the heck ofit. One of the women messaged me back and we hit it off pretty quickly and we were soon emailing each other throughout the day. We had a lot in common and she was easy to talk with and funny, and she made me smile every time we chatted. I know it sounds so cliché, but I felt like there was a connection, and it seemed to me she felt the same way. She is one of the most unique and caring people I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know.

She was very clear in her profile that she wasn’t looking to jump into a relationship and wanted to take things slow, and I felt the same way because in the past there have been times when I rushed things and I know that’s something I have to be careful of. And she told me there were other people she might be interested in dating, which was fine at that point because I was just happy to be friends and see what, if anything, developed from there.

We talked about anything and everything, and she wanted to cook for me and we talked about watching baseball games together, and just continuing to get to know each other, and we also exchanged phone numbers and addresses. I told her I liked her a lot, and she seemed to feel the same way. I sent her an email specifically asking how she felt about me and where this seemed to be heading and what her thoughts were just to see if we were both on the same page, and my interpretation of her reply led to me to believe we were. I wanted to make sure before I let myself develop feelings for her so I did not get hurt.

And then Tuesday afternoon she told me she decided she wanted to date some guy she’d been chatting with but we could still be friends. I was floored, and shocked, and angry, but mostly hurt. I wrote back saying this is exactly why I don’t date because I end up getting hurt, and reminded her that I had specifically asked her about how she felt and that it seemed to me she said she felt the same way, that she was okay with how things were going. In fact, she was the one who said she would slow down if it was going too fast for me. She clearly knew I was developing feelings that were more than just being friends, and based on things she said to me it seemed clear that she was too. And for the record, I am not stupid and my reading comprehension skills are just fine, thank you, and I know what I read. But she disagreed saying she never said she felt the “same” way. But what really hurt me the most when was she said she didn’t want pushy, apparently implying that I had been pushy, which is blatantly not true. I did let her know I’d like to talk and to meet, but made it clear I would wait for when she was ready. I never, ever pressured her about anything. So apparently I was just naive and clueless about what was going on between us, in spite of talking directly about these things. Oh, and let’s not forget being pushy.

I responded to her the one time but have not been in contact with her since. I have learned not to respond when I’m hurt or upset because sometimes I say things which I later regret, and in spite of how I feel at the moment I still care about her and don’t want to hurt her. Perhaps at some point in the future we can be friends, but that’s not going to happen any time soon. Right now I am really hurting. I felt we had established a solid friendship and truly thought we had the chance to be really good friends and perhaps more. I thought I could trust her and open up to her, but once again I ended up hurt. In spite of talking about how things were going with us and how we felt, just to make sure I wasn’t misreading things and to make sure I wasn’t putting myself in a vulnerable position, I still got hurt.

If I had a nickel for every time I was told by a woman they just wanted to be friends I would be a rich. I hear over and over that I’m so nice and sweet and pretty and blah, blah, blah, but no ever, ever gives me the chance to be more than just a friend. And yes, I know there has to be chemistry, and a mutual connection, and all that. What is wrong with me that no one ever sees me as more than just a friend? Not that I don’t value friendship, because I do, every much. But just one time I want to get the chance to be more than just a friend. But it seems as if that just isn’t going to happen.

I’ve always been a romantic and followed my heart, but this time I tried to be smarter and more analytical and not just blindly follow my heart. But it obviously didn’t help, and once again my heart has led me astray. Betrayed by my heart yet again. My heart muscle may be strong and healthy and keeps blood pumping throughout my body, but when it comes to the more important matters of the heart, like love, it has been an abject failure. I lump my heart in the same category as my penis; both are useless organs that serve no purpose for me.

So fuck dating and fuck love. I’m done with this. I’m tired of my heart getting broken. I can deal just fine with my own loneliness, which is a lot easier to deal with than a broken heart. It will be a cold day in hell before I open up and trust anyone again. I don’t understand why it seems as if I’m not meant to ever meet anyone and fall in love again, but so be it. I’ll die alone rather than take another chance and get hurt again. Fuck that.

I’m trying to deal with pain, but I know it just takes time. I’m taking out my anger at the gym, and tonight I’m really sore. I’m reading and listening to music and writing and doing whatever I can think of to keep my mind occupied so I don’t think of her and don’t feel the pain. But it’s tough because I miss her a lot. I miss what had, or what I thought we had.

