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How do you go from one person to two and then inherit an entire extended family? This is what Janet and Aaron grapple with as their first traveling holiday together approaches in the 18th episode of The Missing Piece Podcast.
Making plans to travel together to Aaron’s family farm in North Dakota prompts an in-depth, heated discussion about meeting your partner’s needs while also reconciling your own needs, traditions (or lack thereof) and familial ties (or lack thereof).
Listen now as the hosts relay how they’ve traveled across this touchy topic together.
Jazz’s most prized possessions lay in a plastic bin in her bedroom. They’re not expensive or sentimental or even something one-of-a-kind, like the shimmering mermaid tails she’s sewn together as the perfect bikini bottoms.
They’re hand-me-downs, actually, from her big sister Ari, 15. Old bras 11-year-old Jazz, like most girls her age, is hoping to fill out soon rather than later.
“I titled that drawer, ‘Something for the future’,” Jazz tells me over the phone of her box of bras, “and then I put an arrow and wrote, ‘Or now’, because I’m desperate to wear it right now.”
Jazz says she wears the second-hand underwear “all the time,” trying them on in the privacy of her bedroom “continuously.” Recently, she was daring enough to leave the house in one of them, getting to her fifth-grade class unnoticed by her parents.
“But some of the girls noticed it,” her mother Jeanette chimed in.
“No,” Jazz quickly interjects. “One girl noticed it, and she wouldn’t have questioned me if she didn’t know I was transgender.”
At 11, girls begin breaking out of the prepubescent pack. They grow taller, they grow hairier, they grow curvier. These early bloomers pose a threat to their peers, like Jazz, who are lagging behind in the puberty pool, as they breast stroke towards the blossoming buds of early adulthood.
“She was like, ‘Why are you wearing a bra? You’re not supposed to have that,’” Jazz says of the girl who policed her bra-wearing that day. “But she really really wants boobs also, and the next day I stopped wearing the bra cause my mom made me stop but then she was wearing a bra.”
“You inspired her,” her mom Jeanette said, laughing.
“Yeah, she thought since I could do it she could too,” Jazz giggled.
And because Jazz is doing it — wearing bras, lip gloss, her hair long, girls garments to school — many kids know they can do it as well. This has been the overarching theme of Jazz’s young life. Her gender-defiant story began as a toddler when she would dance around in her sister’s plastic dress-up shoes. She soon expressed her love of mermaids and all things pink around her family, who learned to embrace her femininity.
“I don’t think the world has been fair to me. Not yet, anyway,” the late Octavia St. Laurent said in the groundbreaking documentary Paris Is Burning. “I believe that there is a big future out there with a lot of beautiful things, a lot of handsome men, a lot of luxury. I want to live a normal, happy life…I want so much more.”
This is what every little girl hopes for. And this hope was vibrantly alive in my mind as I walked into the Roseland Ballroom in Midtown Manhattan on Saturday night for the 21 Annual House of Latex Ball.
See photos of Janet and the stars of the Latex Ball
I was a guest of Ayana, whom I met after she invited me to speak on a panel at the Hetrick-Martin Institute in July. She was announcing the establishment of her very own house: the House of Christian, which she told the crowd was her way of giving back to the ballroom community that helped raise her from a pretty young thing to a practicing health professional helping the transgender community through medicine.
I felt honored to witness such a monumental moment in her life, and she was gracious and patient enough to answer many of the questions I had about what to expect at the evening’s event since I had never been to a ball.
I’d spent the weeks leading up to the Latex Ball YouTubing and researching anything I could find about the ballroom scene. It’s only been a month since I was introduced to Paris Is Burning, Jennie Livingston’s 1990 documentary that followed New York’s underground ball scene where young LGBT people of color paraded in front of one another. I was immediately transported into a subculture I didn’t even know existed, one where vulnerable “at-risk” women and men created their own families. These networks of oppressed individuals held hands and collectively built a house where they could live and support one another.
That was the resonant message of the documentary to me, a story I could understand intimately myself.