The dMv Test

“Please, oh please,” I chanted out loud as I stared at the envelope with the Minnesota Department of Motor Vehicles return address in the upper left hand corner. Sam would not be home from school for another 30 minutes and I knew I could not possibly wait that long.  After a brief soul-searching moment I rationalized that he would understand my angst, and proceeded to tear open the envelope.

For most people getting your license in the mail is a non-event, the only excitement coming from seeing your mug-shot style photo for the first time and trying to decide if you will be able to live with it for the next four years.  But for Sam, we were anxious for an entirely different reason – a reason 99% of the population would never consider, but for him it was big deal.  For Sam (and therefore for me, because I love him so much), we were eager to see if the gender marker actually read:  M

Arriving at this moment was a long time in coming, and getting there was filled with many people and formalities that tried our patience.  In Minnesota, it is actually easier than in most states for transgender people to have their gender marker changed on their license.  That said, it is still a tiresome process that provided many anxious moments for our family.  We first had to obtain a formal letter from Sam’s doctor verifying that he had transitioned.  Then came the Petition for Variance.  While not a complex form, we still needed to make sure we answered the questions completely, not providing too much or too little information because if we erred either way we might be denied, or so we were warned. Done.  Now, all that was left to do was attach the original letter from the doctor to the State form, mail it in and wait.

And wait.

And wait.

Several weeks later, when we had all but given up hope, what our family now fondly refers to as the ‘Willie Wonka Golden Ticket’ arrived (sans the chocolate bar) in the mail.  The reference to Willie Wonka being that the Golden Ticket (otherwise known as the letter from the State) was hard to come by and very much coveted by people like Sam.  On official State of Minnesota letterhead, Sam was informed that he was granted permission for the gender marker on his license to be changed from F to M, and that he should bring this Golden Ticket to his road test so that the examiner could properly process his license if he passed.  Overcoming what we thought to be the biggest hurdle, we breathed a sigh of relief.

On August 17th we pulled up to the first station at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) where we met a man (we’ll call him Brad), whose job it was to ensure we had all the necessary paperwork before we could proceed with the behind-the-wheel test.  You know the drill – proof of insurance, a valid instruction permit, and in our case, the Golden Ticket.  The first station was actually a drive-thru window, similar to one you would find at your favorite fast food restaurant and as we pulled up, Brad greeted us with a hearty hello.  A jovial man, he first looked at Sam’s instruction permit and made a light-hearted joke about Sam not being able to take the test that day because it wasn’t his birthday.  “Don’t you know most kids take their driving test on their birthday?” he asked.  “Now you are going to have to wait another year,” he said, laughing at his own joke.

Must be DMV humor I thought to myself.

We watched as he inspected our insurance card, which met with his approval, and then he came to the Golden Ticket.  Ah yes, the Golden Ticket, that document from the State that ‘outed’ Sam to this man.  We were used to these types of awkward encounters, but that didn’t make them any less uncomfortable.  Scanning the Golden Ticket, Brad’s demeanor changed immediately.  He informed us he would be right back and then pulled the drive-thru window shut with a BANG.  We giggled under our breaths (a coping mechanism adopted long ago for this kind of situation) as we watched Brad pick up the phone, imagining that he was calling the Willie Wonka of the DMV, or someone else who could help him accept what that letter represented.  After several minutes he was back but still displayed a sullen attitude.  As he returned the paperwork to Sam he said, “Here you go, please proceed to Lane 1, give all of these documents to the person administering your test and good luck, SAM-U-U-U-E-E-E-L,” accentuating the masculine derivation of the name.

“Let it go,” I warned as Sam pulled forward, but the first wound was already inflicted.

Next up was Bill, the examiner who would ride along with Sam during his test.  In hindsight, we should have known things were not destined to go well when he approached our car wearing a bright yellow reflective vest similar to the kind worn by construction workers.  “Why on earth would someone whose job it was to ride in a car all day need to wear that vest?”  I thought to myself, but chose not to fixate on his choice of apparel.   The second red flag came when Sam handed Bill his documents.  Like Brad, he spent little time looking at the insurance card and permit but when he got to the Golden Ticket you could hear his mind come to a screeching halt, similar to the sound brakes make on asphalt.  He proceeded to read the letter from the State over and over again all the while shaking his head.