Getting past my insecurities about joining a gym

I recently joined a gym because in the past year it’s gotten harder to maintain the level of fitness I’m used to, which I’m assuming is due to being another year older and my metabolism slowing down. Ah yes, the joys of getting older. I feel like I’ve been working out twice as much and eating half as little as I used to yet I still can’t get back to being at fit as I was even a year ago, which is frustrating. So, I decided joining a gym where I’d have access to better equipment and training was the way to go. That may not seem like a big deal, but for me it is because it’s one of those things I never thought I would do.

For most of my life I hated my body and was not comfortable being in places where I would be noticed. Having to take PE classes in school was miserable for me. I was a pretty fair athlete and did well in sports, but having to be in the locker room and change in front of my classmates was extremely uncomfortable for me. Being in the Army forced me to deal with my insecurities and that helped a bit, but the anxiety and insecurities were never too far away. Transitioning was a big step towards being more comfortable with my body, and the self-confidence that came along with that was life-changing in so many ways. I’m perfectly comfortable now wearing a bikini as I stroll along the beach, and I’ve bared all when I did my shoot with Grooby, but there were still some things which felt like were off-limits because of my old insecurities, such as going to a gym. But I put my fears aside and scheduled a tour with a nearby gym. As I walked into the lobby for my appointment to take a tour of the gym and talk with the trainers I immediately felt the old fears and insecurities returning, that I’d be scrutinized and judged as to my worthiness. And oddly enough it had nothing to do with being trans. I did check as to this particular gym’s policy regarding transgender members, and although there had been a few issues in other states, that really wasn’t a concern to me. It was just me feeling uncomfortable and insecure in this particular environment.

I met first with someone who talked about the facilities and memberships and gave me a tour, and I then met with Ben, one of the trainers, and we talked about why I wanted to join the gym and what I hoped to accomplish. Everyone was really nice, and they were darn good salesmen because I did sign up for a membership. And I decided to go with Ben as my trainer, which after I thought about it was a bit surprising since I had assumed that I would have asked for a woman trainer just out of being more comfortable with a woman. But Ben was obviously good at his job and was really nice and I felt comfortable with him right away. And he is also kinda cute. I would not have gone with the stereotypical macho gym rat trainer, which is what a lot of my old fears were based on.

Becca Benz gymThe next day was my first full workout with Ben, and he put me through a series of tests to measure my fitness, most of which I was in the top percentile for my age. Then we went over some specific exercises using resistance, weights, the various machines, and a medicine ball. I’d always wondered how to use a medicine ball, so it was cool to learn that. And then I went upstairs for my cardio on the treadmill. Being on the treadmill with all the other people was kind of neat because that’s what I always associate gyms with, and now I was one of them! And I managed to do the treadmill without falling off, so I was pleased!

The next day when I woke up I immediately knew I was sore. Good lord, I thought I was in good shape, but I must have used a lot of muscles during the workout that I hadn’t been using regularly! It took a lot of stretching to loosen up and work some of the soreness out, along with a few Ibuprofen and a heating pad. That was the same day I had to do the prep for my colonoscopy, so each of the 900 times I got up and down from the toilet I felt it with every muscle in my body, which just made the whole prepping experience all the more enjoyable! Lol
I’ve been going to the gym for nearly a month now and I’m getting into a routine and feeling more comfortable there, like I belong. I don’t worry about going into the locker room, I just go in and do what I need to do. I obviously don’t shower, which is not an issue, and I haven’t gotten any funny stares from the other women. I know I belong there and confidence is half the battle; I just walk in like I own the place!

I’m also feeling comfortable in the gym while working out, and not worrying if people are looking at me or judging me. I feel like a belong. Like I said, it’s all about confidence. And it helps that I’m tall and slender and already in pretty good shape. I see a lot of people there who are very out of shape and I think how difficult it must be for them to be there, and I admire their determination. We’re all just trying to be healthy and fit in and live our lives, and that’s a good thing.

Trump Inauguration 2017: The Day America and I Got Reamed

When my colonoscopy got rescheduled to January 20th I had to laugh because how appropriate is it to get a colonoscopy on Trump’s Inauguration Day. Metaphorically speaking, you could not have asked for a more perfect aligning of the stars to bring these two events together, because when you think about it, both America and I got reamed that day.

