Dear Mom, I am no longer your “daughter”

Dear Mom, before I sat down to write this, 42 years went by. Together, we braved a world confused by a white, single parent and a mixed-race kid in the 1970s. I existed in a cloud of gap-toothed uncertainty. Got in fights with boys. Played baseball in the street. Asked you about the rules of football. Wanted to be called Roger.

You shoved yellow bonnets on my head, beamed at my pink dresses, rejoiced in my unsuitably feminine name and forced black saddle shoes on my feet to complement my “Sunday Best.” They were rules you followed. Except I was missing. I didn’t want to disappoint you. I didn’t want to disappoint the world that had already begun to other me. So I followed the rules, too. Until I didn’t. Until you didn’t. Until you realized that I had been crumbling under the weight of “It’s a girl!”


Dear Mom, before I sat down to write this, you tried to lead me through a world that fears difference. We contended with your addiction to alcohol and your interminable health issues. You tried your best to help me navigate our reality of food stamps, orange fiberglass welfare-office chairs and walking down the street through a sea of onlookers confused by the helmet you wore in case you had a seizure. You did this even though you probably couldn’t even fathom it all yourself. You tried to answer the questions I hurled at you about where I came from. About what I was. You cheered me on even when you couldn’t. When you were passed out. When we weren’t talking. When we couldn’t talk.

You observed, though. That one night on the phone you asked me a question that seemed to have been on your mind for years: “Are you transgender?” It sounded so simple. “If you are,” you added, “I would support you no matter what.” It was an amazing thing to say that I did not take for granted. Even though I replied with an emphatic “no.” Even when I proclaimed loudly that “this is female!” Even when I told you — told everyone else, told myself — that I was attempting to somehow redefine femaleness!


Dear Mom, before I sat down to write this, you died. And I am no longer your daughter. Instead, happily, gratefully, peacefully, I am your transgender son. Somehow, perhaps, you are out there, the energy that remains of you, watching over my transition and honoring who I’ve always wanted to be.

You would have been my fiercest advocate and strongest ally. I know this. You would have held the space for my continued progression — the stages I have moved through since you left; the rules I tried to follow for so long. I will live with the strength of knowing you supported me in everything, on good days and bad, even when I couldn’t know myself. Not fully. Not yet. Until we meet again in some far-off place, I will be here, living my life, finally, as someone I love.

I love and miss you. Your trans son,



When gender and sex identity is up for discussion at Walgreens

I took a trip to my friendly neighborhood Walgreens tonight for a few necessities: antibacterial soap for my new tattoo, deodorant and a variety pack of tampons. I took my goods to the cashier and entered my phone number in the hopes of saving some pennies on my purchase. Naturally, my name popped up on the screen, and was seen by the guy behind the register.

“You’re not Catherine.”

“Yeah I am. You wanna see my ID?”

“No. But you’re [mumble] [mumble] Catherine [mumble]  not….[something] [something].”

And then he mumbled some more stuff, which I promptly ignored as I swiped my card. I was unfazed. I am used to people being unwilling to accept that I am female.

This was merely a blip in a long line of stories I’ve got that challenge what people think is “female.” And it wasn’t the only time it happened at a Walgreens.



Upon seeing celery root for the first time

Throughout my juice fast, I’ve encountered a few things that I’ve never seen before. Beets, for one. Parsnips are another example. Had you set me loose in a grocery store, I’d have had to examine every single sign posted in order to locate a parsnip. Who knew they were basically oversized white carrots.

Then there was the celery root. I first read it in one of the juice recipes and quickly surveyed my little knowledge about vegetables to see if I had every seen one. Nope. Heard of it, maybe, in some random Vegetables R Us cookbook or something? Uh-uh. It turns out that when celery grows out of the ground, its roots develop some kind of frightening bulbous thing that is the foundation for, what I can only assume is, an entire bunch of celery.

What in the holy hell was this thing that I had to cut into?

celery root

This doesn’t even do it justice.

So I took to YouTube to find out how to approach this thing, because I was pretty sure that none of my knives would make it through the carefully woven mass of tube thingies, dirt and whatever else was matted up in this. (Surprise! My knives suck.) And that’s how I found out that you can make fries out of them. And mashed potatoes. And I bet you can make a fake baked potato, though I’m not sure why you’d want to do that? Mashed potatoes, too, for that matter. Because, well, mashed potatoes. But fries? I’m trying it as soon as I can eat again.

Perhaps somewhat anticlimactically, this is what one looks like on the inside.

Celery root

And it smells like celery.


But cut off the end of one and this happens. I mean, that's some food art right there.

Upon seeing the inside of a beet for the first time

So here I am at the end of Day 17 of my 30-day juice fast. Seventeen days with no alcohol or caffeine. And save for the first five days, no chewing. Just juice five times a day. Let me repeat that. No Alcohol For Seventeen Days.

But now I want to talk about beets. Last week I had my first one. I had heard heard so very much about them: They’re dirty. They’ll stain everything they touch. They taste like dirt. And they’re oh so good. Yeah, okay.

