Wednesday, July 24, 2024

The Picture Wall: A haunting and breathtaking must-read from C.A. Gibbs

An excerpt from The Picture Wall: One Woman’s Story of Being His Her Their Mother

Testing expectations of motherhood and faith, this depiction of the transformation of a family through gender questioning and identity is a dual story of awakening: of the heart of a mother her transgender child, and of the child’s awakening to his, her, their fluidity of gender. 
Excerpt from Chapter 26: Degree of Being

Tamara picked Dave up at the office for their weekly breakfast get together. A coworker of Dave’s walked past them as they were getting into the car. To his office buddy, Dave said, “This is my daughter, Tamara.” 

The car ride was quiet, which wasn’t unusual. Tamara often passed her time in silence, so Dave thought nothing of it. Once seated at their regular table in the restaurant, Julie poured Dave and Tamara each a steaming cup of coffee. 

“Please stop calling me your daughter, Dad.” There was a new directness in her eyes. Dave’s coffee cup froze on its path to his lips. “I’m actually nonbinary,” she said. Dave looked at Tamara blankly. “I’m not really either male or female.”

“What should I call you then?”

“Just introduce me as your kid. You can still use she and her if you really want to. I don’t see myself as either of the traditional genders, but I identify more as a female than male.”

Dave recounted this conversation while we ate our Caesar salads that evening. I let out an abrupt laugh. Maybe more like a snort. 

“Huh?”I set my fork down on the plate and rested my chin in my palms.

Dave grinned, “I know, right?” 

“I know this is important for her, but really?” I shook my head. “She has a woman’s body now. How are we not supposed to call her our daughter?” 

Nonbinary. My thoughts zipped me back to my school years, not my teaching years, but when I was a young student. Binary means double, dual, when a thing can be split into two categories. Black and white. Dark and light. Male and female. So, nonbinary is not this dual thing. 

“Nonbinary,” said Dave. He seemed to try the word out. 

“Nonbinary,” I echoed back. “Not one or the other, but a degree of being?” 

This would take us more time to adjust. We’d just gotten the hang of having a daughter, not having to work so hard to remember to say “her and “she.” 

“I had no idea how much this issue means changing how we use the English language,” Dave said, getting up and taking his empty plate to the sink.

Yes, and this was beyond language usage. I would have to reframe my understanding of Tamara once again. She was introducing yet another new dimension to her—and our—transgender experience. 

This time, however, felt different. I didn’t feel the same emotionally charged reaction, the way I had when Matthew first came out to us. I gratefully noted I was better able to separate the things she was responsible for in her own life, including decisions about her identity, without feeling like it was upending everything in my world. 

I noticed that Tamara posted several memes on social media about how people should use the pronounsthey, them, and their when referring to nonbinary people. I can take a hint. Just as I was finally fluent with “she and “her.” But I could adapt. 

I’d proven that.

C.A. Gibbs
About the Author 

C.A. Gibbs is the proud mother of two adult children: one daughter and one nonbinary person. Motherhood, for her, has been defined by the autism, transgenderism, and mental illness experienced by her oldest child. She is also a writer, transcriptionist, former elementary school teacher, wife, daughter, sister, friend, and dog-mom to a rambunctious golden retriever. She and her husband are enjoying an empty nest, but they joyfully celebrate times when the kids come home and fill the house with noise and laughter.

Purchase your copy of The Picture Wall here.

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