I have always despised politics because it’s a dirty business run by people who generally do nothing to earn my respect or inspire much confidence. But in spite of that the country has generally been able to keep chugging along and operate well enough that I didn’t worry about it too much. I always kept informed on the issues and was politically aware and voted, but I’ve never had any desire or felt the need to be politically active, until now. The Trump administration has made it clear they will take away all the rights and protections that the LGBT community have gained under previous administrations, so I can no longer be silent and allow this to happen without making my voice heard and being part of the movement to stand up against hatred and discrimination. We in the LGBT community must stand together and make ourselves heard and fight against this attempt to marginalize and legislate us into obscurity. To do nothing is to condone the Trump Administration’s policies.

Becca Benz colonoscopyWhile the thought of Trump as our president is nauseating, I never imagined that I’d spend a good portion of Inauguration Day puking my guts out, which is exactly what I did. While I’d like to say it was because I’m sickened by the direction this country seems to be headed and by the fact that somehow Trump managed to get elected, the actual reason for the vomiting was related to my colonoscopy.

For anyone who has not had a colonoscopy, the day before the procedure you clean out your insides by drinking a gallon of bowel prep solution, which I began on Thursday afternoon, and is the most miserable part of getting a colonoscopy. Having to drink a gallon of viscus liquid is just plain disgusting, and having it shoot out the other end at high velocity isn’t much fun either. I’ve heard it compared to drinking cold snot, but having never drank cold snot I can neither confirm nor deny any similarity. And while the jug is one gallon it seemed like it was one of the “endless refill” deals because not matter how close I got to finishing it I could never seem to get that last bit to empty out the jug. After I’d been shooting clear liquid out of my rear end for about 45 minutes I finally said screw it and emptied the little that remained in the jug down the drain and called it good. And for the record, the doctor wrote in the report that my bowel prep was good.

I left at 7:30 to head to the Surgery Center, and I had no option but to take a taxi to get there, which I was not thrilled about but figured it would be okay. I was wrong. The taxi arrived but was driving around the apartment complex so I walked out to the parking lot to wave him down, and he backed up and nearly ran me over. I should have taken that as a sign of things to come, but sadly I didn’t listen to myself as usual. So off we go to the center, with the driver was zipping in and out between cars driving like a bat out of hell. I was tired and hungry and not feeling that great to begin with, so having to endure being tossed about in cab, along with the fact that it was about 90 degrees inside, left me feeling nauseated. I took off my sweater and asked him several times if he could turn down the heat, but I was still sweating bullets anyway. The ride there seemed to take forever and I could feel myself getting very nauseous and hoping and praying I don’t vomit all over the guy’s cab. We managed to safely arrive but I was drenched in sweat and my shirt was soaked, and I ran into the building to a find a bathroom and immediately puked into the toilet, but nothing came out since I hadn’t eaten or drank anything for several hours, so I was dry-heaving. Fun times.

Becca Benz colonoscopy

Seeing “The Probe”

I got myself cleaned up and took a few minutes to rest before I checked in. After filling out all the paperwork I was taken to my room and changed into one of those lovely gowns where your butt sticks out no matter how often you pull the gown closed. And then I got into bed and the nurse covered me with a warm blanket while I waited, so I was feeling much better. I got bored and started taking a few selfies to entertain myself, and of course post on social media because I’m sure everyone wanted to hear all about my colonoscopy lol

The doctor came in and talked to me about the procedure and what to expect. It still sort of freaks me out when the doctors look so young, but I have to remind myself that it’s not that doctors are getting younger, it’s just me getting older. I was then wheeled into the procedure room and got to look at all the cool medical instruments and monitors, making sure to avoid thinking that one of those cool instruments would soon be snaking its way up my rectum. I chatted with a couple of other doctors and nurses while they got me ready to go and positioned at the right angle, and then they started the medication to put me under, and then it was show time!

The next thing I remember was hearing someone calling my name, and then opening my eyes. After I was more awake I was given some water to drink and crackers to eat, which tasted like the best meal I’d had in ages after having not eaten for nearly 48 hours. I was feeling pretty good and ready to leave so I could grab a burger or order a pizza when I got home, which I’d been thinking about non-stop for the past two days. But little did I know, that was not to be. When I stood up and started getting dressed I suddenly got nauseous and felt like throwing up, although it seemed to settle down a bit by the time I was ready to leave, but they gave me as little plastic vomit bag just in case.

