30 September 2008

Things I Used To, And Might, Do

Today I had the day off for a holiday I haven't celebrated in nearly twenty years. And the period of my life during which I observed that holy day was brief: the time I was with Eva. So, if I recall correctly, we observed three Rosh Hoshannas. (I still haven't learned how to spell those names!) And I didn't mark that time of observance before I knew her.

Ironically, among the 114 students in the five classes I teach at the college, there is only one Jew. And she's a Falasha (sp?), again who was born in the Senegal. As I remarked to my students, there are probably more Jewish faculty members than students at York.

So, I sometimes say only half-jokingly, we should also have off on Muslim holy days. And Hindu ones. And, oh, let's not forget the Yoruba, Shinto, Zen, Santeria and Voodoo days of observance, if they have them. And while we're at it, we can't leave out the Wiccans or any Native American creeds now, can we? After all, our schools and workplaces are closed for all sorts of Christian holidays.

But I digress. I guess I shouldn't complain about having a day off. Still, it's difficult not to notice the irony of it.

And it got me to thinking again about the things I used to do, the things I'll never do again and what things I do, have done and will continue to do, well, just because.

All right. I won't list them all. But it's hard not to see the surgery little more than nine months away and to think about what I did, didn't, don't, won't and will never do again.

Most people who won't undergo the changes I'm experiencing associate the surgery--if they think about it--with the most banal things you can and can't do again, like pissing against a tree. I don't think I'll miss that, as I haven't pissed against very many trees. (I have more respect for them than to do that!) I do admit that I might miss peeing while standing up, as I never relish the thought of having to sit on a public toilet. Yes, I cover them and do all the things you're supposed to do. But it still doesn't make the task pleasant .

But those aren't the kinds of things you live for. Yes, some things can make life easier or more convenient, but they don't make life worth living. Trust me, I know about that!

Today I continued to swap my spring/summer clothes for my fall/winter ones. It's the last time I'll do that before the surgery, and I'll make one more switch in the other direction before then. The other day, John helped me to bring the boxes from the storage room I rent, but I didn't begin to unpack them until today. Part of the reason for the delay is that I knew I'd have more time today. Also, I guess somehow I was subconsciously delaying the switch: Now I really know that yet another stage of my life is done: gone.

What else won't I do again before the surgery? Well, I probably won't go to France or any other place further than Mom's and Dad's. Given my work schedule and other considerations, I probably wouldn't be going this year or next anyway. And somehow I get the feeling that if I go again, it's going to be very different, even from the trip I took to Paris four years ago. That one was very different from the ones I took only three and four years earlier, and I suspect that if I go again, there will be even more difference between that and my most recent trip there.

And what made the last trip different from the others? Well, for one thing, I wasn't running away. I also wasn't a lost soul in search of something; I'd found at least the beginnings of what I've needed all of my life. My only uncertainty was--and is--what will come next. But we never know that, anyway. Not knowing--or, worse, denying--who you are is much more of a handicap, I believe, than not knowing where you're going.

I already can't do some of the bike rides I used to do and I don't know whether I could even if I had the time and inclination to train properly. Maybe I will be able to ride even less, or less intensively, than I do now--or, of course, than I did ten years ago.

More important, I wonder whether there's some mental or emotional movement or habit into which I won't fall again, whether or not by choice. I know that people--the people I've known, anyway--think differently about one thing and another after life-changing events, like giving birth.

I even wonder sometimes whether this will be the last year in which I teach. Perhaps there's no rational reason--that I can see now, anyway--why I should stop, or be unable to, teach afterward. But even though it's been going well, I am not thinking about next year in the classroom, in a department meeting, or whatever.

Well, in nine months, I should start to find the answers. It wasn't so long ago that women--like my mother--waited without knowing the sex of the baby that would be born to them. Now I wonder...if anybody could see that I would have a guy's body parts and a girl's soul, what (if anything) would they have done?

Maybe no more than I'm doing now. Which is all I can do. Maybe I won't be able to do it tomorrow or nine months from now. But for now, it's what I am doing.

28 September 2008

Giving Birth to the Present

Today I got to talk to Millie in passing. I mentioned that I have purchased a ticket to spend Christmas with Mom and Dad. I think I saw a tear well up at the corner of her eye.

I think the only time she was happier for me was when she found out that I'd scheduled my surgery and Mom and Dad said they would accompany me.

That encounter with Millie magnified, for me, a feeling I've had lately. I was further reminded of it when John, her husband, drove me to pick up a few things from the storage cubicle I rent. We were coming back through an industrial area that's was deserted, as it normally is on a Sunday. One of us mentioned that prostitutes frequented the area, which is not surprising. I recalled that during the first year I was living in the neighborhood--as Nick--I was approached on a couple of occasions.

When I said that, I felt as if I were looking at an old, fading photograph of that time, and those occasions. I could tell the most basic facts of the story: that I was approached by the streetwalkers. But I felt as if I were reciting some capsule summary, or an abstract of the narrative.

I recall now one of my professors at Rutgers who described his earliest teaching experience: in a military prep school. He said he taught some young men who would become some of the highest-ranking officers in the Navy. They would write summaries of various literary works, he said, and those summaries are probably all they remember of those works.

In other words, they didn't retain the poetry of the poems they read, or the human beings who are the characters of the novels and plays they were assigned. And the rhythms of the language were long lost, revivable only with a re-reading: something they would probably never do.

That is about as good an analogy I can come up with to describe how much of my previous life seems to me now. I can recall the facts, and I can even recollect some of what I felt. But--please indulge me this cliche--it seems almost as if another person lived through those experiences.

In some sense, it was a different person who lived my life--large parts of it, anyway-- until five years ago. I'm not the only one who thinks that, and I'm sure I'm not the first trans person to say something like that. But it's a disconcerting feeling. I sometimes feel as if Nick was a character I had to create for the sake of the story I was inserted into, and after he served his purpose, I dissolved him.

There came a time about three years into my new life when I mourned him. It didn't seem fair that he had to live parts of my life for me, and he couldn't partake of the happiness I'd found in living by my spirit.

Around the same time, something else began to make sense for me. I understood why I never really had any place to return to--no Garden, if you will. I have never been good about staying in touch with classmates, former co-workers or people I've known from one situation or another. Of course, some people I knew didn't want to remain in touch, or they or I said we would but didn't, for whatever reasons. And quite a few are dead now.

But even when I leave on good terms with supervisors, colleagues or anyone else, I never sustained the relationship. Somehow I always felt that nobody ever knew me, only Yeats' "tattered cloak upon a stick."

Even when I was with Mom and Dad last month, I didn't make any great effort to recall our pasts. It wasn't that being raised by them was so bad: In fact, given our circumstances (e.g., poverty, at least when I was a young child), they were very, very good. I think the fact that Mom and I have talked every week ever since I moved out, more than 30 years ago, says something.

Of course, there is much I wish I didn't have to recall, such as the molestations and other cruelties and violence I experienced--and inflicted. But neither Mom nor Dad was a cause or reason for any of that.

But even some of the more pleasant and recent memories are distant to me now. And, oddly enough, some of the experiences I had during my last couple of years before the transition. They all seem like part of some sort of fever-dream of which one can see only the shadow upon waking.

I haven't completely forgotten all of those episodes of my life. It's just that, at times, when I do talk about any but a few of them, I feel as if I'm relating someone else's experience, or a video of it.

