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.

No comments: