31 July 2008

Zap that Beard!

It's hard for me to believe now that I had a beard, on and off, for about twenty years. Just as there are people in my life now who have known me only as Justine, there were people in my previous life who never saw my face: only the reddish hair that grew from it.

It's probably been seven or eight years since I last allowed my facial hair to grow. Until the other day, that is: I had to refrain from shaving until this evening. And it was an odd sensation to feel fuzz on my face, and to feel that itch I hadn't felt in so long: I felt as if my cheeks and chin had turned into nests for mosquitoes.

Do mosquitoes have nests? Don't ask me: I may be an etymologist of sorts, but I ain't no entomologist!

It didn't feel good, but I'm not sure that any of the few people I saw today noticed--except for the ones I saw tonight. I could hardly see my fuzz unless I held my face only a few inches from the mirror.

So why did I have to turn my face into a blonde Chia-Pet? It was for the people I saw tonight. Three young women, specifically.

No, I haven't gone back to the boy's life. And my "date" with those young women didn't involve drinks (which I don't do), dancing or...well, you know. (I promised to be faithful to Dominick, after all!) Hey, we were in Forest Hills, not Soho or Tribeca.

What was I doing with the young women? The answer is what they were doing to me.

This evening, those women gave me my very first electrolysis treatment. Actually, two of them did the work, and one looked on. They are all students at a school of electrolysis on Metropolitan Avenue. One of them, Tanya, is a southerner with a voice of slowly melted vanilla fudge that conveys her warmth and empathy. I just hope no one abuses those qualities in her: She is a reflexive nurturer, and men and women can find their own ways to take advantage of her. On the other hand, being a very intelligent and attractive young woman, she will attract enough people to her that she'll find at least a few good ones.

She is just the sort of person you want yanking hairs out of your face and zapping the roots with an electrically charged needle (I hear Wall Streeters pay good money for this sort of thing! ;-) ), especially if you're having it done for the first time. She's very encouraging: I could easily imagine her as a physical therapist or a counselor of some sort.

She could advise people like me who are complete wimps about pain and who are about to undergo the procedure for the first time. For the uninitiated: If you've ever tweezed your eyebrows, remember what it felt like the first time you did it. Now, imagine a spot is still throbbing, and someone dabbed it with a needle that injected a mixture of rubbing alcohol and lemon juice for a fraction of a second.

Certainly, it's not the worst pain anyone can experience. But I have no idea of what that feels like, so all I have are experiences like my first electrolysis. And, I'm sure, I'll get used to it: I will probably go back every week until I have my surgery.

You see, Barry, who's in charge, explained that it's better to do the procedure gradually. Most people who have scarring either had the procedure done too quickly or with the machine at too high a setting. And, if not done gradually, the chance of hair regrowing is greater.

And, before a facial procedure, you have to allow the hair to grow for at least two days beforehand. So, for the next year, I get to be a guy again, sort of, for two days a week.

Hmm... Maybe it won't itch after I let the lawn grow a few times. Still, I look forward to not needing a shave again because, well, now I have even bigger things to look forward to.

29 July 2008

Ghost Town

Last night I had a dream that, when I woke up, I could've sworn I had before. In it, I walked down a street--I don't know where it was; it looked like it could've been in any number of places I've known. Anyway, this street led to a bridge, or at least a bridge was in sight. Which was strange, because it was transparent, almost to the point of being invisible. Yet it was as clear as the light of that day: fair, but not excellent: not gray and overcast, but not bright and refulgent, either. And there were no shadows.

I realized why--at least, according to the logic (if you will) of that dream--this was so: All of the houses along that street were shadows. Not literally, but they could just as well have been: No light glowed or blazed from inside any of them. In fact, there didn't seem to be anybody--at least nobody I knew, or knew of-- in any of them. That was strange because the houses all seemed to be in rather good shape, if not fancy. Yet they weren't austere: They didn't appear to ever have been elegant enough for that.

So were these houses abandoned? Soon to be abandoned? Should I go inside one of them, I asked myself. Someone heard me, or my thoughts: I'm not sure I voiced them. Anyway, a woman--who appeared to be constructed of vertical lines even though she was shorter than me--appeared, the way people just seem to come out of nowhere when you walk down a street. I just knew I'd seen her somewhere before--at least in the world of that dream.

Anyway, this woman, who was probably a few years older than me, said this: "You don't need any of those places now. Don't let them leave you."

Now, one of the reasons why I don't normally spend a lot of time thinking about my dreams--those few I remember--is that I can drive myself crazy by asking myself, "What the hell does that mean?"

As for the dream--I had the same one, more or less, years ago--long before my gender transition: long before lots of things. And the woman in that dream--yes, she was in it. But I could swear I've seen her in my waking life. I don't remember thinking that after I had the dream the first time.

As best as I can tell, that woman is the one I saw that day in St. Jean de Maurienne: the woman who, although we never spoke and our eyes never met, caused me to realize that I couldn't take another step in this world as a man.

But wait: The first time I had the dream was about ten years before I saw that woman. And, I'm assuming, she's French--or, more precisely, Savoyard. Maybe she speaks English. But unaccented, the way she spoke in the dream?

I assure you that I have taken no mind-altering drugs, and drunk no alcohol, in more than twenty years!

I don't know, or at least remember, what might have brought on the dream the first time, or to what in my life it might have been connected. I vaguely remember writing a really bad poem about it. But as to what it might have been "about"--you've got me.

On the other hand, it makes some kind of sense that I had the dream last night. After all, for the past few years, I have had to leave some things behind me, including lifestyles and careers other people wanted for me, and the lives of other people I tried to live, which included all sorts of thoughts, emotions and wishes that weren't my own. Yes, there has been loss; I am sure there is more to come: Otherwise, how could change ever happen?

And what did I abandon, or at least lose? A life with Tammy: We had been planning on that before the transition; or more exactly, I was going along with what she was planning. And two friends and one brother cut off contact with me. I was expecting to lose relationships with somebody, but not those friends or that brother.

Those were relations I had in an otherwise fairly solitary life. I've left that behind, too--mostly by choice. I finally admitted to myself that sort of life wasn't so enlightening or rewarding: Maybe for some other kind of person, it might be--but not me.

Yes, I have made new friends, and relationships with other people who've been in my life have changed in gratifying ways. And I'm about to start a new job as a faculty member at the college. Most important, I am actually starting to enjoy being with myself, which is the reason I enjoy other people.

But I did indeed abandon the possiblity of ever becoming--well, whatever it was I would've become if I'd spent the rest of my life with Tammy or some other person who wanted the kind of relationship he or she, or someone he or she knew, had with someone else, whether of the same or another gender. And whatever I might've become if I'd contunued to pedal everywhere, for hours on hours every day, and went to the gym before or after. And what I might be now if I'd continued to take long trips in faraway places, alone. And remained skinny.

Oh well. Then there is the ghost town, like the one (metaphorically) I saw yesterday at the college when I went to talk to the department chair about my new job and schedule. Almost everyone else gone, including the ones I'd love to see again as well as the ones I wouln't miss. Another year passed; another season winding down; yet another year--my last, in what I don't know--to come. And, perhaps, to be abandoned one day. After all, isn't that what we do when we move on and leave any part of our lives behind us? When we look back, all we can see is a ghost town.

26 July 2008

Back In The Day...

Today I did a bike ride I used to do just about every weekend. But today was the first time I'd done it in about two, and possibly three years: from my place to Nyack, in Rockland County, and back.

You get yourself to the George Washington Bridge. Time was when I lived about half a mile from it, on Fairview Avenue in Manhattan. So I could practically roll out of bed and ride across. Now I live about ten miles or so from the span, in Queens. But it feels longer than that, not because it's difficult, but for the labyrinthine routes I must take to get to it. No matter which way I go, there are backtracking and detours, as streets lead to cul-de-sacs or turn back on themselves. Or they suddenly turn into one-ways or end abruptly. Then, of course, there's always the decision as to whether to go around or through Central Park. If you decide to transverse the Park, you won't have to deal with car traffic, but you will have to contend with rollerbladers and runners with power strollers skateboarders--all of whom, it seems, are listening to music through earphones. Then, of course, there are tourists who are snapping photos or simply looking up and away at the wonderful skyline views, but are totally oblivious to anyone moving faster than they are. Not to criticize them: I have been such a tourist in the places from which most of those people come.