In one way, this has all been good for me: When I'm around anyone who's known me for a long time, I don't try to settle into the past. Bruce and Millie are not simply people who've been in my life for a long time; they're good and kind people who enrich my life now. I say the same thing for Mom and Dad; there were memories in their house in Florida, though not of the kind that I'd have if, say, they'd remained in New Jersey or Brooklyn. But what matters is that they are caring and generous people, and are with me as I am giving birth to my self.

Of course! No one who has ever given birth, by whatever means or in whatever sense, is the same person he or she was before his or her progeny entered the world. Of course Mom would understand something like that; I think even Dad has an inkling of it.

And it also makes sense that my two ex-friends are, well, ex: For them, there is only the past, or at the part of my past which they've expereinced. Same for my brother who's not speaking for me.

The past is what they think they have. All I have, all anyone has, is the moment. It's the only point in time in which anyone can live. For me, that's a relief, really: It makes things easier for me.

27 September 2008

Another Adolescence? Wisdom?

Drizzly and damp. Not quite the stormy day forecast for today. But it's been one of those days that keeps lots of people indoors, or keeps them from straying far from home.

So what did I do today? Laundry. Wrote an article. Cuddled cats. Cooked spaghetti. Real exciting day, huh?

Ironically, this day reminds me of a lot of days in the spring of 2003. It seemed that a lot of days that season were like this. It was my first spring in this neighborhood, after moving out of the place I shared with Tammy in Park Slope. Somehow, the gray, diffuse light was easier to live with than days of endless sun: I had been taking hormones for a few months, and felt raw and vulnerable--and a little scared, as I hadn't yet "come out" to very many people.

And on days like the one that just passed, and this night drizzled by the fine mist in the air, I find myself tending to things that need tending to, within as well as outside me.

Lately, I feel as if another layer of skin has been peeled away. I've been taking hormones for five years now, so I'm not sure it's the reason. Then again, it may be that back in the spring of '03, when I'd been on hormones for a couple of months, my body was reacting to that initial surge of hormones and I was like a child having her first growth spurt. But now, I feel something else is changing in me. I'm not so sure it's physical, although I think my breasts have grown a bit, and I feel that something around--or in--my eyes has become more female, if not more feminine.

A few weeks ago, around the time the semester started, I was feeling more senitive to--more easily hurt by--things people said. Of course, I went through something like this a few months after I started taking hormones. But now I feel like I've come to another level of sensitivity, or something.

It seems that lately, everywhere I look, someone wants to talk with me or some little kid wants to play with me. Sometimes the kids want to talk, too. Like the young girl I met while her mother was having an electrolysis treatment and I was waiting for mine. I had no sooner walked into the door than she introduced herself to me. Jasmine. And she just had to show me a toy that reminds me of the Etch-a-Sketch I had when I was a child. And her story book about race cars and drivers. I'm not sure what the moral of it is, but it was fun to hear her read and misread it.

Somehow I get the feeling I'll see Jasmine again. I don't know why.

It's not just kids, though. I've already had students "come out" to me and tell me about abusive boyfriends, difficulty in a marriage and with finances. One student, whom I'd guess to be about 40, told me about the her partner, whom she lost in the World Trade Center. She told me that to explain the fact she was missed class this 9/11.

Every time I've seen her, she was wearing black. I wonder if she's still in mourning. Even when I saw her smile, she looked kind of sad, though still kind. A few people--including Tammy-- described me that way in the years before I began my transition.

And I'm thinking of the lecture I attended last week at the college. I got in late, as one of my classes ended a few minutes before the lecture began and two students wanted to talk to me afterward. Upon arriving at the lecture hall, I took the nearest still-available seat, which happened to be next to a student I didn't know.

She kept on looking at me and smiling. I had no idea of how to take that. Of course, back in the day, it would've fed my ego: she was pretty. But now...Was she reading me?, I wondered. She seemed like a completely straight, if not narrow-minded, woman: I had a hard time imagining her attracted to other women, straight or otherwise.

Not that I would have acted on such an attraction if it were there, of course. But I quickly realized that it wasn't her attention: She was just a friendly young woman who was being nice.

Are you a professor here?

Yes, I am, I responded.

What do you teach?


Oh, really. Which ones?

I mentioned that I am teaching Business Writing and Composition, but that I have also taught literature and research writing.

How can I get in touch with you?

I gave her my campus e-mail address and telephone number, and showed her where she could find my office.

I would like to see you again, she pleaded.

Of course. Now that you have my information, feel free.

I will. Thank you.

I haven't heard from her yet, but I've a feeling I will. About what, I don't know.

Hey, even cats and dogs I meet outside are walking up to me. It may well be that I'm growing more sensitive, or more understanding, as some people have said about me.

I mean, I'm not anything special or terribly unusual, really. I just wonder if people are sensing something else about me. A college staff member with whom I'm friendly said that I seem "more peaceful, more serene."

Well, yes, even amidst--or maybe because of--the craziness of a typical day, I do feel something calmer within me, within that sensitive skin of mine.

This is really odd, this combination of raw adolelscent nerve endings and the perception of wisdom, or something.

And another sign of change: I'm getting sleepy. G'night

26 September 2008

Passages and the Rain

Rain, again. I mean, tonight. It started last night and has fallen nearly all day. And it's supposed to stop and start again tomorrow.

It's not as windy as the forecasts said it would be. But the wind, of whatever speed, drives the rain into your face, your eyes, and sinks its chill into your skin.

This is definitely the first autumnal rain. This is when you know that summer is really gone, and that any warm, sunny day after that is just an interlude. How they still get away with calling it "Indian Summer," I'll never know.

Somehow, on a cool, rainy, breezy night like this one, it really feels like the season has changed, irrevocably. Why am I making such a big deal of it? Most of this summer wasn't particularly memorable: I did lots of boring work and felt as if I had absolutely no reason to work in education.

But August included the sorts of "little things" that make a difference. At least they do, for me. One was reclaiming, for good (I hope!) my original last name, with the first name I chose for myself because my mother would've given it to me if I'd been born to an "F" on my birth certificate. And I kept my original first name--which is also my father's first name--for my middle name.

This is the first time in my life I've had a middle name. Not that it would matter, except that it's one I've chosen, as I have with my first name.

And, of course, there was the time I spent with Mom and Dad. I guess you could say I felt more like a daughter because they were treating me that way. Maybe that is why I came away from that visit feeling closer to them than I can ever recall feeling. I know it's pointless and even harmful to hold on to feelings, and sometimes even memories. But this one, I really don't want to let go of. It's even better than how I felt after getting my first poem published, or making it to the top of l'Alpe d'Huez, le Col du Galibier, il Colle d'Agnello, Aubisque, Hautaucam or Portillo.

All those climbs were conquests, really. Which, as I've said before, is a form of alienation: The conqueror never becomes a part of what he or she subjugates, and vice-versa.

And this rain, the end of the season, the beginning of a new one: There is no way to conquer these. Maybe that's the reason why I am so affected by them. And by the sea, and all of its rhythms.

Anything that finds its way to my spirit is something learned, truly. Those things called experience are only memory stored in the mind, in the ego. The sort of summer I would have wanted at another time in my life: a bike trip in Europe or days on the beach (which is not the same as being by the sea) would become experience. It's nice, and it's fun to think about sometimes--and, I'll admit, I like to use it for shock value when I tell people about what my life was like before my change.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm glad I have all of those experiences. They have had their positive effects on my life. But now they have passed, as the summer has, as this rain will. And then there will be a new stage, a new season: In this case, autumn. My last autumn (My last fall?--Would that it could be!) before the surgery.