Emotional wound number two had now been imposed.  And with that I think Sam lost all of his confidence. Bill found a reason to fail Sam that day, for a minor infraction that could have been argued.  Dejected and angry, we headed home wondering whether the failure was caused by Sam’s nerves or discrimination on Bill’s part – something we will never know for sure.

A week later Sam retook the road test with a different examiner and this time he passed.  To be safe we decided that person did not need to see the Golden Ticket until after the test was done, which made Sam feel more at ease knowing for sure there was no bias.  Which brings me back to where my story began…while we knew we had followed all the rules in order to have his gender correctly listed as Male on his license, we have found that nothing is guaranteed when you are dealing with transgender issues.  And so on this afternoon, as I tore open that envelope I held my breath and crossed my fingers…and then jumped up and down like a child when I saw on Sam’s new driver’s license, that coveted letter ‘M.’

Editor’s Note:  The rules for changing one’s gender marker on a driver’s license vary from state to state.  The National Center for Transgender Equality has a user-friendly resource in the form of a United States map that provides the current policies by state.

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Birthday Boy

 

Sixteen years ago today my life changed infinitely for the better because you came into this world. A beautiful, healthy, 9 pound 11 ounce baby who has taught me more about life and the definition of goodness, than any other person, book or school ever could, and for that I will be eternally grateful.

Because of you…I have learned what it means to be true to oneself, even when others do not understand.

Because of you…I have found courage I never knew I had, simply by following your lead.

Because of you…I have discovered that not all things are what they seem, that not everything is black or white, nor fits into the perfect boxes created by our society.

Because of you…I understand the importance of having a sense of humor (and have come to know laughter truly is the best medicine).

Because of you…I realize that I must let go of the things I cannot change, or at the very least change the way I look at them.

Because of you…I have discovered that good trumps bad every time…it just might take a while to witness.

Because of you…I will always choose the roller coaster over the merry-go-round.

Because of you my dear son…my heart swells with pride for all that you have accomplished, overcome and become.

Happy 16th Birthday Sam – I love you more than you will ever know.

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A Sister’s Point-of-View

Editor’s Note:  Sam’s little sister Josie, who is four years younger than him is a budding writer, not to mention one of his fiercest allies.  At age 11, she took it upon herself to write the following post so that Transparenthood readers could experience a sibling’s point-of-view firsthand.

“Josie!” I heard my name being called from Sam’s room. I ran down the hall to see what the problem was. “I’m being picked up for basketball, and mom is not here to put my hair in a ponytail! Help!” Sam pleaded.  I grew accustom to helping Sam with these things. When it came to hair I was the one taking care of Sam even though I was the little sister.  Looking back I really had no idea that I was the only sister. I had no idea that Sam was really a boy. I did think that it was odd that when we went shopping we would split up and go to different clothing departments of the store. I would fantasize about the pretty nail polish when Sam was thinking of men’s cologne. When we went to Target, Sam would look at the men’s deodorant as mom evaluated electric razors, trying to convince Sam to shave her legs.  I would always be asking girly questions to which Sam would shake her head and say, “I don’t know.” Hand me downs were usually a let down for me. Mom would clean out Sam’s closet in the spring and give me a bag overflowing with clothes that Sam had outgrown. I would look over all of them but was always disappointed. Inside were always boy shirts that were boy colors and were usually souvenirs from some place that we traveled to as a family or would have some sort of sports team mascot on them.  Not exactly what I would consider girl’s fashion.

“Why is your sister wearing boy’s clothes?”  Questions from my classmates were the worst part for me, especially when Sam started to transition. After we began to use male pronouns, more and more questions would come about. When I thought that I couldn’t take it anymore I decided to tell my best friend.

“Casey, you know my sister right?” I could feel my heart pound out of my chest.  I didn’t know what the reaction would be when I said that Sam was transgender. “Well she’s a boy. Sam is transgender and she is becoming a male.” I closed my eyes and then opened them to a smile. “That’s cool,” she said, and then skipped off to class. When I shared that experience with my mom she first asked how Casey reacted. “She was cool about it,” I said. As soon as the words escaped my mouth I could see a sigh of relief flush over my mother’s face.

