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.

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