And how will this autumn end? With my students taking exams--and another visit to my parents. I bought the ticket to Florida last night. Going on the afternoon of Christmas Eve; returning on the morning of New Year's Eve. Those weren't the travel dates I'd hoped to have, but with the schedule I have, there is no other choice. At least the fare isn't higher than it would've been if I'd gone on the 22nd and returned on the 29th, as I'd hoped I could.

Whatever, as some of my students would say. I don't know what this season will bring, save for some rain and some sun. And I know, if not how it will end, what occasion will mark another passage into another season.

21 September 2008


This cold. Yeah, it's all about that now. This cold, and the way my nose feels like someone poured epoxy into it and stuffed it with brown paper. I've been feeling drowsy, so I haven't gotten much of anything done.

But I did something interesting this afternoon. Millie and I went to a dance program at the LaGuardia College Theatre. My friend Michiyo Tamaka, a.k.a. Tami, choreographed a few pieces in which there's a wide range of music and visual imagery. And the dancers are of varying shapes and colors.

In one of the pieces, "Compartments," a particularly expressive African-American dancer shows the ways in which fitting in, and the pressure to do so, can warp our senses as well as our bodies. At the beginning of the dance, there are four cube/boxes that look like the milk crates we used to use for dorm furniture would look if their sides were solid rather than perforated. Those cubes--the compartments--were yellow, red, blue and purple. And, on a rack a few feet across the room hang dresses in each of those colors, and another in green.

When she enters the room, she's wearing a black bikini of the same kind of cut worn by the beach volleyball players in the Olympics. In her frenzy to--I'm not sure of what, and maybe that's how it's supposed to be--she tosses takes each of the dresses, except the green one, off its hanger and tosses it into the compartment of its color.

Then, she panics over what to do with the green dress, which is also longer and gauzier than the others. She tries to put it on, but it curls, snags and in every way defies her. When she finally pulls the hem down past her waist and to her knees, she clasps herself at her breasts, as if someone had seen her naked. And, after she turns around to walk out, we see that the dress is bunched up in the rear, exposing the rear of her bikini bottom.

Displacement. Trying to find a place. Trying to fit into. Sounds like the story of my life, or much of it, anyway. Trying to fit into the right compartment, the right box, only to find that you can't fit any of them. And then you try to fit something someone hands down to you, and that doesn't work, either.

That's how it is when you're transgendered, at least until you "come out." Then, at least you have some chance of finding a place where you can fit in--or better yet, of creating it.

Maybe that's why I always loved hearing and reading the stories of immigrants, of strangers in strange lands. I have been what most people think of as l'etrangere at various times in my life when I was living in another culture--that is to say, speaking another language--from my own. But even when I was with people who communicated in all of the ways I understood, and whose backgrounds mirrored my own, I felt like l'etrangere, the outsider.

And sometimes I really got into a frenzy over trying to fit in. Those compartments, no matter how big or what shape they were, never seemed to fit. And even when I covered myself, physically or metaphorically, I felt naked and exposed and wanted to run for cover.

I ran, and the only shelter I found were those comparments. That is exactly what those compartments were, and all they could ever be. They could not be homes, no matter what I or anyone else did to them.

So here I am, out of the compartment. At least you don't have to worry about fitting into the open air. And that is exactly the reason why sometimes it seems overwhelming: Freedom always is when you've known only dysmorphia and claustrophobia. The thing is, when you have only those conditions, you think they're your normality, which means you can't see them for what they are.

Out of the compartment and into the flesh, toward the spirit--my own, of course.

Could it be that leaving compartments that don't fit anymore (if they ever did) is the first requirement for giving birth to one's self?

Well, now that cold has got me in its grip. I'm really tired now. Back to a compartment--my bedroom, which is just barely big enough for the bed on which I can spread myself while I'm dreaming or otherwise escaping from compartments.

20 September 2008

A Cold at the Speed of Light

Today my sinuses are more toxic than the Jersey swamps. Fell asleep for a couple of hours late this afternoon, woke up to blow my nose again. And to continue blowing every few minutes.

Forget those financial stocks: In the condition I'm in, you should buy shares of Kleenex. I take that back: I'm using Marcal tissues. Nothing against Kleeenex; just that Marcal costs less.

What will Google Ad Sense make of this? I still haven't gotten a check from them!

The weird thing about this is that even though I'm moving slowly, I don't feel that the world is moving quickly, in spite of everything that's in the news. It's like the unofficial slogan of the 1992 campaign: It's the economy, stupid. Investment banking firms are failing; the government is making token gestures (Really, that's all they can be) to save AIG.

They say this is the worst crisis since the Great Depression. Which means that it's news to anyone who didn't live through it, or any of the recent cycles in the economy. It's always the same thing, really: Lots of people putting their money into the same things, thinking the price can only go up and that they can continue to make money forever. Then one day, someone realizes that it won't, and the cards come tumbling down. People lose money, naturally, and many of them think that they were cheated out of their "right" to keep on milking the cash cow.

Now I'm no economist. But I know this: A thing is only worth what someone is able and willing to pay for it. There's no natural law that says House X is worth $800,000 or whatever, or that the value of it should continue to increase the moment I buy it. (As if I can, now!) If the money's not there, or people don't want to spend it, there's no way the price can increase.

Maybe this is the reason I never became an economist (aside from my utter lack of aptitude in such areas as mathematics). People don't grasp fundamental lessons or learn from mistakes, or even experience. If I'd understood that earlier in my life, I might never have become a teacher, either.

Anyway...The news is like a video playing in real time. Other things are proceeding at warp speed. Or so it seems.

Like this day. Not that it was so wonderful (or bad, either). It's well, Saturday, and as such is a day off. Except that I had to be sick and run a couple of errands. But Saturdays almost always go quickly anyway.

So has the time since I began this blog, and since I scheduled my surgery. The recent past seems to have gone by faster than a taxi you're trying to hail when it's raining. Five years since I began living full-time as Justine: It seems as if it began only yesterday, even though I feel as if I've lived entire lifetimes during those brief years. Whenever someone asks how long it's been, he or she is invariably surprised that it was "so little time" or "so recent." I've been on this planet for fifty years, but this part of my life is only a tenth of that total. And it seems to have gone by so quickly.

Naturally, time does go quicker when we get older. But I think that these five years have been further accelerated by my knowledge that I have fewer and fewer years left and my increasingly intense desire to live them--a desire fueled, in large part, by the changes I've made.

I don't have the physical strength or endurance I once had. That is due to my increasing age as well as the effects of the hormones I've been taking. But when you feel young, strong and invincible, there are things you don't notice. Like the ones who want you to love them, and who challenge you to love and be loved. I'm not referring only to romantic or sexual love, though they are outcomes of what I'm talking about. I also mean the ones whom you don't expect to become friends, allies and teachers.

Feeling--and sometimes falling to--my vulnerabilities has forced me to see the video, if you will, at the speed of its own light rather than through the illusion that I can or must run at, or faster than, its pace. I can't keep up with the light, much less see it at its own speed, when my focus is on making myself fit for such a task.

And so things go, at the speed of light. I hope my cold does the same!

19 September 2008

No Choice But Both

So now I've about nine months and two and a half weeks until the surgery. So many metaphors, analogies and images present themselves to me about this time, and the coming months.

The funny thing is that I haven't been thinking much about the surgery itself. Sometimes, someone who knows about my situation will ask me whether I'm nervous, excited, or have some other feeling about it. The truth is that I feel all and none of those things, everything and nothing at all, all at once.

