30 November 2008

Cats in the November Rain

This November's ending with rain, again. It hasn't stopped all day, but it didn't show any signs of turning into a torrent. And the temperature was just enough to prevent the rain from turning into snow or sleet.

In other words, if November has to end with precipitation, this is perfect. This kind of cold, steady rain, falling in a sad patter from a gray sky, echoes a lament of, and through, tree limbs just lately laid bare.

The last November of my current life...I suppose this is the way it was supposed to end. That's November: Gone is October's blaze of colors, yet to come--possibly--is snow, which is beautiful, at least until it turns to slush.

If living through the one month of the year that loses whatever adornments the land and the season offer affects me this much, when I'm taking hormones but don't yet to have the anatomy to go with them, what will next November--when, save for those pesky "Y" chromosomes, I'll be "all woman"-- be like?

Dominick says that, really, I'm a woman in mind, body and spirit already. I would certainly say that I'm number three on that list, and possibly number one. But as for my body: Maybe I'm more female than I was before I started this process. Still, I have a ways to go, as they say. And, the truth be told, I always will, in every sense: there is always something else to learn about this person I am becoming because I have always been and wanted to be.

This year is old; sometimes I feel I am, too. An old man, on his way out? An old woman? What a way to start one's life!

On days like this, sometimes I think cats are the smartest living creatures. They curl up and cuddle up to anything that feels soft and warm, physically or psychically. Blankets are prized targets, but the favorites are human bodies. Poor Charlie and Max: They have only one--mine! Two guys, and they have a middle-aged woman with a body like mine!

I used to have another cat named Charlie. A friend of someone in a poetry workshop I took had a cat that had just given birth to kittens. I went to that woman's house, not far from where I grew up in Brooklyn. Charlie looked at me as if he knew me: He knew me well enough to know that I was going to take him home! Throughout his life, he always seemed to get along better with women. Judith, whom I met when she was a chaplain at Housing Works, said that Charlie knew that I'm a woman even though I was in boy drag, beard and all.

Charlie (the current one) and Max are very female-friendly, too. And, it seems, they can't get enough of me---especially during a late November rain.

29 November 2008

Another Weekend Passing

This weekend's gone by so quickly. In almost no way did the days go as I'd intended. No cycling, no time with friends, didn't get as much done with my schoolwork as I'd planned. Others have done worse, I suppose.

So why am I so tired? My doctor, therapist, social worker and other trans people told me I'd feel really tired sometimes because of the changes my body is undergoing. But it's been how long already? Must be something else.

28 November 2008

Changing, Again

Today I slept late, went into two stores and, after deciding that I had better things to do than wait on the line in either one, went home.

Somewhere in there I went to a nice little pizza shop that's been around forever and not far from me. But I hadn't gone to it before because it's not on the way to or from other places I usually go. The sauce on the slice I ate was thick and tasted like not much time had passed since it was whole tomatoes. And that was on a slice that was reheated!

Finally, I went to one of those cheap stores along Broadway and bought a knockaround pair of sweat pants and a few pairs of pantyhose. And, before I went home, I stopped at my favorite street-food vendor. Three very friendly Palestinians make some of the best chicken on basmati rice, shwarma and falafel I've had anywhere. Probably the only better shwarma I've had was in Istanbul.

Just what I needed: more food, after yesterday! Maybe I do need to eat for the self to whom I am going to give birth. Several women--including three who have given birth--have told me, in the exact same words, that I am doing just that: giving birth to my self.

Does that mean that the people who know me now are seeing an embryo?

Maybe that's the reason I've thought about changing careers, even moving someplace far away, after the operation. In spite--or maybe because--of all that's been happening at the college, I feel that I will have no place in it, or in any academic institution. Take that back: I feel out of place now. In fact, I feel more like a stranger than I did the day I started to work at the college. That, in spite of how much time I'm spending on, and effort I'm putting into, my work there.

Sometimes I feel that college, and education as I've known it, are irrelevant and obsolete. The schools I've attended and in which I've taught have taught me to be the sorts of people I imitated for all of these years; none could--or probably would--teach me anything about how to give birth to myself, and to put what I have been to a peaceful, respectful rest. Everything, especially gender, is part of some binary system or another. And that is the idea I represent every time I stand before a class.

Great stuff to think about on your day off, isn't it?

27 November 2008


So...This is my last Thanksgiving before the surgery. That I am looking forward to it is, in itself, a major reason to be thankful. And everyone with whom I spent this day knows it.

So what else inspires my gratitude right now? That I'm alive, obviously: I could just as easily not be, for any number of reasons or causes. But here I is, as I say in my best English-prof way.

What else? That someone else could share her gratitude over the same, as Toni did last night. She's a student at the college, and has been at least since I started working there. She's worked as hard as anyone I've ever seen--and done it with as much style--even as the complications in her life seemed to grow more and more relentless. The latest? That her significant other was cheating on her with one of her friends, and that the house in which she'd been renting became the latest foreclosure statistic. Still, she is grateful for what she has and what she's accomplished. That made me grateful that I have a shoulder she could cry on.

Wanna know more? Well, I could sleep in today and still make it to two homes to which I'd been invited. And I could ride my bike to one, and from there to the other. And be treated so warmly, so hospitably by everyone in both houses. Everyone looked happy, and happy to see me, as I was happy to see them.

Who were they? Dominick, his mother and grandmother at my first gathering; Millie, her family and a couple of friends at the other. Even though I know I will see them again very soon, I wished I had more time with both of them. But the time I had is something for which I am thankful.

Along with the abundance of love was a bounty of good food. I might whine about the weight I probably gained today. But I'd lost some before today; I should think I could lose today's gain, and more. That I can even think that way is yet another reason for gratitude.

And afterward, when I got home, I was able to talk with my mother. My father was asleep by that time, but Mom was alert, if tired. The parents of so many other people my age are long dead; I wish mine were healthier, but at least they're still in this life. And I have a ticket to go and spend a week with them at Christmastime.

As I left, Millie and I embraced. "I am sooo blessed, I intoned as a tear flickered down my cheek.

"I know you are. And good for you!"

Now tell me...What else could I ask for now? That loneliness I used to feel--which seems to be a common denominator of transgender people before they "come out"--seems to be something that doesn't find me, even when I look for it just to see if it's still there.

When I got home and sat in my chair, Charlie and Max were at each side of me and took turns nudging their way into my lap. Both purred loudly.

25 November 2008

November Rain

A few days of rain in late November, it seems, will not stop, will never end. Today it's not falling as relentlessly as it pummeled the ground, the windows, and the bare tree branches yesterday. But it's still raining, even if not forever.

But back then it seemed like forever, or at least for the rest of my life, however long it would be. It was the day after Thanksgiving when I was fifteen, if I remember correctly. In those days, we used to go to the cemetery on what the department stores call Black Friday. We'd been living in New Jersey for a couple of years by that point; those drives to and from the cemetery on Long Island seemed as if they would never end, either.

Rain cascaded against the windshield faster than the wipers could sweep it away. A film of that rainwater trapped the reflections of headlights and streetlamps as it oozed across the winshield of the Ford station wagon--longer than a boat, with fake woodgrain paneling on the sides--that whisked tires over slick pavement. That same almost-gelatinous mix of water and captured incandescence nearly clung to the side-door and back-panel windows.

Except for the radio, the inside of that car was silent. In the rear of the car, where the seats folded in and left a flat surface on which Tony and Vin, my two youngest brothers, stretched out and fell asleep. To my right, Michael, older than them but not me, flopped on the door, never even stirring when the car rocked. In front of him, my mother, normally a light sleeper, slumped slightly forward, the darkness enveloping her.

Don't talk to the driver. And don't do anything to disturb someone's sleep. I couldn't--still can't--remember who, if anybody, told me those things. All I knew was that Dad was looking straight ahead, at whatever he could see, and there was no way I was going to talk to him, not about what I was feeling, anyway. And I wasn't going to talk to Mom at that moment, either, even though if there was somebody in the family I could've talked to, she was the one. But I wasn't sure that I could get her to understand what I was feeling at that moment-- in fact, what I'd been feeling for as long as I could rememeber--as wind started to whip the rain around and seemingly through me, even though I sat inside that car filed with darkness, the rain glazing the windshield.

