31 October 2008

What Are You Doing On Halloween?

So what were you for Halloween?

During the past week or so, a few people--co-workers, mostly, as I've spent just about all of my waking hours at the college--asked me what I was going to "go as" for the holiday.

And how did I reply? With the easiest joke my transition has given me: "Oh, I'm going in drag!" Good for a few laughs.

What they--most of them, anyway--don't understand is that in my life as Nick, I spent every day in drag. Boy-drag, that is. Pants and shirts, not blouses and skirts. On occasion, ties instead of the necklaces and pendants I often wear now. Watches were my only jewelery, and my palette included brown, navy, beige, black and gray. I still wear those colors (beige, not so often: It washes me out.) but now I combine them with all sorts of beautiful hues: lavender, violet, lilac, thistle (When I lived as a guy, they were all "purple")rose, peony, magenta, coral (pink, the most forbidden color of all). crimson, cherry, scarlet, cranberry (red, to you guys!) and, well the list goes on. One color, I've discovered, is welcome in both genders--and, fortunately for me, one I love: burgundy

I think now of a day during my first year of living and working "as" Justine. I complimented Marianne, who was a fellow adjunct English prof at LaGuardia College, on a sweater she wore that day. "Thank you."

"That color really works on you," I said.

Shyrlee, another adjunct prof, was looking on. "What do you call that color?," she chimed in.

I thought for a moment. "Celery."

Their jaws dropped. "You really are a woman," they intoned in unison.

Ah, the joys of color. And skirts. Or pants, when I want to, not because I have to, wear them. And those nice, soft, flowing lines that elicit compliments about my appearance. Yes, my appearance. As in "you look really nice today."

I heard that a lot yesterday. I wore a suit consisting of a blazer and calf-length skirt made of wool in a purplish/burgandyish/maroonish color (And I teach English?), in a very classical cut. Under the blazer I wore a women's button-down shirt in a color Bontrager bicycles calls "Serious pink." I know that because I use that handlebar wrap, in that color, on both of my Mercians. It's about the same shade as magnolia buds, maybe a bit deeper.

With them, I wore nude pantyhose and closed-toe dress slingbacks with three-inch heels. I bought the shoes years ago, before I started living full-time. Great investment: They look good with just about anything, from that suit or others I have, to jeans.

But that suit and shirt elicited all the compliments. When I put it on, I felt good--no, radiant. Which leads me to wonder: Did I really look that good, or were people picking up on how I felt. Even with a cold that left me tired before I got to the class in which I was observed, I felt as if the Beatles could've been singing Something to me personally.

Some feminists might hate me for saying this, but I wish I could've been a pretty girl or young woman. But now I hope that, at least sometimes, I can be an attractive woman. And it won't happen because of my looks. Rather, it's a matter of style (not mere fashion), intelligence and grace. I wonder how much, if at all, I will ever have any of those qualities, especially the latter two.

Still, somehow I find myself feeling good, feeling radiant, even charismatic in some way, for much of the time. Of course, I like it when people pick up on, and affirm those qualities in me. But I just enjoy feeling that way, for its own sake. Frivolous, perhaps. But we all have to have our flaws, and at least one person who will indulge at least one of them.

Intelligent, confident, radiant, attractive, charismatic, creative--and feminine: Now there's the person I want to be for Halloween. And every day.

30 October 2008

Academic Dynamics

Today I had a visitor to one of my classes: a professor who came to observe and evaluate me. He came to the most difficult class I have this semester: a composition class populated by seeming hangers-out (i.e., one who hang out) and other scholastic misfits who are older than the just-out-of-high-school students in the composition class I teach in the morning.

The kids I teach in the morning are great. However, it's really difficult to get the afternoon students to work. They want to nudge, slap and banter each other rather than to do assignments or study. At least one of them is a parent; it doesn't seem to have matured her. Others often come in late. I had two such stragglers today, who came in a few minutes after class started. One came in for the first time in a couple of weeks and wanted to know, as soon as she walked in, whether I had any papers to return to her.

I know that the professor who obeserved me wasn't thrilled about that. I told a couple of other people about this. They all said not to worry, I'll be fine. I guess. But I still remember someone who did hold students' actions against me: the department chair at LaGuardia College. She wrote an evaluation that was about 80 percent denigration and 20 pervent damnation by the faintest of praise. I suppose lots of people have faced similar situations. I'm just not particularly good at dealing with them.

Also, that department chair wanted to get rid of me, but she knew she couldn't do it outright. So she wrote something damning enough to besmirch my reputation as an instructor, but not bad enough to prevent me from being rehired. That she left up to one of her deputies who, like her, pretended to accept me more than she actually did when I began my gender transformation. (The first thing that deputy said when I came to work as Justine was, "Well, my sister's gay...") Some so-called educated people do that sort of thing all the time: They know they can hate me but also know how to cloak or couch it in the right terms, which are almost always as fluffy as those little sweaters on the toy dogs fashionistas tote as accessories.

I'm sure there are people at the college in which I'm working now who'd like to be rid of me just as much as that department chair at La Guardia wanted me gone. (One of my colleagues, who also taught at LaGuardia, said the following when I mentioned the chair's name: "I'm surprised you even waste the motion in your tongue to talk about that thing, much less waste your mental energy thinking about it." And they think I'm a bitch!) At least they don't have the same kind of direct authority over me that she did. Well, now that I think of it, I've always had the feeling the provost didn't like me, but then I've heard he doesn't really like anybody.

At least the prof who observed me today doesn't seem to have any animus toward me. He's not aloof, but his facial expression never seems to change, either: more or less a lot of people's idea of an intellectual professor. But, in all of the previous encounters I've had with him, he's been very respectful. And he is in charge of the department's curriculum committe, on which I now serve.

Back to that class...They all know I'm transgendered. One of the students brought it up in class. I affirmed it and mentioned it only one other time: two weeks ago, when I gave them the "How badly do you want an education?" lecture. Some of them thought, and probably still think, that I am a child of privilege. I am, in the sense that my parents are being as supportive as they are of my change and that I lived 45 of my 50 years as a white male who was heterosexual, kinda sorta. But I'd bet that they have a higher standard of living than I had when I was a student. And some of them are getting financial aid I didn't get because some of it didn't exist in my day, and for what was available, my father made about $500 more a year than what was allowed for financial aid students.

But I digress. That I'm a white, middle-aged transgender woman renders me unworthy of respect in the eyes of at least four students, who sit together and act like junior high schoolers. (One of those students is the parent I mentioned.) I've tried speaking with them in every way I know. I tried the imperative voice, because some young people will respond to nothing else. The risk of speaking that way is that some people don't hear it when it, or any other kind of assertion, when it comes from a woman. And I've also tried the appeasing tone of voice. You know, what a lot of us women use most of the time: "Oh, could you please..." or "I'm sorry to be such a bother." No go with that one, either. Not even appealing to them as someone who understands how much better you have to be, and how much harder you have to work, when you're not a white heterosexual male from older colleges with bigger networks, seems to have influenced them.

In other words, I am dealing with a ghetto mentality, which unfortunately is shared by lots of people who don't live in what we think of as ghettos. People who operate from that mentality don't trust anyone who doesn't look, talk or act like themselves, or their conceptions of themselves, or how they think people are supposed to be. And, needless to say, their notions about race and gender are rigid because they're so intertwined with their class resentments--or, in my case, resentments over what they perceive my social and economic class to be.

They're not bad people, really. I just don't know what it will take to impress upon them that because they're darker and poorer, and come from different schools, than most of the people who will be interviewing them for jobs or other things they might want, they'll have to be even better than anyone else who's chasing those same things. I never would have understood that if I hadn't made my gender transition and dealt with some former professional colleagues and superiors who knew me as Nick.

The prof who observed me today didn't, but he knows about my transition. And it's never come up in any of our conversations. That's fine with me; he always gave me respect, possibly more than I deserve. After all, he is smarter, nicer and all kinds of other -er's than I am.

Now...as for the kind of evaluation I'll get...

29 October 2008

Life Unfurling

You've heard about your life flashing in front of you? Lately, sometimes I feel like mine is unfurling like a film in very, very slow motion.

