“Teddy, let’s play!” I had held up my two one-fingered hands, bending them up and down and offering my right hand, lovingly named ‘Cutlet,’ for my younger brother to play with. Teddy grabbed my left hand and responded, “Does Filet want to play too?” From the moment I realized that the hand puppets our Mom had bought for us barely fit my small-disfigured hands, I came up with a suitable a substitute. We named my own hands Filet and Cutlet and, together, called them, “The Birds.” Although each had its own unique personality, we decided to call them the Birds because whenever Teddy put both of his five-fingered hands spread around them, they appeared as if they were taking flight.
Back then there were no in-car movies, or i-Pad/Pod/Phones to entertain us during downtime. As a result, whenever we were hanging around together in a long car ride, or even sometimes at home when we were bored, Teddy and my imaginations churned up a new intriguing story. Filet and Cutlet were always the stars. Teddy thought the Birds were spectacular, humorous and entertaining. In fact, he’d constantly throw out after each ‘episode,’ “Meggie, the Birds are even funnier than you are!” Strange as it was, I thought he was right. After all, in the privacy of my own home, I didn’t have to worry about others and how they would judge my unique traits. And without question, my own brothers were the most naturally accepting of my difference. Using the Birds’ personalities to reveal my true self, at home, gave me freedom and peace.
“Hey, let’s put our suits on. I’ll pop open the champagne!” John practically ran inside to find four suitable glasses. We were on long-awaited trip to visit dear friends living in Europe and were staying at a beautiful home at the top of a mountain near Annecy in the French Alps. We had put the kids to bed, and all settled into the jacuzzi overlooking the lake and surrounding snowcapped mountains.
After making sure Ethan, Charlie and Savanna were in fact asleep, I slipped into my favorite orange bathing suit and put on my extremely ugly yet practical sandals. They were the only sandals that had ever come close to fitting my feet. Our friends were already in the tub with John, enjoying their drinks. As ridiculous as it was given it was only the four of us, I hesitated for a moment to remove my sandals. My life-long insecurity about showing my feet once again reared its ugly head. “C’mon Meg, this is awesome!” My friend Johanna smiled at me encouragingly,
knowing me well enough to pick-up on my reservations without a word exchanged. Grateful for the unconditional support of a close friend, I quickly removed by shoes and hopped in. And then I noticed the bird flying above us. It was like nothing I had ever seen and I just watched it soar freely above us, catching the currents and gliding effortlessly. Maybe the champagne was helping, but at that moment I longed to put my feet up on the ledge alongside everyone else’s and to stopping hiding. I had already gotten used to raising my hands high in photographs but hadn’t yet had the courage to expose my feet. Now I knew it was time. “Guys!” I practically shouted. I think it’s finally time to flaunt my feet on my DHIFI Facebook page!
And so I did. As I posted the photo on social media, with my two one-toed feet alongside John’s, Johanna’s and her husband’s, I felt free as a bird. No matter who might take a look at my feet and think, “freak” or “gross,” (I have been called those names, even to my face), that would be their problem and not mine.
Unless you decided to spend time away on the North Pole this past month, it was impossible to miss Caitlyn Jenner splashed on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine. Ironically, as everyone was likely focused on her transformed face and body, I couldn’t help but stare at Caitlyn’s hands…..because they were hidden behind her back. For me, the picture triggered countless memories of hiding my hands behind my back in photos, too ashamed to proudly and confidently pose with my uniqueness exposed.
But here was Caitlyn, after all these years of hiding, purposefully flaunting her true identity. As a hider turned flaunter, I had never actually felt connected to Bruce Jenner, yet now I couldn’t help but to connect with the female flaunter that had been hiding for so many years.
Craving for more than commentary written by people that couldn’t appreciate Caitlyn’s journey, I decided to check out a former Guest Flaunter, Julie Levinson. I wasn’t in the least surprised that her latest blog was titled, “Caitlyn.” Levinson blogs at George. Jesse. Love.-Parenting and loving a transgender child. As usual, Levinson’s insights were authentic, raw and real. Nevertheless, when she shared the Vanity Fair cover of Caitlyn on her own Facebook page, she garnered some harsh comments. “Freak!” and “Gross” were posted, and to Levinson’s dismay, even by people she knew personally. Levinson responded thoughtfully, but then added something particularly poignant. “I wonder if any of these people ever stopped to think how they would feel if Caitlyn were their child or parent or sibling or friend.”
I then noted another piece in Uporthy.com by Parker Molloy titled, “They showed these kids current and past pictures of Caitlyn. Here’s their reaction.” Molloy summed it up out of the gate: “When Caitlyn Jenner came out as transgender, it brought out the best and worst of the Internet.” Leveraging a video from a site called, “SheKnows,” a group of children were shown photos of Jenner during the 1976 Olympics. He was described as a track-and-field athlete with strong arms. Then they were shown Caitlyn in the Vanity Fair spread. She was described as looking happy, confident and in charge. When the kids were told the two were the same person, the reactions were positive and supportive. “If that is how she is now, then that is fine,” and “Who she wants to be is who she should be.” Next, the interviewer shared some of the negative reactions to Caitlyn on social media. The kids’ reactions were eye-opening, such as, “I think it’s partly because the people who are saying that are afraid to change themselves. They are afraid.”
Based on my own life experience, the hardest thing about self-acceptance is making the difficult yet ultimately rewarding decision to not worry about what others are thinking about you. While I share Julie Levinson’s view that people don’t often empathize until they are personally affected, let’s face it, the majority of people we come across won’t ever walk in our shoes. How can we expect them to chose empathy over cruelty? Yet, the reactions of so many kids holds out hope. As Molloy put it, “The world would be a better place if adults were as understanding as these kids are.” For the sake of Caitlyn and countless others, let’s follow our kids lead and enjoy watching others take flight.
When Vanity Fair’s issue of Caitlyn went viral, her daughter Kendall decided to take to social media and support her with one simple yet poignant phrase. “Be Free Now Pretty Bird.” Well put.