Grandpa probably wouldn't have understood, either. But I found myself wishing he were present even more than I did the day after he died, when I was eight years old. I recalled the train rides I took with him: always at the front, by the conductor, where we could look out the front door. It always seemed that a station was not far away, in clear view, even when we were in a tunnel.

But the rain seemed to build layers, like a glacier, on the station wagon's winshield, even with the wiper blades snapping back and forth at their highest possible speed. I don't know how my father saw through it, or whether he did: I could see only nebulae of car lights and street lamps, as if Van Gogh and Munch collaborated on one of Toulouse-Lautrec's paintings of a Parisian dance club. Of course, in those days, I didn't know about Munch or Toulouse-Lautrec, and I only knew about Van Gogh from Don McLean's song Vincent:

Starry, starry night
Flaming flowers that brightly blaze
Swirling clouds in violet haze

Reflect in Vincent's eyes of china blue

Colors changing hue
Morning fields of amber grain
Weathered faces lined in pain
Are soothed beneath the artist's loving hand

Everything about those stanzas, except for "Are soothed beneath the artist's loving hand," made sense to me, as I heard them on the radio. I didn't fancy myself as an artist in those days, for I thought they all were like Vincent, Michelangelo or Rodin. I knew I didn't have their talents, and even in that station wagon immersed in November rain en route from the cemetery, I didn't think that my pain was anything like theirs. In fact, I didn't even think of it as pain; when it's all you know, you think it's normal. Suffering may be normal, but one's particular kind of pain may not be.

No, all I knew at that moment was that night had fallen early, the rain was falling hard and relentlessly, and at that moment I couldn't leave the inside of that car, where I couldn't talk to anybody, even if I'd known how to say what I felt and they could've understood that language. (Somehow, my mother understood it just about perfectly when I "came out" to her decades later.) And I didn't even know that I could speak that language, much less that it was my native tongue, if you will.

The radio deejay followed Vincent with the final overture of "We're Not Gonna Take It" from Tommy:

Listening to you, I get the music.
Gazing at you, I get the heat.
Following you, I climb the mountains.
I get excitement at your feet.

Right behind you, I see the millions.
On you, I see the glory.
From you, I get opinions.
From you, I get the story.

I wasn't paying close attention to the lyrics. Mainly, I heard the drumming and guitar, relentless as the rain but clearer than the winshield would've been if we'd been riding through a sunny day. Like most kids my age, I felt a surge of emotion that would've been empowering if I could have honestly told myself, much less anyone else, what demons I wanted to conquer. But, of course, as I began to learn my own language--much, much later--I would see that "conquer" and "demons" were part of the wrong metaphor. Still, the music made me feel, if not uplifted, at least--well, as if I were weathering the storm, or that storm.

I am playing that song on my CD player now. And I feel I can make it through the November rain--which is so much less daunting now! For that reason, that song, that piece of music, means much more to me, in a more visceral way, than The March of the Valkyries ever could.

That night, after we returned to New Jersey, the downpours still hadn't let up, and there were even more bare trees. My brothers went to bed; Dad was doing something to the car, and Mom turned on the TV. I sat with her, pretending to pay attention to the TV show. She knew I wanted to talk, but I didn't know what to say. Take that back: I knew exactly what to say. But I couldn't: I didn't think I could make it make sense, not even she would understand. So, I excused myself. "I'm going into my room to read."

"OK." Although I really did go into my room to read, she knew full well that wasn't the reason why I excused myself. About half an hour later, she knocked on the door to my room and opened it slowly.

"Are you OK?"

I nodded.


"Well, I'm feeling sad."


"Somehow that trip made me sadder. I know Grandpa's been dead for a long time. But I miss him even more now."

"I do too."

She knew, looking at me, that something was troubling me. For starters, I felt guilty: Although she clearly empathised with me, the way I elicited it wasn't honest. Yes, I missed Grandpa--still do--but that wasn't the reason why I thought the November rain would never end.

24 November 2008

Transgender Remembrance Day

Last night I went with Dominick to a Transgender Remembrance Day service on Long Island. Someone he calls "Dad" was one of the guest speakers. As it turned out, I'd met him before, at the LGBT Community Center in Manhattan.

He was Dominick's Spanish teacher in high school. Dominick's parents divorced when he was a small child, so his father really wasn't part of his life. That teacher, therefore, became the nearest person Dominick would have to a male parent.

Anyway, that service took place in a Unitarian church. I had been to Unitarian churches maybe once or twice before: when I was searching or had all but given up, I'm not sure of which. Dominick liked what he saw of that church; the people were indeed friendly, as he remarked. Also, he noticed, they seemed to accept everyone. I pointed out that it's one of the reasons the Unitarians were founded, and they were, along with the Quakers, spiritual leaders of the Abolition movement.

I, too, liked the people very much. But I also remarked on the homogeneity of the people there. "For me, it's cultural shock to be in a room full of white, mostly middle-class people."

"I know how you feel," Dominick said.

"We work in multicultural environments. I'm in a college where 80 percent of the students are black. Being around people who are different from me is normal now."

He laughed with a twinge of recognition. "I never feel like I'm around my own people."

"That's exactly what all those transgender people said tonight. That's how I felt through most of my life."

"But you know, while I think it's great to be in New York with all these different kinds of people, I'm not so sure that it teaches people how to live with people who are different from themselves."

"Well, if a person's not ready, nothing and no one can teach them."

"It's what you learn at home."

He's right, at least to a point. For most people, chances are that if they don't learn tolerance from their families, they won't learn it from anyone else, anywhere else. But the operative phrase is "chances are." I wondered, "Are you really bound by that?"

"Well, pretty much...I see it in kids."

"I know what you mean. But just because your family did something, it doesn't mean you have to do it, too."

I was thinking of the murdered transgendered people whose names we read at the service. I was one of the few people who also had the name of the victim's killer: Antonio Williams. Where did he learn to hate a man in woman's clothes enough to shoot him in the head with a semi-automatic rifle? Even if his parents (if he had them) or any other adult in his childhood taught him to hate cross-dressers, how could they intensify that hatred enough to kill in such a brutal way? How did any of those who killed those people whose names we read learn to hate a transgender, drag queen or king, or anyone else who deviates from proscribed gender roles, enough to stab her multiple times in the torso, head and groin or to plug her with ten, fifteen or twenty bullets. Those are some of the stories I remember from last night.

"My" victim, Brian Mc Glothlin, was only 25 years old when Antonio Williams killed him on 23 December of last year. The 23rd: the day after Corey, a friend of mine, committed suicide in 1982. I spent the last night of his life with him: He'd called me, and I just knew he couldn't wait. He didn't talk about ending his life; rather, he alluded to its futility and pointless pain. "Why do I have to live a life in a man's body but feel like a woman?"

That was exactly the question I asked myself nearly every day for forty years. I didn't tell him that; rather, I said some things that now seem vague about feeling out of place and misunderstood. Back then, I was nowhere near acknowledging my own truth; I wasn't even near admitting that I had problems with drugs and alcohol. I held him; he actually fell asleep in my arms. I'd hoped somehow that he could sleep it off, or I could hug all of that self-hatred out of him. How could I, when I was so filled with hatred of myself?

Somehow Corey's death has always seemed as violent--like a murder, at least in a spiritual sense--as those of any of those whose names we read last night. Which is why after I pronounced my last sentence-- "For his deed, the gunman is now serving a six-year prison sentence"--I could not stop crying as I stepped off the altar and walked back to the pew where Dominick and I had been sitting.

I never met Brian Mc Glothlin. I've never been to Cincinnati, where he was killed. Yet I felt, at that moment, as if I'd lost a member of my family, or at least my community. Intellectually, I know that I couldn't've prevented Brian's or Corey's death. But sometimes I still find myself echoing Camus's character who believes his failure to say "hello" to someone contributed to that person's suicide. Maybe, just maybe, if I'd more openly acknowledged how I felt--that I, a woman, loved Corey, whatever her gender--if I'd only shared that,,,,Could I have started a chain of love, or short-circuited a chain of hatred that would have prevented the horrible deaths of Corey, Brian and any number of people who, whether they were killed by their own or someone else's hand?

Of course the "sensible" answer is "no." But does the fact that I was not, at that time in my life, capable of being anything like an agent of peace and understanding (and maybe I'm still not) absolve me from blame for what I didn't do--or, more important, its consequences?