Early in my transition, I saw my early childhood. Later, after the hormones started to do their work on me and I was experiencing my "second adolescence," I also was reliving my first one, at least in my head. Now, as I've mentioned before, I find myself flashing back to my senior undergraduate year. I think it has to do with the waiting and anticipation. Then, I knew my life was going to be different in a few months, though I wasn't quite sure of how. And now, again, I am thinking ahead a few months ahead--although, I must say, this time I have a clearer and more realistic idea of what I might encounter. Still, I'm no more able to predict my life than I was in those days.

Another common thread: In a way I want these days, weeks, months to fly by. On the other hand, I don't want to miss anything, whatever that means. Back in my youth, I didn't think there was anything to miss in the place and time where I happened to be, mainly out of circumstance. The irony was that, in a lot of ways Rutgers, where I went to school, was a better fit for who I was then than York, where I now teach, is for who I am now.

A caveat: Yes, I am in a college full of religious people of one kind or another. Ironically, the Muslim students of Bengal and Paki heritage or birth are more secular and Americanized in their day-to-day lives than the US-born or Anglo-Carribean Christian fundamentalists. Even more ironically, I get along well with those students and faculty and staff members, and there are faculty and staff members with the John 3:16 verse emblazoned on their tote bags who treat me with compassion. And then there are Regina, the consummate Mom and a co-director of the Office of Disabled students, who is purely and simply the nicest person I've met in a long time. And Linda, the Women's Center director, who spoke up for me when a couple of staff members and students spread false rumors about me.

When I was Rutgers, I only interacted with other people when I had to or when I couldn't avoid it. The only close friend I had was Betsy, whom I mentioned earlier, and the only person from Rutgers days with whom I'm still in contact is Bruce, whom I met during my senior year but didn't get to know well until later.

More of that unfurling reel: Today I ran an errand at the World Financial Center. Tim, whose wife just gave birth to a boy, bought a pair of brake levers from me on eBay. He paid for the cost of the levers and my subway fare, and rounded it up a dollar.

After seeing him, I walked along the Hudson toward Battery Park and the Ferry terminal. I used to walk by the waterfront, which was much seedier in those days, and ride the Ferry to Staten Island and back. I think I set foot on the island only when passengers were ordered off the boat; otherwise I stayed on and waited for the return trip. Sometimes I'd stay on for another round trip. That would give me time to drink, get high, maybe write a bad poem or two. (Of course, I didn't think they were bad in those days.) On that boat, I could get lost in every possible way: on the water, among the lights and shadows of the Manhattan skyline and among the necklace of cables and beads of light on the Bayonne, Verrazano and Brooklyn Bridges as the sky darkened.

As I came to the terminal, I looked to my left, toward Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. It had been overcast through most of the day, but by that time the veiled sun crowned the plume of clouds with a dusky orange corona. Men and women in suits and topcoats--and sneakers or sensible shoes--rushed for the soon-to-depart ferry. They have families, houses, cars and all of the things I was avoiding in my youth at the other end of the trip, in Staten Island.

I was tempted to take a ride. But I was feeling slightly under the weather, and was skipping a reception for new faculty members and a class tonight so I could get some sleep tonight. This semester, I haven't been getting more than four hours of sleep on Wednesday nights. When I get home, it's usually midnight or later, and I can't get to sleep right away. And I have to get up at 5 am for Thursday classes, which don't end until 8:35 pm. On top of that, tomorrow I'm being observed and evaluated during the most difficult of those classes. I'm nervous, to say the least.

Will the reel continue to unfurl? The last time I had an observation with as much at stake, it wasn't good. I had applied for a full-time faculty job at LaGuardia College and the department chair herself was observing me. The year before, I "came out" to the college community: in the spring, I was Mr. Nick; in the fall, I was Ms. Justine. And the department chair and others, I think, were pretending to be more accepting of it than they actually were. I knew that at the end of that class, when she grinned the "I told you so" grin. I admit it wasn't a great class, but I got--by far--the worst evaluation I'd ever had. And she kept me dangling until the beginning of the winter session.

I hope that part doesn't repeat itself. I do want to return to York next semester for a number of reasons--including the students in that difficult class.

And that's another reel unfurling.

28 October 2008

Midterm Week

Another crazy two days in a crazy week at the college. There are midterms and "peer evaluaton" of faculty member. So on Thursday I'm being evalasted, and today I had to evaluate someone who, frankly is a better teacher than I am. Or, at least, she's more organized.

And, I think, she engages students in ways I never could. I think part of that comes from having been a musician--she talked a little bit about that during her class. So, she's used to performing in front of people in ways that I'll never be. And I think she has a natural charisma that I simply don't have.

But those aren't the only reasons why she had a roomful of freshmen rapt with attention at 2:00 in the afternoon, which is the worst time to teach. She is, frankly, more intelligent and educated than I am. And she can relate her learning to her students, in the ways they need to hear it, in ways that I never could.

Maybe this is what I dislike--on my bad days, anyway--about being an educator. There's always something to make me feel inferior, and anything I do is done better than I could ever do it by someone else. Then again, I don't really need anyone to make me feel inferior: I simply fall short most of the time in the classroom, whether as a student or teacher. And in lots of other things, too.

I am probably the worst student ever to become a college faculty member. I'm not exaggerating: My best-kept secrets are my grades and test scores. I'll tell anyone anything--my age, my weight, what's between my legs--before I'll mention my academic record.

Do I sound like one of those stores that says its prices are "too low to advertise?"

Well, at least I'm not taking any tests this year, except for the ones in my doctor's offices. So there's no possibility for failure there.

I know I'll fail at more things. I hope they don't include being a woman or a human being. Then again, I don't think I failed at being a man so much as it could only fail me. And now I don't have to deal with that now.

Everyone tells me I'll pass. And that I pass. Now I want to do more. I hope I can.

26 October 2008

Babies? Blame the Hormones...

Another quiet Sunday on which I slept later and got less done than I'd planned. I haven't even come close to reading all the papers from my classes, and I'm so far behind my e-mails it's laughable. And I didn't get to ride my bike until late in the afternoon, and then only for an hour.

But on my way out, I saw Millie with her next-door neighbors, all gathered around a stroller. Of course that meant Patricia's son, who is now two and a half months old and has his father's strong jawline and brown eyes--and all-around good looks. Not long ago, I would've sidestepped such a scene. But today I felt drawn to it.

Maybe it had to do with the fact that Millie and the neighbors were gathered around the baby. Then again, in times past, I didn't feel so compelled to see someone's baby, not even if he or she was born to a friend or family member. And I notice that, lately, I've talked to, cooed and touched babies of complete strangers, and no one seems to mind. Not only that, small children seem as drawn to me as cats and dogs.

All right. I'm going to upset some feminists and gender studies people I know. I can't help but to wonder: Is this another effect of the hormones and the accompanying changes? In the academic world, and in some other arenae, many people seem child-adverse and baby-intolerant. One prof said she tells her friends and acquaintances she's not child-friendly, so they shouldn't expect her to share their joy. She has openly expressed what, I suspect, what others feel. And, a male prof at the college says he doesn't like children because they represent the bourgeois idea of marriage and family: institutions of which he wants no part.

And then there are those feminist/gender study theorists who simply resent the fact that babies represent the oppression of women. In a way, I can see their point: Once a woman gets pregnant, she forecloses a lot of career opportunities. And her colleagues, and the rest of the world, see her as a breeder, both in Margaret Atwood's and ACT-UP's usage of that term.

Now, I'm glad I didn't have children because, given how conflicted I was about myself, I didn't think I could be a good parent. And I certainly wasn't about to have children with Toni or Eva. It was never about how I felt about kids: After all, I worked with them and found the experience fulfilling, often enjoyable.

Dominick and I have talked about adopting a child. He wants to take one in, even if he has to raise her (He would rather have a girl, as I would.) alone. I'd like to have a child, too, but I don't think I'd want to raise her alone simply because of my age. Some would say it's not a good idea for me to start raising a baby at this point in my life because I might not live to see her become a woman. They have a point, but I also feel that every parent takes a risk, no matter how small, that he or she may not always be there for the child.