The thing is, the operation itself is really the hardest part of this whole process to imagine. I mean, for one thing, I'll be knocked out, so who knows what I'll experience. Will it just be blackness, or whiteness (as in Jose Saramago's Blindness)? Will I have dreams--And if I do, will they be any different from the ones I've had before? Or will they be different? More intense--or more banal(!)? Or will I have some kind of out-of-body experience?

I've had only one other surgery in my life: for a deviated septum, back in March of 1994. And, frankly, about all that I remember about the surgery itself was a Russian woman named Abromovitz who introduced herself and rasped, "I will be your anaesthesiologist."

"You're an anaesthesiologist?"

"Y-eee-s..." She looked baffled.

"So you put people to sleep for a living?"

"I do."

"So do I."

"Are you anaesthesiologist, too?"

"Oh, no. I'm an English professor."

At least I got to fall asleep to some laughter. Will that happen when I go for "the" surgery? Will I want that? Will I need it?

It won't make a difference, really. Once I'm out, I'm out. And, barring any problems, the surgery will begin.

But I have such a hard time imagining it. I know it won't be like the surgery to repair my deviated septum. But what else is even a remote comparison?

Maybe the fact that I can't imagine it is the reason why I feel a little nervous , and probably will feel more so as the date looms near, but I don't feel afraid. Somehow I wouldn't mind remaining in this frame of mind right up until I'm lying on the hospital table.

So what do I do now? I imagine what I'll be like after the surgery: I can even more or less envision (What's an emotional equivalent to this?) what a "new" orgasm will feel like. Or how my body might change in other, more subtle ways. And how I expect to feel more complete and more whole than I have ever felt. About that last one: The surgery won't accomplish that all by itself, of course: It will simply be a culmination of all of the things I've done, and that have happened to me, along the way.

That's about as much as I can say about it right now. So there's the present and future. For the latter, there are images, because all I can do is imagine it--even though, somehow, I can draw a clearer picture of it than I can of the surgery itself. In some ways, it will be like the past five years: the time I have spent living as a woman. I'll be using the same bathrooms and dressing rooms. I'm guessing that those who accept me as a woman now will continue to do so after my surgery. And those who don't--well, I'm not sure I'd want them, and if they decided to accept me afterward, I'm not sure I'd reciporicate.

As for the present: This is where the metaphors and analogies come in. Sometimes I see a train that's about to be taken out of service and is making its final runs, or a ship on its last voyages before it is decommissioned. You might call me a "lame duck" man, serving out "his" time until he "becomes" a woman.

But at the same time, there are so many things I want to do. I don't want to wait until after my surgery to get my novel published. And I don't want to put off any creative project, no matter how big it is and how long it may take to complete. But I also don't want to wonder what's next after the surgery: I want to leave myself something to look forward to--apart from having had the surgery and gotten into a nice feminine female portrait.

Waiting or doing? I have no choice but both.

16 September 2008

Boy or Girl? Black or White?

Today a student who missed class last Thursday showed up. The first time I saw her, I took a liking to her: She seemed like an intelligent and sincere person. I also had the sense she wanted to talk with me about something that had nothing to do with the class.

Today she did that and confirmed my first impression of her. She started off by apologizing for missing class: She was shuttling between New York and Philadelphia, where her grandmother is being treated for cancer.

After we discussed her assignment, we proceeded to chat. She mentioned that she transferred from St. Lawrence University, in far upstate New York. That school is 97% white and gay people aren't "out." Furthermore, fundamentalist Christian groups have a heavy influence on the college.

Well, she's not only gay--which not everyone there knew about--she's also Hispanic. In a world such as that college, as she said, "It's not black-and-white. It's white and non-white."

In the middle of her only semester on the campus, she found a noose attached to her dorm-room door. Attached to the noose was a note that read, "Your kind don't belong here."

As calmly as she related this story to me, I was on edge and my skin was crawling. She talked about it further, and said that after she came back, she "came out" to family members. Her father and one of her brothers have disowned her; her mother and her mother's preacher-boyfriend think they can shock, pray, cajole or otherwise exorcise this "demon" in her. Probably the best reaction she got was from her pre-pubescent younger brother who simply doesn't understand why she's not interested in dating boys.

Well, as tenuous as my own situation at the college is, I realized how fortunate I am in the rest of my life. Yes, I lost two friends (of course, they weren't really) and one of my brothers isn't speaking to me. But my other two are and, as you know, my parents want to accompany me to my surgery and to let me stay with them as I'm recovering from it. And Bruce, my longest-standing friend (almost 30 years now!) and Millie, whom I met just as I was starting my transition, have been the best friends anyone could want.

I then understood something Sonia told me once: that I have a lot of resources, which include what I've mentioned as well as my talents, skills and education. And, really, what else can I do with them but to help people like that young woman, or people even less fortunate than she is?

I remember reading that Matthew Shepard wanted to do that.

14 September 2008

Passing Through

Sometimes silly things make my day. Like the guy I passed while riding down Cross Bay Boulevard in Howard Beach. He was even more weatherbeaten than the bike he was riding, but still had some of that raw sensuality you sometimes see in ex-hippies, or men who look like they lived in the mountains and didn't care what people think of their facial hair. In other words, he was like a somewhat-less-glamorous version of Jerry Garcia, before he was destroyed by drugs.

As I pedalled alongside , for a moment, he said "hello."

"Hi. How are you doin'?"

"Not as good as you look, babe!"

OK. So he wasn't that waiter in that restaurant where Bruce and I had lunch the other day. I can't even say I was attracted to the guy, or that I was consciously flirting with him. But I figure that even if he says things like that to anyone who looks even remotely female, I'll take it.

Now, there's nothing like that first time you pass. And before you start to live the life of your real gender, you're grateful for those moments when someone calls you by your preferred pronouns and salutations, holds a door or simply doesn't notice you. Now I more or less take those things for granted. But a compliment from a stranger, even if he wouldn't make me forget Dominick, is always welcome.

The funny thing is that I almost never feel that I look good, much less pretty or beautiful, but I often feel proud of the person I see in the mirror now. Even in my darker moments I see a certain calm that was never there before, and people have told me they see "gentleness" in my face and eyes. Even when I'm in selling "to hell with it all" at work or in any other situation, someone tells me--without saying it--that I'm better than that; I don't do misanthropy terribly convincingly.

But I think that guy on the bike saw just a blonde pumping her legs and sweating. As I've said before, that's enough for some guys.

The first time someone calls you "Ma'am" or "Miss(!)". Or calls you those silly-cutesy names like "cupcake" or "doll." Or "mamacita." Even the first time someone calls you "bitch" is a milestone.

Of course, I'd probably feel differently if I'd been living as a woman, and dealing with men who see me as an object, all of my life. Now that I think of it, I don't know how I've come to this point after having been molested as a boy by three men (at different times).

Actually, now that I think of it, I know how I got here: I dealt with the abuse. This process has taken me many years, and getting to the point of starting that process took much, much longer.

Now I know that while men can do all sorts of brutual and awful things, I also know that the kind, considerate and sensitive men I know are not aberrations.

When you know them, you only have to be who you are. And other people respond to that.

Hey, maybe that's what "passing" is. And people--many, anyway--treat you well as you're passing through.

13 September 2008

X and Y on a Quiet Saturday

A slow day today, as they say. Should I complain or boast about that? Probably not. It just turned out that way, and I needed it.

Why? So I could get stuff done, of course! Like laundry. And going to the farmer's market on Roosevelt Island. And cleaning up.

