31 August 2008
I met Millie the day I moved to this block. Two weeks ago--the 17th--marked the sixth anniversary of that move and meeting.
That day seemed like the hottest in the history of the planet, and that summer still seems like the hottest I can remember. I came to this block with two cats: Charlie I (I now have another cat named Charlie.) and Candice. Since I moved them into the apartment before I brought in any of my belongings (Contrary to the delusion they believe, humans belong to their cats!), the first thing Millie saw when I moved in was me with my cat totes in my hands. I think that she decided right then and there she liked me.
That day, I had no idea that one day--not so far into the future, as it turned out--I would spend afternoons, evenings and days in her house, sharing barbecues, holiday dinners, my birthday and cups of coffee--and, after I made the switch, tea. Or that I would baby sit, however briefly, her grandchildren. Or that her any of her friends--like Catherine, whom she's known since they were children, and who shared chicken, ribs, corn-on-the-cob and lots of other foods with us today--would become a part of my life.
And I don't think that Millie or anyone else on this block knew what I would soon undertake. I am talking, of course, about my gender transition. That guy who moved onto the block is turning into a girl! Oh my!
But, as it turned out, I could hardly have met anyone more generous or loving than Millie or John. We always need people like them, but I don't think there was ever a time when I needed people like them more than at the time when I met them.
Some might say that they are like parents or an aunt and uncle for me. I wouldn't argue that. For one thing, they're only a few years younger than Mom and Dad. And Millie, in some ways, reminds me of my mother. She can seem fierce because she's often loud and strident. But her way is really a reflection of her passion and compassion. Also, she,like my mother, doesn't suffer fools well but also doesn't abandon people. And she and my mother are both Italian American. Even the foods they cook, and the ways they cook them, have their similarities--although there's still nothing like my mother's lasagna, chicken or eggplant parmagiana, or cheesecake.
But maybe the most important trait they share is this: Once they accept a person, they will accept just about anything about that person, for better or worse. Of course, I've known that about Mom for a long time, so while I didn't quite know how my gender transition would affect my relationship with her, I didn't expect her to banish me from the family. But I didn't understand that quality in Millie until she learned that I was indeed undergoing my changes.
And now, a couple of weeks after a nice visit with Mom and Dad, I am ending--at least unofficially--my "last" summer with Millie and John. It seems fitting somehow.
This is a disconcerting yet exhiliariting time of my life, one in which I feel both anxiety and joy, like the strangest yet most beautiful dream I've ever had. This is a time I never could have envisioned when I first moved to this block, or before that, because I can envision myself as the person I've always wanted to be. I'm drawing closer to her, to being her.
My mother and I were talking about it this morning. I now have a job that I long wanted, although I had given up hope of getting it. And, at the same time, I can look forward--not too far forward now!--to something I've wanted for as long as I can remember.
All right. I'll admit it now. I'm happy to be teaching full time and hearing people refer to me as "Professor." Yes, the education system can be a cesspool sometimes, and education administrators can be petty and arrogant. But that doesn't matter when I am in the classroom because it doesn't matter to my students. All they know is that I'm teaching them. And if they learn from me and like it, we're both doing our jobs.
Funny how, faced with having a full-time college faculty position for the first time, I fell back into denying that I wanted it, or that it is a good thing for me or anyone else. Instead of seeing myself as someone who can share my love of reading and writing, I saw myself as someone who'd become "the enemy."
In other words, I was denying an aspect of who I am. After forty-five years of negating (or trying to negate) my essential nature, I should know better, shouldn't I?
All right. I won't self-flagellate. (That's as bad as self-medicating. Trust me, I know.) I'll go with the opportunity to be who I am. Mom and Millie--who have never met, or spoken to, each other--both said the same thing: "Your life is coming together now."
My life coming together: That's what I wanted six years ago. Actually, that's what I've always wanted, and what I would guess everyone wants. Maybe it's happening in ways, and with people, I never anticipated. Then again, I never claimed to have any great powers of prognostication, and no one's demanding them of me now.
Coming together as my last summer ends. All right: Before I drag this blog into a probably-futile search for symbolism or other "deeper" meanings in that statement, I'm going to stop for tonight.
29 August 2008
Well, if your four days' growth is anything like mine, nobody seems to notice. In fact, nobody seems to notice that you're a woman who's not young, but possibly youthful--certainly not yet middle-aged, though old enough to be.
People have actually told me things like that. I could practically read it on the mens' faces. It didn't matter whether they were professionals, shopkeepers or the construction workers who were ripping up a couple of streets. I don't know whether those weren't gender-savvy or simply didn't care. Or, perhaps they knew and like--or are simply intrigued by--trans-women.
Maybe I shouldn't probe for the motives behind courtesy, and simply enjoy it. I don't remember who told me that. Someone-most likely the same person--said that I am entitled to it, even if I am a newcomer to living in my gender. And the best way to honor anyone who's good enough to be courteous, in whatever ways, is to allow that person to extend the courtesy to you, and be grateful for it. Above all, don't abuse it. And don't see it as entitlement. I've seen more than one trans woman demand--whether with verbal or bodily language--that doors be held open for her.
One certainly encounters a lot of it in the neighborhood I mentioned: a stretch of Metropolitan Avenue that extends from Middle Village into Forest Hills. Along that stretch is the electrolysis school where I go for treatments. The place--for better and for worse--has a 1950's-suburban feel to it. The houses on the side streets are bigger than those in other parts of Queens, or the rest of the city. Some of those houses are surrounded by stretches of grass that might even be called lawns.
And, along Metro Avenue itself, one finds the kinds of stores found in the "downtown" areas of so many towns all over the US about fifty years ago. Nearly all of them are small and family-owned. You can tell that the owners know their customers: I would bet that the at least one of the women's clothing stores I saw caters to women who went to school with the store's proprietors, and to the customer's children, grandchildren or neices. And there's even a soda shoppe that you might expect to see on a set for Happy Days. Eddie's Sweets--Now tell me, where else is there a shoppe with "Sweets" in its name?--has the counters and fountains that you've seen in all those pictures and movies made in and about the '50's. You can almost imagine your parents (or grandparents, if you're younger than me) sharing an ice cream soda in a fluted parfait glass. I'm told they make their own whipped cream for their Sundaes. I'll definitely have to check it out.
Hmm....an old-fashioned soda shoppe with old-fashioned courtesy. Is there a connection? ;-)
Anyway, I've gotten to the point where I don't miss a beat. When I first started to live as a woman, I used to pause and wonder what was going on when a man held a door open for me. I remember coming out of the Jeu de Paume. Marie-Jeanne and Janine were waiting outside. Marie-Jeanne gave a knowing, and slightly scolding, grin as I hesitated at a door held by a well-dressed man. After I finally walked through the door, Marie-Jeanne gently chided me: "Joo-steena, tu es en France. En france!"
And, when I went out with Mom and Dad on her birthday, Dad held open the door to the restaurant. Mom passed in front of me, but I waited and hesitated. That was the one moment when Dad looked frustrated with me. He was trying so hard to be what he thought a man should be to his daughter! (Hey, he even took me out clothes shopping two days before that!) But I think I reverted to Nicky's behavior: If Dad held the door open, Mom passed through first. Then, as I followed, I would wait a second for Dad to follow me, and I'd reach back to prop the door.