If for no other reason, going to that memorial was good for me because I most likely wasn't the only person there who'd asked herself such questions. Or who'd come to remember people they'd never met but with whom they felt a spiritual kinship. Isn't that the purpose of a remembrance (as opposed to a mere memorial), after all?

22 November 2008

Another Fall, Again?

Another cold, blustery day. Most of the trees are bare now; the remaining leaves swirl and rustle, echoing the last flickering of a flame.

And I wonder now about my job, as lots of people are, although my concern is different. I was observed by a senior prof three weeks ago. Two days earlier, I observed an adjunct prof. I--and I assume the other faculty members--received a notice saying that we had to submit our observation report within a week of the observation. That's what I did, but the prof who observed me hasn't.

But that, in and of itself, is not the problem. Here's what's bothering me: A few days after the observation, this prof told me my class was "really good" and he was "glad" that I was "teaching a basic skill" rather than "having them talk about their feelings." But when I saw him yesterday, he apologized, then said, "Well, I have to go back and look at my notes."

Cady Ann, the secretary, says not to "sweat it." She says I worry too much. But what am I supposed to think? Plus, I know I'm under all kinds of scrutiny this semsester, and if I were to get a poor, or even a mediocre or merely good observation, I might not be reappointed. Then what?

I know Cady Ann and other people think I'm a worrywart and try to pacify me. But they don't realize that I had one evaluator tell me to my face that my class was fine, then slam me on the report. That professor also took longer than normal to submit her report. And, after my transition, I went back to a former boss, looking for work. He said "there were problems" with my work; that I was "erratic." Well, for one thing, I'd had nothing but very good and excellent reports. (I guess I always had to be either excellent or very good. ) And, for another. he himself praised my work when I was working for him.

Unfortunately, the academic world is full of people who will tell you something one day, then its exact opposite, or something that simply contradicts it, the next day. Is it any wonder that so many of our students are put off? They live lives in which whatever worked today might not work tomorrow, and parents, guardians and other people who are in their lives today are gone tomorrow, for no apparent reason. They see the college as another place that has the dysfunction and is run by the seemingly fickle fate of the homes and neighborhoods from which they come.

All right. If Cady Ann wants to call me a worrywart and you want to call me something more clinical or vulgar, well, I won't protest. After all, I don't want anything that has even the slightest possibility of keeping me from getting my surgery, or that could cloud life after it. My original plan was to keep a low profile this year; things seem not to have worked that way. Of course, being visible makes you a target, which is what I didn't want. Then again, I haven't been trying to gain notice, except perhaps in a professional way.

Then again, I suppose everything I'm doing and experiencing could have positive outcomes; after all, knowing that you've accomplished something--which is a distinct possibility for this year--usually leaves a good feeling. And that wouldn't be a bad way to end this school year and come to my surgery, would it?

I hope for those things. But for now, there are waiting, worrying along with the hoping, if not believing. Hoping and believing don't come as naturally to me as worrying does, but, well, what else can I do?

And then there is the end of this fall. Or so it seems. One more season gone in my current life. It's been an intense, both in the best and worst senses, time. Which is good, even beautiful. I must admit, I am feeling a little sad because I know I won't hold on to as much of this as I would have tried to keep if I'd had times like these earlier in my life. Why? Well, because I've been busy, and moving forward. Of course both of those things are good, and good for me. But I also wonder whether I'm losing some part of myself.

Then again, being backward- rather than forward-looking has never left me saner, happier or in any other way better. But it's what I did for so much of my life. I'm still learning to live with hope, if not belief, if only because the past is less and less of an option for me. Somehow I think it has to do with my gender transition. I don't know why, but I think women don't have as much of an option of living in--or yearning for--the past as much as men do. It may have to do with the fact that many women give up their names--and lives that went along with them--when they get married. Even when they don't, there's still an unwritten, unspoken expectation that they will follow their husbands.

But I also think there's something more basic, possibly hormonal, that I can't explain. I mean, why is it that the audience for O'Reilly, Hannity and Colmes, Rush Limbaugh and Fox (Faux) News consists mainly of men, mostly past a certain age, but also younger ones who think they're entering a world in which women, blacks, gays, and whomever else you can think of, usurped some of the privileges they believe their fathers or grandfathers had at one time.

In other words, they see a fall coming and they don't want to give up their garden, whatever's growing in it. Do words like entitlement and perogative ring a bell?

Giving up whatever certainties one had in one's life is always difficult. I just wish I could do it more gracefully. And worry less, like everyone says I should.

21 November 2008

Sleep and Darkness and Cold

It's been one of those days during which the cold goes straight for your bones. Of course, there have been much colder days than today--not for a long time, though. That must be the reason why it feels absolutely frigid tonight: We've had a mild fall, which was preceded by summer, a warm spring and a mild winter. Most of us simply are not used to this kind of weather right now.

But the cold today: The best thing you can say about it is that it wasn't wet. I don't mind cold or wet; having both is just miserable. So it wasn't all bad, really. The thing is, now we know that even if winter is not here, it will cast a shadow over everything that comes before the spring. And some will die from it; that happens every year.

I think this is the time that seperates those who capitulated to the darkness from those who will die from the cold, and those who will survive. I'm thinking again of Toni, who killed herself in early November--just after we turned back the clocks and the days were thus shorter--four years ago. She, like most people--I include myself--feared the darkness even more than the cold. I think that's why people like her are/were so affected by the change in the seasons. After all, there are ways to prepare for, and even live with the cold. It's much harder to make peace with darkness. Is it any wonder that most people--again, I include myself--fear blindness more than any other physical disability that might befall them?

And I am feeling very sleepy right now. My eyes have closed just about any time I've sat still--including the subway ride home from the campus. I missed the stop--Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights--where I was going to transfer to the local train so I could go to Steinway Street, the site of my bank and a few errands I'd wanted to run. So I disembarked at Queens Plaza, the following stop, and took the local train two stations back to Steinway.

It wasn't a big deal: It added maybe a couple of minutes to my trip and I wasn't trying to make any appointments. But I practically sleep-walked off the train, to the bank and the pizzeria (an old one, where the owner is very nice to me and makes a great Sicilian pie) and to the two stores I wanted to visit. In one of them, I couldn't even muster the energy to try on a pair of sweat pants, which I've been wanting to buy. The prospect of removing my coat, shoes, skirt and possibly my tights, and having to put them back on, daunted me. At least when I got home I could take off my clothes and slip into my robe, a.k.a. my kitty magnet. I mean, think about it: Two guys locked up in the house all day. And a woman comes home, puts on a plush robe and lies down. How do you expect them to behave, even when said woman looks like me?

You know I'm really tired if I'm making jokes like that.

19 November 2008

A New Rhythm: Blame It On The Moon--Or Hormones?

Another night at the college. Yes, I am out of my mind. What can I tell ya?

So will tomorrow be like Tuesday, which also followed a night of my staying at the college? I felt fine through my morning classes. But during my midday break, I started to nod off in my office and dragged myself through my afternoon class. Tomorrow I have those classes, plus an evening class.

A couple of weeks ago, I told my mother that I've been turning into something of a night owl: I will often stay up to two or three in the morning to read, write or do some research on one thing or another on the Internet. And then, if I can sleep late that morning, I do.

I'm not sure of why I do this. Could it be the hormones, and the changes that have resulted from taking them? Or does it have something to do with age?

My mother used to fall asleep around the time the Johnny Carson show ended--or even later. If she was still awake, she'd watch some movie or another that was shown only in the wee hours of morning, and fall asleep to that. And I have known other women who stayed up later than their husbands or boyfriends. The housewives would iron clothes or prepare foods they were going to cook the next day, or even later. Others would read or engage in other solitary activities. Their reasons were the same: They could get things done at those hours when no one else was awake and making demands on them.

Now, when I'm at home, the only ones who make demands of me are Charlie and Max. And what do they want? To be fed and watered, And stroked. Or sometimes they want to use me for a rubbing post, or they want to curl up with me. The difference is that they don't whine or complain; they purr. They both have deep, resonant purrs, and when they're both curled up with me, it's much better than being in a vibra-massage chair! And they don't seem to mind when I live by a lunar schedule: They sleep when and where they feel like it.