Anyway...Today I didn't ride through the Park. Instead, I pedalled up First Avenue to 111th Street. Above 79th Street or so, there's usually not much traffic on a Saturday, and today was no exception. Stores come and go, but the vibe of it never seems to change: Youth and proximity to power, or at least wealth. Of course, they have to have money to live there, but compared to the denizens of Madison and Park Avenues--less than half a mile away--they're paupers. So, while it appears to be more casual than the Upper East Side's so-called Gold Coast, there's also a kind of self-consciousness that one doesn't find amongst the townhouses up the hill. Although people around Park and Madison in the 60's, 70's and 80's are usually well, or at least expensively, dressed and coiffed, it seems as if they don't have to think about it. Perhaps they don't have to impress anybody because, well, nobody there can be impressed. Not so for the residents of First Avenue.

But I digress. (So what else is new?, you ask.) Anyway, at 111th, I turned left and transversed the Island, at least to Frederick Douglass Boulevard: one of the central thoroughfares of Harlem. I know that it's changing, but it's still strange, at least for me, to see young white people unloading their cars and rented U-Hauls at those townhouses. It's not that I fear for them: even when its reputation was at its very worst, I never had any fear when I walked or pedalled through Harlem. For one thing, I always thought its rep was very exaggerated: There were crime and other problems, and there still are. But other places, including the neighborhood in which I lived, had them, too. Most of the people in Harlem--yes, I did get to talk to quite a few--were just trying to make it through the day. So was I. Frankly, a lot of them were doing a better job of it than I was.

Anyway...If you ride north (uptown) through Harlem, Hamilton Heights, Sugar Hill and Washington Heights, you're riding up an incline, all the way to the Bridge (and beyond, if you don't go to the Bridge). Most of the way, this climb is very gradual: just enough for you to notice, especially after three miles or so.

And I noticed it because I haven't ridden it in some time and because, well, I'm getting older. And the estrogen has taken hold, as the doctor said it would. You lose muscle strength and possibly stamina. All right: I want it all. I want to ride like a girl but with the strength I had as a guy. That'll come about about the same time as medical science offers real, working ovaries for transgender women. Not to say those events will be related: They'll come at about the same time. Why, I don't know.

Time was when I pedalled up this incline almost every day, when I was working on 53rd and Lex and living on Fairview. I didn't even have to think about it: Half an hour after I'd slung my leg over my bike, I was home, and none the worse for the ride. Of course, I was also twenty-plus years younger than I am now. And I was full of testosterone and anger. About the latter, just ask Bruce or anyone who knew me back then.

That was before Eva. Before Tammy. Before the women in between them, and the women and men who preceded them. Before I'd dealt with my alcohol and other substance abuse problems and the molestations I endured as a child--not to mention my gender identity issues. Before lots of things--including births and deaths.

As my first ride to Nyack was. I can't give you the exact date, but I guess it was during that first spring or second summer after I returned to New York. That would be 1984. It was a good bit longer than today's ride, since I was doing it for the first time, and because of my navigational skills, about which I like to tell people I'm a direct decendent of Columbus and inherited his sense of direction.

On the Jersey side of the Bridge, you turn left. On your left are the office buildings and houses of Fort Lee, which, were it not for its views of the Big Apple, would be one of the most charm-free cities in the country. On your right, beyond a stone wall and a berm, is the Palisades Parkway. You follow this road for about two miles to its end, take a left, then the next right to Route 9W.

On any weekend day when the weather's decent, hundreds, if not thousands, of cyclists ride up and down this road. Again, you're riding up a slight incline for a few miles. If you're riding early in the afternoon, as I was, most of the cyclists you see will be on the opposite side of the road, riding toward the bridge.

I've ridden this route alone, with friends, with two different cycling clubs and with people I met on the road and never saw again. None of those people, except Bruce, are in my life now.

I glanced at the cyclists coming in the opposite direction. As far as I know, none of my old riding partners were among them. Then again, I wasn't looking for them. A few smiled and nodded their hands in my direction.

As I looked at them, I couldn't help but to notice how much they looked alike. Sure, they were of various ages, colors and shapes. Most of them were male; the few females I saw accompanied male riders. But that wasn't the reason for their sameness.

I thought back to how I used to own a dozen or so cycling jerseys and half a dozen or eight pairs of cycling shorts--all of them made of lycra. The shorts were almost always black, but the jerseys sported all sorts of graphics and colors. Some of them were replicas of jerseys worn by cyclists in the Tour de France and other major races. Tammy--another past companion on this ride-- used to say that wearing cycle clothing was one of the few opportunities men had to be peacocks.

But even with all of those colors, the cyclists all seemed to be in uniform. Then I understood why I recently got rid of my last jerseys and now have only one pair of cycling shorts left. Yes, bike clothes are lightweight, wick moisture and, I guess, make you more aerodynamic. But I took some long rides when I was young and "didn't know any better" in regular clothes--as I did today. Today, my only concessions to cycling regalia were practical: my helmet (If you have a brain that's worth protecting, you need one.), gloves and shoes. And I'm even thinking of getting rid of my click-in pedals, which require cleated shoes, for platform pedals and toeclips like the ones I rode for I-don't-know-how-many years, so I can wear sneakers, loafers or whatever else I want to wear.

If any of those riders notice, I might lose face. Oh well. Barbara and Sue, with whom I sometimes ride, couldn't care less. More important, I couldn't, either. But back in the day--not so long ago, really--I would've.

And, after you've pedalled up 9W--past the suburban sprawl, the mansions, the rock ledges and patches of woods and Columbia University's geological station where you cross back into New York State--you descend the steepest hill (which you have to climb if you come back this way) of the ride. Not long past the bottom, I like to turn off on the road for Tallman Mountain State Park, twisting between the wooded areas and some rather charmingly bucolic houses--to the side of a small stream or a canal that's fallen into disuse: I'm not sure of which. Then you pass through one of those strips of boutiques and cafes that's too cute to be truly charming but will do just fine for a mindless Sunday brunch. And on past houses that look more gingerbread or Victorian or Alice-in-Wonderland than they really are: Somehow I imagine the people in them were once hippies, or pretended to be, and now that they make money, they want to keep the artifacts and gestures of whimsicality. A lot of them had "Vote for Obama" signs on their lawns; a few Ron Paul postings remained. I don't recall seeing any for McCain.

The last time I did this ride, I hadn't heard of Obama. I knew a little about Ron Paul, and McCain didn't impress me any more than he does now.

And on, past a wedding party floating out of a church next to the Hudson River, underneath the Tappan Zee Bridge, and up two small hills that can be difficult only because you make sharp turns--and you may have to stop for traffic--before you start the climb. Then, finally, the main street of Nyack and every cyclist's (at least in this area) favorite cafe: the Runcible Spoon.

Back when I used to drink coffee, they made some of the best French roast you could get without taking the next flight to Charles de Gaulle or Antoine Saint Exupery. And they made a flaky cinnamon pastry laced with cinnamon and sugar that I loved. But they were out of that and, as appetizing as the terrine of three mousses and the cupcakes looked, I thought they might've been a bit much. So I had only a large iced green tea.

Because it was just past three when I got there, there weren't as many cyclists as I remember from rides past. But even though I'd met none of them before, they were familiar: They came in those familiar racing uniforms on the latest carbon-fiber bikes in the flashiest graphics you can imagine. The wannabe racers. I used to be one of them. Actually, I did race, but I kept up the facade for nearly two decades after I stopped.

Again, all were male--except for a tall blonde woman who accompanied her boyfriend or husband. They rode the only steel frames besides mine. But theirs weren't Mercians: they were rather generic TIG-welded bikes with well-known names on them. But no matter: They rode in each other's company, seemingly without any intention to impress anyone but each other.