Funny thing is, now I don't even think about passing through a door held by a man (or boy) who's a complete stranger, or at least didn't know me before I began my transition. Same thing with the men at my job: The older ones invariably hold the door open, and I think nothing of simply walking through and softly thanking the man who held the door. The younger professors may or may not hold the door, but the male students--of whatever background, and whether or not they're in one of my classes-- extend those cuourtesies as often as the older men. In fact, the really "ghetto" young men--as opposed to the ones who are trying to seem "ghetto"--are just as consistently courteous an anyone else.
I know I'm long past the point at which "passing" as female is a game. And the days of "Is it a guy or a girl?" or "Which one do they think I am?" are , I hope, over. Now I'm just a woman of a certain age, as far as seemingly all strangers--and most people who know me--know or care.
26 August 2008
After the exchange I had with the department chair yesterday, I don't know how I'm going to get in front of my students and, with a straight face, emphasize the importance of following directions. Or of just about anything else I might do with them in the classroom.
You see, I followed directions and then this department chair accused me of "going over" her "head." All I did was to follow the usual protocol, in this case for changing my name (Justine Valinotti will now be my primary name on all college-related documents and other materials.). I went to the department secretary, just like we're told to do. I filled out a form; she filled out another and told me to bring them to the college's human resources and payroll offices. That I did.
While at the HR office, I asked about my health benefits. Since I am switching from one payroll system to another, even though I'm remaining in the same college (Go figure that one out.), I thought I might have to fill out paperwork to make sure my benefits are continued in my new position.
The person in charge of benefits said she had no record of my being hired. That might've made sense, as I was hired later than the other new full-time faculty members. But then she asked whether the department had sent a PAF (Personnel Action Form, which makes new appointees official and puts them on the payroll). I didn't know, so she called the chair of my department.
Well, I got an earful from the department chair, who was convinced that I went over her head. I politely explained that I followed protocol, and that perhaps I had gotten some improper insruction somewhere along the chain.
"Well, you never go over my head," she huffed.
Once again, I very politely gave her my sincerest reassurance that I would never, ever dream of doing such a thing, and that I followed the normal procedure, which begins with the department secretary. Again, she insisted that I go to her first "for anything."
"Well, I followed instructions. That's what we always tell our students to do. And look where it got me."
"Well, I'm sorry you feel that way. Just remember to..."
"I know...Come to you first." "Yes" "And I'll try very hard to keep a straight face when I tell the freshmen how important it is to follow instructions."
The compliance officer insists that this treatment has absolutely nothing to do with you being who you are. (If it talks in code like a white liberal...It must be a white liberal!) Of course she'd say that. What else would someone who wants to protect her record for not having a discrimination lawsuit on her watch say?
Well, far be it from me to break her record. Don't want her record sullied. Instead, let's ruin mine. What the hell....I lived on pure and simple mendacity for the first 45 years of my life. What's another year in the classroom?
25 August 2008
About which I have very mixed emotions. On one hand, I want this and the months that follow to just fly by. They're what's standing between me and the surgery. On the other, I know that this is the "last" summer. I use the quotation marks because I mean "last" in a metaphorical as well as literal sense: as a symbol as well as the reality.
It seems that there are always "last" summers. For one generation of Brits and Europeans, it was 1914; for the following generation, it was 1939. Perhaps in this country those terminal vernal seasons came in 1941 and 2001. (Actually, I feel very sure about 2001: After all, I lived through it.) And some Southern writer--I think it was Percy Walker--said that in his part of the world, it came some time around 1950.
I think for a lot of people in my generation--particularly those of us who are LGBT--the "last summer" might have been 1980 or 1981. Back then, some of us heard about young men dying from "gay cancer." But the disease had not become an epidemic; most of us who weren't living in the Village (Chelsea wasn't yet Gay Central) or the Castro district had yet to see anyone die in such an awful way--if indeed we had seen anyone die.
Ten years later, I would teach a college class for the first time. Then, I realized how much that "last summer" mattered. Anyone who came of age after it grew up with the idea that a careless or random--or any at all--sexual encounter could be lethal. In my day, we only had to worry about herpes and pregnancy. Not that either--especially the latter--is anything to sneeze at. But compared to AIDS--well, I don't have to say any more.
I recall a party I went to shortly after returning from living in France. At that party were nearly everyone with whom I was friendly during my undergraduate years.
In those days, I drank a lot and dabbled in a few drugs. So you might dismiss the perceptions I had. Hey, I dismiss most of them. But I had a premonition that I knew was stronger than any of the drugs or booze, or any other vibe at that party. Somehow it was revealed to me (I know. I hate that kind of language, too. But it's the best I can do in this situation.) that a germ of death had been planted and that someone--or some people--in that room carried it. And they, or others in their circle, would die from it.
Sure enough, within ten years, five people who were at that party would die from AIDS-related illnesses. I doubt that any of them knew he or she (Yes, a woman.) was infected: Almost nobody--not even a doctor-- outside a couple of New York and California neighborhoods was even thinking about the disease.
It's rather ironic that a party full of the proverbial sex'n'drugs'n'rock'n'roll can seem almost innocent. How so? Well, what we did, we did in--if not ignorance, than at least unawareness. That was probably the last time all of thus in that room could not connect sex and death. All the young people in that first class I taught, a decade later, had been coupling the two almost from the day they knew what either was.
Anyway, I know I've gone off on another tangent, but there's a point coming up (and you should put a hat over it). It's about those "last summers": They were times when something in everyone's life was coming to an end, whether or not anyone knew it. Even if no one knew for sure, some of us had a sense that something was changing, possibly dying. It might be the people they know. Or that the place in which one lives, works or shops is about to be tamed beyond recognition.
And what's changing for me, besides whatever the gender will change. Stay tuned...
24 August 2008
Strange, that at age fifty, I find myself going to bed and getting up later (when I can get away with it) than I did at forty. It's not like I'm going out dancing every night or even that I get to spend so much time with Dominick.
And I find that either I can't sleep or I get the sort of sleep that even police sirens, thunder or anything else can interrupt. The cats can curl up at my side or feet and I wouldn't even notice until something else woke me up.
I wonder if the hormones affect my sleep, or if my changes in it simply are a matter of aging. Another thing I've noticed is that I seem to have more dreams closer to whenever I wake up--and that I have them even if I fall asleep in my big comfy chair for an hour. And, it seems, the dreams are richer in detail. I've never made any great effort to remember my dreams, but I find that I can do more of that, too. At least, I can recall dreams for a little while after I wake up. I could almost never do that when I lived as Nick.
Whatever sleep I get also seems cathartic at times. After it, I feel just about the same way as I feel after a fit of crying, laughing or giggling. I guess that's a good thing. After all, primal scream therapy wouldn't be so becoming of a lady now, would it? ;-)
I don't recall my doctor or anyone else telling me that hormones could affect my sleep patterns. I haven't done much research on it, but I suspect someone else might be wondering--or has experienced--the same thing. Maybe this is a gender difference: Many women I have known went to bed later than most men. Now, for women of earlier generations, it may have been because they stayed home while their husbands left the house every day to work. Or, like my mother, they couldn't iron clothes or simmer tomato sauce or do any number of other things while everyone else was awake.
