Monthly Archives: March 2018

Changing Yourself, Finding Yourself

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a trans man who has found his true gender identity and shares his joy.After my daughter died, I took a kind of inventory of my life to see what was left, what remained of my old self. Who was I? What was my purpose now? No one seemed to understand the pain I was going through. I was alone, searching for my self, my true barebones self.

Sometimes you need to redefine who you are in the world. You don’t know how things will end up but you know they will have to change if you are to survive. Shaking out old identities does not come easily. It does not always come with the support of those around you. You’re a different person now, I’ve been told. Maybe my friend Ray has heard this too.

Ray was born Rachel. Through medical intervention, he altered his appearance to match the gender he has long identified with. Trans man, he wrote. Female-to-male. I asked him, What is it like to be a transgender man?

“Liberating, painful, …rewarding,” he told me. “It’s liberating to see hormones completely change my body. It’s painful in two ways: emotionally and physically. Emotionally because, while hormones give you a lower voice, facial hair, change the shape of your face and muscles, when stepping out of the shower, there are still pieces of me that don’t belong, which is sad and disappointing. Physically it’s painful because I still have breasts, which means I spend 12-14 hours a day wearing a very tight binder that compresses my chest to make it look like I’m flat chested. If binding is done incorrectly, it can crack ribs or cause bruising and trouble breathing. It’s been a long road of self-discovery. Rewarding … changing from one identity that was given to me at birth, to becoming someone else with an identity I’ve created for myself.” 

What did you lose? I asked.
“I never really lost Rachel. Rachel is incorporated into my life as Ray. The key has been turning the parts of the old me into the person that I am today, with no shame or guilt. I lost an old name, but I gained a new one.”

“What did I find? I found true self-love and happiness. I found someone who has so much to offer the old me who thought there was no self worth. Now I carry myself with pride, with joy, with new eyes. I feel free.”

Finally, I asked, What do you want people to know?
“I want people to know that I am human and I am worthy. I want people to know that being transgender isn’t a punishment, or a burden, it is a process, like a moth becoming a butterfly. I want people to know that kindness and acceptance goes a LONG way.”

Ray didn’t care about having his image camouflaged. But I wanted to experiment with the idea of binders. Binders being shed, maybe. To let loose pain, shame, or whatever keeps us from being our best selves.

 

What changes have you or a loved one made to be your most authentic self?

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People and Their Stories: Firefighters, When They’re Not Saving Lives

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops photographs of firefighters when they are not trying to save lives, to make their portraits anonymous, unidentifiable.Some people hate to be photographed. And some, like the firefighters at a local fire station, will dress up, drag out all their equipment, pose draped up and down over the fire trucks, and entertain you for a whole afternoon. As long as it’s quiet. No emergency calls.

The assignment in my photography class was to make environmental portraits. That means you take pictures of your subjects in the location where they spend a lot of time, so you can show what their lives are like. An environmental portrait is supposed to tell you something about the person. But, because I post my pictures all over social media, for my particular project I have set challenging limitations for keeping the identities of my subjects hidden. Anonymous, non-identifiable portraits. Not easy when each helmet and truck is labeled. I hesitated to ask my main question, What did you lose and what did you find, as the ID tags hanging from every single article of clothing suggested this was a major issue. So later, in Photoshop, I blurred out as many identifiers as I could. Also, I photo-shopped layers of added texture or fabric, to obscure the firefighters’ faces.

“What’s it like to save a life?” I managed to ask as I shot them showing off their hatchets and hoses. They spoke of the scariness, the awesomeness, and adrenaline rushes. These people had seen a lot of loss. Maybe even some close scrapes with death. But here they were whooping up a shower of exhilaration. I, too, was feeling intense excitement just from their enthusiasm. So much so, that I forgot to record their answers.

Still, after I rubbed out their facial features, I was amazed at how much character could come out of the remaining stands of heavy canvas and rescue equipment. Firefighters taking a break on a quiet afternoon. When they’re not out saving lives.

 

If I were to make an environmental portrait of you, where would it take place?

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People and Their Stories: Working Hard, Saving Lives

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a portrait of a paramedic in the style of photographer Chuck Close.This is my portrait of – let’s call him Working Hard. W.H. for short. He admits he’s a workaholic. Proud of and dedicated to his calling as a paramedic, W.H. would probably not be impressed by this quirky style I chose to experiment with for his portrait. Inspired by the works of artist/photographer Chuck Close, I, myself, worked hard turning my original photo of W.H. into a grid, and then twisting the individual squares to demolish his identity.