One guy--a black man about ten years younger than me--looked kinda sorta familiar. I wondered whether he recognized me. He seemed not to look my way. If he hadn't seen me coming in, he probably didn't notice me at all. Nor did his friend. I used to gain entry into groupings like theirs--some, anyway--by the way I used to dress back in the day on rides like these. I didn't want to join in their conversation--such as it was--but I wondered whether that one guy was someone I used to ride with. If he wasn't noticing me because I wasn't wearing bike clothes, he reminded me of people with whom I used to work: They couldn't see--or hear--anyone who wasn't wearing the same kinds of business suits as they were. And I wasn't working in the fashion world!

I'd bet that next year, those guys won't be riding the bikes they have now--indeed, if they are still riding. Nor would anyone there, except for the couple--and me. Anyone who buys a high-quality chrome-molybdenum steel frame these days--especially someone who has one custom-made, as I did with my Mercian--is buying for the long term. As long as I don't crash it, I may well be riding my Merc for the rest of my life.

And I'll be riding it on my own time, for my own reasons. Not like I did back in the day.

24 July 2008

The Older Woman

A busy week it's been. If I can grow as tired as I am without having (or having had) kids or to take care of anyone but me and Charlie and Max (and, for them, Iams does the cooking!), how could I ever have been a parent? Oh, dear....

The funny thing is that when I feel tired and ragged and useless and fat and incompetent and hopeless, someone tells me I did (or do) something really well or that I look good. Sometimes that someone is a complete stranger. As happened to me the other day, and today.

And I think of the past spring semester. I felt like I was doing the worst teaching I'd done in my life. It seemed as though nothing went right, at least for me, in the classrooms. And what happened? I got one of the best evaluations I've ever had--from someone who's regarded as one of the toughest evaluators, if not the toughest, in the college. And the students gave me excellent evaluations on the surveys at the end of the semester.

Still, I find myself wondering if I've remained an educator for longer than I should have. Sometimes I think most people shouldn't teach for more than, say, five years. Any longer than that and it's easy to lose one's sense of what the rest of the world is like. In other words, it's too easy to lose any sense of what life is like on the outside. Then again, I suppose that one can do that by growing old in any one place.

So what happened? Just when I think I'm beyond my expiration date, so to speak, the provost told the English Department chair he wants me to teach there full-time. I guess he hasn't heard the news about me: That I'm getting tired and old and soon my students will try to sell me as an antique so they can pay their tuition. Just one thing: no-one's going to mistake me for one of those goddesses whose likenesses are on coffee cups in diners.

Ok, so I'm not a Greek statue. Good thing. Otherwise, I'd be even older than I am now. Then again, some rich collector just might like older women--as long as they're made of stone or plaster.

As for the ones who like us in the flesh: I have great love and respect for them. Of course I'm going to tell you that! After all, when I was talking to my friend Bruce the other night, I realized that I am indeed the "older" woman. What a twist of fate, a reversal of karma, or whatever you want to call it, is my lot in life!

If I believe in karma (which I am willing to do), I guess it makes perfect sense that I'm the older woman now--for Dominick, anyway. (Then again--not to boast--he is not the first younger man who's been attracted to me!) According to karmic knowledge, he has me because when I was his age, or even younger, I was dating women who were just about the age I am now. Which is to say they were/are more-or-less my mother's age. Make what you will of that.

So what is it about the "older woman," anyway? I think that having lived on both sides, if you will, I can explain, at least somewhat. Why are young or youngish men like Dominick attracted to antiquities like me? (Remember: Neither he nor most of the men I'm talking about are historians, archeologists, curators or appraisers for Sotheby's.) Why was I, when I was young--and, in fact, through most of my life as a male?

Some say it's a mother fixation. Maybe. I'll admit that for me, it probably had something to do with having a mother who's a formidable human being. That's been a blessing in my life, especially now. Anyway, if you have, as I do, a mother of substance, as you grow to love and learn to appreciate her, you simply come to value women more in general. At least I think that happened to me. And I find that men who like "older women" --at least for reasons other than money or green cards or such--generally appreciate, value and even love women more in general.

All right, so I've described the man-to-older woman dynamic a bit. So what have I learned from living as female and being the "older woman?" That a truly beautiful woman--as opposed to a generically cute young woman--is all her own, sui generis. She has her own face: She doesn't look like any number of other people who might pass by her. She has her own thoughts and ideas, some of which she's had to pay dearly for. She has her own expereince which, while it shares common traits with other women's experience, is still all her own, as are her responses to it. And, finally, the kind of woman I'm talking about has her own style, whatever it is. It may not be in synch with the latest fashions, but when you meet the sort of woman I'm talking about, you wouldn't want her to dress--or look--any other way.

I think now of a professor at the college where I work. She's probably 60, or close to it, and is an attractive woman who dresses plainly and wears very little, if any, makeup or jewelery. I think much of her attraction, though, is that she's a very intelligent and intuitive woman. She's the sort of prof about whom students say things like, "I never could do (or "I always hated") math until she taught it to me."

Anyway, one day, one of my students--who's probably a third of this prof's age--confessed to me that he had a crush on her. He felt embarrassed and apologized. I tried to reassure him there's nothing wrong with his attraction, though I wouldn't advise him to act on it. (She's married, she's your prof, etc.) Instead, I advised him to think about what he finds so attractive about her.

"She's not like anybody else."

"Well, that's a good start."

"And she's really smart and caring."

"I see you really do appreciate her--and women."

"So what are you saying?"

"Just remember what appeals to you about her and you'll find a woman--of whatever age, and whenever time in your life this happens--with those qualities. It shouldn't be hard for you: You appreciate women, and the good ones will see that."

"You think so?"

"Oh, I'm sure of it. Just don't try to be anybody you aren't, because that's what those women don't do."

I don't know if I helped him to understand why he's attracted to an older woman, and how, at least in some fashion, can follow that. Maybe he'll find his "older woman" in someone who's his own age, or older than his grandmother. Whatever he does, I think he'll be fine.

And he'll have an "older woman" to thank!

20 July 2008

The Frontier

Today I saw part of the Tour de France coverage on TV. The Tour is divided into 21 stages, each lasting a day. One stage might be long and flat, another a race against the clock, still another--like today's--an arduous ride, full of climbs.

Today the TDF cyclists pedalled through the Alps from France into Italy. I recognized the road: I pedalled up and down it myself seven years (already!) ago, on my last bike tour. You don't forget a road like that: beautiful and treacherous, like the countryside and the journeys some of us take through it.

Seven years ago, I cycled in the opposite direction from the ones in which the racers rode today: I was coming back into France from Italy. But I encountered the same kinds of climbs and descents--through a cloud, then and now. Except they descended into light rain and slick roads; I, on the other hand, was pedalling under a preternaturally clear sky just a few minutes after emerging from nearly opaque air.

For today's riders, the wet roads were a danger: A wrong turn or even pedal stroke could send half of the pack tumbling to the pavement. What a lot of people don't realize is that a road surface slicked by a light rain is even more hazardous than one washed by hard rain: The light rain mixes with oils and other substances that would be swished away by a harder rain. The resulting film has ended the day, and the Tour, for more than one rider past.

Rain is not the only hazard. At high altitudes (2000 meters+ on that ride), clear, sunny skies sap moisture from your body: Cyclists, hikers and other sorts of adventurers have met their endings without realizing they were dying. So you drink even when you don't think you need it.

Clouds or sun, wet or dry, coming or going, there is also the frontiere--what we call the border, what others might call the boundary. There stands one of the longest and steepest climbs of all. On one side it's called Col d'Agnel, on the other, Colle d'Agnello. For me, for today's riders, for anyone who crosses, this climb is one of the most difficult anyone will face. (If I recall correctly, it's the second-highest peak in the Alps, after Mont Blanc.) For the racers in the Tour, it is an ascent that will soon be followed by a descent and a stretch to the end of the day's stage; for me, it was a climb that prepared me for yet another, one of which I had a premonition while pumping and gasping my way up Agnel/Agnello.

After decending the Agnel side, I pedalled another thirty kilometers or so to a village that was probably abuzz during the ski season but was, on that summer day, all but deserted. It was late in the afternoon; even though I was in much better shape than I am now, I was ready to eat and collapse, in no particular order. I spotted an uncharacteristically boxy building which I figured--correctly--to be a ski dorm. A couple of young men, probably caretakers or other workers of some sort, looked like they were fixing a pump or some other necessity of the building.