Me...I find that when I forestall going to bed, I'm reading, writing or preparing something for the following day. Hmm...My writing is becoming more lunar. And the moon is usually seen as feminine: The moon deities of the Greeks, Romans and other people have, more often than not, been female.
Hmm...If I really wanted to be vain, I could call myself Moon Godess or some such thing. I'm your Venus...
All right. I'm not here neither to endorse nor malign one of Gilette's fine products, which I use myself. (Yes, I hope Google Ad Sense picks this up and my check is in the mail. ;-) What kind of woman does that make me?) Can you imagine me as the first transgender to publicly endorse a product? I'll be there, right next to Anna Kornukova. (Would I be expected to spell her name right?) Then, after they know whose razors and pantyhose (whichever ones are on sale) I use, maybe, just maybe, they'll want to know about the books I read, the music I listen to or the art I look at.
Dream on, you say. I'll take you up on that. Dream, dream, dream. Perchance to sleep. Sleep, perchance to dream. To dream.
I'll sleep to that!
22 August 2008
The same thing we write about every night....
It's tranny and the blog,
Tranny and the blog.
One's changing gender
The other is insane.
Ah, yes...One of the finer artifacts of American culture: Pinky and the Brain. The hormones haven't changed my love of cartoons for children over the age of thirty. Besides P&B, there are Beany and Cecil, the Roadrunner cartoons, most of Bugs Bunny (especially the episodes with the Tasmanian Devil) and the short-lived Mighty Mouse series from Ralph (sp?).
And singing the "Pinky" song--and barking the "Narf!" at the end--makes me laugh even more than it did back in the cartoon's run. Yeah, I know, it's the hormones again.
So I still love this stuff and will defend it as much as I would Leaves of Grass, many of Emily Dickinson's poems, Rhapsody in Blue , the first Godfather film and almost anything from Thelonious Monk and Billie Holliday as great and important American cultural artifacts. I mean, what would this country be without any of those things and the Bill of Rights?
None of those tastes have changed yet. Somehow I suspect they won't. And I think my dislikes are even less likely to change. I mean, if I never liked The Three Stooges or understood the need for just about anything Clint Eastwood or Kevin Costner made, I don't see how I'm going to like them with a body powered by estrogen. (I'll admit that Swing Vote, which I saw with Mom and Dad, was good and I actually liked Kevin in it.)
So which of my tastes have changed? Which ones might?
Like many other people, I'm watching the Olympics. This is probably the first Games in which I'm paying much attention to the men's diving, water polo and track and field events. Bicycling, as you can imagine, has always interested me. But to the other sports I've mentioned, I've never before paid that much attention.
All right. Accuse me of looking at guys who aren't wearing much and who are flexing, bending, pumping, sweating and grunting. I'll make a halfhearted denial. After all, I have to preserve my reputation as a lady of refinement and taste!
But I also found myself paying very close attention to the women's beach volleyball. Now, if I were still a guy, you could accuse me of watching the tall women in bikinis rather than they game they were playing. But Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Tranor (How can you not love a sport in which an athlete has a name like that?) have a combination of power and speed that rivals that of the Williams sisters, in my opinion.
Same thing with women's soccer. But I got hooked on that when Mia Hamm and her wonderful team won the World Championships back in 1999. The funny thing is, I responded to their wholesomeness as much as any fundamentalist might have. For me, they were women who genuinely loved (or seemed to love) what they were doing and didn't engage in showboating, trash-talking or any of those other loathesome behaviors of too many major male athletes.
So what other tastes of mine will change, or remain the same? I've a feeling I'll be writing more about that in this blog.
21 August 2008
It's not as if I haven't been called that--or worse--before. But I seem to hear it more frequently, and in other contexts, than in my past.
This morning Olga, who's the legal affairs officer at the college, not only said, "You're so sensitive," she also mentioned that it has been noted. Valerie, the English Department chair, said I was "sensitive to things lately" and, moments later, lauded me for being "sensitive" to students. And, during another electrology session, the young Italian-American woman who was plucking and zapping me said, "You're just, well, sensitive, in any way I can think of."
Blame the hormones! Why? Well, for one thing, Canada has nothing to do with this, so I can't blame a country that was honorable enough not to get involved in our current war. So "Blame Canada" won't work. However, there is lots of literature--and the words of my doctor--to tell me that taking estrogen can turn you into a seeming mass of nerve endings. I was warned of that when I started taking the hormones. And, just as everyone promised, I was crying over dopey songs I heard on the radio.
But, even though my dosage hasn't increased, I feel (pun intended) as if a new undercurrent of vulnerability is pulling me into another tide of emotion fueled by raw nerves. Am I going through a substage of the "second adolescence" one experiences when taking hormones?
Most of the time I enjoy the tears and laughter that wash over me like an afternoon shower and (usually) pass. But yesterday I felt so raw I had to put on a stone face and not look anyone in the eye--or look anyone's way at all. That's hard to do when you're sitting in a circle with about twenty other people, as I was at the workshop. I wanted to get out of there as fast as I could.
And one of my new colleagues in that circle seemed to be playing her own little game of stare-tag with me. She sat opposite me in the circle, and kept on staring at me. I could feel it. I was ready to bolt through her and the others to get out of that room.
Right now, I'm still feeling as if a layer of skin has been removed from me and I want to hide from--or bitch-slap--that prof and anyone else who might've been staring at me.
And they say I'm being sensitive. As if that were that were anything new!
20 August 2008
I think guys really like to see women pumping their legs. (Why else would they look at me?) Any time I ride my bike in a skirt or a pair of shorts, at least one guy slows down and/or shouts "nice legs!" More than one has tried to get my phone number and even more intimate details.
Yes, I'm an educated, independent, career-minded woman who loves flattery from men. Or women, for that matter. Call me an egotist or reactionary, but, hey, I guess it's less narcissistic to enjoy hearing that you're beautiful than it is to tell other people that you are.
And, when I got to the college, a few of my now-colleagues, and others I bumped into, told me I looked "really good." Ah, yes, the powers of relaxation. How long before I undo all the good that visit to Mom and Dad did for me?
Well, I didn't respond to any of those comments. Inwardly, I more or less dismissed them: They were just pro forma expressions of politeness. And I was in no mood for any of them.
Actually, I didn't feel much like talking or listening to anyone once I got inside the college. It wasn't just a case of "returning-from-vacation blues." Rather, I felt sick to be there: so much so that Ruth, a tutor who's just become an adjunct faculty member, heard the grinding and groaning in my stomach.
Valerie, the department chair, introduced me as a new full-time faculty member. I wished she hadn't, especially after the polite applause in the room. Most of the other faculty members know who I am, at least a little. But having all of their eyes on me, even if for a nanosecond, was more than I could take.
At the first pause in the discussion, I bolted out of the room. Anyone who noticed might've thought I'd gone to the ladies' room or something. Which I did. But when I came back, a couple of people curled their mouths upward the way people do when they want a baby to smile. Of course, it didn't work.
Afterward, a couple of faculty members asked whether I was OK. I wasn't, and told them so. I couldn't explain why. at least not to them, without getting into a longer conversation than I wanted.
I really didn't want to talk about the kinds of treatment I got while on my previous job at the college. Although no one at that meeting had anything to do with it, some of them are definitely part of the mentality that allows such things to happen: the white liberal mindset, in other words. And every one of them still has faith in the notion that education, or at least schooling, makes people more enlightened and tolerant.