At least Dominick and I both believe, with good reason, that I would be a loving and supportive parent. Others have expressed the same confidence about me. It's not that I no longer believe that the world is full of confusion and suffering, and that a child could be an heir to them. Rather, I now believe that knowing the nature of the life my child might inherit is actually the reason to raise one.

lightning crashes, a new mother cries
her placenta falls to the floor
the angel opens her eyes
the confusion sets in
before the doctor can even close the door

lightning crashes, an old mother dies
her intentions fall to the floor
the angel closes her eyes
the confusion that was hers
belongs now, to the baby down the hall

oh now feel it comin' back again
like a rollin' thunder chasing the wind
forces pullin' from the center of the earth again
i can feel it.

lightning crashes, a new mother cries
this moment she's been waiting for
the angel opens her eyes
pale blue colored eyes, presents the circle
and puts the glory out to hide, hide

The suffering and confusion are part of the circle, which is not complete without them. I'm sure that Millie and Patricia have experienced their share, as my mother has, and my grandmother did. And they bore--and, more important, raised--children anyway.

What you just heard isn't the hormones talking. But the cooing, the baby talk...Where did they come from?

25 October 2008

Neither Stranger Nor Native in the Nail Salon

These days, when I get my hair or nails done, or see women with toddlers or babies, I recall--oddly enough--an experience Jacobo Timerman described in Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number.

Timerman is an Argentinian Jewish writer who was imprisoned and later exiled for his criticism of the Peron regime, particulary its anti-Semitism. After years of incarceration and torture, he was stripped of his Argentinian citizenship and exiled to Israel.

Although he never denied his heritage, he was not a religious Jew. This meant that he went to shul on holidays, if ever, and that he never learned Hebrew--not even the prayers. So, when he was sent to Israel, he entered something that was the inverse of being an exile: He was in a country to which he felt, via his fellow Jews in Israel, an attachment if not a bond.

Nonetheless, it was difficult to make the transition to living there. Learning, in his late fifties, a language that bears no relation to the Spanish he had been speaking all of his life was no easy task. Nor was adjusting to the rhthyms and customs of his new/old (or old/new) country.

But it wasn't just a matter of dealing with logistics or relationships. The very light of the place itself was something to which he was not accustomed:

The balcony of my house in a suburb of Tel Aviv faces the Mediterranean. It is large, almost the size of a room, and my wife has filled it with flowers, plants and Max Ernst posters. Facing my balcony, the scarlet sun is sinking over a sea that's too blue for my eyes, which are accustomed to the southern Atlantic. It hasn't rained in Tel Aviv for nine months , and the ceremony of the sun blazing over the sea is repeated daily.

The first time I read that passage, at least twenty-five years ago, I cried. And I am now. Even in the translation I've quoted, it's possible to see how beautifully it was written. But, then, I felt somehow that Timerman, whose life has had almost nothing in common with mine, was describing not just my life, but my relationship to the world. Why I felt that way would not become clear to me until I first began living as Justine.

In some way I had always felt like an exile, no matter where I was or whom I was with. That is probably the reason why I have always identified with people who were displaced, for whatever reasons. Of all the stories in the Bible, the one that always resonated most for me was the exile of the Jews from Egypt and their wandering the desert for forty years. After that, no place where the Jews lived could ever be home: There was always the possiblity, at any moment, of being forced to leave. And they couldn't go home, so to speak.

And so it was with my gender identity. The body I inhabited always felt like a place of exile. So did locker-rooms and all of those other places where I had to congregate with males, particulary those sanctoned by their schools, workplaces and such. I could speak their language, at least after a fashion. And I knew how to dress, act and talk the part, if you will.

Now my body is turning into a version or variant of the one to which had been stored up in my spirit, my subconscious, or any other place I would visit, out of necessity, every chance I got. And I find myself in spheres to which I always belonged, at least in spirit: the ones in which women congregate. They include, of course, nail and hair salons.

I am still learning the unwritten codes of behaving and relating in those places. It seems more acceptable to talk with, and be talked to, by strangers than in most other arenae. You should also make eye contact, but not too much. People have always told me that I make a lot of eye contact; I've even spooked (unintentionally, of course) a few people with it. And more than a few people have told me that I have an "intense" or "intensive" look, although these days I hear things like "intensely sensitive."

The thing is, I've always looked at people, whether out of caution or curiosity. Even when I was living as Nick, women seemed to sense that I wasn't looking at them out of sexual impulses (at least, not most of the time, anyway). And I could compliment what they wore, or even the beauty of their eyes, and only rarely did anyone take it as anything more than that. Now, if you're a guy and you tell another guy that you like his tie, well, that's another story!

In places like nail salons and hair places, that sort of interaction almost seems mandatory, or at least expected. It may have something to do with the hair dressers and nail polishers (What do you call them, anyway?) themselves: They seem more communicative than the barbers I used to see--more like bartenders, really. And I think this sets a tone for those places.

It seems that even the light is different in those places than it is in the barbershops I used. Of course, some of that has to do with the decor: You are more likely to be swathed, at least psychologically, in shades of peach, pink, lavender(!), soft yellows or sepia than to be surrounded by the more industrial shades found in many barbershops. But more important, the light seems more diffuse yet more true (if not surgically accurate) than what one sees by in a barbershop. It's odd: The light seems softer in spite of the abundance of mirrors one finds in nail or hair salons, at least the ones I use.

It's not only that one finds more mirrors in these places: They always seem to be positioned in such a way that whoever's getting her hair or nails done next to, or across the aisle, from you is within reach, even though you can't move. I find myself having "conversations" through facial expressions and eye movements: something I don't recall experiencing in men's barber shops or any other male venue. I'm probably still not very good at it, but I enjoy it somehow: It's more or less the way I felt when I was first learning French and stumbling all over it.

One thing I must say, though, is that women who are complete strangers--some of whom surely know that I'm transgendered--have made me feel very welcome. I think in particular of Mimi, an Italian-American woman who's probably about ten years older than I am and is truly stylish rather than merely fashionable because she is who she is. (I think this is also the first time I've actually talked with someone named Mimi.) She is so warm and friendly that I don't think I could have not talked to her, even if I'd tried. Which, of course, I wouldn't have.

Perhaps I was not born to that world, as Mimi and the other women were. But, perhaps they sense that I am of it. I think now of what Isabelle used to say about my: that I was French a couer, at heart, because even though I am American and will never speak quite like a native, I was at ease with Frenchness as I was with my native culture--possibly more at ease, at least for a time in my life.

But still, I wonder: How is it possible to feel that you're exactly where you belong even though you're struggling to learn about it? Not that it's a bad position, it's just odd.

In other words, I love the world in which I'm living now. But I'm still getting used to it.

24 October 2008

A Walk Through the Village

The morning started off cold and breezy: a harbinger of winter. But it rather quickly turned into one of those fall days that, while not quite warm, basked in the radiant, refulgent hues of dawn and sunset.

I could feel myself turning into those colors and other kinds of light--Maybe this is what Salvidor Quasimodo meant when he wrote


That has to be the shortest poem of which I'm aware. And, if any is impossible to translate, that one is. So I won't even try. Any reader who reads it as it looks to him or her will do as well as any other reader, I think.

You are the power of that light because the light becomes you. You are full of that light, which is the magnificence of your being because it is you, who have become the power that has become you . I know I'm not anywhere near Quasimodo's poem. But never mind...

The light becomes you, and you can walk through time as well as space because neither can stop light, any more than anything I did to remain as a guy named Nick would ever, ever keep the spirit--the light--of Justine from shining through. Or the light of any other spirit, for that matter.

Especially as that light grows more intense, and deeper, as the day goes on. That perfect-fall-day light refracted through the old brownstones and brick houses of the West Village and the cafes and stores along Seventh Avenue and Bleecker Street. It is hard to find any more beautiful light in any city, yet it is tinged, at least for me, with some sadness--for the time and my youth that have passed, to be sure, but because I understand that the way I see it now is in inevitable outcome of how I used to experience this place.

Back in the day--I'm thinking about my senior year at Rutgers, again--I spent a lot of time in the Village. Then, it felt like a refuge--which is to say, it was an escape--from what I perceived to be a prison of mundaneness in New Jersey, in a college, as good as it was, I never really wanted to attend. (Don't ask how I graduated!) Sometimes I'd go with Betsy; other times I went alone. Either way, I felt beyond the reach--of what? Expectations: That I would become a military officer, as my father wanted, or that I would get a job in some office, get married and "settle down," as everyone else seemed to want. And everyone thought I should fulfill their expectations, mainly because they thought I was another one of those young people who "didn't know what he wanted."

Actually, I knew full well, but I couldn't say it. Or so I felt. I had some vague notion of becoming a writer: of being like those writers and musicians whose ghosts I was pursuing in the Village. And when things got too bad in this country (Reagan had yet to become President, though it was starting to look like a possibility.), I would flee to Paris or some other exotic place. And, of course, I would never marry: I would live for art and orgasms, with some bike riding thrown in for good measure.

