Wednesday, July 29, 2020

In Virginia

My daughter and I went to a horse show last week. It was an odd thing to do, in this Covid time, and correspondingly it was an odd show--staggered mid-week instead of taking place on a weekend, temperature checks on entering the facility, competitors spread out in the barns, so that our aisle of 80 stalls held 10 horses, everyone wearing masks except while physically riding. I was pleased with all the precautions because they were the only reason I was willing to attend.

I've lost a lot this year. I haven't seen my extended family since September. I have a nephew I've never even met, and he already has a tooth. Since July Fourth I've been missing them more intensely, because that's when my family often gathers on our farm for a big weekend of fireworks, horse and tractor rides, baseball and water fights.  I know how incredibly lucky and privileged I am. My family's all healthy, we're all able to work, we're doing fine. But I have too many breathing problems not to be afraid of this virus. Also my husband sees 60 patients a day. He takes every precaution he can, but he's an ophthalmologist, which means he examines people with his face right up near theirs. He wears a mask, always, and so do his patients; he comes home and immediately puts his clothes in the wash, and showers. But he could catch Covid, and therefore so could I. I'm trying to both not catch it and not give to it anyone else, and so I'm not doing much. I don't hang out with friends or go to book club or yoga. I don't eat out. I order groceries delivered and I check out library books online and I pretty much stay away from everyone.

But we went to a horse show.

It was my daughter's horse Merlin's first show. Someday I'll tell Merlin's story; so far I haven't figured out how. He's a gelding of unknown breeding, age, or origin--we can trace him to the slaughterhouse trailer he collapsed on, but no farther. We didn't actually plan on buying my daughter another horse after her beloved Mickey died, but Merlin fell into our lives, and we're grateful. Training him has been for my daughter the brightest part of a difficult year. Before last week, the last time she'd been to a horse show had been fall of her senior year in high school, nearly 5 years ago--so taking Merlin, challenging him, being able to measure their progress--that was a big thing to her.

It was big for me to riding, too. This May my mare, Sarah, ripped her knee open on a drainpipe in our field. (I wrote a blog post about it, but never published it--my daughter declared it too gruesome.) At first it seemed to be healing quickly, but then her leg swelled and the wound reopened. She's healing, but we don't know how far she'll come.

A month ago, a friend of mine, Nicolette Merle-Smith, put a few of her horses up for lease, and one of them caught my eye. T Minus Three is a Thoroughbred former race horse, seventeen hands high, or 5'8" at the shoulder, four inches taller than me. Sounds like a terrible idea for me to rent a huge fast horse--but T's a gentle, honest soul, and I trusted him immediately. I've rented him until the end of September to ride while Sarah heals.

I know. The world's on fire, and I'm renting a horse.

He brings me joy.

Nearly four years ago, I took an easy fall off Sarah that resulted in a traumatic brain injury. (Yes, I was wearing a helmet.) Healing took a long time. At the same time The War That Saved My Life became a bestseller, and appeared on 46 state award lists, and suddenly I was speaking and travelling a lot more--both for business and for fun, because my husband and I love adventures. And so with one thing and another I hadn't ridden a cross-country course in four years.

So we were thrilled and anxious, my daughter and I. We drove to the Virginia Horse Center, in Lexington, VA, early on Thursday morning.

We've been there so many times. Our regional pony club rallies were held there, as well as some of the East Coast championships. We went to eventing camp there five summers in a row. The Virginia Horse Trials, spring and fall--once we went and stayed two nights in a hotel just to volunteer. I'm used to pulling into the place with a truck crammed with children and a trailer full of ponies; used to shepherding kids into the Sleep Inn and requesting extra towels and a roll-away bed. I'm used to two booths full of sleepy competitors at 6 am at the Waffle House, and our favorite waitress, April, pouring me coffee with cream when she sees me walk in the door.