Well, after the way I was treated by so-called educated people at the college last year, I don't think I'll ever have any faith--that's exactly what you need to be part of it--in the institution of education, ever again. I don't even know how I'm going to, with a straight face, get in front of a classroom full of students and act as though any of the work they do in my class, or any other, is going to work for them.
Oh, well. I got through every day of the first forty-five years of my life on mendacity. I guess I could walk into classrooms and do it for another year. So I'll just shut myself down, the way I did in that workshop today. And say what they want to hear, and portray myself in a way that allows them to flatter themselves. People respond to illusions, not reality, anyway. Just look at who gets elected to public office.
18 August 2008
I'm still torn between opening the windows during the next eleven months or barreling through those months on autopilot. Right now, I just want to get to the surgery already. The new job seems like an inconvenience, something that has to be endured. I already know a lot of faculty members--and the chair--in the English Department. But somehow I wish I didn't. I also wish I had a job in which I didn't have to spend so much time interacting with people. I'd like to be able simply to come and go. Why couldn't the provost have made me a paper-pusher? I could work by myself and not have to hear any more questions or comments about me or my life. I wouldn't have to be part of any duplicity or to live by any mendacity. All right, so I did that every day for 45 years. What's another year?, you ask. Just one more year of telling mellifluous (or as mellifluous as I can make them) lies. That's not much for him or anyone to ask of me, right? And, Malcolm, you only have to hear the "N" word one more time. Just one more time.
Of course Malcolm had it harder and faced it all with more courage than I ever could. So maybe I shouldn't liken my situation to his.
Right now I want only to be around people I know very, very well and trust completely. All the politicking, all the going along to get along (which usually doesn't lead to getting along anyway), all the aimless, mindless chatter is just a waste of emotional and mental energy. Most interactions with academicians, with the so-called intellectuals, are no more stimulating than listening to a Wall Street trader bark out an order. And even that's more enlightening than reading articles with titles like "The Otherness of the Other: Post-Structuralist Deconstruction of The Yellow Brick Wall."
Why couldn't I have reported to work on some job in which no one notices when I come or go? I could just ask HR for my leave time and come back after the surgery, with no one the wiser for it. As it stands, I'll go in on Wednesday and everyone will have something to say, or are afraid to ask directly, about my getting the full-time faculty position. And I really don't feel like talking about it with anybody. Nobody grills you that way when you have a desk job.
Not dwelling on the past has been a great help to me. Bruce says as much. At this time next year, do I want to be thinking much about this time? I think now of the chef who, when asked what he'd want to eat if he were going to die tomorrow, mentioned the foods he didn't like. "At least then I wouldn't be sad to go," he said.
That's sort of the way I feel. I don't want to look back wistfully. I want to move forward, to the next steps in the life I'm building. Nothing complicated, please.
17 August 2008
You guessed it: I went for a bike ride: To Nyack and back, again.
One good sign is that I actually felt better, physically as well as emotionally, at the end of the ride than at the beginning. My legs actually ached early in the ride, as I was pedalling through the Upper East Side, Yorkville and Harlem to the bridge than when I was coming back, some fifty miles later. By then, I felt something I haven't felt in a long time: my bike disappearing under me. That happens when you're in good shape and you have a bike that's well-fitted and well-suited to you. At this point, I'd still have to give much more credit to my Mercian than to my training, or lack thereof. Kudos to the folks at Mercian Cycles in England who built the bike and to Hal of Bicycle Habitat who measured me and really listened when I described what I wanted in the bike!
Plus, as tired as I was at the beginning of my ride, I was in good spirits. The crepes I made for myself turned out well. Charlie and Max were being even friendlier than ususal. And Mom and Dad were very encouraging when I talked to them. Yes, even Dad, even after I nagged him. And Mom, being Mom. I described some of the anxiety I'm feeling about the job I'm about to start. "You'll be fine," she insisted. "You've come to this point. It'll all work out."
Now, my mother never, ever says things like that unless she means them--and knows what she's talking about. She knew I would stay sober. She knew, at various times in my life, that I'd find my way, whatever that means.
One good sign, according to her: My conversations with Dad are getting longer. It used to be that I'd spend half an hour on the phone with her and half a minute, if that, with him. This time he picked up the phone and I talked to him for twenty minutes--a record!--before spending the rest of an hour with her. That ended only because they were going out.
Mom and I had a good laugh, though. I mentioned that I'd asked Dad what he's been doing and how much he's been getting out of the house--and exhorting him to do even more, even when he's bored. Anything can get boring, I reminded him. But sometimes boredom is just a sign that you're dealing with something else. That's better--certainly for him--than wallowing in his Lazy Boy recliner and thumbing buttons on the remote control.
"He didn't know he would end up with a nagging daughter, did he?"
"To go with his nagging wife and everyone else who nags him!" she deadpanned. Both of us broke out into titters, which turned to laughs when my hormones kicked in.
Ah, yes. All those times we don't know what we're getting or what we're getting into. Like Mom learning that her daughter is named Justine (the name she would have given me if the "F" were checked off on my birth certificate). Or Dad taking me shopping. They survived and, I suspect, know that they still don't always know what they're getting themselves into. Even after fifty years of marriage. And their "son" coming out as their daughter. There may be no more secrets--or at least not very many more--but there are still surprises and mysteries.
Speaking of secrets: As we were talking about my new job and what it could mean, I confessed that when I was younger, I wasn't planning my future--not even when I was in college. Sometimes I'd say that I was thinking about law school or teaching or getting a job with a magazine, but those were half-baked notions, at best. The only constant was that I wanted to write; teaching or graduate school weren't even on my radar.
The truth was, I said, was that I simply didn't want to think about the future. I didn't think I'd make it there and, if I did, I knew that I didn't want the things anyone else wanted for me, whether it had to do with jobs, marriage or anything else. I didn't want the responsibility, I admitted, but I also felt I wouldn't be any good at being a professional and white collar worker with a wife and kids in a house in the suburbs.
The funny thing is that now I can sort of see myself as a professional of a sort, and that I can integrate writing into that life. And I may very well become a wife. I'd like that, really. Dominick says I'm a nurturing person and I actually like the role. Will I end up in that house in the suburbs? Who knows...especially with the so-called mortgage crisis.
Who knew that it would come to this? Not that I'm complaining. I knew I didn't want to be a husband or father, even as I was making some attempt to be the former. But I never knew that I'd actually get to live this life, the one I always wanted.
16 August 2008
Of course nearly everyone in the western (and much of the non-western) world thinks of the Bible and the Flood when you mention "forty days and forty nights."
Me, I think of that exquisitely sad song by Muddy Waters.
Forty days and forty nights
Since my baby left this town
Sunshinin' all day long
But the rain keep comin' down
I used to have a recording of that song. If someone from another planet were to ask me what "the blues" are (is?), I'd probably start with it. Between the piano work and Muddy Waters' voice, you can practically see the sky opening and hear a primal wail in the wind :
Keep rainin' all the time
But the river is runnin' dry
Lord help me it just ain't right
I love that girl with all-a my might
Ooh, baby. Rainin' all the time and the river runnin' dry: How much more despair can someone express? In "Forty Days," I believe Muddy Waters gave us a musical version of a concrete poem about loss and despair.