Pardon, monieur. Y-a-t'il une lit disponible?

J'en y crois. Demandez l'acceuil.

So someone was at the reception desk. Good sign. I found him; he explained, "nous voulons fermer ce nuit; il n'y a pas des voyageurs."

Sauf moi, I deadpanned.

Oui. Yes, I was the only one.

Je suis arrive d'Italie. J'en ai ascende le Col--I pointed in the direction of Agnel.

He stared. Je suis tres, tres fatigue, I sighed in a tone of voice I almotst never used, especially around another male.

D'accord. Quelque chose sera possible. He said perhaps he could do something, just aller a manger--he pointed to a cafe down the road--et reviens. Yes, I would come back, I said. He motioned for me to follow him and pointed to a shed. "Velo--la": I could leave my bike there.

I walked down a road that crossed a creek to the cafe. The Eagles' "Hotel California" played on the radio; the Beatles' "Get Back" followed. I remembered reading somewhere that "Hotel California" is one of the most widely played songs, and the Beatles the most commonly played group, on French radio.

Aside from me, there were only a few regulars, all of them at the counter. Actually, considering that it was a Sunday evening during the off-season, I was surprised to see even those few. They were chatting; I glanced down the road and the mountains I had just pedalled. For the following day, I'd planned to continue on toward Annecy and Chambery. I knew there would be a few more climbs--one of them, Izoard, is one of the more famous ones on the Tour. Beyond that, I only knew there would climbs, though I didn't know which ones.

That was part of the premonition I had on Agnello. The rest of it went something like this: I would have to repeat a climb, but after that, I wouldn't have to do any others.

I had no idea of what any of that meant. However, I knew somehow that I would confront something and that afterward, I could not remain as I was. After crossing the frontier, so to speak, I couldn't go back.

Two days later I pedalled le Col du Galibier, one of the two most famous Tour climbs. And I had that revelation that I'd never have to do it again; later that day, I finally confronted myself in the person of a middle-aged woman going home from work in the town of St. Jean de Maurienne, practically next to the frontier I'd crossed at Agnel/Agnello. After seeing the way she occupied time and space, as a woman--the way I'm supposed to-- I knew I couldn't go back, though I tried.

Now I'm here and don't want to be anywhere else. Nor do I want to go anywhere else but wherever's next, whether or not I have to cross a frontier. And I'll climb if I have to, but only then.

19 July 2008

Name Change (I'm Still Justine!)

Tonight I had to make another name change.

No, I didn't have to become another person. I am still Justine Nicholas Valinotti, nee Nicholas Valinotti Jr. It's my progeny, so to speak, that got a new identity.

You see, I found out there's a website called Tranny Times. (So much for my originality!) Therefore, I had to come up with a new name and link.

I thought about a couple of others. I wanted to stick with "Times" because it reflects my aim to describe some of the quotidian details of my last year before my gender reassignment surgery. And, of course, I wanted to keep "Trans", or some form of it, in the title to encapsulate the blog and to keep the alliteration I had in the title. But "Trannygirl Times" and "Trans-lady Times" sounded too much like porn sites. While I may discuss sex (You have been warned!), I will not (consciously, anyway) satisfy anyone's voyeurism. After all, I am a lady!

18 July 2008

The Second Puberty

On days like this, I'm not sure of whether I've underachieved or simply gotten the restoration my mind--and body--needed.

I slept until almost 8 this morning. I don't get to do that during the workweek, and it seems like a luxury even though I'd gone to bed some time after midnight. So, according to doctors and sleep experts, I still didn't get as much sleep as I'm supposed to.

Then again, I don't know anyone who sleeps that much, except on a holiday or sick day. Even then, people don't get that much more sleep than they normally get.

One thing I've noticed since I've started taking the hormones: I get to bed later and sleep later than I used to. These days it's harder for me to get up very early. And I find that I'm not as consistent as I used to be in the amount of sleep I get every night.

Other trans people have described similar experiences to me. I don't know why the transition affects our sleep. But I can, if nothing else, venture a guess based on my own experience.

When I was about to start my tranisiton, my doctor told me that I would go through a "second puberty." In other words, my body would go through changes very similar to those experienced by 12- to 14-year olds. What that meant was that, among other things, I would grow breasts, some of my facial features and other areas of my body would become more feminine, and I would become more intensely emotional. And I could gain weight, as kids often do in their puberty. All of those things have come true: I'm somewhere between an A and a B cup (Conventional wisdom says that a trans woman's will be one size smaller than her mother's: That's about right, in my case.), I am always addressed as "ma'am" or "miss" by strangers--even today, when I was riding my bike in shorts and a baggy T-shirt and without makeup--and, as for my emotions, well, if you've been following Tranny Times, you don't need any explanation of that. And, as for my weight gain, I hope I follow another pattern of puberty in losing it as my new bodily characteristics mature.

The point is, in puberty and in the adolescence that follows, one is living on a child's external clock while the rest of the world is running on Grown-Ups' Standard Time (GUST). Or vice versa: You have a GUST bodily clock while the world is running on children's time. And, most of us yo-yo between both states. That is why it seems that we're sprinting ahead of or falling behind everyone else when we walk. We, like kids in their early teens, never seem to keep abreast with the rest of the world. You might say--sorry, Thoreau--that we're hearing different drummers from the rest of the world.

That, I believe, is also the reason why kids of that age will often write poetry--sometimes very intense--or engage in other creative pursuits that fall by the wayside somewhere in their late teens or early adulthood. I think now of the poetry workshops I used to do as a visiting artist in the schools: The most incredible stuff was written by sixth, seventh and eighth-graders. And most of them would never write poetry or short stories again after they left adolescence.

That is one way I'm different from pubescent boys and girls. I've been writing in one fashion or another for as long as I can remember; if I haven't abandoned it by now, I don't think I ever will.

Back to sleep: Ever notice that that kids in puberty can stay up all of one night and the next but sleep all through the next day? Or so it seems. And--I think back to being a camp counselor--you practically have to lift them by their feet with a crane and drop them if you want them to wake up early enough to be on time for anything? Or so it seems. I couldn't count how many kids showed up at the mess hall just as it stopped serving breakfast!

(All right. If there's a pubescent kids' defamation league, I'm probably on their "hit list" now. Some days I'd be more worried about them than the Mafia, FBI, Mossad or any so-called terrorist organization. Other days, I'd be about as worried over them as I am over the prospect of a blizzard on this hot midsummer night.)

Now I'm ready to sleep again. Tomorrow: Same time (well, more or less), same pages.

17 July 2008

Another Ending

So another day ends. And in this case, another week and another class.

Most of my co-workers and I are on four-day weeks until the middle of August, when registration begins. During the four days on the job, we come in earlier and/or leave later and/or take shorter or no lunch breaks. I'm going in an hour earlier and taking a shorter lunch break. I really don't mind either (actually, coming in early I mind somewhat, but it's not the worst thing in the world.) And, of course, it's hard to argue with a three-day weekend.

Except that this won't be a real three-day weekend. You see, I have a whole bunch of papers to grade for the class I've been teaching. Officially, Tuesday is our last meeting day: that's when the final exam is supposed to be administered. However, I'm not required to give a final in that class: Writing for Business. What do you give for a final exam in a class that has involved writing letters, memos, e-mails, reports, proposals and plans--and giving a speech?

So the class is essentially over. The campus will be a ghost town after next week. I'll probably enjoy the quiet and miss the students. That sounds contradictory but, as Walt Whitman wrote, "I embrace my contradictions."

Actually, I'm starting to miss the class already: They're one of the nicer groups of people I've taught. As in so many classes at York, the women clearly outnumbered the men: 20 to 5. This ratio is not so unusual at York, particularly in an upper-division course like the one I taught.

One of the males was one of the few students in that class who was under 30: Jay, who is the second student to take three diferent courses with me. Another, Ratesh, is just under 30 and left Guyana by himself at age 15. I enjoy talking with both of them, as I frequently did outside class, because they have experienced much but are very open-hearted and sympathetic. In that way, they're much like the majority of that class: Women in their 30's and 40's who are looking to turn their current jobs into careers or to move into other lines of work altogether--or, possibly to restart their lives. I'm sure that at some have had abusive boyfriends or husbands: I could tell that about one or two of them simply by looking at them, even though I could not see their bruises.