So slow days are for getting things done, and rush hours are when trains crawl and traffic comes to a standstill. I'm so glad I became an English teacher!

And what else did I get done today? Sleep. I even took a longer-than-intended nap. Actually, I didn't intend the nap at all. But I was nodding off in my chair, so I figured it was time.

On days like this, there is no past or future. I begin to understand why so many people live through what I like to call the Eternal Present. It's entirely different from living in the moment, or even for it. EP is, as near as I can tell, a continuation of some life you were handed and were taught never to question. Sometimes I think it's what causes people to get married and have kids, and goad you into doing the same even though they can't tell you why.

All right. I'm not going to re-write Macbeth's "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow" soliloquy, as great as it is. While life may be as banal as Macbeth seems to see it after one too many killings, I don't want to become that cynical about it. I mean, I'm never cynical, are I? Just ask anyone who knows me.

Anyway, I find myself now thinking again about how living as Justine has changed my perceptions of time. Of course, after you've changed your name and gender, you can't see life in the same way again, so EP is simply not possible. Some trans people I know have essentially revised their pasts: "When I was a little girl," etc.

Perhaps you think I've done the same thing in seeing my past experience as having been lived by Justine. Actually, there's a difference. I don't try to act as though I haven't experienced anything that I have experienced, and I don't turn all of my male experiences into female ones. I can no more deny that I have been an altar boy, Boy Scout and Army reservist than I can say that I had my first period when I was twelve years old. A former friend cites that last fact as "proof" that I am not, and have never been or will be, a "real" woman. This former friend is, simply, the female counterpart to the Angry White Man (remember him?): She thinks everyone else in the world got special privileges and favors she should have had because, well, she is and they're not her.

She has a Ph.D. in Gender Studies. Now do you wonder why I don't want to pursue anything like that?

No, I did not live as a girl or a woman until five years ago. But I feel that I have every right to say that Justine did all those things most people would still attribute to Nick. One reason is that my mother would have named me Justine had I not been born Nick. (She told me that when I was about fourteen years old, in another context.) So, in a sense, I have simply given my real name to my old experience.

You see, being Justine is not only about gender or sex: it's much more basic. The latter is mainly a matter of genitalia and actual (or perceived) body shape; my identity as Justine is at the level of all the fluids that make up a body. According to the tests I had before I started taking hormones, my estrogen level was almost three times as high as what's normal for a man. While that's still much lower than what any woman has naturally, it was enough to affect my perception of myself without my even knowing why or how.

But even that is not the whole story. Of course, if you go deep enough, you find my maleness: the X and Y chromosome. That will not change. However, I feel that, in me, those two chromosomes were always at war, and I gave all the ammunition I could to Y.

So there were X and Y, going at it with each other, while my body fluids--and my emotions--were rising and ebbing, just like the tides, to the moon.

I suppose the conflict will always be there. All I know is that it had a lot to do with making me Justine, even before I took that name and began to live by it. Even when I was out of place and time, I was Justine.

And today Justine had a quiet Saturday, sort of like the ones she had when she was a boy.

12 September 2008

Lunch With Bruce, 30 Years Later

Today I went to lunch with Bruce at SoHo Natural, a restaurant around the corner from his workplace. We'd gone there once before and liked the food and ambience; today, the latter was a bit different as the place was more crowded and louder. But that didn't stop us from enjoying our food and each other's company.

It also didn't keep me from enjoying the waiter's, um, professionalism and service. Well, he was a really good waiter: He was helpful yet unobtrusive. But I wouldn't have minded if he'd been a little more obstructive.

We glanced into each others' eyes the moment he started to walk us to the corner table where he seated us. And he gave me one of the most winsome smiles I have ever seen.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Bruce grin knowingly while my eyes followes that waiter's stocky yet nicely-proportioned body to the kitchen. And when he returned, he was practically cooing when he apologized that the restaurant didn't have any more tilapia filets for the dish I'd ordered. So, back to the reception area to bring back the menu. Another opportunity to do some, er, sightseeing.

If the boy next door had been a cross between a surfer, a New Zealand rugby player and a classical actor, he would've been this waiter. I don't know how he was seeing me, but I think I looked pretty good (at least for me) in my long flared Victorian/hippie floral print skirt in various shades of purple with a sort of parchment hue, my purple camisole and cardigan and a long scarf with bands of lavender, lilac and violet. I twiddled my rope-wedge sandals by their violet canvas cross-straps as Bruce and I talked and ate--and that waiter and I played stare-tag.

After he brought us our check, I turned to Bruce. His knowing smile had become even more knowing.

"He's cute," I cooed.

Bruce nodded. I've known him for close to 30 years, and I don't think he's ever heard me say something that was more obvious. "The moment we walked in here, I could see you were attracted to him."

"You won't hear any denials out of me. Just don't tell Dominick," I deadpanned.

Now I'm thinking of all those times he and I went to restaurants, galleries, theatres, stores, parks and a beach and looked at women. Sometimes we liked the same ones; other times one of us noticed someone completely different from whom the other saw. But deep down, I knew that he had more passion for his attractions to women than I ever would. Not to say he was obsessed; he simply was, well, straight--albeit a sensitive and gentle straight--man while I have always been, as he said, "uncategorizable" and my sexuality has always been "fluid."

In other words, he--like my mother--knew that I wasn't a straight guy. They knew that long before I came out to them--to my mother as gay simply because I didn't know how else to describe myself, and to Bruce as bisexual because I was trying to hold on to the myth I told myself about my heterosexuality. And, of course, much later, I would tell each of them the truth.

And it brought me to that visit I had with Mom and Dad last month. And to lunch with Bruce, where he caught me in the act...of flirting with a guy.

One thing hasn't changed: The hugs Bruce and I give each other upon meeting and departing. Wait, I take that back: I enjoy them even more now. They feel even more tender than they did before my transition. I don't know whether it has anything to do with my gender. But I can tell you this: I appreciate his friendship now in ways I never could before.

And I guess if it could survive all the mendacity on my part, well, we really are friends. He helped me to get to where I am now.

And, ya know, he's cute, too. But he's taken. And so am I. But we're still friends. It seems so much deeper yet safer now.

11 September 2008

Running Away

This morning I pedalled to work under skies overcast with herringbone clouds that, paradoxically, posed no threat of rain. The air was pleasantly cool, so I hardly worked up a sweat even though I was dodging and racing taxicabs, minivans and assorted other vehicles driven by people taking kids, stuff or themselves to school or work.

In some ways, it's the most pleasant kind of weather condition for cycling: neither heat nor sun saps moisture from your body. And, I would be tempted to ride without my sunglasses, even though my opthamologist says I should wear them any time I'm outdoors during daylight hours.

So why am I mentioning the ride and weather conditions? Somehow, this morning in particular gave me what I like to call a sense-memory. Such recollections are not about specific people or things; they are more about what I felt--whether in spirit or body--at the time I'm recalling.

Today, in my mind, I was riding along the ocean again--on a late-summer day some time after graduating college and living away for a couple of years. I believe it was the briskness of the air against my skin that brought me back to that day.

I had gone to visit my parents--my mother, really, as my father and I were barely talking to each other. They were living in New Jersey, and the ocean was only a few miles from their house. I often took that ride, along a none-too-fashionable (but I didn't care, still don't) stretch of the now-famous Jersey Shore.