I walked outside, although I have no memory of that, and got in the taxi and we began the trip home, and about five seconds into the trip I vomited all the water and crackers I’d just eaten. Thankfully I was able to catch it all in the little plastic bag so at least I wasn’t puking all over myself or the cab. But still, not much fun to be sitting in a cab wretching into a little plastic bag. This was not one of my more memorable moments, but at that point I really didn’t care.

I finally got home and crawled into bed feeling really, really bad. I tried to drink a little water but it came right back up, so I laid down and slept for a couple of hours. When I woke up I tried drinking some more water but once again it came right back up. By this point I was getting really concerned because I was feeling pretty weak because I was dehydrated and hadn’t eaten anything in over 48 hours. I called the doctor’s office and talked to a nurse about what was going on, and the nurse said he would contact the doctor and see if they could prescribe something to calm my stomach down. After an agonizingly long hour he finally called back, by which time I felt like I was half dead, I was told the doctor had called in a prescription for anti-nausea medicine. I was in no shape to drive, and even the thought of being in a vehicle made my stomach turn, but thankfully my roommate was home and was nice enough to go pick up the prescription for me. I took the medication and laid back down, and after an hour I felt better and had some water and crackers and was able to keep it down. I slowly drank more water and fixed some scrambled eggs, and then headed to bed. I was nervous about my meds that I normally take every night upsetting my stomach, and it gurgled and churned for a while but everything stayed down and I was able to get to sleep.

And thus ended one of the more miserable days of my life. While I had not been online to see anything about the inauguration I would soon get more than my fill of political news in the coming days, which, as it turned out, was to be equally as nauseating as the colonoscopy.

Becca Benz colonoscopy

Feeling better the next day

Life and Death

This has been a year defined by life and death. The year started off with the birth of my precious grandson, but was soon followed by the news that my step-father had been moved to hospice care as his terminal disease was nearing the end of its course. Then I recently learned I will once again become a grandparent as my oldest son told me he is going to be a dad, and shortly after that I found out that the cancer my father has been dealing with the past few years has spread to other parts of his body and the prognosis is not good.

I have always known that when my father passes it will be difficult for me, not just because it’s the loss of a parent, but because there are so many unresolved issues between us. My parents divorced when I was young and my father made very little effort to be part of my life. I never felt loved by him and always felt like he viewed me as a disappointment. I continued to make the effort to try be a good son but nothing I did ever made a difference; he still wanted nothing to do with me. I tried to accept it for what it was, that he was my father in name only, but it still hurt. Some people are not meant to be parents, and unfortunately my father is one of those people, and my sister and I paid the price for that. But thankfully we had a wonderful mom who more than made up for the loss of not having a father.

When I told my father I was transgender he never accepted me and made no effort to try to learn and understand despite my repeated attempts to talk or offer other resources. That’s when his verbal attacks on me got worse, and then he started in on my sons, saying things which really hurt me. At that point I decided I no longer wanted him in my life because he was toxic to me. So we haven’t communicated in close to two years. I’m at peace with it because I know I made the effort to make the relationship work. I do feel sorry for him because he is alone and has no relationship with either of his children or any of his grandchildren; he is a bitter, angry, man. But this was all his own doing and he has no one to blame but himself, and he has had to live with that.

So now I have to decide if I will go see him before he passes. There really isn’t much of a decision; going to see him is the right thing to do, so I will go. I have no expectations that we’ll make up and repair all the damage; I know he is incapable of doing that. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to say or do; hopefully my being there will provide some level of comfort for him. Mostly I’m scared to go because I know it’s going to be painful, and I also don’t want to put myself in a position of being hurt by him again. But I will go because I wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t; I just hope there won’t be a price to pay for trying to do the right thing.

But for now I choose to focus on life. I will spend time with my grandson and cherish his smiles and giggles and the happiness he brings to my life, and I will share in the joy and excitement with my other son as he awaits the birth of his child. The death will have to wait.

