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.

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