Occasionally I would talk about this with someone. You don't even have to guess the reactions: a few indulged me; some, who shared some version or another of the same fantasy, encouraged it; most, however, would admonish me for my romanticism.

Go ahead, laugh about it. I am right now. (Yes, that gives you permission! ;-) ) But then, those trips--my escapes-- were really all I had. And the Village, both East and West, was the one place where I felt I could live that fantasy, even for a moment. There was nobody to tell me not to; it seemed that even the boxes into which other people wanted to place me didn't exist. I could order a coffee (mainly because that's all I could afford) and eye the pretty waitress who was pretty mainly because she was there while I was writing, or at least making the gestures of doing so. Then I could follow Bleecker Street across Sixth Avenue toward Sheridan Square and Christopher Street, where--well, I probably don't have to tell you what (or more precisely, whom) I saw on Christopher Street in 1979! Or, I could walk Bleecker in the opposite direction, toward Lafayette Street, and cross over into the East Village and chase the shadows of Charlie Parker and Allen Ginsberg.

Back then, if you said "Williamsburg" to anyone, they thought of the colonial theme park in Virginia. And you didn't go to SoHo after dark. (Well, I did, but that's another story!) The Village, East and West, was still the place to be, or so it seemed. Bleecker Street and the West Village always seemed lit by neon, even in daylight; the East was cool because had crumbling bricks and falling plaster I could enter by choice, never mind that lots of people (namely the Puerto Ricans and old Jews) didn't make that decision and still ended up there.

It's amazing, now that I think of it, that I didn't get myself killed over some of the things I said and did. Actually, I wouldn't have minded dying that way, or so I thought: It would have been more honorable somehow than to double over from a heart attack while wearing a three-piece suit. In truth, I simply would never've had to make any of the decisions that would lead me to such a fate, or being a military officer, or any of the other destinies to which others tried to steer me.

In those days, the streets of the West Village were giddier, those of the East funkier, and on both ends, more dangerous, than they are now. There was no money to be made from high-tech stocks or other such things, so people, it seemed, were more relaxed. And nobody had heard about AIDS: A few people, none of whom I knew yet, had friends or relatives who died from what they called "gay cancer," for lack of a better term.

In other words, all of my encounters with people there were momentary pleasures. It's very easy for me to look back with nostalgia on those days because it didn't require any sort of commitment to my own life, to my own self, to move through them.

And when Betsy accompanied me, there or for a cup of coffee (Yes, a real, literal one!) in the cafeteria at Rutgers, it removed me from yet other expectations. A lot of people thought we were a couple of some sort because she was young and attractive, and we talked, argued and hugged in ways that most casual friends don't. As long as she was around, I was "off limits," and I didn't have people hitting on me or trying to fix me up with someone or another.

But, as with all things, none of it could last, even if that had been what I wanted. I would come to know people who lived (as I did, briefly) , suffered and died in the Village. And they weren't legends or others I never encountered in person: They were real, flesh-and-blood people who didn't meet their fates over their eighteenth (or whatever number) of whiskey in the White Horse Tavern.

Within a few blocks of Sheridan Square--the site of the Stonewall Rebellion--John, Elizabeth, Tom, Raul, Amy and Nick(!) all died of AIDS-related illnesses. John, Nick and Amy lived in the neighborhood; Raul and Tom had lovers there and Elizabeth was in a Housing Works residence, trying to get her "life back together." John was my second AA sponsor: He guided me for the next four years after Kevin, who helped me through my first five years, also died from pneumonia brought on by AIDS. I sponsored Raul and Amy: I broke one of AA's unofficial rules against mentoring someone of the "opposite" gender.

After Elizabeth died, I didn't go to the Village for a long time, or so it seemed when I finally went back: for counseling and support groups at the LGBT Community Center on West 13th Street. After about two years of sessions with Ray, an FTM social worker who is one of the best human beings I've ever met, and of attending groups and other functions, some members of the support group and I decided to go out an eat. We went to the diner around the corner. After I sipped the coffee I used to order as a prelude to my meal, my eyes welled up. I excused myself, stepped outside and my face soaked with my tears. Janine and Deeanna, who were in the group, and a waitress followed me outside.

When I was composed enough to speak, I explained that the last time I was in that diner--long ago, I said--I was with a friend who died from AIDS. And I'd eaten at that diner at least once with each of the people I mentioned who died from the disease. Then Charlene showed up and, when she learned what happened, asked whether we should go somewhere else.

"No. I probably need to be here."

And, after we split up, I spent a couple more hours roaming the streets of a Village night. None of the people reminded me of anyone I remembered. That was probably a good thing. They don't remember the old days; good for them, I thought. Of course there were some things they'd never understand, but I envied them.

You see, they don't know how the light of that place came to be, any more than I knew, back then, how I could not become it. They did not know, any more than the people with whom I had encounters today because their dogs walked over to me and licked my hands. And an attractive young woman with a dog that didn't look like any other I've seen didn't flinch when, as she turned the key to her door, I asked about her companion. There is no way she could know about the ones who died, from whatever reasons or causes, where we stood.

At one time, that would have made me angry. But I probably never would have had such an encounter as the person I was in those days. And, somehow, I realize now that I enjoyed that moment, and my walk through the Village, precisely because of my long-ago experiences. Life is beautiful (All right, now you know I really am a romantic!) because there is death; joy is joyful because of the pain and suffering that so often precede and underlie it. To think otherwise would be to begrudge all those people who love, or even like, who I am now but didn't know me back in the day.

And after that walk, I got to have lunch with Bruce, whom I first met back in those days.

22 October 2008

Not Excellent and Fair, but Pretty and Pretty Damned Good

Shakespeare may not have called this day "excellent and fair." But it was pretty and pretty damned good in its own way.

Not the least of this day's delights was the sky. No, it wasn't that cloudless sky under which I pedalled the weekend before last to Point Lookout. It wasn't even the mostly clear sky that graced most of last week.

Instead, it was a kind of ceiling one sees only at this time of year. On the horizon, the clouds were thickening and their undersides wove ashy gray waves and ridges. In spite of their expanse and hue, they did not grow heavy and ominous; rather, they refracted rather than concealed the light above them.

And that light is what makes them the kind of cloud unique to this time of year. That refrected sun and sky is the surest sign that the summer sun, even the early fall or Indian summer sun, is long gone. Instead, the air will be a reflection of this light, especially on a day, like this one, in which the wind begins to strip yellow and crimson leaves from branches that will twist and knurl bare in a couple of weeks. But for now, the trees still have some of their vestments. And the earth, in spite of the chill and wind, does not feel desolate under the shawl of clouds.

Yes, a shawl. There's actually something rather reassuring about the sky today, like a strength one acquires because one is vulnerable. We think of women--usually, older or religious or both--when we think of shawls. But, really, who has more wisdom than they have? They know what they know and what they don't know; they may seem frail but they are the greatest founts of useful advice about how to live. Maybe it's because they've loved and lost more than anyone else.

At least that's what I belive, based on nothing more than my own experience. And that experience also leads me to believe that shawls can be so beautiful (I love wearing them!) because, in some way, one has to earn the right to wear one: after a long journey, or in the presence of whatever one has to wrestle in order to gain wisdom and strength (which is not the same thing as power). Now that I think of it, the only men I've seen wearing shawls are the Orthodox Jews with their teifillin. Some wear them every day, underneath their other clothing. I think now of Daniel, with whom I used to ride: Sometimes I would see the fringes of his shawl poking from under the hem of his bicycle jersey.

I'm also thinking now of a Langston Hughes poem in which the breeze spreads a shawl of leaves across a bare garden. I don't recall the exact words of the poem, but I do remember that image distinctly.

So what lies ahead? Am I gaining some sort of strength or wisdom for something, perhaps a struggle, that lies ahead? That wouldn't be new, of course, but the circumstances for it are different. I don't mean to be cynical when I say that in looking forward to, and preparing for, anything exciting or exhiliariting, I now anticipate struggles and challenges. But I'm not letting them scare me off: the possible rewards are just too great. In this case, they include more fully becoming the person I truly am.

