A Vine of Ink Roses

Yesterday at the farmer’s market, I met a beautiful trans woman with a rose vine tattoo.

She stopped to look at our soaps, and we complimented the estrogen tattoo on her arm. As we were talking about ink, and the stories that surround them, she showed us the roses on her back.

“These roses represent my family tree.” She lifted the back of her blouse to show use slightly sun-worn, but still vibrant blossoms.

“The two big ones are for me and my wife, who passed a few years ago.” She shared this information as a statement of fact, but with enough emotion in her voice to sense the loss that never quite fades when a loved one dies.

“The next two roses are for my boys.” There was a pause, before she continued. “The smallest two are for my grandsons.”

“How old are your grandsons?” I asked, wondering they were around the same age as my nephews, as she appeared similar in age to my mother.

“6 and 9” She replied, then sadly said “but I’m not allowed to see them.”

I nearly cried when she told us how her boys couldn’t accept who she was. How they felt that she was trying to replace their mother, whom she assured us no one could ever replace. She told us how she told her sons repeatedly she would never ask them to call her “Mom”, and would even appear as her dead-self -“That Person”- if that’s what it would take to see her grandkids.

“They can’t accept all of this”, she said gesturing to her vibrant pink hair and estrogen tattoo, “but it was either this, or I would be dead.”

We offered her as much verbal comfort and support strangers could give, and finished up our market day. But, I haven’t stopped thinking about her.

Today I went to my grandparent’s to spend Independence Day with my family. All day this sweet woman’s story sat at the back of my mind. What would I choose if put in her position? Would I give up the ability to visit my nibblings (nieces and nephews) if that was the cost of my mental well being? Would I give up my life and happiness for my family’s acceptance? The choice, I realized, was a cruel one.

My family is not perfect. We are proud, anxious, often unsympathetic, and overachievers. But, at the end of the day we do love and support each other. We don’t always understand each other, and we don’t always agree with the choices other members make, but that was never grounds of expulsion from the family tree. I had pushed the envelope by leaving religion, having several mental health crises, and even come out as as part of the LGBTQ+ community myself. Never once was I disowned, no matter how confused or disappointed my family was. We do have our own issues, of course. There are deep scars that still need healing, traumas that still require therapy, and rifts that need to be repaired- but despite all of that, I am part of family willing to try to understand and love each other. That alone is a privilege many don’t have.

To that sweet woman, with pink hair and beautiful tattoos, I hope you do get to hug your grandsons one day. I hope your boys come around to realize that love and support are more important than pride and ignorance, and I hope that you add more ink roses to your vine. But, I know life isn’t a fairy tale and reality doesn’t always have a happy ending- so, if those wishes don’t come to pass, know that you are loved, accepted, and appreciated by found family as you are.

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