Lunar...I wonder if that's the answer to the questions I posed. Maybe I'm living by more of a lunar cycle now. If astrology, any number of religions and mythologies you can name, and at least half of all the poets and artists who ever lived--not to mention more than a few scientists --are right, then the hormones probably are responsible for the change in my quotidien cycles.

I don't think any of them (except, perhaps, for a few of the scientists) said anything like that directly. But it always seems that that the moon and femaleness, or at least femininity, are always linked in everything from poem to postulate. Moon deities have been, more often than not, female. And various forms of insanity have been considered feminine and lunar. So, too, have the tides, long before any scientist established the connection between them and lunar magnetism.

Tides--Moon--Estrogen? I'm willing to go along with that one. Both the sea and the moon have been described as harsh mistresses. I have never been called anything like that. Harsh, yes. Mistress...Well, actually, a girlfriend of mine used to call me her mistress. I guess you could say she opened the door of my closet, at least a little.

You can't keep the moon and the tides in a closet. I guess I should have known. Actually, I did but I acted as if I didn't.

Wasn't there a pop song called "Blame It On The Moon?" Could I blame it on the hormones? It wouldn't fit the meter or rhythm of that line very well, would it. I guess that I'd need a new rhythm. I kinda hope that: After all, I have been developing a new rhythm, haven't I?

And who or what is there to blame for that?

18 November 2008

Flurry and Fall; Weird or Queer?

This morning, I arrived at my 8:00 am class early. It was almost impossible not to, as the class was two doors away from my office, where I'd spent the night.

Only five of the twenty-three students had arrived. That was all right with me; we still had time. Another walked in and exclaimed, "It's snowing!"

I peeked through the slats of the blinds that covered the classroom window. Yes, indeed: Flurries were fluttering down. On the blackboard, I wrote the following:

Snow flurries; leaves tumble.

Then I slipped over to the window and peeked through the slats again:

The sun is retreating into clouds

I continued this pattern: Look out the blinds, write a line, go back to the blinds--until it was time to start the class, and I had written the following:

Snow flurries; leaves tumble
The sun is retreating into clouds
Below them, the ground lies bare.

Morning now. None has died
From darkness, only from cold.
They are falling

And I am waking
To their dreams unfolding
Reflections in my eyes.

As I wrote, the room filled with students. By the time I stopped, we were about five minutes into the class. Imagine coming into class at 8 in the morning--especially after you've worked a night shift, as many of those students do--and seeing your professor almost entranced and writig strange things on the board.

Without my prompting, some students said they liked it. One called it "deep." It'll take me a while to know whether or not it's worth anything, or whether I can expand it, edit it or do anything else to it. I'm not even sure of what, if anything, it means.

Can you imagine one of the students going to the dean's office and saying, "Professor Justine got weird on us." And any of the deans--or the president--would probably say, "Got weird?"

Actually, if anything, I might be less weird now than I used to be. I'm thinking now of a conversation I had with Nathan, an absolute sweetheart of a young man who is cute because, well, he totally looks the part of a young English professor. Somehow we got to talking about notions of "queerness" and how they have been depicted. He made the point that, basically, a "queer" is anyone who doesn't reflect his or her society's gender norms.

I thought about that one. "So, by that definition, I was probably more "queer" when I was living as a straight man."

"You're probably right. Now, you are more or less what people expect of a straight woman of your age and in your position. But you were probably different from other straight men."

"I know. I've been able to sustain only a couple of friendships with men. That's probably because I couldn't relate very well to them as a 'guy'."

"Yeah...You're emotionally different."

"Oh, you got that right. Even when I was doing 'guy' things and getting respect for how well I did them, I still never felt like 'one of the guys'."

I never, ever tried to be the weird one. Even as a teenager, I didn't rebel, even though my mother, father and teacher thought I was. I've never, ever done or said anything for the sake of being contrarian; if anything, I tried as best I could to fit in. During my teen years, I could do that somewhat by doing relatively well in school and playing sports. But when anyone talked about my future, I couldn't envision it: It was as if they were talking about someone else. Marriage, kids, becoming a military officer (my father's idea) or any number of visions my parents, teachers and other adults had of my becoming a man.

Snow flurried and leaves fell this morning. And, even after a sleepless night, I was a wide-awake lady prof. This afternoon--That was another story! I'm ready to drop even faster than those leaves. As long as I don't fall....

17 November 2008

Waking in Strange Places

Tonight I am at the college, where I'm reading papers, preparing lessons and surfing the web. I decided that if I went home, I wouldn't get enough sleep to make it worthwhile. Still, I wish I could see the cats.

I did an all-nighter at this college once before and managed to get a pretty fair amount of work done. That night, I met one other first-year faculty member who, like me, knows that this place could be better than it is, and wants to do something to make that happen.

Surprisingly, I was no more tired during my classes the following day than I would've been had I gone home and slept four or five hours, if that. But the following night, I turned the key to my door and the next thing I knew, I woke up around 10 o'clock the following morning. It's probably as close as I've come to having a blackout without drinking.

I can remember a few other times when I've walked into my door and could recall nothing else until I woke up the next day. It felt as if I were opening my eyes to some place as strange and distant from wherever I'd fallen asleep as any other country I've visited feels from this one.

Is that what I'll feel like when I awaken from the surgery? Or will I be too wracked with pain or benumbed with painkillers to notice that anything's different, or to notice anything at all? Will I waken to same self, different world? Or same world. different self?

Bruce likes to remind me that one has to become the change one wants. He says that's why I have the sort of relationship I have now with him, my parents, and other people: I became the person I always knew that I am, and they are responding to that. The weird thing is that sometimes I feel like they've all changed more than I've changed. I'm not sure of whether that's a good or bad thing.

So much of my past has become distant now. Aside from a few really vivid memories, so much seems as if it happened in another place, to another person. This isn't quite the same as the automatic process of denial that took over after I was molested, for example. Those sexual assaults never faded away; they muttered through my sleep like distant thunder one may hear on a seemingly-clear day. And, of course, that muttering turned into rumbling, then crashes accompanied by the lightning that struck. The more firmly I tried to hold on to those clear days when I ignored the thunder, the more fierce was the lightning strike.

But at least I feel that I am being released from the illusion that recalling everything is important. There are lots of emotional idiot-savants who never forget a slight or an insult but learn nothing from either, or from any other experience. Instead of a being a different person or in a different place, their lives are a sequence of, "Same shit, different year."

Well, the years have changed, but the past few haven't been "same shit" as the year before. Now I find myself waking up in different times and places, even when I am in my own bed.

What will it be like in that hospital bed? Or when I wake up from the operation? It's less than eight months away: an instant or an eternity? It depends, I guess, on how far I go and how far I come on my way to becoming a more complete version of Justine. Which, as far as I can tell, means waking up, whenever and wherever.

16 November 2008

What Is a Family?

This morning Mom and I were talking about last night's segment of 20/20. In it, Barbara Walters interviewed the "man who gave birth" and his wife. Of course, the man who gave birth to that baby was a transgender who stopped taking his hormones, and the reason why he gave birth is that his wife is not capable of doing so.

Of course, Mom asked me what I thought of it. I said it's great; after all, she couldn't have the child, so why shouldn't he? Mom said she is "still thinking about it," and that "it's a new world we're living in."

"Yes," I agreed, "A lot has changed."

A silence. "Well, you know, what we call 'a family' has changed. It's not always a man, a woman and kids the woman gave birth to."

"Oh, I know," I said. "I'd say the majority of the students I've had didn't come from that kind of family."

"Still," she said, "I remember reading that kids do better with a mother and a father."

"I totally agree. As an educator, I've seen it."

"Mmm hmm..."

"But what does it mean to be a mother or a father? They're not always the people who gave birth to the child."

"True. There are adoptions, and all kinds of other situations. Things aren't what they used to be."

Another silence. Things aren't what they used to be. If she still wishes, in some way, that things could be the way they used to be (which I could understand), she isn't acting that way. She also talked about a cable TV show about the hospital to which I'm going for my surgery. Dad's been watching it, too. I know he wishes I were--no, I'll give him credit: could be--Nick, the namesake he thought he had. In a sense, he still does: I kept "Nicholas" as my middle name, though I like to think of my last name as Nicholas-Valinotti.