Just to show you that I'm not cynical: I know winter's coming. And it might be a tough one. But it's also an opportunity to wrap myself in both physical and metaphorical shawls and blankets. Likewise, during the early days of my transition, the challenges and sometimes the hardships gave me the opportunity to find out that, yes, there are people who love me and who would help, and sometimes even protect or defend, me. And I learned of them, paradoxically, just as I was starting to learn what my strength and strengths actually are. The funny thing is that it's actually humbling to learn that I have the ability to help other people and to write well. Maybe it's because my vulnerability led me to those strenghts.

And this day was pretty. But it was pretty damned good, too, because it's a harbinger of things to come, including the winter: the difficult time that teaches me to find nurturance. That, in turn, shows me how to be a nurturer--which is something I've been told I am.

Now that's excellent and fair!

20 October 2008


Last Wednesday, I stayed up all night and was all but useless after my morning classes on Thursday.

So what am I doing tonight? Pulling another all-nighter, of course. And I have the same classes tomorrow morning that I have on Thursdays.

So why, you ask, am I writing this now, when (at least in the eyes of people more sensible than me) I should be doing my work or sleeping?

Well...To paraphrase the old neighborhood, "Ya do what ya need ta do." That's not quite the same as what ya gotta do, which includes most of what we think of as our work, as well as other external obligations.

Writing is one of those things I need to do, if only for myself. I guess, in that sense, it's like the gender transformation I'm undergoing.

There's no practical reason why I should be taking that journey--or writing this journal/blog entry. That is, if you define "practical" as what adds to the GDP, or one's own financial portfolio--as if I have such a thing.

But how does that saying go? If you're not good to yourself, you're not good for anybody. For anyone who values me in any way--whether because of the work I do or love I give--it's necessary that I write, and become the person my spirit has always been. Had I not been writing, had I not started my transformation, it's entirely possible I wouldn't be here at all, much less the person they--and I--value.

Does this mean that the responsibility anyone has to anyone else really begins with the resposnsibility one has to one's self? Well...If that's the case, some writers I revere are correct. (Not that I thought they weren't!) Responsibilty to others begins with responsibility to one's self. Isn't that the basic message of A Doll's House? Isn't that at least a subtext of any Shakespearean tragedy? Or any number of other works you'd care to name? Richard Russo, he of Empire Falls fame, said that novelists hold characters accountable for their actions, or something like that. Sounds about right to me.

I did not choose to have my gender identity conflict, any more than I would choose to be born with a crooked spine. But I did choose--however unconsciously--the ways in which I dealt, or didn't deal, with it. Whether I played sports, acted upon borrowed homophobia, or got into relationships--and, yes, a marriage--that gave me cover, I was making choices. So was I the day I finally did what a therapist told me I needed to do twenty years earlier and talked to a psychiatric social worker and a doctor about the way I felt. The first time I mentioned it--to Jay, who was then serving as an intake counselor at the Gender Identity Project (at the LGBT Community Center of New York)--I felt as if I were, for the first time in my life, telling someone the truth about something.

For as long as I can remember, I've heard the saying "A woman's work is never done," or some variation of it. Now I think I'm just starting to understand what it means. Of course, I'll never give birth to a child and, unless Dominick and I adopt, I'm never going to raise one. So I'm not likely to understand how it feels to be a mother. As best as I can tell, being a mother means having someone depend on you, no matter where you are or what time it is. Even after she's taken care of one person, there's someone else in need of the mother.

I'm not likely to experience anything like that. However, there is another kind of work that always finds you when you're a woman. That is, of course, the work you need to do to repair, replenish, rejuvenate, refresh or simply to sustain who and what you are. And you have to do it after you've taken care of all those obligations you have, or people think you have, to them.

When you're a man, there is sometimes recreation, at least. You can just pull back or pull away, and be done with it: Whatever you accomplish during the day defines you, and you can rest on that. But as a woman, you're not defined so much by accomplishments as by what you have done for, and given to, others, and what people think you have done and given for them. So there really is a need to do entirely for one's self, or more precisely, for one's own being. That's why so many of us love to shop, as I do, although that's not necessarily the answer.

I guess the reason why we, as women, have this need to do for, and be for, ourselves at the end of the day is that there is so little in the culture to sustain a girl's development into a real, formidable woman. Most of the movies, TV shows and even the so-called fine arts--not to mention education--only teach girls to fill up some cariacture of femaleness.

In other words, they learn only to be what their mothers, grandmothers, teachers and other women in their lives have been: someone who serves others while ignoring her own needs.

I guess, in some sense, that is something I have in common with other women. The ones born with uteri are not given the language or other tools they need in order to find out and fulfill the mandates of their own spirits. For them, almost nobody knows how to show them how to find, much less nurture, their true selves. And nobody, not even I, knew--or, later, could or would acknowledge--that I needed the same thing: to find and nurture my true female self.

And so our work never ends.

19 October 2008

Younger than Before

When I was younger, younger than before
I never saw the truth hanging from the door
And now I'm older see it face to face
And now I'm older gotta get up clean the place.

That's the first stanza of Nick Drake's "Place to Be." I've been playing that song quite a bit lately, and it goes through my mind, especially when I am alone. The undulating, but not quite lilting guitar chords, don't merely accompany the words: They lift, but do not float, the song on its journey through space and time. If I were to listen to something while taking a long bike ride, this would be perfect, at least for part of it.

Here's the rest of it:

And I was green, greener than the hill
Where the flowers grew and the sun shone still
Now I'm darker than the deepest sea
Just hand me down, give me a place to be.

And I was strong, strong in the sun
I thought I'd see when day is done
Now I'm weaker than the palest blue
Oh, so weak in this need for you.

"Now I'm darker than the deepest sea." It sort of reminds me of what, if I recall correctly, Antonio Machado said: "We die not from darkness, but from cold." And he and other poets, including James Wright, wrote about people growing darker as they age.

But it's that first stanza that goes for the gut. "I never saw the truth hanging from the door/And now I'm older see it face to face." Although I did see the truth about myself--actually, I sighted it and turned away as quickly and violently as I could--the day on which it came face-to-face came much later. That, of course, was the day I saw that woman in Saint Jean de Maurienne and realized I could no longer live in this world as a man.

But there are other kinds of truths that have come face-to-face. Like my attraction to men (although my feelings for women have not died). And that I absolutely must write and teach because, well, what am I if I don't do either? Although I didn't really get the opportunity to show what I could do in my previous position--which had a long, pretentious title--I know that fighting that battle now would be just another distraction. So, I have surrendered it, if without grace. Then again, there aren't many things I do gracefully.

Anyway, to return to the topic of the passage of time: Over the last few days, I've begun to feel as if much of my life happened more than a hundred years ago. Yet, I don't feel as if the time has passed, at least not in the ways to which I am accustomed. However, I also don't feel as if I've gone from chronological Point A to chronological Point B in some kind of time machine. I feel as if I have spiritually, and even physically, passed through all of those years and all of the places I saw during that time. They were, for an instant, as immediate and at times painful as they were when I first entered and left them.

I really do as if I've passed through a hundred years. But I don't feel that much older. (Not that I would know what being a hundred years older would feel like!) In fact, I feel as if I've scarcely aged at all.

If you're thinking, "Hey, cool," well, it is, in a way. What I've experienced really does turn the past into the past. On the other hand, it's disconcerting and exhiliarating at the same time: I feel like someone who's just showed up in this world and is taking her first steps, much like those of the Apollo 11 astronauts on the moon. I feel as if I've been jettisoned from my old world, from my past, after having had only that past as a resource.

What that means is that I can't act out of memory. Somehow I've become acutely aware of this after the week that just passed. I have taken walks, seen plays, gone to dinner and done all sorts of other things with the women and men with whom I've been romantically or sexually involved, as well as with friends, family members and co-workers. But somehow none of it applied when Dominick and I walked along Long Island Sound at the former Fort Totten, when we circulated among the crowd at the reception that followed the play we saw at the college, and even when we just whiled time away after walking out of the movie.

The past year, the past five years, the previous five, the forty that came before: all of them seem frozen in some sort of amber that I couldn't crack even if I wanted to. It seems that the people with whom I am friendly now--and I include my parents--have either moved away, and helped me to progress from, it or simply weren't part of it in the first place. I also realize now that those who've decided they no longer want to be friends or otherwise continue relationships with me have chosen to enclose themselves in that amber: They only know the past, and how I was in it, and don't want to move on, with or without me.

