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My Dad vs. The Dementors: A Coming Out Story

January 04, 2010, 06:42 AM

Warning:  this blog contains a few details and photos about Harry Potter:  The Exhibition. (no photography is allowed in the exhibit, these were in another part of the museum where it was okay).

I’m moving to Los Angeles.  I’ve been planning to move there since I was about 17, but as Dr. Connors once told Peter Parker, “Planning is not a major at this university.”  At 24, and done with school, I guess life is my university now and no horrible economy or bad luck is going to change that.  So I’ve packed my bags, I’m getting my car tuned up, and somehow, I’m going to cross this country and make it to Hollywood.

Of course, all this means leaving New England, where I’ve lived for all but one year of my life.  I won’t miss shoveling cars out of the snow at six in the morning, but this place is beautiful, breath-taking, in every season, and it will always be home.

 I became particularly sentimental about leaving New England when I visited my hometown of Boston to see Harry Potter:  The Exhibition.  In the familiar entrance way, with its high glass walls letting what was left of the daylight in, sat the Ford Anglia and Ron’s chess piece from Sorcerer’s Stone.  I have this incredibly strong memory of bawling hysterically in that entrance way about thirteen years ago, when I got separated from a camp group.  I was actually a junior counselor for the group, getting paid, but I was still a kid, and there was something about the way I turned around to see an empty room, where my group had stood moments before, that really freaked me.  Years later, as I stood there, gazing up at the knight’s horse, I thought about Ron, that kindred spirit of mine, and how this was such a great symbol of his bravery and worth.  So many asked why Harry and Hermione needed Ron on the Horcrux hunt.  Well, that chess piece is your answer.

You see a lot of things that way when you go to the exhibit.  As I walked through, object after object made my head spin:  the Death Eaters’ masks from Goblet of Fire, so much creepier in real life than on-screen; the blood-stained parchment from Harry’s detentions with Umbridge; the Mad Muggle comic books you could just picture Ron reading.  There was a realness to everything that went beyond the fact that we were seeing these things in person for the first time.  And nothing was more real for me than the Prisoner of Azkaban-era Dementor that was on display.  Already such a stunning figure in the film, the Dementor is actually far more intricate than I’d previously thought.  Like we see in the Quidditch match scene, it came complete with a ring of bloody teeth around the edge of its mouth.  They always used to remind me very  specifically of the mouths of these carnivorous fish in Lake Victoria that bite whole arms off fisherman. The model hovered above us, maybe 9 foot high, and at first the inclination is to peer into its cloaked face.  However, after a moment of staring, my mother pointed me downwards, at the spine that curled below like a tail.  My stomach did a double-flip when I saw a trace of blood on the spine.  I couldn’t stop staring at the creature.  Even as we turned the corner, I gave it one long, last look, to cement it in my mind.

After seeing the Exhibition, I started to wonder a lot more about the idea behind that design.   A spine, like a human with no body, literally the bare bones of a body.  And the blood.  It was as if it was making a mockery of human pain.  How can something with no body bleed?

I’d turned over this question in my mind many times before I slowly started to associate it with the relationship between my father and I, which has been particularly strained since I came out to him a few months ago. The two of us are very similar people with very different beliefs.  We share a temperament, a love of the Greek language, and a talent for music.  Our disagreements are usually about religion, sometimes politics.  Fairly typical, you might say.  But my father’s faith and religious beliefs are hard-wired, and as a Catholic there are certain fundamentals in his church that conflict with my very being as a transperson.  Knowing this, I’ll be the first to admit I lost faith in him coming around nearly from the moment I had my talk with him.  I would comfort myself with “It doesn’t matter, we’re not that close” and “I wouldn’t want to stand between him and his faith anyway,” but of course there was a deep pain underlying this.  If it didn’t matter, how could I feel pain over losing it?  In other words, if my father and I had a relationship so devoid of substance and value, how could it bleed?

Most of the time, when I’ve been upset and frustrated about how my parents have handled learning that I’m trans, I’ve lashed out, yelled.  I thought it wasn’t healthy to be tight-lipped, and the truth is, I was angry, but mostly disappointed.  Disappointed, because I had always held my parents in high regard, morally speaking.  When I was growing up, I noticed that they did things, sometimes things that hurt our family, made things harder for us, but they did it because it was the right thing, or to help someone else.  And that’s how they raised my sister and me.  When I came out to them, I stuffed this in their faces, daring them:  “If you really are who you think you are, then you’ll accept and respect this.”  It’s true, but that doesn’t mean people don’t deserve time to adjust.  To paraphrase Attitude magazine, give your parents time, after all, how long did it take you to get used to being queer?

I was recently on a two-hour car ride with my parents.  I was singing along to the radio when my dad said, “You can really hit those high notes, girl.”  Everyone sort of stopped.  My mom eyed me in the rearview, waiting for the explosion.  My dad then tried to go on like nothing happened, but I asked him what he’d said, hoping I’d misheard.  “Nothing,” he said, “I said nothing.”  I don’t know, maybe it was because I was exhausted, having stayed up all night, as I do sometimes, writing, but it struck me funny.  “Curl?” I teased.  “Whirl? Pearl?  Oh!  ‘Duke of Earl. ‘ That’s a good one.  Duke, Duke, Duke, Duke of Earl, Earl, Earl…” I sang.  And the conversation went on like normal.

And that’s when I realized that it matters.  It matters to me.  I don’t care what he thinks about what I’m doing, but I care if I lose his respect and the only way to retain that is to be the good person he knows I am.  Be thorough, patient, kind.  Try to understand as much as I want to be understood.  My mother recently likened this time for them as a “grieving period.”  It was good to hear because it was so obviously true, the way she said it, but it’s still hard to accept that something died for them that day.  There’s no changing that.  But if this is a grieving period, then it follows to think that one might get over this in a similar way:  by continuing on in life and finding enjoyment and happiness in the things that are still here, surrounding us.  And I’m  here.  If I lose faith, I throw that away as much as they do.

After we got home from the trip, I had patted myself on the back for keeping my cool and acting normal.  I thought it was one small step for me in the right direction and that that had to count for something.  But the next day my father made an even bigger step, a leap for him really. He called me Jon for the first time.  And we just… went on like normal. The struggles are not over and I’m sure there’ll be more hurt, but that’s the way it should be.  Because I was wrong, we are not like that Dementor I saw hanging on the wall.  There is something there, there is worth, and that is why it bleeds.

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Blogger Bio

Name: Jon
LeakyName: abandonedboyjon
House: Hufflepuff

Jon is a filmmaker, writer, and transgender activist, who has been a Harry Potter fan since the age of eleven. In 1999, he had the honor of meeting Jo and still can't believe it happened. He is very much like Ron and often wishes he, too, had a Deluminator. His patronus is an eagle.