I would never learn from my older sister how to do my hair or makeup, especially now that I have a brother and not a sister. The sister that was supposed to teach me girl things and to uncover the secrets of the world for me was never really there to begin with. But we are happy together as a brother and sister and I feel lucky to have such a good role model no matter what gender he is.

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Bedecked

Editor’s Note:  A special thanks to Victoria Redel for allowing me to share her beautiful poem, which I am sure will tug at the heartstrings of parents far and wide.  Touchingly penned, her words capture what many of us have experienced raising our brave children.

Bedecked

Tell me it’s wrong the scarlet nails my son sports or the toy store rings he clusters four jewels to each finger.

He’s bedecked.  I see the other mothers looking at the star choker, the rhinestone strand he fastens over a sock.

Sometimes I help him find sparkle clip-ons when he says sticker earrings look too fake.

Tell me I should teach him it’s wrong to love the glitter that a boy’s only a boy who’d love a truck with a remote that revs, battery slamming into corners or Hot Wheels loop-de-looping off tracks into the tub.

Then tell me it’s fine – really – maybe even a good thing – a boy who’s got some girl to him, and I’m right for the days he wears a pink shirt on the seesaw in the park.

Tell me what you need to tell me but keep far away from my son who still loves a beautiful thing not for what it means – this way or that – but for the way facets set off prisms and prisms spin up everywhere and from his own jeweled body he’s cast rainbows – made every shining true color.

Now try to tell me – man or woman – your heart was ever once that brave.

 

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Facing Fear…And Having Dinner With Him

In my defense, I was still in a state of denial.  Well sort of.  Sam was 10 years old and deep down we knew what we were dealing with, we just hadn’t said it out loud that often, and when we did it was only between my husband and me.  That was the same year Oprah aired her first show on transgender children. As I recall, the carefully scripted promotion for an upcoming show caught my attention from the get-go, simultaneously scaring and luring me with the information she promised to share.  Information that I knew I needed but didn’t want to hear.

“Be sure to watch next Thursday when we air a special show on children born in the wrong bodies.”

Her calm voice made the subject seem as common as her shows on a favorite book or a notable celebrity.  And so I tuned in.

I remember not wanting Sam to see the show, thinking, foolishly, that if she wasn’t really transgender I did not want to give her any ideas.  Oh, if it were only that simple.   In her room down the hall she was oblivious to what I was watching as she conscientiously worked on her spelling words for the next school day.  Still worried about her hearing the show, I sat with my nose two inches from the television with the volume set on low.  Before me was a 15 year-old named Jake, a child that was born female but had transitioned to being a boy, who bravely told Oprah his story.  As the details of his life unfolded on air the fear in me escalated until I felt like I couldn’t breathe.  To put it bluntly, Jake’s story scared the hell out of me because it so closely resembled our own.

“Wait!  There are kids like that out there?” Sam eagerly asked, her voice coming from behind me.  So immersed in the show I had not seen her enter the room, the excitement in her voice giving me another jolt of fear.

“NO!  I mean…NO!” I stammered, as I nervously looked for the TV remote control.  Finally finding it laying under the coffee table I hit the power button so haphazardly that the TV clicked off and then on once again.  My clumsy actions resembling a corny slapstick act that you think never happens in real life, I cringed as the show came back to life in front of us.  Pressing the off button a second time so hard it nearly became embedded within the remote control, the TV screen finally went to black as I said to Sam, “You don’t understand what you just saw.  It wasn’t what you think, now go finish your homework.”

To say that was not my proudest parenting moment would be an understatement.

Fast forward five years to June of 2012 and I find myself sitting at dinner with a group of new friends in Philadelphia, where we are all attending the Trans Health Conference – one of the largest and oldest conventions in our nation catering to transgender issues.  Assembled was an unlikely cast of characters – some parents of transgender children (three moms and a dad), a 21 year-old college student and the Executive Director of TransActive, a national advocacy group based in Oregon.  Across the table from me was the college student, who also happened to be transgender.  For the next two hours I sat there totally engrossed as this young man, who was confident, engaging and completely secure with himself, shared his background as well as his current and future aspirations.  As I listened to him speak I felt an overwhelming sense of hope, thinking to myself that if Sam grew up to be even half as balanced and happy as this man I would be elated.