And then there's Dianne, an African-American native of Jacksonville, FL (not far from where my parents live now), who is around my age. As a child, saw a black man's body hanging from a tree while visiting relatives in Alabama and stumbled on a KKK rally near her home.

Where was I during that time? In Brooklyn, in a neighborhood bisected by the McDonald Avenue elevated tracks, where the F train runs to Coney Island or Manhattan and Queens. The boundaries, at least unofficially, of that neighborhood were an expressway, a cemetery, a New York City transit maintainence yard (full of rows of brick-red, black and stainless steel subway cars), the ocean and Ocean Parkway.

In our neighborhood, nobody starved but nobody had a lot, either. Sometimes my mother would make pasta with sauce and very small amounts of chopped meat, peas or beans--or sometimes even pancakes--for me and my brothers for dinner. I didn't mind those dishes at all; in fact, years later, when I started living on my own, I made such meals for myself and didn't wish for anything else. Why? For the same reasons my mother made them: To stretch the few dollars left until the next paycheck. And, let's face it, those foods are satisfying as well as filling.

In one sense--a very literal one, of course--those days ended for me, my mother, my brothers and my father--because time, and we, moved on. That's the chief reason why things end. But, just as important, those and other experiences form and change us. So, in another way, things have to end simply because we're not the same people as we were when they started.

One of the things I didn't know back then was that my family, and nearly all the others around us, were "working class." (Someone once said that once you learn you're working class, you aren't anymore. ) I didn't know anything different; nor did most people in the neighborhood. I saw starving children in Africa and India--on TV. That's also where I saw the rich and famous--again, in places nowhere near our home. The starving and the wealthy were so distant and abstract that I--and, I suspect, most everyone else in that neighborhood--couldn't compare ourselves to them.

Here's something else we probably didn't have to think about: That neighborhood, at least as I remember it, was entirely white. Most of us were Italian or Jewish; a few Irish: none more than a generation or two removed from the "old country." However, that neighborhood was so insular that neither I nor most of the other kids had any idea of who or what was beyond those boundaries I mentioned. All we knew was that we weren't supposed to cross them. Nobody told us that; it was something we simply "understood."

Many years later, after I'd moved to Manhattan, I took a Sunday subway ride to the old neighborhood. And I did something I never did when I was living there: I crossed Ocean Parkway, on foot. Sometimes my father drove us across it when we went to visit relatives in Queens or some other part of town. But I'd never actually set foot on the center lane, much less the other side.

Before that day, before I crossed Ocean Parkway, I had already crossed the ocean. I'd seen the other side-- England, France and the Netherlands--but I hadn't seen East 8th Street, the next street on the other side of the Parkway.

If that neighborhood hadn't ended for me when my family moved out of it, it was certainly done, finished, when I set foot on the opposite side of the Parkway.

So, dear reader (Could that be me?), you're probably asking what's changed tonight. Well, nothing monumental, or so it seems. Another workweek ends: That has happened hundreds, perhaps thousands (I haven't done the math.), of times for me already. Another class comes to an end, too: That's happened dozens of times. Another academic term--in this case, a truncated version. OK, that's no big deal either. In a few weeks, another semester will start.

Well, the class that just ended is the last summer class I'll be teaching for a while--possibly forever. All right: That's a small denouement in the scale of things. In a couple of weeks, I expect to see my parents: After that, I may not see them again until the surgery.

I guess every day is an ending as well as a beginning. And there's another boundary, street or ocean to cross. Some people talk about light at the end of the tunnel. What's more frequent, I think, are the lights where we cross. Sometimes I wonder whether I'm dashing (as much as I can do that now) through the intersection as the light's changing.

16 July 2008

Georgia Blue; Marriage?(!)

Georgia Blue. Sounds like the name of a poem from Langston Hughes. Or maybe a musical collaboration between Ray Charles and Thelonious Monk. (Now tell me, how likely would that have been?)

But Georgia Blue is what you see on this page. I mean that literally. This typeface is called Georgia, and the color is, well, what you see. So is Georgia Blue a synonym for "What you see is what you get"?

So why am I thinking about Georgia Blue? The phrase just popped into my head before I realzed I was typing the state in which I was born and the color of the sea or the sky, depending on where you are.

Georgia Blue. Could be the name of a soul singer? Hmm...I like that one. Years ago, the radio station WBAI used to have a musical program hosted by someone named Delphine Blue. Guess what kinds of music she played. With a name like that, what else could she do? And can you imagine how many guys are "distracted" by a name like that.

This makes me think of a student I had three years ago. Are you ready for his name? Get this: Teddy Neptune. Yes, that was his real given name. I told him that with a name like his, he really should go on stage. Now that I think of it, he should be a calypso musician.

And then there was one of the East Village's most sui generis characters: Adam Purple. During the brief time I was living and working in that part of town, I met him. He used to ride his old Schwinn around the neighborhood, always lugging around bags of cans and bottles (in the days before recycling mandates and bottle deposits were in effect) or garden tools. He's the one who turned an empty, seemingly ruined, lot near the Bowery into "The Garden of Eden." Yes, that's what he called it. The Tuileries it wasn't. But it was a welcome sight, full of color in a pocket of cement blocks and bricks. It made a lot of people happy, until the city took it away and tore it apart in the name of "gentriification."

I wonder where Adam Purple is now. Maybe he's hanging around Georgia Blue, Delphine Blue or Teddy Neptune.

Maybe Teddy Neptune would sing "Sweet Georgia Blue." How would the world be different if we'd had that instead of "Sweet Georgia Brown?"

How does Justine Lilac Valinotti sound? Justine Lilac Nicholas Valinotti? Justine Nicholas Lilac Valinotti?

Won't happen because if I get married, I'll have to add another name. How many names can I have?

Ah...now I'm thinking about the future again. Marriage. Dominick and I have talked about it. We'd do it after my operation, of course. I don't know whether I'm more surprised at myself or him. Myself, for thinking about marriage, after what I've experienced. And that someone would actually think about marrying me. Or him, because he's younger than I am and good-looking.

Now...The feminists are going to excommunicate me for this one. The prospect of marriage appeals more to me now than it ever did while I lived as a man. I've read countless articles saying that, in essence, women want and value marriage more than men do. Based on a sample of one, who happens to be me (real scientific, huh?) , I'd agree with it.

Then again, I know women--mainly older than me--who say that if they could do it over again, they wouldn't get married. One friend, Sonia, who actually is one of the founders of the modern feminist movement, says that the only two things in her life that disappointed her were her marriage and daughter. Another friend, Millie, says, "I married a good man and I love my children and grandchildren. But if I were young today, I wouldn't get married or have kids." And my mother says that if she knew now what she knew then, if she married, she'd do it much later in life than she did. "And I'd get more education and probably have a career," she says.

Of course, I love all of them--especially my mother--exactly as they are. But what if...

What if they hadn't gotten married or had the careers they couldn't have (or, in Sonia's case, if there were fewer cultural and legal barriers to it)? What if I'd been a member of their generation--and born as genetic female?

What if the song had been Sweet Georgia Blue?

15 July 2008

Tuesday Afternoon, Expectations

Tuesday afternoon. Remember that Moody Blues song? It's actually called "Forever Afternoon," but its repeated refrain of "Tuesday Afternoon" gave it its unofficial title.

And it's not really a "song": progressive rock albums, especially "concept" albums, didn't really have differentiated songs. "Forever Afternoon" was really part of a larger suite that included "Peak Hour" and "Evening."

So what is it about Tuesday? It's almost always been, for me, the longest day of the week besides Thursday. Of course, right now I'm teaching a class on Tuesday and Thursday nights after my regular job. But it seems as if Tuesday has always been a "packed" day for me, even when I'm on vacation.

Of course, the sea and the sky don't know what day of the week it is. Nor does my body, at least in theory. But when my body adjusts itself to the pace and schedule of my schedule, it seems to know when it's Tuesday or Thursday. If that's the case, my body surely knows I'm 50: I feel as if I've gained a few pounds since my birthday.

