25 January 2009

Then and Now: Suffering and Living

Ok, so some people have been reading this blog after all. And I'm not getting hate messages. I should consider myself lucky.

Tomorrow I start a new semester: my last before the surgery. So what are my students going to tell their grandchildren? Hey, I knew her way back when, before she had her surgery. Well, I'd have to become famous before anyone told his or her grandchild anything like that. Unless my book sells or some hotshot editor or Oprah reads this blog and realizes how smart, witty and charming I am, well, I don't think I'm going to become famous any time soon.

Last night Dominick and I were having a "Would you still love me if...?" conversation. Yes, Dominick, I will love you if you become a woman, or anything else. Yes, even if you decide to become a lawyer who defends Mafiosi, the drug lords and the next Bernie Madoff. Or if you decide to become a mercernary. I can love you through anything I can think of now.

We talked about a lot of things, actually. It was probably the first time I talked about my sexual history or my parade of lovers and partners at any length. Looking back, it seems to make sense that we had such a conversation after watching Milk. I think he's just beginning to understand why I had relationships with Tammy or Eva, or any of the others, and why I didn't start my transition sooner than I did. I think other things are starting to make sense, such as my not having a relationship with a man for more than twenty years and why I want him now.

Coming into my teen years in a small New Jersey town during the 1970's, and even attending college later in that decade, was very different from Dominick's coming-of-age in Queens two decades later. At the time Harvey Milk started his activism, most people--even gays themselves-- believed, however unconsciously, that gays and lesbians were a pox on this land. And all they knew about transgeders were Christine Jorgensen and Renee Richards. In other words, we were freaks, and most people didn't want to know any differently.

Back then, there were no city, state or federal ordinances to punish violence against us and almost no mental health service that affirmed us as we were. In fact, some kids who "came out" were sent by their parents for electroshock treatments and other horrors to rid them of their "illness." Now, instead of electroshock and psychotropic drugs, kids are sent to fundamentalist camps to be "cured" and "saved."

Tonight I was talking about this very subject to Mom. I'd mentioned that Dominick and I had seen Milk, and I was telling her about how I had to explain those times to him. He's often asked me why I didn't start my transition sooner, and I explained that I often wish I had. "I think of all those years I could have actually lived."

"And you wouldn't have had to go through all of those things."

"I probably wouldn't have been in any of those relationships I was in."

"Of course. None of them worked. They couldn't. You were trying to be someone else."

Tears were streaming down my face. "I know. I wish it could've been some other way. All I ever wanted to be happy."

"Well, I hope this surgery does it for you."

"I think it will. My transition has been working out for me so far. I'm not depressed all the time."

"That's true," she sighed. "You almost never seemed to be happy, even when things were going well."

"And that's why they only went well for so long."

"And why those relationships didn't last."

We paused. "Well, that might've been the one good thing about all that: Those relationships didn't last. Not with Eva..."

"Thank God for that."

"Tell me about it. But sometimes I wish I didn't have to go through those things."

"I do, too."

"But the other side of it is that I can transition now. Things are better: There are more people who understand and accept."

"That's true."

And, I explained, that is the reason why, in a way, I envy young LGBT people. There's still a lot of bigotry, and the possibility of becoming a victim of hate is never far away. But at least there are ways to fight it, and we don't have to accept mistreatment or even the bones lawmakers and others throw us now and again. That is what Harvey Milk stood for. And that is the difference between young people's experience and my own.

But I have my experience, and it has helped me through the past few years. It's all helped: my days as a bewildered child, confused adolescent, angry young adult and resigned, benumbed adult are a resource to me now. I have been both the victim and perpetrator: I was taunted and beaten for being a "sissy," and I once beat up a young man whom I thought was gay. They have become lessons for me and now I realize that I can pass those lessons on.

And, yes, I remember when Harvey Milk was assasinated. That, too, is something I hope to pass on: not only the memory of how he died, but the wisdom that came from how he lived, and how and when he chose to live.

One day he took a risk and discovered what it means to really live. Once you learn that, you can't go back. At least I discovered that for myself, and I hope others do too. I'm not talking only about gays and transgender people. I mean everyone.

Hey, I'd like for my mother and father to be happier than they are. After all, they--especially my mother--have a hand in helping me to attain my own satisfaction in life. There are all kinds of things I haven't had to experience as they did, and I'm grateful for that.

And yes, Dominick, I will love you even if you don't suffer in the ways I did, they did, or Harvey Milk--0r anyone else--did. It was all temporary; you don't love someone for temporary things.

You love them for now. And here we all are, after Harvey Milk, after all of it.

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