W.H. deserves to have his image treated with a lot more respect. He should be portrayed with monumental dignity. After all, he saves lives. As opposed to me. I gave birth twice, but miscarried twice, aborted two lives, and pulled the plug on one life. Not to mention the countless pets I’ve put down over the years. I don’t think I ever saved a life.

Years ago, I tried to keep up with a speeding ambulance as it rushed my daughter from a hospital in Ithaca to one in Rochester. She almost died on the way. But the EMTs saved her. So, I’m in awe of EMTs and paramedics. Touring a nearby fire station last week, I literally jumped at the invitation to enter their ambulance. It was my first time inside one.

“What’s it like to save a life?” I asked W.H., as I examined every inch of the neatly accommodated van with its medical supplies secured behind straps and doors.
“Sobering,” he replied, “It’s a large responsibility to shoulder. We cannot predict when something life-threatening happens. When we do save a life, it’s a moving experience.”

“What did you lose and what did you find?” I asked. He struggled with this.
“What I didn’t lose was my compassion,” he finally said. “It’s very easy in emergency medicine to become hardened to the circumstances of the people around you…. Emergency medicine tends to lead practitioners to feel that people are essentially suffering from their own bad decisions, driving drunk, smoking … but I have not lost my sense of compassion.”

He’d said, “Sobering,” about saving a life. “A moving experience.” I wanted to hear something more like Soaring. Something related to glory, jubilance, elation, and ecstasy. Because “sobering” is kind of what I felt watching my beautiful girl take her last breath. And compassion? That’s what I eventually found, after becoming a mother who could not save her daughter’s life, when I discovered too many others experiencing the same sorry thing.

I’m grateful to W.H. and all practitioners in Emergency Medical Services, for working to save lives. It can’t be easy, straddling the cusp between life and death.

 

What did you find and what did you lose in your life? Who or what saved you? Who or what did you save?

 

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Tracking Grief on the Seventh Sad Anniversary

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a picture of her deceased daughter Marika Warden with a new dress composed of photos of trees in snow, on the angelversary of her death.“I’m so sorry. Losing your daughter is a lot harder than what I’m going through,” a new acquaintance apologized, for voicing pain over the recent loss of her partner, as if her loss should yield some lesser quantity of heartache than mine.
“Grief is grief,” I said, shaking my head. Regarding her at that moment, I was sure if we were to rate our pains on a scale of one to ten, she’d win first prize.

I hate when I find myself comparing or scoring, or trying to measure grief. It really bugs me when people calculate that it hurts infinitely more to lose a child than a mother, or to lose two children over only one. And when someone tells me that it’s time to be done grieving, as if I’m out-of-whack or behind schedule, it makes me growl. Grief adheres to no predictable benchmarks as it rips you apart. Yet we feel compelled to compare; to measure the intensity, the duration, or the effects of our mourning; to mark our progress to recovery. Why can’t we simply accept grief as our individual journeys, our unique adaptations to loss that may eventually lead to growth and change, but could alternatively wipe us out?

Approaching the seventh anniversary of my daughter’s death, I fell into tracking my grief’s path over time. Looking back at my blog posts from Marika’s past angelversaries (now my most sacred holiday of the year), I wondered if I’d see healing. But there was no clear forward movement. Over the six years, I meandered. I celebrated. I wallowed in self-pity. There were anniversary posts filled with fear and dread about how I could possibly survive the day. There were years I obsessed about how to commemorate it. One year I was too busy worrying about Alzheimer’s disease and forgot to write about the anniversary. And last year I started the day immersed in sorrow, and ended up discovering how grief could melt into gratitude as friends surrounded me in support. Progress?

On Sunday, the day my daughter had been dead for seven years, I had sushi for breakfast, hiked with my inherited dog, and followed a friend to a hot tub. After, I gave myself a foot massage and made hot chocolate from scratch with Kahlua. I photographed trees in snow, and posted photos on Facebook. Things my daughter loved. And then I spent the evening lost in Photoshop, wandering in endless layers with her, “How about a new dress, Marika? A snow dress this time. Okay?”

 

Grief is grief. How do you make it beautiful?

 

 

 

 

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