OK, call me paranoid. Tell me that I'm falling for the body-image mind-fuck that is inflicted upon so many females when we're young. But if you saw my body, you'd know that I'm just, well, fat.

And I feel bloated. I don't know what I ate in the last couple of days, but my stomach has felt and sounded like a missed shift on my father's old stick-shift VW bus.

Not very ladylike to talk this way, is it? Oh well. I guess I'm just a wimp about pain. At least I have an excuse: Neither a baby nor my blood has ever come out from between my legs, so maybe I don't really know about sickness or pain.

Or maybe I've never even really experienced Tuesday. Perhaps I've only experienced an idea, an expectation, of it, just as some people can only experience their expectation of a place. I can't count how many times I've told someone about a trip to France, and the first thing that person said was, "They hate Americans, right?" If I tell them about my impending surgery, they'd say--or think-- something like, "So you're going to get it cut off?"

I still don't know what to expect, really. I've read about it and talked to people, and I've thought for a long, long time about it. I know more or less what the doctor will do and what will, and might, happen as a result. I also know that, should the operation succeed--and there's little reason to see why it won't--my body will conform, at least in perhaps the most important way, to my vision of myself.

Speaking of bodies--of mine specifically: When I was about to start taking hormones, my doctor said I would be more vulnerable to certain maladies, at least for a while. I doubt that the hormones have anything to do with the current state of my stomach. Or Tuesday.

Then again, if my body does act in concert with the tides and the moon, maybe it does know, after all, what day of the week it is. Or, perhaps, as Marcia P. "Pay It No Mind" Johnson might've said, it knows what time it is.

I knew, too. It just took me a long time to do anything about it: a lot of Tuesday afternoons.

14 July 2008

Liberte, Egalite, Sororite: Comment m'apelle?

Ten days ago I celebrated my 50th birthday. And people celebrated the birthday of this country.

Today the French have their fete nationale. Many people see it as the "birth" of France, or at least France as they know it, or think they know it.

So what was else was born on the 14th? Let's see: my freedom (at least for a time), my wellness (at least relative to what I was before) and my current identity.

You see, on the 14th of July, I was discharged from the Army reserves (honorably), lived my first day as an adult without alcohol or drugs (as I have ever since) and became Justine, at least officially.

Vive la revolution! If I were a French revolutionary in my past life (as a friend and spiritual advisor says I must have been), which one would I be? Maybe I would just be the Marquis de Sade, who supposedly was incarcerated in the Bastille when the revolutionaries stormed and destroyed it.

Before I continue, I want you to know that each of my events of le quatorzieme juillet happened in different years. Now, if I'd gotten discharged, sober and my name changed all in one day, I'm not sure how I'd've coped. Then again, if none of those things had happened, I might not be here now.

And so what did I do today? I made another chage. Of course! What else could I do on the fourteenth? But, just so you know, I didn't choose the forteenth for the other three events that occured on this date. However, what I did today, I did on this date mainly for expediency. Imagine that: Liberte. Egalite. Expedience. At least, I think that's how it's said in French--with an accent grave on the final "e".

So, what monumental change did I make at my convenience? (Sorry, Gil Scott-Heron!) Well, I went to the court to file for another name change.

Since the 14th of July in 2003, I have been Justine Valinotti, a.k.a. Justine Nicholas. For professional purposes, I've been going by "Justine Nicholas." I thought I wouldn't have to spend so much time telling people how to spell my name. Well, I can't begin to tell you how many times I've had things addressed to "Nichols." Or someone thinks "Nicholas" is my first name and, well, I don't have to tell you about some of the spam that reaches my mailbox!

Today I filed to make myself Justine Nicholas Valinotti, and no one else. I feel ready for that; I feel as if I no longer need "Justine Nicholas" to build a new creative and professional identity. My new life is still in its early stages, but I think I've developed as Justine to the point that I can reintegrate my experience with my future. I can move forward now with the resources my life as Nick Valinotti gave me. I promised myself long ago that I would not abandon him, any more than I would abandon my parents or my cats. Even though I never wanted to be him, I cannot deny that living his life has, at least in some ways, allowed me to live the one I've been living for the past five years.

It's as if I had to live his life in order to learn how to live my own. And now I feel ready to honor his while taking flight on my own.

So, I went down to the Civil Court in lower Manhattan, as I had done five years before. And the clerk to whom I presented my papers was as friendly as the one I encountered five years ago. Yes, I had to wait on line, and the place isn't the most cheerful (a typical concrete-block government space). But for some reason, the people with whom I've dealt were pleasant and helpful, at least to me.

I still haven't quite figured out why, for the most part, people in "official" situations are more helpful and friendly than I remember them being when I was still living as Nick. I guess it has something to do with my own happiness: More than one person has told me that other people respond to that. I mean, people were even nice to me at the dreaded DMV when I went there early in my current life. Of course, there are still assholes; there always will be. And there was the time I was harassed by two "cops" whom I think were bogus. But on the whole, most of my dealings with people are happy and satisfying.

It may just be that blondes have more fun! ;-)

After taking care of business, I wanted to see the "Waterfalls" installations along the East River. (I very stupidly forgot to bring my camera with me!) So, after meandering a bit into Chinatown, I looped back around to the area near the courthouse, and found myself at One Police Plaza. I walked up to an officer at the information desk and asked whether he knew the best place to go for a view. He directed me to the South Street Seaport, a place where I hadn't gone in I-don't-know-how-long. At least he had the right idea: the views of the "Falls" were divine from there.

It's actually one of the more beautiful installations I've seen in some time. I still haven't decided whether it's pristinely complex or has complex pristineness. Like so much great art, it seems to be simpler than it actually is. Maybe that's why just about everyone, it seems, enjoys it, and some appreciate it.

When we think of waterfalls, we think of currents cascading down rock escarpments or other features of a natural landscape. However, we don't have that sort of thing in the city, and if we did, it's long gone. So what's our landscape? The bridges, the buildings and such. And, appropriately enough, one of the cataracts I saw streamed from underneath the towers on the Brooklyn side of the Brooklyn Bridge. With its weathered brown stones, the bridge can seem almost like an outcropping of rock, were it not for the steel cables. Actually, I think the way the bridge resembles a large rock formation is a sort of inverse analogy to the way a cave full of stalactites reminds people of a cathedral.

Anyway, I plan to see the Falls again--and bring my camera. That will be another legacy of the 14th. That, and blondes having more fun, by whatever name!

13 July 2008

Seven Steps, Giddy-Up

On Wednesday, two days after I started this blog, Regina--a counselor in the Office of Disabled Students at the college where I work--said that I've taken three steps toward my operation and have 362 to go. She said that when I get to the last twenty or ten, it might become scary. But not to worry, she says.

Besides being one of the nicest and most empathetic people I've met in a long time, Regina is a social worker. She'd worked in a hospital, with people with disabilities, for more than a decade before coming to the college last year. Of course, when you do that sort of work, you may specialize in some area or another, such as people with disabilities. But you also are likely to have experience with some of the other issues that face people and their families--including gender or sexual identity and orientation.

I have, at times, considered a career in social work. Probably the reason why I didn't pursue that idea is that I'm not sure I could deal with people's crises--and the politics of a place like the college, or any college or social service agency--and be the kind of person Regina is.

I mean, how does anyone have enough energy to deal with all of the things that are entangled with the issue for which they seek help? A friend of mine reports that in every twelve-step meeting he has attended, people talked about their sexual problems.

Anyway, as per what Regina said, today is Day Seven of my blog, and my "last" year. Seven steps, 358 to go. One step hasn't been dramatically different from the previous one, but I don't expect that to last.

One thing I wouldn't mind continuing is one of the "fun" side-effects of taking hormones. It's the flip side of crying jags like the one I had a few days ago.

I experienced it today, when I was talking to my mother on the phone. She related a story about a friend of hers who is good of heart but dim of wit. This friend got a call at 2:11(She checked it on her clock.) in the morning from someone who said that her refrigerator was dying.