I reached the ocean from the bridge at Highlands, just south of Sandy Hook. There, only a couple hundred yards (or meters, for all of you non-Americans) of land seperate the ocean from the Shrewsbury River, which empties into the New York Bay and the ocean at Sandy Hook. When you cross from the ocean to the river, there are only a beach, a seawall, two lanes of Route 36 and a row of houses. This little strip of land extends down to Sea Bright, where the Shrewsbury turns from being an inland river to an estuary that opens to the sea.

You ride down 36 through Sea Bright, Sea Girt, Elberon and a couple of other towns before you reach Long Branch. As you proceed, the expanse of land to your right side grows: Here you are on flat land that ends in the sea rather than a mere shoestring of sand and rock seperating one shore from another. The houses stretch further along the horizon: less weatherbeaten than the ones in Sea Bright and Elberon, but--at least in those days--dingier and sadder-looking. Then, finally, you'd see the sign for the Carter Hotel--Johnny Cash's East Coast pied-a-terre and the unofficial city limit of Asbury Park.

In those days, it was still Springsteen's Asbury Park, only more run down. The boardwalk/arcade was all splinters and spattered glass; even the gaily-painted wooden carousel could not make it less forlorn. (If you see Louis Malle's Atlantic City, you will get a sense of how the place felt in those days.) People went there--much less took their kids--only if they couldn't afford someplace else, or had no one to go with them.

At that time, I fit in the latter category. Of course: Why would anyone want to accompany someone who finds comfort in melancholy? All right, I stole the last three words of the previous sentence from Joni Mitchell, but they're an accurate description of how I lived in those days. I rode there at such a pace that I couldn't tell my skin from my sweat from the breeze from the spray of the ocean. I still love that feeling; that is more or less how I was riding this morning (without the ocean or salt air). I was riding as if I was riding as fast and as far as I could, from something...something that I would never talk about with anyone.

Really, running away that way isn't so different from an escape through alcohol, drugs , sex or saying "Fuck You!" when your purpose is, well, running away. Some people do it with their jobs or careers; others (or sometimes those same people) with their families. And, of course, there are those who do it with sports or other forms of competition.

The method doesn't matter as much as the motive, which in my case was mendacity. I had to run not only from who I am, but also from who I presented to everyone else. I guess I was living a myth whose storyline was something from the Allman Brothers' Midnight Rider: I owned nothing; I owed nothing and nobody would--or could--catch me. There are days when I still miss living out that fantasy.

And that is exactly the reason I miss it: because it's a fantasy. Those emotional Edens to which people want to return are never as pristine as they are in memory. Or, in my case, I wasn't nearly as fierce and independent (much less fiercely independent) as I imagined myself to be. I was not flying free as a bird; the wind whipped me around like a kite.

But this morning I had something to go to: my job, which is, of course, to teach people how to write. (Of course I don't tell them that I'm still learning how to do that myself!) And I was riding briskly because I wanted to get there with time to spare while still having time to stop at a bakery and pick up something to eat when I got there. Which I did--just in time to see a woman about my age pulling sfogliatelle, sfingi, croissants and other pastries out of the oven at La Scala bakery on Grand Avenue in Maspeth. I bought a half-dozen of those nice sfogliatelle--a seashell-shaped flaky pastry filled with ricotta and egg and touches of lemon and vanilla. It's exactly what I'd want for my last dessert. Or breakfast. I knew I wasn't going to eat six, but, as I joked with the woman, "I'm going to teach those people at work what real food is!"

I had no particular reason for buying those sfogliatelli I brought to the office. I just, well, felt like it. Funny, how that's something you say when you're running away. But, I believe, the fact that I was buying those sfogliatelli and had someone to bring them to was a sign that I wasn't running away, at least not from what I used to run from or in quite the same ways I used to run.

And, even though I didn't get nearly enough sleep last night, I was practically bursting with energy when I entered that first classroom at 8 am. And the students, as tired as they were, responded to it.

Maybe I learned something besides a couple of languages and a couple dozen sexual positions from running away, after all: If you settle down because you are who you are and can (and don't want to) be a
anyone else, people actually do respond. They don't have to know that running away brought me to them!

Not to mention that I learned how to cook a few things, fix bikes and--to the degree that I know how to do it--write. Worse things have happened, but I now have better reasons not to keep on running. But pedalling as if I'm running away is still the best way to go.

So that's how I got to work today. And here.

07 September 2008

After Yesterday, Being and Becoming

What does a gender transition do to your sense of time? More to the point, does it change the way you see your past as well as your present?

These are questions Mark, who also became a full-time prof this year, asked me a couple of days ago.

I don't recall how the topic came up--or, indeed, what the topic, if any, there was to our conversation. All I remember now is that he was asking about this blog, which he's looked at, and suggested some ways in which it might be useful.

He wondered about how I see myself in relation to the events, past and present in my life. I said that of course I see myself now as Justine, and in the narrative that runs through my head, Justine is talking to someone, Justine just finished a class, Justine is eating her lunch, Justine is riding her bike, etc.

But somewhere along the way, the story became one of Justine attending high school and college, taking those trips to France and Italy and England and California, even the ones during which I was living on my bike. Maybe it's because when I was away, something in me was freed up and I became more approachable. And the glimmerings of my caring, curiosity, passion and vulnerability all came through. In other words, I felt more as if I were relating to those complete strangers (mostly) I met through my emotions and nuance rather than power and persuasion. Actually, those forces were always at the core of my being, whichever name I was going by.

The stories of my interactions with people I lived, talked, ate, drank, fought and loved--and had sex--with now also have Justine as their protagonist. Justine grew up with three brothers, even though they saw her as their brother--albeit, one not quite like them. Justine went to college, worked at all kinds of jobs--the strange ones, the odd ones, the frustrating ones, the boring ones, the challenging ones and the stimulating ones. Justine in the military; Justine teaching in the Orthdox Yeshiva and serving as an altar boy at her brother's First Holy Communion mass and some relatives' weddings.

And the friend Bruce has had for nearly three decades has always been Justine, whether I was scared, stubborn, wishing long, working hard or anything else. And especially when I was feeling vulnerable and he helped, and sometimes even protected, me.

All right. You probably think I'm reinforcing 1950's gender roles by saying that. However, the best men are vulnerable, in good ways. So are the best women. And sometimes it takes a vulnerable man--or woman-- to protect a seemingly strong and imperterbable human being.

But I now realize, after a conversation I had with him the other day, that the reason why I've been his friend all of these years is because I am Justine, and always have been. I simply didn't have that name yet, and wasn't living by that identity, for most of the years he's known me.

Really, I could say the same thing about my entire life. Even when I wasn't presenting myself as Justine, I was. Even when I didn't have my name, I was her. Even--perhaps especially--when I was very, very young.

Of course, as my mother understood the day I "came out" to her, that was the source of many difficulties I've had, and caused other people, in my life. As she very astutely realized, knowing I am one person but living as someone else was a major--if not the major--reason for all those realationships I had that never worked out. Or my inability to settle on anything, or make up my mind about day-to-day matters. And, of course, of my drinking and drug abuse.

But something of me always came through, I think. I remember Tammy telling me that it was that person to whom her relatives who liked me were responding, even though I kinda sorta acted like one of the guys. And then there was something Amy, a teacher I met when I was doing poetry workshops with kids.

We met at one of the schools where I was conducting those workshops--one of them with her third-grade class. I found her to be funny, intelligent and interested in all things French. And we became who we are after similar sorts of backgrounds in blue-collar Brooklyn neighborhoods.

Anyway, I went to dinner, movies and plays with her. We even went shopping: She claimed that I picked better clothes for her than she chose for herself! And we shared confidences.