Just then the mom sitting next to me leaned over and said, “Jake is being modest.  Why don’t you tell Leslie about being on the Oprah Show?” 

I sat frozen, not with fear this time, but with shame because I knew in that instant it was him. The child who provided the first unwanted affirmation that Sam was probably transgender.  The boy who so courageously shared details of his life on the Oprah show, which left me numb and frightened.  The kid that scared the wits out of me five years earlier.  And now, here he was in front of me, a young man whom after just a few short hours I had come to admire and even hoped my child would emulate someday. For that I was ashamed.  Ashamed that I had given in to the fear when I first heard his story, because that fear was only based in ignorance.  Once I got over the shock I shared how I had seen that show and apologized for being afraid.  Gracious and kind he said he understood and allowed me to laugh at my stupidity as we reflected on what a small world it truly is.  Jake gave me a newfound hope that night for Sam’s future by just being himself.  And he not only allowed me to face my fear, but also gave me the honor of having dinner with him.

 

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Words of Advice From A Mom

Editor’s Note…One of the best support systems I have is an online group comprised of parents who are also raising gender variant (GV) children.  Known only by our first names and the state from which we reside, I have come to depend on this incredible network of people for the smallest of questions and some of the biggest of concerns.  Over the years we have shared the fears, struggles, and joys that we face rearing children that have a strong sense of self at an uncommonly young age.  Moderated by Edgardo Menvielle, a leading authority on GV kids, who is based at the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., this group has linked me with other parents who provide the type of comfort that can only come from understanding.  In honor of Mother’s Day I share (with permission) an excerpt from one of our dialogues. A mother of an older GV child sharing her experience with parents of younger children…her words are filled with love and really could be applied to any parenting situation any of us might face. Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there who are always in their children’s corners.

“…at the end of the day all that really, really matters is that your child knows you love them unconditionally, you’ve got their back and you will try as best you can to understand.  Some days you’ll get it, others you won’t.  Other adults, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and neighbors might think you are making big mistakes.  You will muddle through as best you can, loving your child through all sorts of ups and downs, dumb stuff, frustrating stuff and amazingly, in a blink of an eye, your kid will be 18, maybe trans, maybe not, maybe gay, maybe straight. And what I now know is what you really, really want is a happy, confident and competent young adult who is able to make friends, develop their interests and passions, someone who can strike out on their own and also know they can still ask you for help if they need or want it.  Do what you can to stay in their corner…some days you will be the only one there.”

For more information on this online support group sponsored by the Children’s National Medical Center click here.

 

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Not A Tomboy

Editor’s Note…I am thrilled to feature my first guest writer, Jacqueline Friedman Shepherd, a mom from Alaska who has captured brilliantly an all too common occurrence that I am sure many, if not all, parents like us can relate to.  Her story is funny, poignant and full of the type of unconditional love and acceptance that I wish for all gender variant children.  Enjoy!

It is always the same.  I am in the grocery store and I run into Someone I Knew In High School.  As we chat and catch up, my three children get antsy and begin to play tag or hide-and-seek or something else loud and inappropriate for the setting.  After my third or fourth “friendly” warning, my voice gets low and I say something like, “If you don’t stop I will string the three of you up by your toenails and let those vampire kids from Twilight eat you for lunch.”

As my kids sulk beside me, Someone I Knew In High School says, “Oh, are these your boys?”

I say, “Yes, these are my kids,” and as I pat each one on the head I say their names, “Solomon, Lucille and Abraham.”