We walked the cross-country course with the ghosts of our former horses and our former selves. There was the hill I learned to gallop down on Gully--the water where a former coach yelled, "What's the matter, Kim? Are you AFRAID?" and I was afraid, but I gritted my teeth and kicked, and Gully leaped forward and splashed the coach from head to toe, and we both roared with laughter. It felt so long ago, and so immediate and real.

This week my daughter's horse found courage and confidence, getting better and better across the three phases. T did beautifully too. He hasn't learned to gallop down hills yet--it's a specific skill--and he was a little concerned about the sheer number of fences (there were several courses set up, for different levels of competition), so we trotted the first half of the course. He was happy I understood his issues, and I was happy to be on a sweet calm horse who jumped everything I asked.

It wasn't an important show, but it felt important. It felt like a piece of me had been missing, and returned.

Trans Lives Matter.

Sometimes you learn something new about people, and it changes how you feel about them forever.
Back when I was in high school, I would have told you I didn't know any gay people. I did, of course, I just didn't know they were gay. At that time, and in that place, it was very difficult, if not unsafe, to be out as a gay person. I wish that weren't true, but it was.

When I was a freshman in college, a woman I was in the process of becoming friends with told me she was dating another woman. She started to cry as she told me, because she was afraid that admitting it would be the end of our friendship.

On one level I was shocked--an actual gay person! On another, much more important level, I didn't care. At all. I opened my mouth and the truth came out. You are who you've always been, and--I probably didn't say 'I love you,' which is what I'd say now, because I'm willing to go on record as loving more people now. I probably said something like, I'm glad we're friends.

As I recall, I didn't address the part where she thought I'd probably be homophobic. At that point in my life, I probably thought I'd be homophobic, too. But at least I was learning.

I don't know what it's like to be gay, or bisexual, or transgender. I've always been straight and cisgender. I've never had a gay, nonbinary, or trans person explain to me that, really, I probably was just confused--I was letting all those straight cis people influence me. All the gay and trans people I know have always accepted me for who I am. They've never tried to change me.

I will always do the same for them. I can't step inside their skin. I don't know how life is for them.

Which is why I'm so disappointed in J. K. Rowling. First she sends out ridiculous tweets mocking the phrase, "people who menstruate," used in an essay, because in her mind that should be changed to "women." Word choice can be important to writers, but I don't understand Rowling's insistence here. I'm a woman, and I haven't menstruated in several years. But whatever. People called her out, online, pointing out that trans people, like cis people, may or may not menstruate and that menstruation isn't a defining part of their gender identity. At which point, someone trying to be an ally would have a chance to say, "Whoops, sorry. I didn't think about that. I stand corrected." and move on. At that point it's all pretty small.

But Rowling followed up with more tweets expanding her original one, to make it clear she really is transphobic, and then she published a very long essay on her website defending her point of view, which is, as far as I can tell, that she has been a victim of sexual violence (which, though sad, has nothing to do with the topic), and that she feels people, particularly autistic people, are being tricked into calling themselves trans and that it's some sort of phase they'll grow out of, except that they might have their genitals mutilated first.

There's absolutely no evidence that anyone is being tricked into changing genders, or, especially, into having surgery. Very few trans people transition back. Regardless, Rowling's feelings here have no actual relevance to the lives of trans people, except, of course, for being deeply insulting. Rowling's essay also seems entirely unrelated to her tweets, except as a convoluted justification of her transphobia.

Here's what really gets me, though. Rowling understands that she has a platform. She had fourteen million twitter followers. She understands media; she knows what she's tweeting. She tweeted that IF trans people were experiencing discrimination, she'd march for their rights--and then she carefully wrote and posted a highly discriminatory essay. She should be marching in protest against herself, though I doubt we'll see that happen.

J. K. Rowling, I know more about you now. I'm so disappointed.

N and C and B and A and B and all the other trans and nonbinary people I know--and all of you I don't know--you don't need my validation any more than you need J. K. Rowling's. Continue to live your lives of honesty and valour. I see you. I love you.