Unlike leeks, I have actually seen beets before, but not in their original, just-out-of-the-ground form: the green stuff that comes out of the top; the tale thing that, presumably, came from deep beneath the surface of the Earth. I’ve seen them mostly in salad. I have even ordered a dish with beets as one of the main ingredients. But I pushed them to the side of my plate. Because beets. Maybe it’s a texture thing. Or a red thing?

What I hadn’t seen, though, was the inside of a beet, which happens to also be the best part about them.

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I’ve juiced them with oranges, apples, ginger, carrots, celery, and kale. Good, right? Yeah. I still don’t like beets. They smell and taste like dirt. But I won’t give up.

Five days and all the green

photo (2)Five days in and not one headache to speak of or fit of unrelenting angst. But the plan is built with this in mind, isn’t it? It is.

Take day 1 for instance. It started off with a “berry apple cinnamon bake” for breakfast. The recipe requires raisins. I don’t like raisins but I put them in there anyway. When it was all said and done and the apples were simmering from the heat – and the strawberries appeared wilted – I took a bite. Oh. So it’s like apple pie. I don’t like apple pie. But I sure ate the apples.

The rest of the day included a juice, a salad, sweet potato fries (which I made a terrible mess of), another juice, and salad and leftover “fries.” As the days wore on, there were more soups and juices and smoothies and salads. Some quite tasty and others I won’t be trying again. (more…)

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I said I was never going to juice

Two weeks ago, I sat down to watch the film “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead.” It’s a documentary by an Aussie who had severe health problems and decided to overcome them by enduring a 60-day juice fast. “There is no way in hell I’m ever gonna do a juice fast,” I said at the beginning of the film. By the end, I was researching juicers, second-screen-style.

I’ve never done anything like this. I never even considered doing anything like this. In fact, I made fun of people who juiced. I even looked askance at those who forked over $6 (six dollars!) at various farmers’ markets for liquid beets. I’ve struggled with my weight my whole life, I think it’s safe to say. I lost a pretty amazing amount on Weight Watchers a couple of years ago. But when I was only 13 pounds away from my goal, my ability to maintain dissipated somewhat under the inexcusable pressures of life. I have the Weight Watchers knowledge with me. But changing my address took me away from the routine I was so comfortable in and in which I found so much success. So I slacked. (more…)

Goodbye, Mom

On October 27, 2012, I had to eulogize my mother. It’s one of the worst things I’ve had to do. Second only to talking to the coroner moments after I was notified of her death (are you sure?). Or maybe second only to talking to the crematorium (how long will it take?). Or maybe picking out her urn (that’s a nice one). Or maybe walking into her apartment for the first time after she passed (the stuff).

Or maybe actually sitting down to write the eulogy I had to deliver. 

Over the course of two evenings – and even late into the morning of my mom’s funeral mass – I sat down in my hotel room in the Valley at the end of two very long weeks and wrote something. By no means is it, or could it ever have been, good enough. But I did deliver it that sunny Saturday afternoon, sandwiched between a baptism and a wedding.

I decided to share it publicly, well after the fact, because I want it to live, and because I want people who knew her – and didn’t – to read how she was memorialized that day. This is not the whole story. One day I will tell that. This is simply my goodbye.


We all endure many life stages. My mom began hers in Indiana – the middle as I like to call it. She picked up a strange obsession for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Two nights before she passed away she called and left a voice mail boasting about the team’s 6-0 record.

She then became a California kid and the rest was history. She got dirty. She ran. She fell. She jumped. She skated. She rode. She got up to no good, as they say. And she no doubt smiled a lot. She loved roller derby. I found – and kept (along with two of my baby teeth…the woman kept everything) a letter by the Roller Derby Association or whatever the official organization was called, in responding to her request for information on the closest roller derby training school. She was 16.

She loved. She lost. And then she had me at the age of 22, a single parent with no training and little guidance. She raised me the best she could, making the tough decision when it wasn’t popular (it’s never popular) to receive social services – the food stamps, the welfare, the Medi-Cal – to give me a shot. Us a shot.

It wouldn’t be long before one health issue after another began to plague her. These issues that required a daily intake of an incomprehensible amount of medication. That forced her to stop playing softball. That squandered her roller derby dream for good. But she fortified her armor, shoring up her ability to withstand any challenge that was thrown her way. She dealt with the effects of that medication the best she could. She had and recovered from a stroke, regaining her ability to walk when she was in her mid-thirties.

And she fought. She fought to be a parent when people tried to take me away. It could not have been easy – I have an attitude problem. In addition to the baby teeth she kept, I also found my many letters to Santa. I was a little bossy, even to him, telling him where in the Sears Wishbook he could find the items I requested. This is the kid my mom had to deal with and protect.

She kept meticulous records of my development. Last week I opened a sealed envelope that was labeled ‘Cathi’s first year out of the womb.’ In it were sheets of paper in her handwriting. A journal. I was able to read about how much she loved me on my first day of life. She wrote about how I could turn myself over in the crib on my own after only four weeks and that she would not have believed it had she not seen it for herself. That earned a few exclamation marks.