Fortunately for me, I'm not feeling that kind of despair. So maybe it means I won't be a great artist or original thinker. C'est la vie. I'm happy to be right now. And, oddly enough, I can better appreciate stuff like Muddy Waters' song when I'm the way I am now than when I'm in my own sadness or grief.
What is it about forty days, anyway? For me, today is the 40th day since I started this blog and my one-year countdown to my surgery. So the 40th day means I have 325 days to go. All of this occured to me just as I was about to start writing. Now I've forgotten what I had planned, or whether I had anything, to write about.
Forty days and forty nights turn into...forty years. Mom and I were talking about our recent milestone birthdays. She said that when she turned fifty--as I did last month--she didn't mind it, but all through that year she thought about Uncle Sonny, who died a few months after turning fifty. Other than that, she said, turning fifty was actually better than turning forty.
I would agree with her on that last point. When I turned forty, I was--paradoxically enough--much more anxious about my future than I am now. It's not that I've gotten rich or anything like that. And I didn't see a pretty picture in a crystal ball. In fact, I'd say that, if anything, it may be even more difficult for me to predict what the coming years will bring. There is the surgery, of course, if all goes according to plan. But other than that, I really don't know what else to expect.
At forty, on the other hand, I expected more or less the same as what had come before. I was probably in the best physical condition of my entire life; I had that sense of invincibility the young so often have. I did not imagine myself becoming older or less firm; if anything, I didn't expect to live long enough to see that. I was going to die, at whatever age, while pedalling up or barreling down a mountain on my bike, or in a current that was more powerful than my ability to swim it.
However, just before I turned forty, something else happened: I met Tammy. That would lead me, however unintentionally, to the journey I am now undertaking.
Not long ago, I told my mother that just about everything I did before making my transition was an act of desperation. Getting involved with Tammy may have been the most desperate act of all; near the end of our relationship, I committed the single most desperate action of my life. Somehow I knew, but would never admit, that there would be great changes in my life, and that there would be at least a period of pain and loss.
My relationship with Tammy was my very last attempt to hold on to the image I had of myself--which I conflated with my life--as a heterosexual man. Ironically enough, the first two years I spent with Tammy were the happiest--or at least the easiest--of my life before my transition.
I think it was Ortega y Gasset who said that there are three stages of a person's life. Up to the age of fifteen or so, one is essentially a child. From about fifteen until about forty or forty-five, one tries to construct a life according to the expectations of family, society and one's self. But, at forty or forty-five, one realizes that it's no longer possible to live in fantasies or fictions. At that point, of course, many people--especially men--have their mid-life crises. Some go downhill and die (or kill themselves) not long after; others redirect themselves.
So...I met Tammy at forty and started to live full-time as a woman at forty-five. Maybe it's not what Ortega y Gasset had in mind, but it does square pretty well with his timetable. At forty-three I saw that woman in Savoie who made me realize I couldn't take another step in this world as a man; at forty-four I started to take steps toward my current life. Those two years were, if not the most difficult, the most intense of my adult life.
The day I got back from that trip in which I saw that Savoyard woman, Tammy met me at JFK. I wasn't expecting it; she didn't expect to meet me but at the last moment found out she could take the day off after all. She really wanted to see me, she said.
We locked our arms around each other, my elbows jutting out at the most acute angles my body could create. Neither of us, it seemed, wanted to let go, not even as uniformed attendants tried to move us out of the lobby. I could not let go, not at that moment, not for as long as I could hold on...to her; to our apartment with four cats, seven bikes, dozens of kitchen utensils and appliances and I-couldn't-even-count-how-many books and very full closets; to the dinners we hosted and the nights out with friends--hers, mostly. Holding on...to a life that nobody, not even us, knew very much about. One in which she indulged, then tolerated my "cross dressing" and I said that I wanted no more--though no less--than that. No, I said, I will not move to Chelsea or get the surgery. Yes, I want to spend my life with you, whatever that means.
So what, exactly, happened at around the time I turned forty? You might say that I cranked up the level of mendacity precisely because I was beginning to realize just how mendacious I had been simply to live as I was from one day to the next. You might even say that it was that mendacity that led me, finally, to my realizations: I was on that bike trip in the Alps--the one in which I met the woman I mentioned--because Tammy had given it to me as a birthday present. Why, I asked her? She was working and attending law school, and that was my reward for "taking care" of her. It was all part of the life we were building together: That's what I said about being, in essence, her wife and that's what she said about her work.
Forty days, forty nights, forty years. We thought it would progress somewhat like that. Or so I led her to believe, or so she believed. Forty months...That's about how much time passed from our first meeting until that day at JFK. For the next forty weeks (I'm not making this up!), the illusion, fantasy or whatever you want to call it, came apart, piece by piece.
Tomorrow will mark the sixth anniversary of my moving out. The forty days that followed included getting a job, finding places to shop and eat and meeting people, some of whom would become friends or at least allies. Some met me as Nick, others as Justine. I was still working in my boy-drag with my boy-name. I would do that for--you guessed it!--another forty weeks.
After all that, turning fifty is a cinch. Am I right, Muddy Waters?
15 August 2008
So what did I do today besides my laundry, cleaning my apartment, surfing the web or feeling upset about that new teaching position that everyone else seems to think is so wonderful? I went for a haircut and facial. I figured I might not have time for them--or at least the facial, anyway--for a while.
I've been going to the same place for the past five years--Zoe's Beauty in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Until April, Toni had been cutting and coloring my hair. But she's left to pursue other interests: According to her mother (who looks a bit like Diane Keaton), she's going to Paris, where she's going to attend a school for theatrical make-up. I loved the work she did on me, but somehow I always had the sense she'd want to at least try other things.
So how did I find her, and the shop? One Sunday, a few weeks after Tammy and I split up and I moved into the neighborhood where I live now, I was riding my bike. Back then--six years ago--I was presenting as female a couple of times a week but was still a year away from living full-time as a woman. And it would be months before I'd begin to take hormones. Anyway, on that Sunday--rather hot, as I remember--I'd been out riding for a while in my bike-guy clothes and was sweaty and probably grungy. The neon sign and neo-Victorian/hippie chotchkes in the window streamed into view. I crossed the street to check it out.
I lingered over shelves full of nail colorings and eye make-up when a voice intoned, "Can I help you?"
I turned around. There was Toni, looking at me even more quizzically than she sounded.
"Make me as pretty as you are," I deadpanned.
Now, if you saw Toni and you saw me, you'd know that was quite the request! But she didn't back down or try to talk me out of the store. Instead, she asked, "Where would you like to start?"
The rest, as they say, is history. I proceeded from buying nail polish and lip gloss to facial creams and powders. She always seemed to know what would work for me: not only what would look good on me, but what my sensitive skin could handle. I don't know whether she'd ever worked with a transgender before she met me, but she even recommended some lotions for shaving.
Then, when she started cutting and coloring my hair, I learned about the mystique of the hairdresser. In those days before I'd begun to live full-time--before I was even "out" to any of my family or friends--she became a sort of second therapist to me. In fact, she was the first to encourage me to find a guy--at a time when I wondered whether I "passed" and before I realized just how horny guys actually are. (Was I like that?)
I don't recall having those kinds of conversations with a barber. Then again, that may have had more to do with me than the barbers.
To top everything off, Toni was only twenty years old when I first met her. Most barbers I'd seen were about three times that age.
