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.

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