Seeing this as a possible opportunity for "redemption" as a man, I asked her out. I will never forget her response:

Well, Nick, I like you a lot. A lot. You're very kind and considerate, and one of the most intelligent people I've ever met. But that kind of relationship between us would never work. Please, don't take this the wrong way, but you're really more like a woman: You're emotional and you like refinement. I like those things about you. But I don't necessarily want them in a man.

If she'd only called me "Justine," she would've had me pegged perfectly. Of course, I didn't want to acknowledge that at the time.

We met a few more times after that, then disappeared from each others' lives. I wonder where she is now. Then again, I'm not entirely sure that she'd want to be friends with me now, possibly because I'm even more Justine than I was back then.

Sometimes I think that my mother knew who I was even though she was raising me as a boy, mainly because neither she nor anyone else would've known what else to do in those days. Tammy once remarked that my relationship to my mother--and, in some ways, to my father--was more like that of a daughter. One thing I can say is that my relationship with them is different from anything my brothers had.

And now they have Justine, completely. It's all I ever could've been, really.

06 September 2008

Boy to Man, Man to Woman, Woman to Man, Woman to Woman

Hanna brought us buckets and buckets of rain today. At times, you could just barely see ahead of you because the rain was so dense. But it wasn't as windy as the forecasters expected; it seems that, as miserable as the weather has been here, the storm actually dissipated most of its power after leaving Haiti.

This afternoon, during a seeming lull in the rain, I took a walk down the couple of blocks to the bridge that connects this neighborhood with Roosevelt Island. That bridge looks like two birds some kids built with their Erector sets (I had one of those when I was a kid: The irony is almost too thick!) and painted by whoever painted the Golden Gate Bridge, after they got misanthropic and drunk in their old age (or drunk on the misanthropy of their old age). Therein lies the charm of the structure.

That, and the fact that it spans the so-called East River. I say so-called because it's really an inlet of the ocean. Why does that matter? Well, sometimes, when you cross over the bridge, the water under you seems to be running south (downtown to us New Yorkers) toward the Brooklyn Bridge, the tip of Manhattan and the Upper New York Bay. But, at other times, it's surging in the opposite direction: toward the Triboro Bridge, the Bronx and Long Island Sound. In other words, it's not a river current, it's a tide from the ocean.

Anyway, one of the things I like about the bridge is that, well, it's a part of this place. And it connects this place to Roosevelt Island, which might well be the oddest part of New York. One can't walk, pedal or drive to Manhattan from it, although it's just as close to the island as my neighborhood in Queens is. And the people who live there are not like other New Yorkers. In fact, most of them are not New Yorkers at all, literally and spiritually. Many work for the UN or other international organizations and come from just about every country you can think of. But they are different from other immigrants because they neither live in enclaves with people who share their native culture (as immigrants do in other parts of the city) nor are assimilated as New Yorkers. They are possibly, at once, the most urbane and the most xenophobic of all New York City residents.

Anyway, I sometimes go there on Saturday mornings for the farmer's market. However, I woke up late today, and by the time I got there this afternoon, it was gone. Or maybe they didn't hold it today. But at least the post office, which stays open until 4 pm on Saturdays, was available. So I went in to mail a package.

It's a bit like a small-town post office: The employees seem to know everyone on the island. They also know, or at least recognize me, for I've gone there a number of times. They're among the friendlier postal employees I've encountered.

Today Mora, born in this city of Puerto Rican parents, helped me. It was a slow day, so we chatted a bit as she weighed and stamped my package. As so often happens in conversations, one topic led to another and she was telling me about the physical abuse she suffered from her first husband.

"How are you doing now?"

"Better. That was a long time ago. But it took a long time for me to do anything about it. "

"You felt guilty?"

She nodded. "He said he loved me. I thought that's how he expressed his love. But it got really bad..."

"Until you realized that someone who loves you wouldn't do anything like that."

Another nod. "That's what my friends, my mother, my therapist told me. But it took me a long time to pay attention."

"Well, you did, and here you are."

"I cried a lot."

"That's how we work through those things."

Her eyes lit up. "Yeah! Men just hold things in until they explode. Or they tell you everything's OK until they beat you. We let it out."

"We don't have a choice, really."

She looked at me, seeming to agree without knowing why. Or perhaps she knew exactly why, or didn't need to know why--or simply to explain, which many people, particularly in the academic world, confuse with understanding. We both knew exactly what she was talking about, even though I came to that knowledge in a way that was probably very different from hers.

It seems that the longer I live as a woman--and now, the closer I come to my surgery--the more I find myself in unsolicited sessions like the one I had today. Before my transition, a few women told me of abuse, rape or other forms of violence from the men or boys in their lives. Two girlfriends--including my last--related stories of incest. Four others, of rape. And all except one told me they'd been beaten or otherwise abused by men or boys they knew before me.

Even as angry as I was in those days, they told me their stories--or something of them, anyway. And a few other women related such experiences to me. I don't know whether they would've told anyone who was in my place or they simply saw me as a male who could, at least to some degree, empathise. Actually, I was relating to their anger through my own, and turning those experiences into yet more rationale for my rage.

But now I seem to have more of these conversations, and somehow I feel as the women who tell me such stories are relating them to me as a peer. I guess I first noticed this when, just days apart, Sonia, Millie and my mother rued, to one degree or another, the lives they've led. Sonia said the two things that disappointed her were her marriage and daughter; Millie said she married a good man but wouldn't do it again; Mom says she might get married but she would definitely still have kids, though fewer of them (She had four.) at a later age than she did.

Of course, they all know about my transition. But I don't think Mora does. And I'm not sure about the other women whose stories I've heard. Whatever they know or think, I do feel for them, and can understand how they feel. Whatever the pain, we experience--and respond to--it in similar ways now, I think.

05 September 2008

Anxiety or Anger?

Got to the luncheon for new full-time faculty members late. Real late. As in 1:30 for something that started at 12:00 and ended at 2:00. There's nothing in my job description that says I'm supposed to go to things like that. But I figured that I'd better make at least an appearance.

Talk about bad timing! I came in as the provost was on the podium. So it was really hard to go unnoticed. And I all but tripped over the college president. And my department chair.

Oh well. If I don't have this job next year I guess I'll just have to...

How will I follow that ellipsis? Well, if I knew, do you think I'd've ended the sentence with it?

Anyway, even after all of the teaching I've done, I don't like to talk to large (or sometimes even small) groups of people. And the provost--who, I learned at that moment, knows my name!--called on me and asked me to talk about my (professional) self for half a minute.

Now, these days I really don't want to talk about myself with anyone who's known me for less than five years. I just don't see the point of it. I'd rather slink off into a corner and read, write or try out a new computer skill.

I heard one new prof talk about all the professional societies he belongs to, all the scholarly articles he's written and conferences he's chaired. My writing is, of course, not of the scholarly kind, and I haven't done all those other things academicians are supposed to do--except teach.

Actually, I'm not misanthropic or anti-social. In the right situations, I actually enjoy talking with people. I just don't like to be forced into it, especially with large groups of people who, it seems, aren't actually listening to what I say but are sizing me up.

And then I had to be part of a group picture. I probably wouldn't even have minded that so much, except that the person I most distrust in the college was taking the shot.

Who is she? The editor of the college newspaper. I will say that it is better than other campus papers I've seen. But the fact that, under her editorship, the paper has won awards gives her a standing with the administation that a low-level instructor like me doesn't have.