Well, he's promised to go with me and Mom to the hospital. Now all I have to do is hope their health is up to the task.

They're my parents, but not only because she gave birth to me and he planted the seed. I have always had a special bond with my mother, which I believe has always been more emotionally intimate than what sons normally have with their mothers--or fathers, for that matter. For all of the self-destructive things I've done, there are others--including a suicide attempt--I didn't carry through because I thought of her.

We talked some more about the surgery. She asked me whether I'm starting to get nervous about it. "No, not about getting the surgery. Maybe the operation itself, even though I'll be sedated."

"If you really wanted to, you can change your mind."

"I know. But I've thought about this, and thought it through for a long, long time. I know why I'm doing it. I have a good idea of what to expect. But there are still things I can't even imagine."

"Of course. There always are, no matter what we do."

"True. Anything we do, there's uncertainly. But that's no reason not to do it."

"Oh, I know you're going to do it. You'll be fine."

"Because of you..."

"No, it's not just me."

" I know. I have a lot else going for me now. Still, you're being a huge help. Thank you."

She gave birth to me. I am giving birth to myself. She and Dad want to be there for that. That'll do just fine as a definition of a family, for me.

15 November 2008

The Fifteenth

It's rained through most of the day. The sun put in one of those appearances it makes when it's in the center of the storm, then the sky grew darker and heavier with the rain that resumed.

If this day were colder, it would have felt like the fifteenth of November. But this day nonetheless looked the part, with the sky I've mentioned and leaves that a week or two ago fluttered and swirled red and gold in the autumn breeze but were, today, brown and whipped about into brittleness by the seemingly capricious wind.

As warm as this day was--The temperature reached 69 degrees F, according to the weather report--it was unmistakably a prelude to winter. Even when the sun appeared, it did not light up the sky as it did even a few days ago. Rather, it--and all of the light of this day--seemed to be little more than a truce with darkness. And the cold.

Gertrude Stein once said of T.S. Eliot, "He looks like the Fifteenth of November." Whatever Fifteenth she was talking about must have looked like this one, for as warm as today was, it was an uncanny spiritual reflection of the poet who was forgiven (at least by me!) many sins for having written "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock."

I grow old...I grow old..
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.

The fifteenth of November is definitely a "precipice" date. You cannot pretend that you have just entered the fall; summer is a rather distant memory. And what are memories but the fictions our minds write for us?

And that is exactly the reason why people--I include myself, through most of my life--hold on to memories for dear life, sometimes at the cost of our own lives. I often feel that is the reason why people vote for reactionary politicians--or, worse, re-elect them, as they did with George W. Bush. (I can say "they" because I didn't vote for either of his terms.) Everyone wants to return to the Garden, whether of Eden of the Finzi-Continis, whether or not it actually existed.

On September 11th, everyone wished it was the 10th, or even a date before that. I've had Fourths of July (my birthday) when I wished it was the third, and any number of other dates I wished hadn't come to pass mainly because of the uncertainty that lay before them.

And on the fifteenth of November in 2003, Mom and Dad probably were wishing that it was the fourteenth. I'm sure they felt that way for many, many days afterward. Sometimes I did, too. Sometimes I wished for days even earlier than the fourteenth of that year, or an earlier year than that one.

Five years ago today, I came out to Mom and Dad. I didn't expect it to be easy for either of them: They knew, as well as I did, that we were entering a new and unsettled season in our relationship and in our lives. None of us knew what to expect, really: All I had was the hope that whatever I would have to endure in my transition would lead me to the happiness and spiritual fulfillment that had always eluded me, no matter how many people loved me and how many good things I did.

Even in all that uncertainty, though, I could sense that in some way they--my mother, at any rate--felt a sort of relief. For her--and for my father, too, although he did not express it overtly--my life finally made sense to them. I know it did for me, for the first time. All those relationships that didn't work--because they couldn't. The alcohol and drug abuse. The self-loathing. The things I started and never followed through. Of course. My mother said as much: "You had to spend so much energy fighting yourself."

For the first few months that followed, Mom, as compassionate as she was, seemed to feel anger that she couldn't quite place: Sometimes she was upset with me; other times she was upset with herself. Once she realized that it wasn't her "fault" that I am who I am, she chided herself for not knowing more and learning more quickly than she did. "I'm really trying to understand. Really I am."

"I know you are. And I'm not going to ask anything else of you. After all, it took me 40 years to figure it out."

I don't know how many times we had that exchange. But I also can't remember the last time we had it. The funny thing is that she had no idea of just how well she understood what I'd gone through, was going through and what I always wanted. I guess it's like that with the people who help you the most: They don't always realize what they've done for you.

The thing she didn't realize then, and perhaps she realizes now, is that she really was doing the best she could do, of herself and for me. And that I wasn't going to give up on her, any more than she would give up on me.

One thing never changed: We talked to each other every weekend, sometimes for an hour or more, by phone.

During those months that followed my "coming out," Dad was more enigmatic: He would send little gifts, such as pendants. to me but we'd barely talk at all. According to Mom, he also didn't want me to come down for a visit because there were friends and neighbors of theirs who knew me as Nick, and who knew how they'd react to me now?

But about a year ago, I noticed that I was talking more with him, though not nearly as much as with Mom. Still, it was an improvement from the previous three years. In fact, I'd say that we were--and are--talking to each other more than we did when we were living in the same house. He even congratulated me when I said I was seeing Dominick.

And he even took me shopping when I was visiting them in August. I never would have predicted anything like that. Yet in some way, it seems entirely "in character" for him.

Does he still sometimes wish I could be Nick, his namesake? Does Mom wish I could have been one of those eldest sons who makes his mother proud and who would have given her a grandchild who would probably be in, or getting ready to go to, college about now? Do they wish I could have pursued the careers, the lifestyles or anything else they had envisioned for me? I'm sure they always will. But they know they can no more wish that son into existence than I could be him. Actually, now that I think of it, I think they always knew that. Of course it would have been a more certain, and easier, road for them--and probably for me, too--had I been able to be that person they thought, or hoped, they had brought into this world.

They stayed with me on the Fifteenth of November, and the days that have followed. I could not have asked for any more. Out of the uncertainty has come joy that I never knew existed. And, I hope, that for them, a flower of that changing of the season is the understanding that while I may have become something they never could have envisioned, that I also love them in ways none of us could have understood on the fourteenth. Because I was honest with them, for the first time in my life, on the fifteenth.

13 November 2008


It's really odd sometimes to see what people notice, or don't notice. And what those same people say, and how it differs from what you had assumed.

Today was full of lessons in what I've just mentioned. I went to work a 13-hour day on three hours' sleep. Also, I haven't shaved since Saturday because I went for electrolysis treatments yesterday and the day before, and I think I'm going again tomorrow. You need to have a couple day's growth so the technician can not only find the hairs that need treatment, but also so she has something to grasp with her tweezers when she is ready to pull the hair out after zapping the follicle. And, because my hairs are deep and my skin is sensitive, I have a couple of small bruises on my neck.

Yet I can't remember another day when as many people told me I looked pretty--or even was pretty!--as paid me such compliments today. I heard them from students, colleagues, other employees of the college and people on the street.

It may have had to do with what I was wearing. It included one of my favorite tops, which is knitted in fabrics in shades of taupe, light coacao, gold, light magenta, pink and even a hint of lilac, all laced with a hint of glitter. Over it I wore a light brown cardigan with a knitted border, and from my waist draped a darkish tan courduroy skirt that ended at my knees and, from a distance, looks like suede or velvet. And I wore a pair of slingback, pointy-toed shoes woven from strands of olive, light brown, lilac and gold leather.

I've worn this ensemble a couple of times before and heard a lot of compliments. So, of course, I feel confident in wearing it. Still, I wasn't prepared for what I heard today.

And on top of those compliments, I heard others about my writing, teaching, deskside manner and on the way I carry myself. Even a librarian who conducted a session for the freshmen I have at ten o'clock in the morning and knows me only in passing, said I am an "exceptional" and "talented" person.

I have to admit that for a moment, a voice in me said, "It's all a setup." Of course, I wondered how that could be, for people who, as far as I knew, had no connection with each other were saying kind things to me. Just before I left the college, I commented on this to another professor in my department.