Anna does just about as nice a job on my hair as Toni did. I like. And I like talking with her. Imagine crossing Rachael Ray with Rosie, without Rosie's anger. And, because Anna is a Brooklyn Italian-American, the roots of mine she touches aren't only in my hair! (Toni, who's half-Italian, grew up in Queens.) Still, I miss Toni. I guess we miss a lot of the "firsts" in our lives.
And then there's Ella, a slender Polish woman of my age who always refers to me as "my lady." I have had about half a dozen facials, so far, and I am convinced that even more important than the techniques or the products used are the person who's using them and the atmosphere she (or he) creates. I mean, except for those few minutes when she plucks my eyebrows (something I don't think I'll ever get down no matter how adept I become with brushes and powder-puffs), I am totally relaxed. Maybe that is the point of getting the treatment.
So let's see--Anna cut some of my hairs. Ella pulled a few hairs and scraped and washed away old skin and other things from my face. I guess, in some way, they're doing similar work to the electrologist. Or to my therapist and social worker. It's all about peeling something away to get to the essence of what I am. And--this is something that really would have suprised me earlier in my life--sometimes I actually like, no, love what I find. I think it's what people see when they tell me I look radiant or--ready for this?--pretty. And sometimes I really feel like I am.
Well, I guess everyone is, or can be made, attractive to someone. The key, I believe, is to be attractive to one's self. That's not as narcissitic as it sounds. It's really nothing more than a belief in one's self: having the same confidence that one has a rightful place in this world that one's mother (well, at least the mother one should have) has. I think that's what was expressed in one of my favorite sculptures: Rodin's Je suis belle.
Je suis belle. Thanks to everyone who helped me learn that.
Next week, I resume souffrance to be belle. It's worth it. ;-)
14 August 2008
Well, all right... I'm in a very different situation now. Yes, the vegetables are good for me. But I'm not always sure that teaching--or being in school in any way or form--is. Of all the things I've ever done, I feel that teaching is the least honest and that being in school is the surest sign that I've failed. You know what they say: "Those who can, do."
Which is exactly the reason why people who bemoan the fact that school "doesn't teach you how to think" are barking up the wrong tree. That's exactly what school, at any level, isn't supposed to do. People who can actually think never, ever become teachers. Or, if a teacher starts to think, he or she can't remain a teacher for very long unless he or she essentially lives a life of mendacity or simply numbs him or her self.
School--from pre-K to post-doc--is always about maintaining the status quo. All you have to do is watch the Olympics to see that. Most spectators, whether they're in the "Bird's Nest" or in front of a TV screen, are not celebrating the athletes for their artistic or technical perfection, or even (in some instances) their good looks. Rather, they are applauding the triumphs of their countrymen (and women). Where do people learn such mindless xenophobia and learn to call it patriotism? Nearly always, in school.
Some say that may be true in subjects like History, but I think that the curricula of the so-called objective sciences are just as skewed toward the status quo. Students are inculcated with just as many unverifiable ideas and beliefs in a physics class as they would be in a seminary. And, of course, everything a student experiences reinforces the gender binary system and lots of unconsciously held beliefs about the inferiority of one gender, race, nationality or whatever, to another. Not to mention the idea that if one is born into anything, he or she should stay in his or her "place.
The last fistfight I got into was with a graduate school classmate who expressed disbelief that I had any Italian heritage in me because, essentially, I'm too literate. I've had professors tell me that I could always go into construction or some such thing. And, I've had colleagues who were professors who pretended to be allies of mine and stabbed me in the back. Not to mention my supervisor on my last job.
How can I get in front of students with a straight face after some of the things I--and they--have been through at the hands of educators? Or knowing that most of the time that I have taught, I have simply mouthed other people's words?
Every time I've questioned the notion that I should teach, someone coos (as if talking to a baby), "But you do it soo well" Well, just because you can do something well, that doesn't mean you should do it. What if you were good at killing people--should you do that?
And, honestly, almost any time someone says I'm a good teacher and that's what I "should" do, it's a taunt. The person saying it is almost always someone who's doing something that pays much better than what I do, and wouldn't be caught dead or allow their kids to follow a career in teaching or scholarship.
Oh well. One more year of it. Then the surgery, and whatever comes after it.
13 August 2008
Hmm...Sounds like something advertised on the back pages of The Village Voice or The New York Press. Except that anyone who responds to those ads is probably paying a lot more for the privilege than I pay for my sessions.
It's one of those things Dominick likes to hear me talk about but would never want to experience himself. Not that he would have any use for it--unless, of course, he's absolutely sure he never wants to grow a beard or moustache. But even then....
Anyway, I went to his place after the electrolysis session. He showed me the kinds of reports that must be submitted for each of the kids in his class. Even in their rather soggy prose, those accounts are heartbreaking to read: kids who are old enough to be in school but still can't dress, feed or speak for themselves. I also couldn't help but to notice that the kids came from poorer neighborhoods and, I surmised, were members of "minority" groups.
Dominick mentioned that some of those kids also have asthma and other medical problems. He said that he's more and more convinced that most of the kids' problems are environmentally-induced. It was then that I realized why he has chosen to work with special ed kids: He grew up in an often-unstable home and some of the difficulties he's had may well be a result of what he comes from.
I admire him for having the courage to work through his difficulties yet retaining the gentleness those kids so need.
And it is that gentleness--which deepens as he's getting older--to which I respond. It may be the reason why, I realized last night, I really do love him, and he understands what that means.
I'll admit now that I had been proceeding with caution since I've known him. Some of that, I suppose, is just the natural reaction of someone of my age and experience. But I also realize now that over the past few years, I have learned a bit about loving someone in ways that transcend even forgiveness.
To tell you the truth, I was never in love with anyone with whom I "had a relationship." Those unions--or whatever I could or should call them--were nothing more than acts of desperation. I thought I was holding on for life; now I know that I was merely holding onto the life I knew at the time. It didn't matter, really, whether I was with a man or woman: Either way, I was acting as I though a man should. And I never was very good at it.
Then again, I wonder just how good I am now at being a friend, lover, daughter, or any of the other roles I've continued or taken on. Dominick tells me I'm a wonderful person. Mom and Dad say that we had a good visit. But when I talked to Mom this morning, she mentioned that she found a photo of me on a bike, back in the day, and I was "really skinny."
"Yes, I know I've gained weight."
"Did you notice it?"
"Welll...yeah. I'm not going to say you don't look good. But you could look better."
I know...Being a good woman, friend, etc., isn't about my now not-inconsiderable weight. But still...Dominick always tells me I look great. He always does. At least, he always seems beautiful to me. I don't recall feeling that way about the others I've been with.
But the really wonderful thing about seeing Dominick last night is that, well, I realize that I do love him, without reservation or hesitation, and that--OK feminists, shoot me for this one--I can actually see myself as his wife. In other words, as his partner in life and as a nurturer--for him, as well as anyone we should bring into our circle. (We have talked about adopting a child.)
I guess that, all of the other tribulations aside, my relationships with Eva, Tammy and the others never could've worked because I knew I could never really be a boyfriend, much less a husband, no matter how much I tried. In other words, I couldn't love them completely as the person I am.
I still don't yet know what dimensions and limits, if any, there are to my love for Dominick. All I know is that I love him as I am, as a woman. Before I began my gender change, I could not do this, because I was not allowed to and because I couldn't and wouldn't allow myself.
