03 October 2008

Losing the old game

Today I was dragged into something kicking and screaming. And I came out, well, on a kick.

I don't have classes on Friday, so I wouldn't have been going to the college. Except for this: One of the Deans decided to have a faculty orientation workshop, or some such thing. Since it was intended for new faculty, I thought it would include stuff about how to write syllabi, do lesson plans and such. Or, I thought, it would feature some senior faculty member or other talking about his or her latest educational theory. That stuff can get really boring. Yes, it's good to exchange ideas. But in the end, teaching is nothing more than clearly communicating something to someone. It ain't rocket science, ya know.

And the announcement did mention that there would be a workshop on grants led by the grants officer, whom I know a little bit. Again, I wasn't sure how useful or interesting it would be to me: After all, I'm just a lecturer, and there are no expectations of research from me.

So what did we get? Well, besides some cookies and coffee (What? No lunch!), we got a tour of the FDA laboratories that are just behind the campus. Now, I guess I can understand what the Dean who organized it was thinking: he's in the sciences, and so are most of the new hires. Not that I abhor science. But the tour of the FDA was, well, not as interesting as it could have been. That wasn't the fault of the people who led the tour. Instead, it had to do with timing: Today is Friday, so very few of the scientists, technicians or other workers were there. So we got to look at laboratories and equipment, but we didn't get to see anybody using them.

Then again, I did get to talk to a few of the new faculty members. Actually, one of them was, like me, an adjunct instructor who was working a full-time non-faculty job until she got a full-time faculty appointment this year. So I often saw and exchanged greetings with her. But, today, I finally learned her name--Debra. And now I think she's even nicer and smarter than I thought she was.

After the tour, we went back to the campus for a pep talk about the union and the grants workshop. But I was noticing something: Everywhere I turned, it seemed, a man was holding a door open or trying to help me with one thing or another. Although I still need to lose some more weight, I was feeling good about the way I looked. Several people, including my department chair, told me I looked "really nice" today. I wore one of the skirts I got when Dad took me shopping: a floral-leaf print in deep shades of blue and green that, even with those deep hues, looked and felt as if it floated over my thighs to my knees. With it, I wore a French blue boat-necked top with a dusty royal blue cardigan that's part of a twinset, and a jacquard silk scarf in deep shades of blue and green, like the skirt, with a hint of purple--my favorite color. And green and blue are the colors I like next-best. People tell me that those colors bring out those same hues that are in my eyes.

Have you ever found people responding positively to you and you don't know why? That's what was happening to me. I don't know whether anything in particular triggered it, but I realize now that something was practically throbbing through me in spite of my attempts to shield it with a scowl and foetal posture.

I won't say that I'm a saint or even wonderful person. Ever since I began my transition, a number of people have told me that I have a "light" or "good energy" that radiates from me even when I'm not feeling particularly good. It seems that they can sense it when I can't or don't want to.

What can I tell you? I still have a contrarian streak, a voice that says, "It ain't all that." And then there were the bad experiences I had with various teachers and professors when I was in school: because of them, being a teacher was the last thing in the world I ever wanted. On top of that, I had constructed some pretty elaborate rationalizations for my hatred of institutions of educations. Some of those arguments, if I do say so myself, were valid and even rather elegantly explained.

But you know what? I know what my experiences are. But they're done; I've learned whatever I can learn from them, at least for now. My situation is different now. Therefore, it takes more and more mental energy and effort to keep up the anger and resentments I've had.

Maybe that's the reason why nobody buys my misanthropic pose. Of course, for a long time, I didn't know it was a pose, any more than my attempts to be a punk-rocker were. Yesterday, when my somewhat-nutty class was acting up, I asked them to be quiet and listen. To which one of my students intoned, "You're really not a yeller, are you? You just don't have that in you, right?"

I didn't tell her she was right. But I didn't deny it, either. Today nobody asked the question; everybody, it seemed, knew.

Anyway, everybody was being just, well, nice to me. And faculty members whose names I didn't know were coming up to talk to me. It didn't occur to me that they might know I'm transgendered, so I didn't think about the possiblity that they were curious. So I just let everyone do what they would: Debra smiling softly but sweetly in my direction; others giving me encouraging glances even though I wasn't looking for them.

And then, at the end of the workshops, some of the new faculty members with whom I hadn't spoken yet introduced themselves to me. One of them, Alex, is teaching geriatrics. I mentioned that I've become interested in how LGBT people age, and what effect it has on them. We even began to talk about a collaborative project.

Dawn, the Grants officer, overheard my conversation with Alex and said "You should apply for a grant, Justine. Come to my office some time."

And I'm going to talk to Alex. And Debra. I've lost my old game. What else can I say?

Now it's time to be, well, collegial. That doesn't seem so terrifying . So there I went, and here I am.