Now, maybe I've been living in New York too long and am thus cynical. But I'd simply hang up on such a caller. I mean, when does anyone call at that hour but for a sudden death in the family or other emergency?

Anyway, this friend engaged the man in conversation, in an effort to find out who he was. Of course, she got nowhere. But she stayed on the phone with him.

It may not have been the funniest story I ever heard. But I broke out into titters, and didn't stop for at least another twenty minutes. My mother got into it, too, even though she's never been especially prone to giggle fits. (Imagine a book about how to find your Inner Giggler. Would that be a best-seller?) For a moment, anyway, I could say "Like mother, like daughter."

The thing is, we were both enjoying it, and it lifted my spirits for the rest of the day. Not that this one was difficult--just another Sunday.

The doctor told me I'd have giggling fits, but said nothing at all about Sundays. That's OK. I've had lots of Sundays before. My favorite is cherry vanilla ice cream (or even better yet, French vanilla or any other good, rich vanilla, with fresh cherries) covered with hot dark chocolate sauce.

And with the sugar rush I get from that, it'll be a real Giddy-Up time!

12 July 2008

To The Ocean, Again

Today I took another ride late in the afternoon. To the ocean--I have probably pedalled more miles simply to bathe my body and mind in blue waves and to feel a breeze that grows cooler against my skin as I near the beach than I have ridden for any other reason.

Well, today I didn't bathe my body in anything but sweat. I simply rode and allowed myself to see clearly in the bright sunlight refracted in the sea's haze.

During my first year of living full-time as a woman, I had a Chinese student who went by the name Angie, which just happens to be my mother's name. She'd heard from other students about me--that I was such a good teacher, she said. But, of course, she also knew about my transition, although she didn't know me before it. Practically everybody in the college knew about it: Think about that if you're ever thinking about transitioning in front of 12,000 people!

Anyway, one day I was going over a paper with her. Out of the blue, she exclaimed, "You know, you really are a woman. Everything about you flows--like water. And your life is like the tides."

Wow! Here was someone whom I didn't pay large sums of money to dissect my life and--thankfully--wasn't "into" astrology. (I thought saying "into" would go out with mood rings, pet rocks and disco balls. Alas, that was not to be!) But she--whose third language is English!--expressed my essence more honestly and succinctly than I would have. For that alone, I should have given her an "A"! (Actually, she did get an "A" for the class, for other fine work she did.)

I admitted to her that I have always been drawn to major bodies of water, and have almost always lived no more than a few minutes from one. I simply cannot imagine living in a place like Oklahoma, whatever charms it may hold.

Now, there are countless men who love the ocean at least as much as I do. Some of them become sailors or oceanographers or ichthyologists; others simply go to the beach every chance they get. And I'm sure they feel "connected" to the salt and waves.

Not to aggrandize myself, but for me being a woman has also meant not only identifying with the sea and its power, fury and beauty, but in some real sense knowing that the ways the waves reflect the sky and obey the moon, and seeing most clearly in the mist of tides washing onto and away from the sand, are the essence of who I am.

And so I am drawn to it; so I was drawn to it just as I was drawn to other girls and women as I was denying that I had anything in common with them. During my last days of living as a man, I rode a lot to and in mountains. That got me in much better shape than I'm in now, or possibly will ever be again, but it isolated me, too, even when I was riding with groups of other cyclists.

I mean, I have nothing against mountains. But people, usually solitary men, move to them to retreat from the visscitudes of life; it makes sense that monasteries are often nestled among high outcroppings. I did that, too. But in the end, it is always water--especially the sea--that draws me, whether or not I want to deal with my own reality.

As I did one chilly, breezy early October day in my senior year of high school. Like most kids at that time, I was deciding between what I would choose from the career and life directions the adults in my life had prescribed for me. Even then, I knew none of them were right. But worst of all, I knew I couldn't fill the one expectation everyone had of me: that I would become a man.

I didn't talk about that with anybody because I knew what almost anyone would say: I was simply afraid of growing up. They were right, at least in the ways they defined "growing up."

And so I pedalled that day--a Sunday--from my parents' house to the beach in New Jersey. I was alone: The few people on the beach that day were strangers, and every one of them was probably as individualistic or as much of a misfit as I was. (One person's individualist is another person's misfit.) On either side of me, the sand stretched as far as I could see; in front of me, the sea spread to places I'd heard about but had yet to see. I knew those were my real choices and nobody could guide me toward one or the other.

I remember believing that knowledge came from a woman, or at any rate, from some feminine force--possibly the sea itself. Of course, today I realize that it was my essential nature--by which I would consciously begin to live much, much later. Maybe the woman I would become, refracted in the sea, was speaking to me.

Many years later--only a few weeks after I'd begun to report to work every day as Justine--I pedalled to the Coney Island boardwalk on a day very much like the one I described from my teen years. And, as the sea streamed by the corner of my eye, I found myself--in my mind--reassuring that teenaged boy that everything was OK and would be; we were at the sea and neither it nor I would abandon him.

And on this very summer-like day, I knew we would be all right, for we were at the sea. And we would return, again--for what the sea, and that boy who took care of me, have given me.

I know I'm going to the ocean, again. Maybe for a swim--even if I've gained weight and don't want complete strangers to see it! Put on that bathing suit; the ocean will not abandon me. Because I will return, again.

11 July 2008

Riding Like A Girl

"You throw like a girl!

That taunt ruined gym class for me for life. I heard it more than once, not only from other kids, but from teachers, too.

I never quite mastered the manly art of throwing a ball. However, I got pretty good at kicking one. So I played some soccer (football to the rest of the world) when I was in high school. We didn't have the same cachet as football or basketball players, but those of us on the soccer team nonetheless had the same privileges as other athletes in our school. Among other things, we didn't get the shit beat out of us by the school bullies.

Since I no longer had to throw a ball, people forgot that I did it like a girl. Or, at least, they stopped reminding me of it. And I forgot about it, too, for a long time.

And I didn't hear about the other things that made me a "sissy." Like the way I talked: my emotional, descriptive and, at times, adjective-laden speech was mocked by teachers and other kids. So I talked less and less as time went on. Then I acquired new labels, like "high-strung."

The thing about bicycling--which I continued all through my teen years, my twenties, thrities and early forties--was that there was hardly anyone in the place and time in which I grew up who could criticize the way I did it. Oh, some mocked me for riding at all when I should have been behind the wheel of a gas-guzzler. But no one seemed to know how a boy or a girl pedalled.

And, more often than not, I was riding alone.

So what's different about my riding now?

Well, for one thing, I don't do nearly as much of it as I once did. There were years when I rode my bikes more miles than most sales reps drive. These days, getting out a couple of times a week is a big deal for me.

But even if I were still riding 360 days a year (Yes, I've actually done this!), I still don't think I would be riding the way I once did.

For one thing, I simply don't have the physical strength I once had. My doctor said the hormones would do that: Sinews and muscle would turn to flesh. That's the way of being a woman.

But something else is different: my attitudes about riding. For one thing, I used to feel that I absolutely had to ride every day, whether or not I felt like it. It's true that I raced for a time and I did some touring on a bike laden with camping equipment through the Alps, Pyrenees, Green Mountains, Adirondacks and across the mountains of California and Nevada. You certainly have to be in some kind of shape to do that. But, while those feats were arduous, they were hardly Herculean.

The mountains...They were there to be climbed upon, conquered, subjugated. I realized this the day I did my last long, steep climb: up the Col du Galibier. While a long, struenuous climb, it's not the most difficult ascent of the Tour de France route. Arguably, that distinction belongs to l'Alpe d'Huez, which I'd climbed earlier, ahead of the TDF pack. Getting up those mountains was not just about the conquest of them; it was also a matter of pushing forward through the muck and mire of this world, of my life, on my anger and sorrow.

When you conquer something, you can only be a stranger. You can never be part of what you conquered and it cannot become part of you. Somehow that is what I learned that day when I pumped my way up the Col du Galibier.

As I began my descent, I recieved a message. It wasn't visible or verbal; somehow it reached me. "You don't have to do this. You'll never have to do this again." I mouthed those words to myself; I had no idea of where they came from. I hadn't the slightest idea of what they meant. Of course, I don't have to do this, I mumbled. But how could I not? What am I going to do? Ride around the block to a craft shop? To Sunday brunch? That's not real bicycling, I told myself.