Someone I Knew In High School gets a bit flustered, realizing that they have made a drastic mistake in calling Lucille a boy.  Then Someone leans forward, looks Lucy square in the face and says, “Oh, yes, I can see you are a girl.  Of course you are! Look at those pretty eyes and that nice skin.”  As Lucy shrinks down and draws her hands into the sleeves of her extra large shirt, Someone I Knew In High School stands up and laughingly says to me, “I had a cousin that was a tomboy.  She dressed like a boy and played with the boys until she was fifteen.  Then she suddenly blossomed and now she is the most beautiful, fashionable woman you’d ever meet.  Don’t worry, she’ll grow out of it.”

My reply is always the same, too.  I smile and shrug and change the subject.

But I want to answer with a litany of questions.  Not defensive questions, just curious questions.  Did your cousin wear boxers or briefs?  Did she change her name to Ryan when she was three years old?  When her mother began to potty train her, did your cousin hysterically scream, loud enough for the neighborhood to hear, “I’m not wiping! BOYS DON’T WIPE!”?  When it came time to write a wish list for her fifth birthday did your cousin the tomboy ask for a flat screen TV, an English bulldog and a penis?  At seven years old would your cousin have wet her pants in Barnes and Noble because her mom wouldn’t let her use the men’s bathroom?  When your cousin was deciding whom to invite to her birthday party, was she torn about whether or not to invite her cousins because she didn’t want them to tell her friends that she was actually a girl?  And the question I am most curious about: When your family doctor asked your cousin the tomboy if she was a boy or a girl, did your cousin stare back for a moment before saying, “I don’t know?”

My daughter is not a tomboy.  She is not interested in playing army or being tough.  She likes watching romantic comedies and she likes small dogs.  She has friends that are girls and she plays Barbies with them.  She also has friends that are boys who she wrestles and plays tag with.  She isn’t into sports; she takes hip-hop dance lessons.  She is incredibly picky about fashion and wants to look like one of the Disney boys from “Wizards of Waverly Place.”  She has buzzed short hair with bangs that she gels straight up in the mornings.  She goes skiing with her dad, but is a total momma’s boy.  Honestly, my closest guess is that she is a gay man trapped in the body of a seven-year-old girl.

I cannot tell you what gender my seven year old will grow up to be.  Some days I am absolutely sure that she is a boy and other days I am not sure what to think.  It is hard to sort through what behaviors stem from who she is and what behaviors stem from how society treats boys and girls differently.  She is definitely a strange child that doesn’t fit well into either box, but that is probably because she has the unique experience of living as both at the same time.  At home she is surrounded by a large extended family that knows she is a girl and remembers her long blond pigtails.  At school, everyone knows she is a girl, but no one has ever known her to look or act like one, so she gets treated more like a boy.  Out in public, strangers tousle her hair and call her “buddy,” “little fella’” and “son.”  I have to be honest, I really wish she could just stay exactly as she is right now because a person who navigates life based on what they like and not what society conditions them to like is a rare find.

Maybe someday when Someone I Knew In High School says, “My cousin was a tomboy. Don’t worry, she’ll grow out of it,” I will have the perfect concise response.  It will convey that I am not worried about the way my daughter dresses.  It might mention that she is really good at math and art and skiing.  It will also convey that I have my own long hair to play with, so I wasn’t sad when my daughter decided she needed to look like Tintin.  My response will have a witty element to it and include that we Jewish mothers don’t care if our child is a boy or a girl, or even if it has all of it’s fingers and toes, as long as it is born with a sense of humor.  It will make it clear to Someone I Knew In High School that I love all of my children for who they are, not for biology and that I am hoping that they never “grow out of” their personalities.  Most of all, my answer will convey to Lucy that I don’t care what Someone I Knew In High School thinks and that in every single way, she is the perfect child for me.

But until I find that perfect phrase, my answer will be, “Yes, these are my boys.”

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‘Like’ What You Read!

Greetings to all my Transparenthood Readers!  