Now I can, because I can love unabashedly, as a woman who is unabashedly herself. Last week, I came to realize that is how I love my mother and father now. And, maybe, just maybe, my relationship with Dominick will be that sort of love manifested in a partnership.
I hope. I allow myself to hope. I allow myself. And Mom. And Dad. And Dominick.
11 August 2008
Oh, I could listen to that song all day. That line seems so light and carefree--so uncharacteristic of Nick Drake--when you first hear it. It lifts and lilts, but the "p's" and "k's" synchronize with the low notes on his guitar, lending a psychic weight.
Pink moon is on its way
And none of you stand so tall
Pink moon gonna get you all.
Imagine putting Milan Kundera in the same room with Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Pablo Neruda. They'd probably come up with the fictional equivalent of this song. All of them--and Nick--saw just how complex the light that becomes all things, and all people, actually is. It's rather like a dream, or at least some of the dreams I've had, in which the light flows into, and fills, rivers and oceans and takes the shapes of rooms from early in my life: ones to which I can return only in those dreams.
Nick (Drake, not the person I used to be) died at the age of 26. Yet, this is one of the most mature and sophisticated songs I have ever heard from anyone not named Bob Marley. It's the antithesis--or perhaps the inverse--of how people like me see the world when we're young and think we know better than everyone else.
At that time in my life, all I could think about was the heart of darkness inside every smile I saw, the hypocrisy that constituted "nice" people and the bones that became the dirt in which the flowers grew. I thought that I, like other people who saw the world this way, were the sensitive artists, the tortured souls or whatever else you wanted to call us. I made friends--or at least partners in self-torture--who shared this view, and sneered at all those people whose ambitions consisted of picket fences and such.
We were right--as far as our ideas went. Yes, I realize how much blood was spilled in la Place de la Concorde, but I now understand that reality has a dimension beyond and within this. What made all that blood possible? Human beings--ones who had gone wrong, perhaps, but human beings nonetheless. What was Randy Pausch before the cancer took hold of his body? A vibrant, healthy man. Much to his credit, he retained as much of those qualities as anybody could under his circumstances.
And when we realize that we may not be who we believed we were, what is there when we get past the disappointment? Well--this has been true for me, anyway, and hopefully for others--there's the knowledge that there is something greater, if more terrifying, than the realities we had constructed by believing in them.
That's one of the better answers I can give when someone--like my neighbor Angela--asks why I am undertaking my transformation. I realized that I am not merely my body, what other people--or organizations--said I was. For a long time, that was a horrible realization for me. I was someone in conflict with every way in which I had been defined, whether by schools, the government or even my friends and family. That is why I identified with Caliban of The Tempest more than any other character I'd come across in literature or any other art or medium. Yes, the one who tells Prospero, "You have taught me language/ And the profit on't is, I can curse."
I was more intelligent than almost anyone I knew. (Or so I thought.) I had some talents, and I had a body that could be made fit--and, to some eyes, even attractive--through all of the exercise I used to do. And what did it get me? Alienation and isolation. All the qualities that people complimented about me were the ones that caused those same people to completely misunderstand me and to treat me as someone I wasn't.
In other words, my pain belay their pleasure. And it never could be any other way, at least from my world-view.
But, later in the play, the monster Caliban gives us some of the most beautiful lines in the English language:
Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twanging instruments
Will hum about mine ears; and sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again; and then, in dreaming,
The clouds me methought would open, and show riches
Ready to drop on me, that when I waked,
I cried to dream again.
How did he get from "You have taught me language..." to that?
Wanna know what I think? Caliban's servitude makes Prospero's life possible. And Caliban's resentment, which is really the force of his deformity, does indeed make others seem, if only in contrast, more noble than they actually are. But even within Caliban there was a beauty, a force vitale, that--paradoxically--was the basis of his resentment and, simultaneously, the potential key to his freedom from his addiction to his own bile.
Someone who finds that light within his or her darkness may find it unbearable, at least at first. When your screen is a gray drizzle, the sun and a bright blue sea and sky can seem too intense, at least until they become your window. And that happens when you realize that light allowed you to see the grayness, the clouds, the darkness and the rain.
It's still important to see the storm, or any other inclemency. But they're easier to see, and more bearable, by the light. Unhappiness never goes away; the joy--the force of love--within makes it possible to negotiate and navigate the turbulence of discord.
By the same token, I cannot--and have no wish to--destroy that person I was complicit with others in creating in order to placate them. (At least I thought that's what I was doing for them.) But all along, the person I really am kept him going long enough so that I could reach, and seize, the power within him. She is the one writing these words, which, I hope, may mean something to you.
The pink moon is here and on its way.
10 August 2008
That's how it's seemed since I got home last night. I don't mind; in fact, I never mind when they want to give or get affection. If I did, why would they be the fourth and fifth cats I've had in my life?
Why, indeed, should we choose anyone to accompany us through our lives? Sure, some people are useful; others are necessary. But the ones we bring in to our circle; the ones we enfold in our arms: what other reason is there?
Then there are the ones we must have: the ones we have whether or not we want them. And, finally, there are the ones we simply can't not have, and who can't not have us.
I guess family falls into the last category. For some people, it's the worst sort of bondage there is. I know at least a few people who left their parents or other family members over things they did in the name of "love." But for others, including me, there is no choice but we choose it anyway. At least, I now realize, that's how I feel about my parents. And I suspect they feel the same way about me.
We all agreed that the week went well. I just talked to my brother Mike, and he says that's how Mom and Dad described my visit to them. There were a couple of awkward moments, but I felt that this trip affirmed the love--however complicated it may be at times--that we have for each other. I'm sure that, at times, they probably wish I could've continued to live as I had been. That's how they knew me for 45 years: someone who wasn't quite a normal guy, who possibly wasn't straight, but was their son.
But they did not distance themselves from me. When we went out to eat, when we went shopping, walking and to a movie, we were at each others' side. They called me by the name my mother would have given me if I had been born--at least if I'd appeared to be--a girl. She did not have that opportunity; instead, I took it. I'm happy about it; I think she--and he--are happy at least for the fact that I'm happy, if nothing else.
And they know that I am grateful for that. In fact, there is nothing I have ever experienced for which I am more grateful. It made the visit possible; it is the reason why they've offered to accompany me to the hospital when I have my surgery.
They have never been the most demonstrative people in the world, and I doubt that they ever will be. But I think they realize that I love them unabashedly because--well, because that's the only way I can love them. Because I am now unabashedly myself. And they know that. Mom has said as much.
Although the week I spent with her and Dad was fulfillilng, I cried as I was packing to go home. This is only the second time in my life I can recall feeling sad upon leaving. When I was younger, I--like most young people--wanted to get away. And I did. I forged a life seperate from them: one that they neither could have imagined for themselves nor chosen for me. It was the best I could do for myself; still--at least for me, anyway--it was a step in the "right" direction because it took me away from their walls and led me to things that opened wider than their windows. But sometimes I'd feel sad about it, for the same reasons I felt so the other night: that they should have had the opportunities to visit and live in the places I've seen and inhabited and get the sort of education and have the other choices I've had in my life.