But the message, whatever it was, took hold of me. I wasn't trying to show my exquisite bike-handling skills as I descended those turns through a glacier, fields of wildflowers and finally part of a farm. My senses filled with the smells and colors of flowers and field. "You don't have to do this anymore"--the message repeaed itself.

Later that day, I reached a town called St. Jean de Maurienne, only a few kilometers from the Italian border, just as people were walking or riding home from work. I stopped at a traffic light. (Yes, small-town gendarmes pull cyclists over for running red lights.) Back in those days, I resented any intrusion on my bursts of speed and power. However, that day, I knew somehow that I was stopping for more than a red light.

The light turned green. I didn't click my feet into my pedals. Instead, I straddled the bike as cars made semi-loops around me and, diagonally across the intersection from me, a slender middle-aged woman in a long button-front dress accompanied her shadow along a beige stone wall. Her steps were not meant to push away the distance between her and wherever she was going. Instead, her every step took her further into the sunlight that blazed between that brick wall and wherever she was going. No doubt she wanted to get there quickly; however, she did not seem to be pushing toward her destination. Rather, it seemed, the light and air were drawing her toward it, and she was following and being filled by them.

I had no trouble imagining her following the moon. However, I could not imagine her conquering a mountain.

Needless to say, the rest of that tour was very different. So is the tour I have taken as Justine.

This afternoon, I took a short ride I took through some local back streets and to a recently-opened open-air mall (where I checked out the bike and shoe stores), under clear skies on a very warm day.

I was filled with that light, that ride, even if , in spite of all the ways in which my current bikes are beter than the ones I've had before, it seemed that I was expending as much of my strength as I did when I was climbing the Alps. Yes, I'm out of shape, but I have an excuse: My body has changed permanently.

But more important, my spirit has, too. I was on the bike today. I got fresh air and sunshine in return. The guy in the bike shop complimented my bike; a guy driving home from work yelled "nice legs" as he passed me. Heck, I even stopped for a cat I saw looping around in the yard around a house. And--no film-maker could make this up!--the cat, a pretty calico, tiptoed toward my hand and rubbed her head against my fingertips.

Even Lance says it's not about the bike. His life hasn't been about cycling: cycling has been about his life. He got up l'Alpe de Huez, le Col du Galibier and all those other climbs faster and with more elan --actually, more like la force vitale--than any other rider. He ran--pedalled--for his life, not to get away from or conquer something. Nobody conquers anything in order to stay alive; one simply lives and is not consumed by his or her circumstances or choices.

If I recall correctly, he said that around the time of his fifth Tour win, he was really starting to hate cycling. Of course I can't presume to know what he was thinking. But I would guess that he was trying to live up to the conquests that the press and other people thought his victories in the mountains and "over cancer" were. Also, I wonder whether he simply got tired (literally and figuratively) of pushing his body to its limits every day of his life.

Not to impute my own feelings to him, but I felt something like that, too, during my last conquest--the one of le Col du Galibier. Descending that mountain, I began to learn how to ride like a girl--or at least like Justine.

By the way, I'm getting rid of my last bike jerseys. I'm selling them on e-Bay, with the proceeds going to the American Italian Cancer Foundation.

10 July 2008

Thursday Night; Hey, You!

What is it about Thursdays?

It seems that every Thursday night, like this one, I am tired. Sometimes it satisfying: Thursdays always seem to be the longest and busiest day of the week; the good side of that is that I can accomplish something or other. And even if it doesn't rank that high on the scheme of things, accomplishing something, whatever it is, feels good.

But sometimes I feel pure and simple exhaustion: You know, when you know the next day is Friday but you don't know how you're going to get through it. The funny thing is, when I feel this way, it's when--because--I haven't accomplished much of anything, even if I did a lot.

Today tended toward the first kind of Thursday I described. I can't say what in particular I accomplished, if anything. I didn't work particularly hard, even though I had my class to teach after my day job. I'm not even sure that I taught my students anything in particular, even though I'd planned to do so.

So, why do I feel rather satisfied? Hmm...Maybe I'm not so tired after all. I feel as if I shouldn't be: I'm taking hormones, but I can't honestly say I'm doing women's work. Sometimes I feel a little bit guilty about that. I can cry the way we're supposed and allowed to, but I don't have to, and can't, bleed in the same way.

Could it be that simply being what you're meant to be, or who you wanted to be (depending on whether you believe in destiny or choice), is something of an accomplishment? Even if you get to do it just for one day?

Without any prompting from me, that's pretty much what two different people told me today. One, a student in the class, said "You're completely who you are. That takes courage. That's something. Be proud of that!" Hmm...Well, I guess he knows something about courage: He came to this country, this city, by himself when he was fifteen years old. And he lived on the streets. Now, at age 27, he's a rep for a surgical-supply company and is in college. Not bad, I'd say.

A fellow faculty member echoed my student's comments. We were talking about relationships, affairs, marriages (He's been in three.) and such. He brought up the old subject of beautiful vs. sexy. "Well, I'm not such a pretty woman, am I?"

"But you know, more people than you realize find you very attractive, even sexy."


"Sure. You're so completely, unabashedly yourself. Believe it or not, integrity is sexy--at least I think so. And you look like you're really enjoying being who you are. You're not like the person in your old photos."

Integration is catnip. Have I stumbled over another of life's big secrets? Ha!

But, well, if people like me because I like me, I guess that's a pretty fair deal. Simple, too--or, at least, it sounds simple.

I think of all this as I'm listening to Pink Floyd's The Wall. To me, it's the last great rock 'n'roll--and, certainly, progressive rock-- album. Of course I love "Comfortably Numb," but the song I'm thinking of now is "Hey You." On one hand, I have felt the alienation the song's narrator/persona must have felt; on the other, I completely understand the longing for--and fear of--human interaction the song depicts:

Hey you, out there on your own
Sitting naked by the phone
Would you touch me?
Hey you, with you ear against the wall
Waiting for someone to call out
Would you touch me?
Hey you, would you help me to carry the stone?
Open your heart, I'm coming home.

This song has always reminded me, in some way, of "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," which is probably the one poem by T.S. Eliot I can stand these days. Not just stand it--I still feel it; I still love it, even as much of his other work leaves me cold these days. I mean, do you want to know how many times I asked myself Do I dare and Do I dare? You don't? That's probably a good thing: I can't count that high. After all, I was an English major and teacher. I don't do math, as they say.

The first time I heard the song and the album--shortly after it came out--I was, coincidentally, re-reading "Prufrock" for a paper I was writing. And shortly thereafter, I discovered another wonderful poem about a person's alienation from/relationship to him/her self: Juan Ramon Jimenez's "Yo no soy yo":

Yo no soy yo.
Soy este que va a mi lado sin yo verlo,
que, a veces, voy a ver,
y que, a veces olvido.
El que calla, sereno, cuando hablo,
el que perdona, dulce, cuando odio,
el que pasea por donde no estoy,
el que quedará en pie cuando yo muera.

I'll make an attempt to translate it here:

I am not I
I am he who walks by my side without my seeing him
Who, sometimes, I go to see
And who, sometimes, I forget.
He who follows, silently, when I talk,
he who forgives, sweetly, when I hate,
he who walks where I'm not,
he who's left standing when I die.

The one whom Jiminez describes is something like the one whom the narrator of "Hey You" calls.

I didn't have the courage to make that call for a very long time. And when I finally had no choice, I was scared. But that person I called is here, is me: She demands a lot sometimes, but she will not leave me any more than I would leave her. Or any more than she left me through all those years I was pretending not to want her, to want me.

I've climbed mountains, on bicycle and on foot, and have had conquests of one kind and another. But conquests aren't always accomplishments, much less victories, because you can never be at peace, much less in harmony, with whatever you've conquered.

So, before this becomes even more of a literary wankfest (Will I have one after the operation?) than it probably already is, I'll ask: So what did I accomplish today? Another day of being who I am, completely. It's all I can do and want.

Hey you, it's Thursday night.