It seems I have been handed down, given a place to be. But I'm still getting used to it, really. After all, I only entered it--slowly, and with a lot of fear--five years ago. And I'm fifty now: at the end of a ray of time, but still younger, younger than before.

18 October 2008

Leaving a Movie for the Imagination

Tonight Dominick and I went to a movie. We lasted through the first twenty minutes or so of Quarantine, a remake of a movie I've never seen. Whether or not that makes any difference, I'll never know.

I don't know which of us damned he movie more. Dominick said it reminded him of The Blair Witch Project, but wasn't as good. I replied that I felt like I was watching The Exorcist without the charm.

Because it was made in a psedo-documentary style, I can see the connection to Blair Witch. On the other hand, the sheer grotesqueness of some of the footage does recall The Exorcist. The only problems are that the story isn't as compelling and the acting isn't anywhere near as good in Quarantine.

Anyway, getting out of there gave us an excuse to wander a bit and laugh together. We were passing time and neither of us wanted to go home. So he drove up 36th Street into the upper part of Astoria. It looked like someone was staging a miniature version of the San Gennaro festival, complete with greasy sausage and pepper sandwiches and zeppole.

Since we both know better than to connect anything in a "festival" like that with our heritage, Dominick and I didn't eat any of the food or partake in any of the arcade games. The still air grew colder under not-quite-silver three-quarter moon, so we didn't want to walk outside. Instead, we ducked into the church for a few minutes.

Carvings that looked like gargoyles adorned each end of each pew. The bulbs on the string of lights outside the stained glass window created the kind of image Van Gogh might've if he were simply melancholy among people who tried to cheer him up.

But it was enough to spark my imagination: I practically floated down the aisle seperating two rows of pews in a long, billowy dress to meet him on the altar. Somehow, as non-religious as each of us are, we cannot imagine doing it any other way, in any other institution. At least, Dominick tells me he feels that way.

17 October 2008

Change, Then and Now

During the year before I started living full-time as a woman, I had a lot of thoughts about, and flashbacks to, very early in my childhood. I'm talking about the time before I entered kindergarten. For one thing, I was trying to pinpoint possible sources of my gender identity conflict, and when I first became aware of it. I still don't have the answer to either question, but I know when was the first time I became aware of what the conflict between my body and spirit could mean. It was my first day at school, when some adult who wasn't my teacher told the boys to get on one line and the girls on the other. You know where I stood. And so the complications began.

Up to that moment, I knew--even though I didn't have the words--that I wasn't quite a boy, and that I wouldn't become a man. And being, actually, a rather sheltered kid in spite of my family's relative poverty, my gender identity really wasn't that much of an issue. When my mother worked, I spent my days with her parents. I don't recall my grandmother doing things, or giving me any toys, that were boy-specific: no toy soldiers and such. Sometimes my grandfather took me on "train rides" on the subways. As I recall, I wasn't so enthralled by the machinery as I was by the panorama of places and people we saw from the windows.

Some might say that I longed for the safety and security I felt then. Perhaps. It's one thing to know who you are, or aren't, even if you have only the name that was given to you but not the names of the ones who do battle within you. But suffering with the complications that arise when you still don't know those names, much less how to resolve or otherwise deal with such a conflict, is much worse. It's like always feeling, within, the cold that fills you after someone you find repulsive finds a way to get you into his or her bed.

Anyway, around the time I began to live full-time as a woman, my reminisces turned toward my puberty and early adolescence. That may have had something to do with the changes my body were undergoing after a few months on hormones: My breasts were growing and my skin was growing softer, among other things. This is often referred to as a "second" puberty, and--for me, at least--fits of uncontrollable giggles or crying over romantic songs on the radio accompanied it.

Now I find myself flashing back to the fall semester of my senior undergraduate year at Rutgers. Somehow that fall felt particularly autumnal, as I understood what that meant. The weather was about right: save for a couple of days, it wasn't exceptionally cold or warm, as I remember. But more important, I knew that changes were already happening and more were to come.

Nearly every chance I got, I took the NJ Transit and PATH trains to "the city"--the one in which I have lived for more than two decades. Sometimes I went to see a play in some little space in the East Village or to hear someone or another play in some bar or cafe I probably wouldn't have gone to for any other reason. Still other times I just hung out--in the bookstores, on the Village streets, or on the Staten Island Ferry. Of course, I never set foot on Staten Island: I rode the boat back and forth, inhaling the metallic briny mist on the front deck as the boat surfed rippled water in sight of the skyline, a few bridges and the Statue of Liberty.

Even when I walked or rode my bike around the campus, my mind was on that ferry, those streets, those bookstores and cafes and theatres. You might say that I was in college, but not of it.

Sometimes I regret that now, but then it made sense. For one thing, all I had to do was accumulate enough credits to graduate: I had already fulfilled my major and course distribution requirements. And I was guaranteed to graduate with an entirely unexceptional record: Phi Beta Kappa was out of the question. What's more, I anticipated that within a few months, I would be somewhere else, and I would probably never see any of my fellow-students, or professors--or, for that matter, the school itself--ever again.

Sometimes I feel that way about the college in which I'm teaching. Will I come back after my operation? Intellectually, I know the answer is "most likely yes." But who knows?

Don't get me wrong: I'm enjoying it. I am fortunate enough to have two classes I truly enjoy, two that are satisfactory and one that, well, has its moments, but isn't terrible. And, I must say, some faculty and staff members seem to be going out of their way to treat me well.

I noticed this tonight, when I went to see Anna in the Tropics in the college's theatre. First, the playwright, Nilo Cruz, read a short play he said he had to write before he could do Anna. Then a reception followed, to which Dominick came after work. Maybe he's the reason I felt more comfortable than I had at previous gatherings. Of course, that's how I feel with him. Perhaps the other faculty and staff members I saw were responding to that in me.

Cady Ann offered the best example of that. She's the English Department secretary and one of my favorite people in the college. "Is he your..."

I nodded.

She hugged me. "Congratulations. He's beautiful."

"Thanks. I know..."

"Listen to you!"

"I know his real beauty."

"Of course. Why else would you be with him? But he is cute..."

"Well, thank you."

"I'm so glad for you."

Now there's a difference between myself and that year when I was facing, with dread, the prospect of the rest of my life, as a man. What would I have been like if I'd had Dominick back then? Of course, that's really just another way of asking what my life than would have been if I could be the person I am now.

And what was I doing during my senior year? Well, I had a few one-nighters, mostly away from the campus. But, when I was on campus, I was hanging out with Betsy, and letting everyone think I was more of a stud than I ever could be. Guys would nudge me and wink upon seeing her. If anyone asked what we did, I would only grin. Of course I wasn't going to talk about the conversations we had about the things in which we'd lost our faith, or the times when she talked me out of jumping off a ledge or taking a razor blade to the lines I'd marked on my wrists.

No, I haven't lately been thinking about offing myself: In fact, the notion hasn't even crossed my mind since I started my gender tranisiton. And, Dominick is not just eye and arm candy, even though he could be.

Change--at least, the prospect of it--is the common denominator between now and then. The difference is, of course, I have some idea of what that means, and could mean. This, of course, does not imply certainty.

15 October 2008

An E-Mail and a Warp In Time

An e-mail made my day today, even though its tone was sad and rather anxious.

Sajidur, who took three classes with me, graduated last year. Since then, I've thought about him a lot. And, last year, I really wished he was around: One becomes an educator to be of service to people like him, not to academic bureaucrats. He is very smart and works hard. Best of all, he appreciates what you do, no matter how small it is, for him, and you find yourself appreciating him because he's, well, him.

How can I describe him? Well, he's not tall or in any other way physically imposing. But he is formidable, in part because of what most people would call his intelligence. Yes, he does have more intellectual prowess than most people. But more important, at least in my opinion, is what I like to think of as his spiritual quotient, if you will.

As I got to know him, I came to realize that his appreciation for literature--and his ability to write about it--is really part and parcel of the same gift that allows him to understand his major, business, so well. You might say he's a creative spirit, although I doubt he would ever describe himself as a creative anything.

Even when we talked about an assignment for the class, I felt somehow as if our souls, rather than our egos, were conversing. Too often, people conflate ego with intellect. I have done that myself: I have done things ostensibly for intellectual reasons, but they were really a gratification of my ego. In other words, I took inordinate pride in being smart enough--or, more accurately, having people think I was smart enough--to do whatever I was doing, whether it was playing Scrabble or explaining how a particular kind of poetry works and how it's related to quantum mechanics.