I learned that last year, when I complained about her to the administration of the college. For a year before that, she'd been stalking me and trying to get me to sit with her for an interview with me--about the fact that I'm transgender. Yes, she said that. Now, why would I want anyone to write an article solely about that aspect of me?

Then, toward the end of the year, she stopped me in the hallway to say that "someone"--she wouldn't say who, but I have some ideas as to who he/she might be--told her I was getting fired from my old job for sexual misconduct. Of course, she wouldn't tell me who, or what she wanted to know from me. I told her "It's not true." But she persisted. Finally, I snapped. "If you don't leave me alone--and if my name appears in that paper, for any reason at all--you will regret it."

Of course, the administration defended her on the grounds of "free speech" or some such thing. But doesn't the person being stalked or slandered have rights, too?

I dunno. Maybe it's a good thing all of this is happening. Then, after my surgery, I won't have--or be able-- to look back wistfully at this time.

OK, so I'm being faceitous. It's really not a bad weapon for dealing with stuff like this.

And, after the surgery, I probably won't see most of the people who were at that luncheon. Or that editor: She'll have graduated by then.

04 September 2008

4 septembre

Monday the 1st--Labor Day--was the "unofficial" last day of summer. But today, the 4th of September, might be the first real day of fall, though you wouldn't know it from the weather we've had. The date sounds like the first day of fall, and you can practically see the skies growing dimmer and the days shorter when you hear of it. And the way most of the world writes it--4 September--looks and feels like the first day of fall.

In Paris, there's a rue 4 Septembre, which commemorates the date in 1870 on which Napoleon III was captured and le troisieme republique--still the longest-lasting French regime since the Revolution--was declared.

On la rue 4 Septembre, a very kind soul saved my cul. It was my second time in Paris, and I was drunk a good part of the time, as I so often was in those days. At some point during my second night there--I'm not quite sure of when--I lost my passport, traveler's cheques and some antique postcards I'd bought in Italy. And my cash, except for a few francs. Well, the American embassy couldn't or wouldn't help me because I didn't have any money or another ID. Mind you, this was long before the so-called War on Terror.

Well, I just happened to remember the number of the last traveler's cheque I cashed. And since I knew how many I'd bought and how many I'd used, I knew how many I'd lost. From there, I could figure out the serial numbers of the cheques I lost.

But being in the days before cell phones or calling cards, I needed cash to make the call--to Barclay's, in London. So I went to one of the cabines--places that looked a bit like check-cashing places but have cubicles and phones in them where you can make long distance calls and pay the attendant for them afterward. I'd hoped that someone could help me.

Inside, I met a woman who was probably about 40 and looked the way a less-glamorous, though still very attractive, sister of Leititia Casta might look. (In those days, though, nobody had heard of her yet.)

Bonjour, monsieur. Comment ca-va?

Pas bien, madame. J'en ai perudue ma monnie, ma carte et mon passepuerte.

C'est terrible! Je veux vous aider.


The call to London would have been a few francs, at least. But she offered to dial it, and I promised to pay her after I got my money back.

She even offered to call the US, if I needed it , or any place else. Pas necessaire, I said. Merci beaucoups.

So she dialed Barclay's for me, and the next day they wired new cheques to the woman at the cabines. Then she called a French employee at the US consulate and explained my situation. The next day, my checks arrived. I tired to give that kind woman a gratuite, but she would not take it. Instead, I gave her a bouquet of yellow roses. Honestly, I would've married her right then and there!

I suppose losing my stuff was some sort of cosmic, karmic retribution for what I'd done the night before: I skipped out of a cafe without paying for the seafood quiche, salad, a bottle of white wine, a religieuse and espresso I had. Many years later, I went back to that place, across the street from the Gare de Lyon. By then, I had not touched any alcohol or recreational drugs for a few years. I'd just gotten off the TGV from Chambery, and later that night I would go to see friends I had yet to meet the night I helped myself to an unauthorized free repast. I ordered that same meal--That quiche aux fruits de mer and salad nicoise were even better than I remembered!--without the wine. When I paid, I gave the waiter an additional fifty-franc note.

Monsieur, ce n'est pas necessaire. He probably thought I was a tourist who didn't realize that you don't tip in France.

Oui, d'accord. Mais, vous et ce cafe m'en traite tres, tres bien. C'est un cadeau. Actually, he was an excellent waiter and it was a nice cafe. I knew that because I was leaving it happier than I was when I walked in.


Vous me rendez tres heureuse...

Talk about the subconscious! In French, all adjectives are masculine or feminine. Which meant that in those days, to express the contentment I felt, I should have said "heureux." Today, of course, I would say "heureuse." And, believe me, I use it far more frequently than I ever said "heureux," even though I had a lot more years to use it than I've had for "heureuse!"

But if that waiter didn't think I was a dumb tourist and was too polite to say so, he didn't notice or didn't care. So, as we parted he said, Merci. Au revoir. J'espere que vous reviendra.

Oui, je reviendra. Au revoir. A bientot.

Another thing about 4 septembre: On that date in 1985, I wrote what I consider to be my first worthwhile poem--indeed, my first worthwhile piece of writing, if I've ever produced any:

The Lies of Spring

Last fall we walked
along the bank of this river.
Somebody warned you
not to come here with me.

We saw our faces, calm and clear
on the surface of the water.
You leaped and disappeared
into the mud below.
I stood, blinded, in the twilight.

I did not jump
because you told me
the water’s very cold.

Today I walk alone
on this weathered shore.
A single lily pokes through
mud that is your bones.

You once told me: This flower
Is the first sign of spring.

That poem was published in a few literary magazines. And, when my students have asked about my own writing, if I'm feeeling inclined to show it to them, this is one of the poems they see. One student wrote to me a couple of years after he was in my class--he'd graduated and was working in another state--to tell me that he was going through some of his papers and found a copy of this poem. It meant even more to him, he said, than it did back when he was in my class.

He told me that since he'd had me for that intro to literature class, he had come to understand loss and grief --and the price some have to pay in order to achieve, or simply survive-- in ways that he never could've understood before. He related the specifics, which I won't get into here, and said that even in the "darker" poems-- like "Lies"--and in my presence, he saw a sort of light that has helped him to navigate the crises he'd experienced since graduating from school.

Mind you, he wasn't some pseudo-alienated wannabe artiste/trust fund kid. He was a business major, and graduated only two years older than I was when I completed my baccalaureate degree. (He'd worked and done some other things before coming this country, and to college.) I would love to see him again.

If any of you are thinking about teaching, at any level, this is the one and only reason to consider it. The kind of pay and benefits you get from teaching or being a professor are attainable elsewhere, and with less investment. You may not have your summers off because you may need more money. And education is the only industry in which the professional--the teacher or professor--is subordinate to the white- and pink-collar office workers. And they don't let you forget it.

In such conditions, giving whatever it is I have to offer to a student like the one I've just talked about is almost an act of defiance. So is, in fact, treating just about any student like a human being. I think of that scene in Jesus of Montreal in which the director charged with putting on a Passion play trashes a studio because, he says, he couldn't stand to see the photographers, director and other film-production workers treating one of the actresses with contempt.

Sometimes I feel as if I'm helping people navigate the fourth of September. Fall and winter are on their way, but as hard as they may be, they are simply two more seasons to survive. And other people--the right ones--and our inner resources, whatever they are, are all we have to take us through them--or 4 septembre.

Le 4 septembre sera passe; en allez. Yes, it is passing; it has passed: onward to the next season, whatever it will bring.