I entered an essay contest (writing a story about our experience raising a transgender child) put on by the Oakland, CA Children’s Hospital and just learned that I am one of 18 semi-finalists (out of 220 entries). I am thrilled beyond words, but need your help. Would you please follow this link and ‘Like’ my essay so that I might have the chance to go on to the finals? Please feel free to share this link with your friends too – your help is GREATLY appreciated!

https://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=10151428382695023

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Follow The Leader

I sat next to my husband slumped down in my seat, bracing myself for the fallout.  In fact, if there were seat belts on the theater chairs, mine would have been fastened and if the lights had not already been dim, I would have donned dark glasses to hide the tears I was sure were about to come.  We were attending the 8th grade band concert and it was the first time Sam had decided to wear the boy’s performance attire, that being black pants, white button-down shirt, a tie and men’s dress shoes.  Fearing the backlash I begged him not to, but the thought of wearing the designated girl’s outfit turned his stomach more than any ridicule he may receive from his classmates for being true to himself.

The curtain opened and the band filed in as I slid further down in my seat.  Amidst the crowd of self conscious middle-schoolers was Sam, head held high, actually proud of how he was dressed for the first time in his life, he would later tell me.  I quickly scanned the audience to observe any obvious, outward reactions, my radar on high alert, my nails dug into the armrest, but nevertheless at the ready.  There were a few people whose body language implied surprise, and some whispers here and there, but in reality they could have been talking about anything, and most likely it wasn’t about Sam.  The thing is, when you are in a situation like this, with a child that is not like the rest, you can’t help but assume everyone’s attention is focused on your kid.  You imagine a huge, cartoon-like magnifying glass hanging over your child, accentuating their every move, exposing all their differences, and broadcasting their thoughts in bubbles above their heads for all to see.  Complete nonsense?  Yes, I know, but that imaginary magnifying glass is something I have yet to shatter no matter how hard I try.

When I finally came to my senses, realizing that we had once again evaded the worst-case scenario that I had already re-played one hundred times in my head, I sat up straight, ashamed for doubting my child.  I clapped the loudest of any parent in that theater and even yelled the dreaded “WOO HOO!” a shout-out made famous by proud moms all over the world, when he stood to perform a saxophone solo.  He knew what he had to do for himself, to feel good about himself, and I should not have been reluctant to follow his lead.

Lesson #522 learned.

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Pull Out All The Stops

Something was wrong, I just knew it.  But I also understood, having been down this road many times before, that I had to wait until Sam was ready to talk.  And so I anxiously exercised my patience, knowing the signs, all too well, that something was wearing on him.  The constant deep-in-thought look, excessive sleeping, and verbally lashing out at the family were all symptoms of Sam being harassed and bullied.  After four days he was finally willing to open up, sharing the pain of his latest emotional wound.

As a member of the high school pep band Sam is required to play at sporting events, most recently for the girl’s hockey quarter-final game.  While sitting in the bleachers waiting to play, he glanced over to see a group of his fellow classmates pointing at him and laughing.  He knew immediately he was the target of their ridicule because the group was comprised of some of the same boys who hurl derogatory comments his way on the days he musters the courage to eat in the high school lunchroom.  He tried to ignore them, but glancing back a second time he was shocked to see several of them, still extremely amused and pleased with themselves, taking photos of him with cameras and cell phones, the purpose for which neither of us even wanted to imagine.

My heart broke as he shared his sadness, asking me why kids have to be so mean.  I had no answer, my standard responses for such mean-spirited actions already having been used to exhaustion.  And so I just listened as he exorcised the demons he had kept alive in his head since that day.

When he had completely purged the experience from his mind I asked, “What are their names?”  My tone not masking my hurt for my child coupled with my anger toward those kids.  But Sam, wise beyond his years, knew this was not a battle he had the strength to fight, and therefore simply replied, “I don’t know.”  End of discussion.

In the wake of yet another school shooting in Ohio this week, which is already speculated to be caused by a history of harassment and bullying between some of the children involved, I share Sam’s experience with you as an example of the type of behavior students are exhibiting toward one another all across our country.  Ugly, disrespectful behavior that is always at someone else’s expense, the cost of which, too high for any child or family to pay.  In extreme cases the consequences culminate in violence, while in other incidences children choose to harm themselves or simply sink into a pit of despair and depression.  As for Sam, once he revealed what had happened to him he became physically ill and is now missing a day of school to recover his mental and physical health.

I don’t know what the answer is, but I will join forces with anyone who is willing and able to pull out all the stops to put an end to this blatant disregard for common decency and respect.

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