All right, that last part is fiction. I've never in my life compared anything to quantum mechanics, mainly because I don't know what it is. But I have given explanation that were pure mierda de toro and congratulated myself, mainly for impressing someone who didn't know any better.

Anyway, back to Sajidur. He wants to meet for a heart-to-heart talk. A lot of things he never could have anticipated have happened to him since graduation, he says, along with the way this country has deteriorated economically and politically (and, to my mind, spiritually) during that time. Everybody's tense and anxious, or so it seems, and I don't envy anyone who has to find a job.

He also said he read an article I wrote a couple of weeks ago. In it, I said that the United States has become an economic plutocracy. "I couldn't agree more," he said. " The greed has taken us to lands belonging to others and killing and destroying without justification. " I couldn't have said it any better.

Now you know another side of him: He doesn't go around saying "evil capitalist system" or anything like that. He had expressed interest in a career in international business. But, at the same time, he doesn't see greed as a good business practice or conquest as the only kind of success.

However, the part of his e-mail that struck me most was near the end, when he said "All of a sudden I feel twenty years older." I can relate to that, oddly enough, because my recent exprerience has been almost the inverse of that: I feel younger than I did twenty years ago (and people who've known me, or seen my old photos, say that I look younger), and somehow that makes those times seem even more distant. Maybe it's because, paradoxically enough, getting older has meant becoming more whole, and in some ways, simpler.

Well, there's also the fact that my undergraduate days are much further in the past for me than Sajid's are for him, or anyone else his age. What that means, for me, is that I really don't think much about them these days, so I don't dwell on how long ago they were. For me, those days were mainly a time of confusion and anger, so I have less reason to think about it than I do.

In any event, I just want to see him again. Maybe soon...Anything I can do to help the time pass without aging him, or me.

13 October 2008

From Denials to Uniting

Today I got to spend some time with Dominick, finally. I don't think we've been together since the school year started. So a season has passed, literally, since then.

And have either of us changed? Maybe. The last time we saw each other, only our thin summer clothes seperated one of us from the other. But today, a rather warm day with a cool breeze that reminded me that yes, indeed, it's autumn, I felt as if...

Well, I'll try to describe it metaphorically, through a place we visited: Fort Totten, on Long Island Sound in Bayside. It was decomissioned about fifteen years ago, I think. Now it's a park that is accessible only to cyclists and pedestrians.

(Why are military bases such great places when they're not military bases anymore?)

Along the road that loops around the perimeter of the park--and, for about half of its length, curves with the shoreline--stand sturdy old red brick buildings that once housed officers. At one point, three of the buildings open out to a patch of lawn. And they're all covered with ivy that, like the leaves on the trees, has just begun to turn various shades of red and yellow and gold.

It seems that buildings like those are made specifically to be looked at in autumn. And there they were, on the edge of that road that, from there, made a turn toward the sea.

So it was possible to see, if only fleetingly, those colors of turning, changing earth transposed and then merged with the metallic blue and gray waves of the water, sky and a bridge a bit off in the distance.

Was I looking at two parts of the same soul uniting? Or two souls, or minds, joining, or at least drawing closer?

I have always loved both the tones of the sea and the shades of the earth. But I never really expected to see both in harmony. And I guess I'm one of those people who, if she doesn't expect to see something, she fights or denies it until there is no other choice. Then she doesn't "learn" to love it; rather, the love finds her.

I spent three years denying how I felt about Dominick. There were the rationales: he was too young; we saw things too differently; I'd had relationships exclusively with women for the previous 20 years, etc. But over the past year or so, it's come to the point that I can't, and don't want to, deny him--deny his love--any longer. And I certainly don't want to deny it because it is something I never expected to have in my life.

That, by the way, is a pretty good analogy to how I reacted over getting the job I have now. I had long since given up any hope of getting a full-time faculty position at a college because I'm too old, don't have a PhD and don't fit into academic culture. And this semester, when I got one--if by default--I let the college's administration drag me into it kicking and screaming instead of running to embrace it. And I used the same sort of reasoning: I'm too old, don't have a PhD, don't fit in and will be resented by my colleagues for getting in through the back door, so to speak. In fact, I went all the way back to my youth, when I told myself that teaching was the last thing in the world I ever wanted to do.

At one time, sleeping with a man was just about the last thing I would've allowed myself to do. Being a woman was probably the only thing I was less willing to do. And in both cases, they were exactly what I wanted. At least, to be a particular kind of woman with a particular sort of man--although, I must say, both turned out to be a little different from what I'd expected. Better, actually.

As was this day: better than anything I could've anticipated. And so was the dinner we had at the end of it: at a waterside restaurant called Louie's in Port Washington. Neither of us had eaten lobster or any other shellfish in some time, so we ordered a "clambake special" that included two lobsers, a few clams and oysters, corn on the cob, a potato and cole slaw. All of that after an appetizer of calamari and home-baked bread. All of it washed down by cheesecake and coffee for him, mint herbal tea for me. All of it delicious. And each of us brought home a lobster and other things we couldn't finish.

Just in front of our table, Louie's pier jutted out into the water. Twilight was turning into evening, and I saw a light, above the skimming boats and their flickering reflections, in the horizon. And I recalled that we were in Gatsby country, more or less. And it is not the end of summer or the beginning of fall; it is autumn now. Autumn, with three more seasons to follow until I unite in the way I've always wanted: my body to my soul. Or as close as they're likely to come in this life. My body to my soul; my soul to another. To his.

12 October 2008


So today's the "real" Columbus Day. It means, what, that we're celebrating some guy who got lost on his way to India from Spain.

In celebration of getting lost...hmm, my life would be one of the longest-running holidays. I sometimes tell people that I'm a direct descendant of Columbus and inherited his navigational skills.

I've gone to other countries and gotten lost more times than I count. (Sometimes I think the first foreign phrase I should have learned is Je suis perdue.)

Getting lost can be frustrating or fun, or both. Of course, when you have to be at a certain place at a certain time, it can put a crimp in your plans. However, when you're not in a hurry, you can see all kinds of interesting things and meet even more interesting people. The only problem is that if you try to find them later, you might not: It's hard to get to a place on purpose after you've reached it by getting lost, or at least not going according to plan.

You might say that a good part of my life has been about being lost. After all, I was always in a foreign country, if you will: I never seemed to speak the language, or do anything else, the way the natives and locals did. My body always seemed to be in the wrong place; I was out of place in my body. Sometimes I still feel that way, although I at least don't feel lost to myself.

Today I took a bike ride and didn't get lost. But I was taking a ride I've taken many times before, with someone who knew the way. To Point Lookout, which is near Jones Beach, and from there to Coney Island.

And now I'm back, and I'm not lost.

11 October 2008

The World Didn't End Today

Late this afternoon, I went out to shop. Not a single cloud hovered in the sky; the breeze flickered the ends of my hair ever so slightly. Some people wore jackets and scarves; others, like me, dressed only one step away from the beach. My denim skirt fell to just above my knees, and a dark lilac-colored t-shirt clung to my chest but, thankfully, not my belly. And I stepped along in one of my most comfortable pairs of shoes: a pair of Keen flip-flops with soles like sports shoes, and a lilac-colored nylon thongs that curved from behind my toes to surprisingly graceful toe guards.

Along the way, I stopped at for some chicken and basmati rice from four guys who work out of a truck in front of a supermarket. They have won the Vendy awards, which are referred to as the food vendors' Emmys. The leader of them, who wears brightly printed pants and hats with food motifs, had his first grandchild last week, even though he looks younger than I do. And he and the guys were their usual friendly and funny selves.

And the chicken was the best I've had from them. That's saying something. To use a cliche, it melted in my mouth. Better yet, it filled my mouth with its tender yet spicy flavor that oozed from the moist, succulent flesh.

All right, so I'm not Gael Greene. I never said I was a food writer. But that chicken rivalled the best I've ever eaten. What amazes me is that those guys make such good food and keep everything so clean while working from a truck. Once, when I commented on it, they said it was because they're halal. I'll admit, the halal restaurants and stores in which I've eaten were clean and served mostly good food. (Then again, I'm a fan of Middle Eastern and South Asian foods.)