"Well, you know, they're telling you the truth..."


"Believe it. You should see yourself these days. You're incandescent. You're charismatic..."

"Sometimes I feel like I can't even talk straight."

"We all feel that way sometimes. Especially those of us who pay so much attention to language."


"Stop it. Take everything in and enjoy it."

I was thinking of last night, at the department's open house. A few faculty members and students read works on the theme of social justice. I chose two monologues from The Spoon River Anthology: "Butch Weldy" and "Mabel Osborne." As I started "Butch," I stumbled and took a quick glance at the book. Then, as best as I could, I spoke it and "Mabel" as if I were each of those people and simply talking to my audience.

And what were the reactions? Compliments, all of them--especially to "Butch." It's the more visceral of the two monologues, so maybe it's easier to convey. But whenever I apologized for my early miscue, the response I heard were some variation of "Forget that. You did a great job."

When I first read "Butch"--in my teen years, if I remember correctly--I imposed my own anger (which I felt over just about everything) on the sense of grief, pain and injustice the monologue conveyed. Although I understand the sources of the unfairness much better than I did in those days, I somehow less angry about it. Rather, while reading "Butch"--and "Mabel" --again, I felt a lot of empathy for, rather than mere identity with, them. And, as best I could, I conveyed their stories from that sense.

I guess I don't have to be perfect after all! ;-) And maybe it takes a woman to be "Butch."

OK. I hope you noticed everything about this posting except that last sentence.

12 November 2008

Sitting Still

I find myself thinking now about how much time I have to spend lying down or sitting still.

Hard life, right? But that reclining and motionlessness is not as simple as it seems. You see, when I'm lying down, I'm not in my own bed, with my own pillow and flat on my back. Instead, I'm lying with my head bent backward so the electrologists can get the hairs on my lower chin and below my jawline. And, when they work on my left side, I have to turn onto my right, which is not a comfortable positon.

As for sitting: Whenever I get my nails done, I have to sit with my hands outstretched. That means I can't even read or write--or do anything else, really. At least when I'm getting my hair done, I can read at least for some of the time. But I usually talk with Anna, who does my hair these days, or whoever else happens to be in the beauty salon when I'm there. And, with mirrors all around me, it's hard not to look, especially when the point of the procedure is to look better.

And I spend more time than I used to spend in doctors' and other health professionals' offices. Some of that, of course, has to do with getting older: I need more care and am more willing to get the care I need, or even what may simply help me to feel or function better.

I also acknowledge my vulnerability--physical and emotional--more than I used to. Again, some of that has to do with age. But I think my gender transition is equally relevant: As a woman, those vulnerablities, which are sometimes a source of strength, are also more noticeable. Perhaps even more to the point is that because I can live as a woman, I am more willing to take care of myself. I care more about myself; I care more about being alive; I simply care more, I think.

It's ironic that when I was in "better" shape, I was really beating and exhausting my body rather than caring for it. I wouldn't mind being as thin as I was when I was taking those bike trips in France or during those first couple of years that I knew Tammy. But, of course, I wouldn't want to have the inner torment I had in those days. And I'm not going to take a trip, or do anything else, to run away. A little escape is not a bad thing, but when whatever you use for your escape becomes what you live for, that's practically a recipe for spiritual death.

Speaking of spiritual...Zen and some other traditions recognize the importance of being still. Of course, that's not the same as doing nothing. But doing something simply for the sake of doing something, or to escape whatever you would have to face by being still, is not spiritually healthy.

Not to say that getting one's nails done is a spiritual experience. But if it helps my body to reflect what's in my mind and spirit--as everything I've done in this transition has, and I expect the operation will--then sitting still or being still is probably a good thing.

11 November 2008

Autumn Moon

Tonight is one of those clear, chilly fall nights with the kind of full moon that's clear and bright without the starkness it reflects in the winter. There are thin herringbone clouds in one direction, seemingly illuminated from within by refractions of that moonlight.

This will probably be the last such night we will have for a long, long time. The wind picked up around the time the sun began to set through those herringbone clouds; you could almost see the temperature drop as the sun lowered itself in the horizon. This is a sure sign that winter is rapidly approaching.

What kind of winter will it be? Last year's was mild; so was the one two years earlier. And the one in between wasn't terribly cold, either. But the one we had four years ago seemed really cold. Maybe it's because, right in the middle of it, a pipe burst in the apartment where I was living, across the street from the one in which I live now.

Now, if all of this were following the plot of the sort of novel or movie people have seen over and over again and wouldn't have any other way, this coming winter would be brutal and seem endless. After all, we've had three mild ones. But just as important, in terms of stories like the one I'm describing, there are metaphorical dark skies, namely in the economy. So, just as poverty is so often depicted by people huddling around fires in shacks with roofs pummeled by wind and pelted by sleet, economic turmoil is associated with climatic inclemency. Am I the only one who pictures long, dark, cold winters when someone mentions the Great Depression.

But for tonight, I will use the clear sky and the moon as metaphors for serenity and fulsomeness. Not terribly original, I know. And I will try to extend that metaphor for as long as I can: until the skies cloud over and rain something down, or the wind blows too cold. Also not the most creative thing anybody's ever done.

In times past, these images are all I would have had to sustain me through the winter: through darkness, through cold. They would offer me a sort of shelter, as a breeze spreads a shawl of leaves across the bare ground. And as long as that shawl held, as long as those images remained in my mind, I had at least the illusion of protection-- which isn't quite what I needed, in spite (or because) of my vulnerability.

But if this moon is not a harsh mistress (sorry, Carson Mc Cullers), it cannot help but to be full with hopes and longings. Including mine.

Today I had this terrible vision of something happening to prvent me from having my surgery. What that thing is, I don't know. Losing the money I set aside for it, maybe. I hope not. I also hope not to get seriously sick between now and then.

People tell me I worry. I guess I'd rather be wrong for being overly cautious or conservative rather than to have something turn out badly because I was misguidedly sanguine.

But for now there is the moon. How will I see it at this time next year?

At least I believe there is a next year, and I'm doing what I can to live in it when it comes after living in each moment I experience between now and then.

And this moon will be there in its own time.

10 November 2008

To Tomorrow, However Long it Lasts

I am leaving puberty, perhaps even adolescence--and entering the last quarter, or third, of my life?

I still feel as if, in some way, my life is just beginning. Maybe that's why I've enjoyed being with my students, even the ones who have misbehaved or didn't do their assignments, so much this semester. I especially love the freshman class I teach at ten o'clock on Tuesday and Thursday mornings and the all-female business writing class I teach on Thurdsay nights. The funny thing is that even though the average age of the students in the Thursday night class is probably double that of the morning class, and the morning class is composition and the other is a junior/senior level business writing course, those two classes are more similar than any of the other three I'm teaching this semseter. In fact, I'd even say they're more similar than just about any two other courses I've ever taught.

The Thursday night class gives me a similar feeling to what I experienced with a night course I taught for Long Island University in the Fall of 1992, my second year of teaching. That class, like this semester's Thursday night class, consisted entirely of female students, the youngest of whom was about 33 or so, if I remember correctly. Another similarity is that in both classes, none of the women are white. Most of the students in that class of sixteen years ago were working full-time, as all of the students in my current night class are. The ones who weren't working in that long-ago class were on some program or another, and had gotten out of abusive relationships or other bad situations.

In those classes, as in the freshman class, I am watching--no, doing whatever I can to help--people who are starting out or starting over. Over the past few years, I've identified closely with such people, as I do with immigrants and other "outsiders" who are trying to stake their place in this world. So nobody seems to notice --or, if anyone does, I can make a joke of the fact--that I'm the only white, native-born person in the room. And, of course, that is not the only way in which I'm a "minority."

But I digress (again!). It's odd to think that at 30, 35 or 40--or 50!--those women and I are doing what the 18-year-olds in my freshman class are doing. Sometimes I find it exhiliarating: After all, who wouldn't like a second chance? On the other hand, I feel a little sad sometimes because I have less time to do the things I want and need to do than the younger students will have. I mean, if I have, say, 25 more years to live, will I be able to publish the book I've been writing, a few more and other works? To continue my education? To see all the places I want to see but haven't? Or, most important, to develop into the kind of woman I want to become?

