I've worked as a writer, editor, and teacher for almost 40 years. Much of my work has been about my children and the home I grew up in, about illness and disability, and more recently, about design. This year I published an essay on my transgender child, which I hope will be the beginning of a book. My book Moonrise, about my oldest son, was published in 2003, and was based on an essay that appeared in The Atlantic Monthly and for which I won a National Magazine Award. My work has appeared in anthologies including Best American Essays and in publications including the New York Times, Lilith, The Forward, Print, Good Housekeeping, Motherwell, and Exceptional Parent. The thesis I wrote about wheelchair design was recently published by the Smithsonian/Cooper Hewitt Museum. I am also the co-editor of the online magazine Dark Wood.
I have a bachelor's and master's degree from Sarah Lawrence College and a degree in the history of design and decorative objects from New School Parsons/Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian. I have appeared as a panelist and speaker at numerous events, including many readings and academic presentations, I have been interviewed on WNYC and on the Today show on NBC. I have three adult children with my husband of 39 years, Joseph Lurio, a family physician.
Writing Sample, from The Ties that Bind
I'm cleaning Toby's closet, a tangled space in the bedroom where he lived till he left to finish college. The room has violet walls, a chandelier with candelabra bulbs, and a Persian rug. On the walls hang a framed print from a Tin Tin book and a collage he made in the fourth grade, which he called "Sunset in Jail."
I'm still referring to Toby as "he" some of the time which he says is OK, but two years ago, while we were walking on a local trail, he stopped and turned to me, all five-foot-ten of him, and said, Mom, I need to tell you something.
What could it be? Of my three children, Toby had always seemed to me the most known, transparent, accessible. In my world—as the mother of a physically disabled first son and a sometimes arms-length daughter—Toby was the one I depended on, the one who gave me undivided joy. So when he said, finally, "Mom, I'm 99 percent sure I'm a girl," the shock was real and immediate. I felt blown away. My heart faltered, my world fell. Because I understood right then that the Toby I had known—or thought I'd known, the Toby I had helped to create, perhaps to invent—was gone.
No doubt it was a moment of liberation for him. But for me, it felt devastating. I had never suspected. I had simply thought of Toby as someone special, a gifted person who didn't mind holding unpopular views. The fact that he played on the girls' volleyball team in middle school and liked silk pajamas as a five-year-old did not clue me in. He had never mentioned he felt like a girl; he had never pleaded to wear female clothing; he had never had a doll. His best friend was a boy he'd known since toddlerhood. They spent all their time playing video games.
For months after the announcement, I hardly slept. I could barely write. Only blips, telegraphic phrases, burst out here and there, stingily. It seemed as though writing about it would make it so, and magically, not writing about it might make it not so. For a time I haltingly wrote fiction, as though I could see and express my thoughts only in the third person, where all my frightening fantasies—of amputation, transmogrification—could emerge without judgment. I avoided people I knew, barely able to say the words that now explained Toby, who was soon-to-be-Tobi.
For some time, I held on to the one percent Toby had said he wasn't sure of. I thought he might change his mind. What had I done? What hadn't I done? Wasn't he too young to know what he wanted? These thoughts kept me up at night, filled me with furious anxiety all day.
And now I'm combing through his closet, sifting through the changes and the left-behinds, and I'm finding it sobering and sad. And illuminating. The closet—a boxy, walk-in affair—has been piled, every which way, with a jumble of stuff: video games jammed into milk cartons; toiletries, bins of Legos and matchbox cars; the shades we ordered but didn't install because Toby wanted black-out curtains and these didn't completely cover the light. (What was keeping him up at night? Why so hard to sleep with even a chink of light?)