It's funny--Sometimes you know that plate of chicken, that bowl of soup, that bottle of beer (I haven't had any in decades), is going to be special, even though it's a brand of beer you've drunk or something you've eaten from a kitchen or restaurant from which you've eaten before


Could it be that the chicken was really that good? Or did it have something to do with the kind of day it was?

Very few days were ever prettier or felt nicer than today was. Nothing special happened; it was just one of those days in which you just can't even imagine hardship or evil, even after what you've heard on the news or read in the newspapers during the preceding days.

Everywhere you went during the past few days, people were talking about the economy. Of course. The stock market has just had the worst week in its history, and there's even talk about a depression. I know--I've written articles about--how what's happening now is a result of pure and simple mendacity and profound disrespect for other people. If you have any respect at all for someone, you don't lie to that person to get him or her to buy something he or she can't afford, much less shoot at him, her or anyone else who's never done any harm to you.

It's odd: When I was learning about the Great Depression in school, I somehow got the idea that Black Thursday was the "dark and stormy night" and that the days--years--that followed featured heavy gray skies and dust. Maybe it has to do with those grainy black-and-white photos. I never got the impression that the country--and much of the world--plunged into its economic abyss on a day like this one. I guess most people can't imagine Camus's "le mort en pleurait du ciel claire." I think (I hope) I'm remembering that passage from La Peste right: something about death coming out of the clear blue sky.

What I've just described--that expectation of terrible things happening under storm clouds--is exactly the reason to enjoy a day like this one. If wars, economic crises and such happen independently of nature, what is the point of not enjoying nature when it's to your liking? Also, if the storm on the horizon is going to strike where you live, you may as well prepare, and have some fun if you can.

For me, that joy came after I'd bought a pair of sneakers and was walking down the shopping strip of Broadway in Astoria. Walking toward my house means walking toward the East River--westward. Which means seeing sunsets. I could practically feel myself floating, even flying, in spite of--or maybe because of--everything. No matter what else has happened, at the end of the day there was still that glow of colors in the cloudless sky and a gentle breeze that makes my skin feels like delicate wings that are still strong enough to carry me lightly over what I have walked. I was weightless because, at least for a few moments, I could feel my own weight; I could feel my own weight because so much weight that wasn't my own--the inherited anger, the borrowed rage--has been lifted from me.

When I lose those emotions, I feel sorrow--yes, sometimes for myself-- at least until I find something to learn.

I don't know exactly what I've learned, at least not yet. Maybe it was just another lesson in living in the moment--which isn't always the easiest thing to do when you're looking forward to something. But, really, none of us has any choice but to live in the moment, if not for it.

And today I--and millions of other people--were able to live under a nearly cloudless sky and weather that only the most committed nihilist couldn't love.

Best of all, it was the moment, and I was the person I am--Justine--living it.

10 October 2008

A Friendship Between a Man and a Woman

Today Bruce and I went to a Thai restaurant near his office in Soho for lunch. We often meet on Fridays for lunch, and we'd been to that restaurant before. The food's always been good and the place is cozy enough to be comfortable but not too compressed for a claustrophobe like me. And, it seems, whenever we go there, one of us shares some story or another that reveals, or more exactly, confirms something one of us always suspected of the other.

Today Bruce told me of how his intervention may have saved a young woman's life, or at least kept her from even more harm than she suffered. Four young men were hanging out on the block where Bruce lives. They all were dressed in the same outfit, with some sort of logo. The young woman in question was walking down the block, toward a club around the corner. Bruce was on the opposite side of the street, walking to his house.

The young men stalked and tried to accost the young woman. But Bruce crossed the street and walked between those young men and the young woman to the corner. Then, a split-second after he turned away and started to walk back to his house, he heard her scream.

One of those young men grabbed her. As she explained afterward, she thought he wanted her purse, so she slid it down her wrist so he could take it easily. But he didn't touch it. Instead he struck and grabbed her, and banged her head against a car.

Well, Bruce charged at the guy and scuffled with him. He ended up with a cut and bruise on his upper lip and a few other scratches and cuts. The young man took off and joined his cohorts, who, it seemed, were hiding behind a car. They made a dash through the parking lot of a supermarket across the street, and disappeared into the night.

Bruce made no attempt to portray himself as a hero, which is typical of him . Rather, he said that it was the only thing he could do, ethically and practically.

I thanked him, on behalf of that woman. "I've never met her, but you did something for me when you helped her." He seemed to understand what I said. I've known him long enough to have smake sense of things that made even less sense.

Somehow I felt more like a woman--specifically, his female friend--as he told this story. Of course, this has to do with how I felt for the young woman I've never met and most likely never will meet. But more important, something I long suspected became absolutely palpable: his unique combination of a strong sense of himself and empathy.

In other words, he doesn't do things like helping that young woman to affirm his manhood or to exact vengeance against anyone or anything. After he related the story, I realized that this is the reason why I've always felt safe--even protected--with him, even though for much of the time we've known each other we were doing the sorts of things male buddies do together. (Yes, we've been to a sports bar together. And we once pursued the same woman, who finally chose "none of the above.") In other words, what he did for her was utterly characteristic of him, and I know he'd do something like that for me because, well, he has. No, he didn't face down a would-be attacker, at least not physically. But at various times, he has defended me against verbal and psychological bullies and was, well, there for me when I felt weak and vulnerable.

And so, as a woman, I really appreciated what he did for that young woman I most likely will never meet. On the other hand, if I'd heard it when we were younger, I probably would've cheered on his heroism or some ther such quality I wanted to find in myself.

So, while he has never been physically imposing, there are few people around whom I've felt more protected than I feel around him.

In other words, even though I've never had, and probably never will have, a romantic relationship with him, there are very few people around whom I've felt so safe and, in some way, protected. That, of course, is a major reason why I've been able to talk as freely as I do with him, and why he can telll me stories like the one he told me today.

It's as if he's always known what I, as a woman appreciate--even when I was acting like "one of the guys."

08 October 2008

Nine Months

Last night I fell asleep in my chair while watching the Presidential debates. That's my excuse for not writing yesterday.

I also fell asleep during the Vice-Presidential debates. Might there be a pattern here?

So why am I upset to have missed yesterday's posting? Well, I realized today that yesterday marked exactly nine months until my surgery.

Nine months. We all know what happens during that time: a woman carries the one to whom she will give birth at the end of it. Of course, barring any really major advances in medical technology, that's something I'll never be able to do. And that's one thing about which I might feel sad (if I can, or want to, do such a thing) when I'm dying.

I don't regret not having fathered a child. Friends and family members probably thought I was afraid of responsibility: two women with whom I had relations said as much. But, if not how messed up I was, how I was messed up. At least, that's what I told myself it was then. In reality, I was dealing--actually, not dealing--with my gender-identity issues. All I did was to hate myself over them, and that self-hatred took over much of my being. If there was even the remotest chance that I could pass anything like that on to a child, I would be a criminal for taking it, I told myself. I still believe I made the right decision, if for the wrong reasons.

A few monts ago, Faria, who teaches at the college, said that I'm giving birth to myself. I thought: That's a great way of looking at my transition! For as long as I can remember, I was carrying, within me, the person whom I'm becoming. You might say that, even though my journey is not as physically arduous as that of the mother-to-be, I've been living my nine months, so to speak. Except that those nine months, if you will, have lasted for forty-five years. For a long time, the embryo I still am didn't grow; other times it evolved ever so slightly.

And now, here I am, at the beginning of the literal nine months. Somehow I expect those months will go by quickly but will be very intense. Actually, I think their intensity will make them go quickly. That alone may be a reason to be glad that I'm undergoing this transition now, rather than having experienced it earlier in my life. When we're younger, the time seems to go by more slowly and we have fewer ways of dealing with whatever comes our way.

I wonder if mothers-to-be imagine what they will be like--that is to say, how they might change--after their babies are born. Not that I would know, but I have a hard time imagining that someone is not changed--and I don't mean only physically--by bringing into the world a life she had been carrying within her.

One thing I know is that even though the surgery is a culmination of the changes we experience in our gender transitions, the transwomen I know changed in some way or another after their operations. They see people differently and have, in some cases, a confidence about themselves they never before had. I know that for some it is a disappointment, usually because they went into it for the wrong reasons. But the ones I know who've had the surgery have experienced happiness, or at least fulfillment they never had before. How could they not? That's what becoming whole does to you.

And I've heard any number of women say that they felt whole, or at least more so, after giving birth. Those nine months are really starting to sound good now. Here I've come!