I mean, if I am just coming out of puberty, or adolescence, that puts me on the same level of development, more or less, as the freshmen I'm teaching. Another quarter-century would make me like someone in her early or mid 40's. Except that I'll be an old, and possibly ready-to-die, woman.

Then again, I might live longer than that. As long as I can keep my faculties, I wouldn't mind. Though, I must say, I wouldn't mind aging like Lauren Bacall, Jeanne Moreau, Sophia Loren, Lena Horne or Cloris Leachmann. Or like Ruth Gordon, the way she looked in Harold and Maude.

Somehow I suspect they all started, or started over, in some way or another when they were in middle age or even later in their lives. One thing I know is that it is better to start over than to continue with habits that are no longer working, or may never have worked. Now I can understand why people go back to school in their 70's or 80's to complete degrees and diplomas, the pursuit of which they may have abandoned or never started in the first place in their youth. I mean, you don't know how many more years you have, right? So you may as well work toward whatever dreams you have.

Now you know why I'm having the operation, and why people even older than I am have undergone it. And I can understand the patient Dr. Bowers mentioned to me: She'd had her gender reassignment at age 62 and returned for a clitoriplasty at age 82.

I guess you just never know when you're going to start or start over, or have the opportunity to do either. So, I propose a toast to today and tomorrow, however long they may last.

09 November 2008

Coming to Life With the Dying of Light

Thinking about Toni, again. The days are growing shorter and so there's less light. But sometimes, at this time of year, that light can be so beautiful as it becomes more and more austere. Maybe it's beautiful because there's less of it, so it becomes more precious.

I suppose that is clinging to hope, in a way. When there is no dying of light, or when light is not seen that way, there is no despair. Those who do not see in this way would say, well, treasure the light and appreciate what's left of it. Yes, that is the logical thing to do. And it is something I am better able to do. But, having been close to the sort of hopelessness Toni must have felt, I can understand why she--and Corey-- could not soak up the dimming light, much less realize that it will not always grow darker. Even darkness has to end, or at least lighten, some time. Someone as depressed as Toni was cannot see this. They can't simply "snap out of it" or "look at the glass as half-full."

I know this, because I have been there myself. Once I tried to kill myself at this time of year; another time I was ready to do so but a friend was there and simply begged me not to. The next moment, I thought about my mother and grandmother, and I knew that I couldn't follow through.

During the time I've lived as Justine, and even during that year when I was spending my weekends and going to Center functions as Justine, no image or notion of killing myself has even found its way to my head. So..living as Justine for five years, the year before: six years without any such thoughts. That's a record for me. Before, it was difficult enough for me to get through even a single day, much less a week, month or year, without plotting some way to off myself.

That alone is almost reason for me to make my gender identity transition. But I know that what I feel now is real, unlike substance-induced euphoria, because I am not merely suppressing thoughts of killing myself. Sometimes it seems that every pore of my body is a receptor for either joy or sadness, which is completely different from the depression that took decades out of my life. In other words, I have been opened to a full spectrum of emotions. I'm still learning about them, just as I'm getting used to happiness.

08 November 2008

The End of Rain

"Sometimes I feel like the rain will never end."

An 11-year-old girl wrote that. Theresa would be about 30 now. Where is she? Does she still feel that way? Or what, if anything, does she think or feel now when she sees the kind of rain we've had today? It's one of those days that can make it seem as if the sun will never come again.

Theresa was in a yearlong series of poetry workshops I led in a Queens school for children of alcoholics and substance abusers. During that same years, and the one that followed, I was leading similar workshops for chronically ill and handicapped kids at St. Mary's Hospital in Bayside, Queens. That work was the most spiritually fulfilling, if the most intense, I've ever done for pay.

And why am I thinking about her, or those other kids, now? Well, it's hard not to, sometimes. Like today. There were plenty of times I thought the rain would never end, too. And some of the kids--including, I think, Theresa--probably knew nothing but rain. For Theresa and her classmates, it was the climate in their homes, or wherever they went after school. And, of course, their parents or other alcoholic relatives made that climate. On the other hand, the kids in the hospital were born into it, irrespective of anything they or their parents did in this, or possibly any other, life.

I last saw Theresa and her classmates in 1990 and the kids in the hospital in 1991. It occurs to me now that I was then teaching two sides of myself. Other teachers and professors have told me about seeing themselves in their students. That was never so true for me as it was when I was working with Theresa and her classmates, and the kids in the hospital. Actually, I would look at Theresa and her classmates and think about their parents and other alcoholic relatives, whom I'd never met. I knew that I'd probably committed all sorts of spriritual and emotional--and a little bit of physical--violence onto other people when I was drinking and taking drugs. Yet I knew that what I felt--namely, low self-esteem, a misplaced sense of guilt and an encompassing despair--was much like, if not identical to, what the kids expressed in their poems and stories.

On the other hand, the kinship I felt with the kids in the hospital was not as easy for most people to understand or for me to express, at least at that time. Their bodies bound some of them to beds and wheelchairs; others to needles and feeding schedules. However, their minds and spirits took them to all sorts of places their beds and wheelchairs could not take them. And their imaginations danced, jumped, swam, ran and played musical instruments, even when their limbs couldn't.

But for some there was always the rain. So it was for Toni.

She was one of the first people I met when I moved onto the block where I now live. She and Millie would become the first friends I'd make in my new life. But my friendship with Toni was strained for a time when I first began to live as Justine: She made some disdainful and even cutting remarks. But one day she asked if we could talk. It was then that she confessed her jealousy: She always wanted to be a man, she said, but it wasn't possible. For one thing, she said, with her medical problems and previous history of drug abuse, she wouldn't be able to take the hormones. "But more importantly," she said, "I'm not brave enough to do something like that."

"Oh, don't talk about yourself that way. You were..."

"I am a coward."

"No. I was the coward, when I wouldn't confront who I am."

"But you're still more courageous than I am..."

"You're entitled to your opinion."

And then a couple of November days like this one passed. On my way to work one morning, I saw Millie, in tears. I hugged her.

"Toni...died..." she choked.

"Oh, no. What happened?"

After a seemingly interminable pause, she sobbed, "She took an overdose of sleeping pills."

Although I was shocked, somehow I wasn't surprised. Of course, I was thinking of what Toni told me. But I also knew, as Millie and I would later discuss, that she was unhappy: She suffered from being bipolar, the after-effects of her drug usage and the lack of a family. And, as Millie told me later, she had just turned sixty. "And she got really depressed when the days got shorter and she saw winter coming on.

You might say that she thought the rain would never end. Of course, it does not end permanently until you die. (As if I know what happens when you die!) But it ends some time, and stays away. And when it comes again, you can go into your place, a friend's or to a cafe or some other place with someone, or with a book, and have a conversation. Sooner or later, the rain ends.

At least it does for me. Maybe it never could have for Toni. And I wonder: In what kinds of climates have those kids lived since I knew them?

Hopefully, the rain ends some time and returns when it's needed.

07 November 2008

Getting Used to Happiness

Eight more months. They're what stand between this day and my surgery. Or between me now and the person I will be, whatever that may be.

These past few days have gone by more quickly than I imagined they would. Maybe it's because I've been in such a good mood. Mark, a colleague in the English Department, says that he hasn't seen anyone as happy as I've seemed (actually, have been) lately. He even used that "r" word--radiant--to describe me.

It's all kind of odd when I think about it. I mean, for one thing, I thought I was getting used to being at least relatively happy a good part of the time. Now, it's unequivocally so, most of the time. I mean, I'm excited about the upcoming surgery and other things. But Iwonder: Could those things alone be enough to launch anyone into an orbit of ecstasy? Well, even though I'm still kinda big around the middle, I alone don't represent a sufficient sample size. (What did I just say?!)

I used to say that Woody Allen was only happy when he was depressed. I guess I used to be like that. And that person I was still knocks at my door sometimes. Now, most of the time, that person is no more annoying than a bunch of Jehova's witnesses who've rung your bell just as you and your family were about to have dinner. But at other times, that person can be problematic. For example, let's say you always wanted something but never got it. You tried, you did the right things, but nothing fell in place, and nothing seemed as if it would. So you resign yourself to being anything from simply unfilifilled to just plain miserable, whether in personal or professional matters.