One of those choices was to pursue what I need for my own happiness and fulfillment. Some might think that's a selfish, egotistical pursuit. What that means, of course, is that those people wish they had the opportunities and whatever else it takes to live a life of their choosing, on their terms.
Sometimes, though, choosing is one of the hardest things to do--especially when you have no choice but to make the choice. Mom and Dad are discovering this, I think, as they cope with pain and other physical diminishment--and the depression and anger that they feel as a result of it, and of all those things . They--especially Dad--are coming to terms with the aftermath of various trials they've had in their lives. They are doing so as they turn 70. I thought it took a lot of work for me to unravel--as I turned 34-- the feelings and other unconscious manifestations of the sexual abuse I experienced as a child. I can only imagine how difficult it must be for them--especially Dad-- to deal with the detritus left by the storm of childhood traumas.
I've had the opportunity and resources to reclaim myself from those who would and could have taken my life--literally as well as metaphorically--from me. I wish Mom and Dad had that chance earlier in their lives. What that means, of course, is that I sometimes wish that earlier in my life I had made the choices I'm making now. And I wish I could've given myself the choices that Mom and Dad are helping to make possible now.
Oh well. I hope I get to see them again soon--certainly before the operation. Mom and I were talking about that today.
08 August 2008
On one hand, I want to get back to the things that are familiar to me now, including my cats. On the other hand, I feel as though I am just getting to know my parents, just a teensy weensy little bit.
Then again, these past few years have been about getting to know myself. And during the next eleven months, I may learn things I can't even imagine now.
And I have learned things that I never could have imagined before. For one thing, I never realized how sand on one stretch of beach could differ so much from sand on another stretch only a few miles away.
Furthermore, I even entertained the thought of moving here. I was thinking mainly of my parents and their advancing age and declining health. I didn't want to move in with them; they both agreed that none of us could live with other people again. And my father pointed out that the adult children of friends and neighbors came here, thinking that they could make it. "But you'll never make anywhere near the kind of money you make now," he said. To which my mother added, "And it costs a lot more to live here than you think."
Still, she said, "Your father's been better since you've been here." Hmm...I didn't know I could have that kind of effect on anybody--especially my father. I can't think of a single thing I've done that he's approved of.
All right, so that last part is an exaggeration. But it certainly felt like the truth for much of my life.
Right now I wish I could spend some more time here. There seems to be so much, still, to catch up on, whether or not the words or the emotional context exists for doing so. For one thing, this has been my first visit here in nearly five years. And it's the first time I've seen them since we spent an afternoon together in New Jersey three years ago.
Of course, they have aged. But that is not the only reason why they look different to me. Actually, lots of people and things look different. I remember seeing Elizabeth for the first time in ten, maybe fifteen, years. She hadn't aged a day, or so it seemed, since I met her during my sophomore year of undergraduate school. I remember feeling, in a way I couldn't explain, that her apparent lack of change was the reason why she was, in some way, oddly unfamiliar to me.
I guess I'm starting to feel something like that about my parents. My father has always liked to hover over me to make sure I'm getting packed in a timely way, or even to see that I'm doing things that I know better than he how to do. He's always done that--to me, to my mother, to my brothers. Yet I have had to learn that about him all over again.
It seems that I have had to re-learn almost my entire life over the past few years. Even with those things I have done best--reading, writing, teaching and cycling--I feel as if I've had to start over. So sometimes I can't hide my physical clumsiness or social ineptitude.
So what does all that have to do with the prospect of going home? Well, I've seen how much they've accepted me as their daughter and, at the same time, echoed words and behaviors from times past. It's funny: They have habits that I don't expect them to change, but they have learned new ways of seeing me. Or, simply, learning to see me as I've seen myself. Somehow it makes sense, but I'm not sure of why. Will I have the opportunity to learn why?
I want to learn why those rides along the ocean--I took another the other day--mean so much more to me now, and why I enjoyed them so much more. And I want to learn why the bright colors of this place no longer seem alien to me.
Maybe that all seems a little obsessive or fey. But I get the sense that time is running out. It's not just that yesterday marked both 11 months until my surgery and one of those round-number birthdays for my mother. (I won't say which; I'll say only that Dad reached the same milestone in April.) I feel that there's so much I need to learn, and that I'm really going to need it. For one thing, I sense that the time until my surgery--during which I wanted to make as few changes as possible--will include change that I can't anticipate now. And, yeah, it's a little scary.
I guess leaving really means, somehow, starting those next eleven months: the rest of my life as I know it now.
06 August 2008
I was happy to meet her: Mom has talked a lot about her. She seemed every bit as friendly as Mom depicted her. And, even though our encounter was brief, I felt as if, for the first time in my life, a member of my family introduced me to someone and I felt like a peer.
Perhaps that was natural considering that I am middle-aged and Lee, like my mother, is in very, very late middle age. And Lee has a very warm and radiant smile.
But there was something else. Maybe it's simply that it's been so long since I met a friend of a family member: In fact, I don't think I have had such an introduction since I was under the legal age for just about everything. When you're a kid and you meet you parent's friends, no matter how well you get along, there is a generational and experiential divide. And, whenever I met my father's or brothers' male friends, I always felt that, no matter how much I may have liked them, I had almost nothing in common with them.
Now, to be fair, Mom did tell me that a relative of Lee's is transgendered and her daughter is gay. And Mom had told her about me in advance. However, I didn't feel pity or any special, contrived effort to show that she had nothing against who I am. (In other words, she's not like some of the white liberals I've met.) Rather, I felt as if she were talking to the adult daughter of one of her best friends. Which, of course, is what I am.
As she and Lee were leaving, Mom said that Dad wanted to take me to the Beall's outlet store. Dad said he wanted "something to do," besides, he had an errand or two to run. I thought it was an odd thing for him to offer me, but I did not protest. I simply gave him a mock-warning: You're going to take me clothes shopping? Do you know what you're getting yourself into?
He was remarkably patient. A couple of times he even brought over things he thought I might like: two--a pair of black velour and plaid tweed pants--I actually bought.
We must have spent close to two hours in that store. I bought two other pairs of dress pants, three skirts, two tops, a cardigan and two shirt sets--all name brands. All for $73.00, tax included.
And Dad was very gracious about helping me carry things. I joked, Did you realize what you were getting yourself into when you went shopping with me? To which he replied, I did; no problem.
What really made me happy about our shopping trip is that I got to talk with him a good bit more than we normally talk. I have been concerned about him: His health is worsening and, as a result, his mood has been darkening. Which means that I'm also concerned for my mother because she has to bear the brunt of his gloom. I don't know whether I can be any kind of example to him (or anybody). But I tried to help him understand that he has treated me well as I have made changes that must have been difficult for him accept; I understand how difficult that must have been. Now, I want him to take such good care of himself so he'll be around for me, my mother and everyone else.
He actually seemed to like hearing all of that from me. Maybe it's because I let him do most of the talking, and he expressed anxieties as he had never expressed, really, anything else before. I think he also senses that I am not going to give up on him, as I have at other times in my life.
It just may be that he and Mom are seeing their son-who-turned-into-a-female turning slowly into their daughter. They have offered to accompany me when I culminate that a very important part of that process next year.
Odd, isn't it? I've always thought that women were someone's daughter before they became women. Now, of course, my experience is different from that of most women (not to mention most men!) But, I wonder: Could there be other women--however they became women--who became daughters in ways similar to the way I have?