The Name Stops Here!


Travel Essay

Published October 2015. Positive 365

Like most Americans, I watched the media circus surrounding the “coming out” of Caitlyn Jenner with equal parts fascination and curiosity.  To be honest, I knew very little about transexualism. Indeed, the Jenner story gave me some appreciation of the challenges faced by those who identify as transsexual.  I heard the disturbing statistics on the incidence of depression and suicide.  And Jenner’s stories about being a woman trapped inside the body of an American sports hero were truly compelling. At the same time, as I watched Jenner being interviewed from her palatial, mountaintop home overlooking the Pacific, I wondered: does her celebrity truly benefit the transsexuals who do not have a voice?  Will those who are still closeted, or worse yet, out and maligned by society, relate to this multi-millionaire reality TV star? I resigned myself to the fact that I might never answer that question.  But then I met Clover.

She was already in the Dayton Greyhound terminal when I arrived for my connecting bus to Denver.  She was (as I would later learn) purposely flamboyant, with heavy, black eye liner and black lip-gloss.  She wore a floral crown, a chiffon dress, leggings and Doc Martens.  And she was adorned with multiple piercings.  But the thing that was most striking was her eyes, dark and sad, set beneath thick, black brows that she attempted to hid with her bangs.

We spoke briefly while boarding, as I commented that she was reading one of my all-time favorite books, Tom Robbins “Jitterbug Perfume.”  We were both going to Denver to make connections elsewhere.  The bus was packed and we didn’t sit near each other.  I wouldn’t have a chance to talk to Clover until we sat next to each other for the long ride from Kansas City to Denver.

Clover is a nickname given by close friends.  Her legal name is Jacqueline.  It took her more than a year to get her name changed legally.  Well, it wasn’t the name change that was the issue.  Clerks at the Motor Vehicles Bureau and other government agencies repeatedly refused to identify her as female.  I asked what her male name was.  She wouldn’t tell me, saying that she never identified with that person so it’s no longer part of her story.

She was the youngest of four children, and the only male child born into a strict Christian household in New England.  Her father was ecstatic because he was the last male in his family lineage and desperately wanted a son to carry the name forward.  Clover said that she knew she was different when she was five or six, and the feelings only grew in intensity as she got older.  But she never said anything because her family, and her father in particular, were vehemently opposed to alternative lifestyles.  In fact, to fit in with her family and be accepted, Clover attended the same Christian church, joining her family and church friends in demonizing gays, transsexuals…anybody who was different.

By 13, she began to turn the corner in accepting her circumstance.  Soon after, she came out to friends, before telling her parents.  She made it extremely clear to her devastated father that she was changing her last name and that she would never carry the family name forward.  He threw her out of the house.  After bed hopping between friends, living on the streets and a brief stint at Tufts University, Clover realized that she would likely never be accepted in the Northeast, thus her cross-country bus journey that would end in San Francisco. 

I had to ask about Caitlyn, was her coming out a good thing for transsexuals?

“It raised awareness of the transsexual life,” she said.  “But Caitlyn is not the new normal for transsexuals.  She’s never known what it is like to be unable to find work.  She’s never had to worry about having a place to live or having some government clerk refuse to acknowledge her gender.  Or to commit suicide like 50% of us will do. It’s a difficult life for those of us who make the choice to live honestly. It’s even more difficult for those who are too afraid to come out.”

After we parted ways in Denver, it was difficult to get Clover out of my mind. Like my son Jay, she is 19.  I knew she had very little money, so I offered to buy her breakfast at one of the stops.  I thought about Jay and how I’d hope that someone would buy him a meal if he were alone and broke.

And I kept coming back to the father, to a man so consumed by his own ego and self righteousness that he would throw his youngest child onto the street. And I felt myself feeling proud of Clover, of her courage, her flamboyance and her passion to live.  It seems only appropriate that the family name will end with her.

Leave your comment