And what do you do when things--and people--come to you without your even asking for them. You are enjoying the people's company and other things about your personal and professional life. But you did nothing to bring them those people or things to you, and they seem not to be a result of anything you did. I mean, everything from a job to a boyfriend to really good friends and the support you get from them. And, of course, my upcoming surgery.

What do you do when you're getting all those things you always wanted? Those things do, believe it or not, take some getting used to. Just like Timerman's Mediterran sunset: the one with the water that was almost tooo blue for his eyes, which were accustomed to grayer water.

Believe it or not, I'm still getting used even to having a definite date--not very far away, really-- for something I've always wanted. It's equally weird to know that people have actually helped--willingly.

What do you do when you're used to being alone and suddenly there are people who want to be part of your life--and they're the kinds of people you always wanted.

And so here I am, getting used to happiness. What will encounter as I go further down the road, these next eight months, to the operation I've always yearned for?

Eight more months...With great friends, familial support and a good job. I suppose I could get used to this.

06 November 2008

The Election. What Else?

Over the past two days, it seems that all anybody has talked about is the election. At the college, of course, just about everyone is happy that Barack Obama won. In fact, only one of my students expressed any support for John McCain. And, no great surprise, no faculty or staff member voiced any desire to vote for Sarah Palin's running mate.

In some way, I'm glad that Barack won. It's not so much a matter of his skin color or that he's a Democrat. The student body at the college is about 80 percent black. So, interestingly enough, are the administration and the lower-tier staff members. But the faculty--yes, including me--are about as overwhelmingly white as the rest of the college is black.

And that, to me, is a microcosm of this country right now. Yes, we will have a black man at the top. And, perhaps, he will appoint some African American cabinet members. But most of the people who are really running the show, if you will, are white. Somehow I don't see that changing much, if at all.

Don't get me wrong: I think Obama may well be a great leader. And I think he's about as good a human being as we have had, or will have in such a high office. At least, I don't see how he can't be more mendacious than either Bush or Cheyney have been. But, as so many people have already noted, some monumental, if not impossible tasks face him.

Most people, when they say that, are referring to such things as the economy and disentangling this country from Iraq, Afghanistan and other places. Surely those are, and will continue to be, Sisyphean tasks. Even Obama himself said that they won't be solved in a year, or during one (He didn't say "my first.") presidential term.

But here's the real problem: This culture is spiritually broken. I am not religious, but I am entirely sure that whatever force makes life possible, much less meaningful, is something from which this country has been alienated. How else can that relationship be right now? This country got into two wars because of lies our leaders told. And decision-makers in government and businesses loaned money to people who didn't qualify for a listing in the White Pages, then hid those loans in packages of other loans and sold them.ow.

At least Obama seems to be listening to people and leveling with them. And I get the feeling that he might be, as some people have suggested, a "healer." I hope so: It's exactly what we neeed right now, not just for this country, but for the sake of the people. There won't be material prosperity or any kind of security as long as this country is spiritually sick.

Now, as to whether Barack's election will usher in a way for a transgendered person to become President....

02 November 2008

Turning, continued

Yesterday I started to mention that a family friend molested me. The first instance of it that I recalled, just a couple of weeks before I turned thirty-four, happened when I was nine. And, as I began to talk about it, I also began to recall other incidents--with this family friend, a man whom I used to see all the time in our Brooklyn neighborhood, and, later, a priest in the church where I was an altar boy.

Now, I know what some people might think: That it had something to do with my "becoming" transgender. Well, I discussed this with two therapists and a clinical social worker. First of all, none of them thinks that anyone "turns" transgender over such incidents, any more than someone "goes gay" because of an experience with the other gender--or with an older member of one's own gender.

Furthermore, my awareness that I am actually female predates any of the sexual violations I suffered. I can say this with confidence, for I spent a lot of time discussing and working through this with the therapists and social worker. The earliest molestation I can recall happened to me when I was seven; my awareness of my gender identity came before I even knew the words "boy" and "girl." And I can recall, at age five, having an assistant principal, or some adult who wasn't a parent, teacher or the principal, tell me and my classmates to stand "boys on this line, girls on that line." And I got on that line.

So, how did I get on the subject of sexual molestation anyway?

I'll say just one more thing about it for now: When I started therapy, I had thoughts of undergoing a gender transformation, about which I knew little more than "The Operation." But, I was seeing a male therapist, and I didn't think he would be sympathetic to that. Also, I somehow had the idea that it would be more honorable and realistic, which in my vocabulary at that time meant "easier," to find a way to live as a man, preferably a heterosexual one. Who better to teach me that than another man, right?

Ironically enough, the social worker I would see during the first two years I lived and worked as Justine, and the year that preceded it, is a trans man. Of course I didn't go to him to learn how to be a man. But I think in some way, he helped me to better understand what it meant for me to "be" a man, or at least to understand--and sympathise with--men, to some degree anyway. And that was when I started to feel an incredible amount of pity for Nick. He experienced the molestations and all of the psychological and spiritual torment of being a supressed (sometimes by himself and other times by the outside world) female. Yet I am the one who was starting to live a happy, if not always easy, life. Somehow it didn't seem fair.

Then again, lots of things in this world aren't fair. Hell, what's more unfair than becoming as beautiful as one will ever be while one is dying? Do those leaves that are falling know just how unfair it all is.

Now you know why some people think I'm a troublemaker. ;-) But, hey, you can't always be well-behaved, or at least what most people think is well-behaved, when everything is turning, and you yourself are turning. At least I'm learning to accept, and even embrace it all--yes, even getting a full-time faculty position at a time and by means I didn't expect it.

So that season turned, and so is this one. And the seasons of my life. At least the biggest turning of all--the one that's going to happen for me in a little more than eight months--is one I've always wanted, one that will make me more whole. Then, I guess, something else will turn, or I'll turn in some other way.

Now, before I start singing that Byrds song (which, actually, is very, very good), I'll turn in.

01 November 2008


The first day of November...Another turning point?

It's not that any major event happened for me today. But somehow, I feel something besides a page in the calendar has turned.

October is everything people like me love about the fall. Why do leaves have to be so beautiful when they're dying?

I think now of a Japanese story I read years ago. In it, a young boy contracts a disease that will kill him. However, nobody believes it because as he comes closer to his death, he becomes more beautiful. How can anybody look so good and be so sick?

Obviously, the author hadn't met Paris Hilton. But seriously, that boy is like a leaf in the month of October. Then--about now--that blaze of gold and red and orange turns brown as the branches they will leave bare.

You might say this is where the fall turns serious, toward winter. Although it was rather mild today, there was a hint of cold in the wind and of colder rains in the blanket of clouds that kept in the last remaining hints of fall.

It reminds me, somehow, of the time I'd gotten on the #5 train in the Bronx and took it the wrong way--not back to Brooklyn, where I was living at the time, but further up into the Bronx, where I knew no one and almost nothing.

But for some reason I though about getting off the train at Morris Park, a few stops away from where I'd started. It's in the middle of one of the last remaining Italian neighborhoods in this city. But I wasn't thinking about that. In fact, I wasn't consciously aware of why I'd wanted to go there.

In that part of the Bronx, the #5 train runs below ground level. However, it's not a tunnel: It's more like a ditch or a canal, as the top is open. That is, until you come to the station. Then it's a sort of tunnel, and the train's echo fills it: more like an Amtrak or some other long-distance train than a subway.

It had rained that entire day, which was unseasonably cold for the middle of June. The tunnel provided some respite from it. Still, when the train stopped and its doors opened, I froze in my seat. I couldn't have moved, even if I'd wanted to.

And when those doors shut, I knew there was no going back. I rode that train to one end of the line, then...I'm not sure of what happened next. I hadn't been drinking or taking any drugs, so I was more or less in my right mind. All I know is that much later, in the evening, I was sitting in a park in another part of town.

The next day--a Friday-- I called some friends and my mother, who was living in New Jersey. "I'm coming over this weekend. I have to talk to you."

In a way, that was the second step to becoming who I am now. (Getting clean and sober was the first.) I was near my thirty-fourth birthday. However, I was dealing, for the first time, with something that happened to me over a period of time, and the first moment of it I recalled came when I was nine years old.

A family friend molested me. A very close family friend, in fact: He and my parents met when they were teenagers. In fact, that man introduced my mother and father to each other.