Father’s Day as a trans woman

Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are times to celebrate the special bond between children and their parents, but they can be difficult and confusing times for transgender people and their families. There can be uncertainty about whether it’s appropriate to celebrate Father’s Day for a trans woman or Mother’s Day for a trans man. And for many trans people Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are painful reminders that they no longer have the love of support of their family, which unfortunately is far too common. As a parent myself I can’t comprehend how any parent could stop loving their child, and I can’t imagine how painful it must be to lose that love.

Father’s Day is just as meaningful to me now even though I have transitioned because I will always be a father to my sons, regardless of my gender, and it means the world to me that they take the time to remember me on this special day. I have a box of Father’s Day cards that my sons have given to me over the years, both pre and post-transition, and those are very special to me. I know that it’s difficult for them to find cards which are appropriate for our unique circumstances, but that just makes it even more special because they always manage to find the perfect cards.

I occasionally get asked if I ever receive a card for Mother’s Day, but I wouldn’t be comfortable getting a Mother’s Day card because I’m not their mom and I don’t want to be disrespectful to her. But, having said that, I did raise my sons by myself for most of their lives and I do feel that in many respects I was both mom and dad to them, which had nothing to do with the gender I was living as at the time. It was about providing a loving and nurturing environment for them to grow up and not limiting their interests and activities to only male things; I made a conscious effort to expose them to things which would normally fall to their mother. We were far from the stereotypical all male household where all we ate was fast food and watched sports on tv every night. They had the freedom to be themselves and weren’t limited by gender stereotypes. So even if I don’t get a card on Mother’s Day card I know in my heart that my sons recognize the role I played in their lives and that they appreciate the effort I made in how I raised them, and that is what matters most to me.

So the point of all this is to appreciate and love your mom, dad, son, or daughter, whatever their gender may be or used to be, and to appreciate the role they’ve played in your life. Take the opportunity to show them how much they mean to you, because sadly, not everyone is fortunate enough to have the love and support of their family. I feel very blessed that I have the love and support of my children, and that I got to celebrate Father’s Day with my youngest son for the first time in five years, and be with him for his first Father’s Day as a dad.

What Memorial Day means to me

To a lot of people Memorial Day signifies the unofficial beginning of summer and a time to party. But to me Memorial Day is a day which holds a lot of significance and is a somber day; I think about those who served, I read and watch the videos which show the stories of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country. I watch the families and fellow soldiers grieve over those they’ve lost. I don’t ever want to forget their sacrifice and that the freedoms we enjoy, and too often take for granted, come with a price. A heavy price. So I’m always uncomfortable when people wish me a happy Memorial Day because I’m never sure how to reply.

It seems some people don’t understand the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Memorial Day is to remember and honor those who have served and died. Veterans Day is to honor those who have served or currently serve and are alive. In the words of Valerie Strauss in a column published in the Washington Post: “Veterans Day is largely intended to thank LIVING veterans for their service, to acknowledge that their contributions to our national security are appreciated, and to underscore the fact that all those who served — not only those who died — have sacrificed and done their duty.” So thanking a veteran for their service on Memorial Day, while well-intentioned, is not really appropriate. Please thank us on Veterans Day.


YouTube video courtesy of El Mambo King

When I was in the Army I had the privilege of serving on the Honor Guard that participated at the funerals of veterans. It was deeply moving to me even back then, but as I’ve reflected back on it over the years I now appreciate even more that I had that opportunity to represent the Army and pay my respects to these courageous men and women. Even now I can barely keep from crying whenever I hear a bugle playing Taps.

The one thing which really troubles me is when people choose this day to air their political agenda and to criticize the government / military / soldiers or the conflicts this country has been involved in. Yes, people have the right to speak their opinion, but I find it incredibly disrespectful to do so on the day which honors those who have served and given their lives to protect the freedoms that allow them to be able to voice their opinions. In my opinion that shows a total lack of class and respect. I am patriotic and fully support those who choose to serve and I make no apologies for it. Do I agree with the all that our government does and their policies? Absolutely not. But whether we support the government and its policies is irrelevant on this day; the point is to remember those who perished fighting to protect this country. We are honoring the soldiers, not the government.

I am a veteran, my son is a veteran, as was my grandfather, and Memorial Day is a sacred day for me. Veterans Day is the day I celebrate my service and thank those who have also served; today I mourn the loss of those who died in service to their country, and their families.

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