And then I started to get older. She put me in sports. Thank god. She gave me pen and paper. And how did I repay her?

One day we were in the K-mart at Valley Plaza in North Hollywood. There was a barrel of watermelon candy sitting unguarded in a barren aisle. Un. Guarded. Perhaps I felt I had a right to that candy. I was five, so of course I did. I easily swiped a few pieces. But did I wait until later that night to break open my loot? Nope. Once in the car, I reached into my pocket for the few pieces (only few!) of candy I swiped and tore open the wrappers. One by one I shoved the hard candy into my mouth. It tasted so good. But then:

“What are you eating?” my mom asked from the front seat.

“Nnthng,” I was barely able to reply, my mouth full of candy, the scent of sugar and watermelon wafting through the air.

“What. Are. You. Eating?” she asked, finally turning in her seat to watch my struggle.


She held out her hand. I looked in her eyes, suddenly afraid of what could possibly happen. There was no way out. I leaned forward and spit my loot into the cupped palm of her hand.

There might have been some yelling. Some questions, such as “Where did this come from,” etc. But I could only hear one thing: “No Dukes of Hazzard for you tonight!” I was devastated. No Bo. No Luke. No. Daisy.

I never stole again.

Then there was the time she took me to see Ghostbusters. I was 11 and so scared that the marshmallow thing at the end was coming after me, that I forced her to stay up one night and play Battleship. I can still see her heavy eyelids wanting so badly to close. But she knew I was afraid and that she alone could protect me from the marshmallow. (I won all the games we played, by the way.)

Then there was the time we took a train ride to Texas that Christmas to be with my grandparents. That was the year she (or perhaps Santa) bought me a guitar. My mom played once upon a time and she wanted to play, too. I did take some lessons, and then I quit. Last year, my mom bought a guitar, deciding to learn to play again. It’s mine now. I won’t quit this time.

Then there was the time I bought markers from Disneyland and took them home and they were dried up. She insisted we work on a letter of complaint to the powers that be. I got new markers. That arrived dry. Whatever. There was the Grand Ole Opry, and the amusement park and I made her go on the roller coaster with me seven times. She did happily.

And then there was last summer. It was 3 a.m. on a Saturday and I had surrounded myself in bed with work. I was overcome with stress and pressure and confusion. I called my mom. Did I think she could fix it? No. Did I want her to? No. I knew she couldn’t. I just needed my mom. I was 38.

Years ago, my mom said one of her biggest fears was having to rely on people toward the end of her life. Despite her best attempts, through the years, her body endured one hit after another and, unfortunately, her fear became realized.

At least that’s how it seemed. I’d actually argue that she was the one people relied on. Sure, she needed help to perform the most mundane activities associated with life. But there was a fight in her that accompanied everything she did.

She fought through over-medicated states. She fought through the incessant poking and prodding of this doctor and that.

She fought against the restrictions that at times kept her from getting herself in and out of bed.….even if it meant she’d fall. Even if it meant she’d have to endure lectures from me over the phone. The words I said were good. They made sense. But even as they came out of my mouth, I knew they were futile. My mother didn’t listen. And she wasn’t gonna be told what to do.

And she fought paralysis – this time the result of a botched spinal surgery – every once in a while trying to see if just maybe she might have regained the ability to walk as she did years before.

She fought for everything. In the end she was still fighting. But her acceptance filled her with strength and provided the character that infected everyone with whom she came into contact. With my mom you’d get honesty. Compassion. Support. Encouragement. And yes, sometimes anger. Even if she had just come home tired from the doctor. Even if she could barely keep her eyes open in the middle of the afternoon. She was there and she expected you to be right there with her.

She did the very hard work every day to remain sober. This year she celebrated 17 years of sobriety. She found fulfillment in her work with Operation Gratitude in support of our troops overseas, exchanging letters with appreciative soldiers who received gifts she herself packaged. She developed a community here and forged best friendships that will live on in memories forever.


Mom, I stand up here as the most imperfect of daughters entering the next phase of my life without you in it. You will not see me turn 40, which you teased me about in the voicemail you left me on my 39th birthday a couple of months ago. We had a good go together even though we were often apart. It wasn’t always easy, I know. I was a difficult kid with an attitude and a misunderstanding way back then of the difficulties you had to endure and the sacrifices you made for me. And I’m sure I made it harder. For the rest of my life, I will hold onto the memories and recall your fight, letting it inspire me as I amble through the life I’ve got left.

As we all gather here today to bear the sorrow of your passing, we know that your spirit has evolved into something beyond this world. Your fight is over and you are somewhere free. You’ve left us, confident that we no longer need to rely on you. You’ve shed your wheels. Put a bat in your hand and skates on your feet. You’re now where you need to be, because I know you’d have it no other way.

Mom, keep watching over me, because I will always need you to make sure I’m okay. I love you.

Rest in peace.

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