30 April 2009

Fatigue, Lunch and Survival

I can't believe how tired I've been. Yesterday was the first time in weeks I haven't written on this blog.

And now here I am, sleepy again. But I want to write. So here I am.

Yesterday I had lunch with Anne. It's really odd that you can work in the same place as someone else and not see that person for months. I don't think I've seen Anne since the beginning of the semester. In the meantime, she's become noticeably more pregnant with a boy. And I'm closer to beginning a new life with a female body.

Perhaps I will get to know her even better than I do now. I would like that, actually: I enjoy having a conversation with her because she is educated and truly smart. In other words, she values her education but isn't impressed by it; she really understands that it's more important for people to find what makes them happy than it is to fulfill someone else's idea of achieving success. She mentioned her sister, who took up vocational studies, got a job in a financial company, married and had kids. Their father compares her unfavorably to Anne, which is not what Anne wants.

Only in looking back do I find it so remarkable that she could talk about that, the life growing inside her and the life she is building with her husband in such a seemingly casual way, and that, spontaneously, I shared something about myself that I've only allowed to a few other people in my life. It's no wonder, then, that I don't feel defensive about who I am when I talk with her.

When I think of her, when I think of Regina, when I think of Millie, I realize that, as different as they are from each other, I love them all for basically the same reason: We empathise with each other as women, even though our experiences as women may be very different. I will never have a baby, as they all have had (and Anne will soon have again), but they know that I am experiencing the fatigue of bearing a new life that I will soon bring into being.

They also seem to understand that I have only recently learned something they've probably known all of their lives: that if a woman is to survive spiritually--which is to say that if she is to survive--she has to be tough, not through coercion or violence, but through the force of being who she is. The only means we have of survival, much less to thrive and prosper, is through the power of our own essential beings.

Being a woman is being a survivor. And one survives only through fighting for one's self. Certainly Anne and Regina have had to do that in their professional and personal lives; Millie, I'm sure, has had to do the same thing within the family to which she was born. All of them survived, not by trying to beat men at their own game, but in acting in their own plays. After all, one doesn't win a game played against the very person or people who made the rules.

That, by the way, is one of the reasons I've undertaken the journey I'm on now.

28 April 2009

Time Travel

Let's see...I began this bright, sunny (and unseasonably warm day) by listening to the Beatles' "Good Day Sunshine" and "Here Comes The Sun" while eating my corn flakes. It's pretty hard to be in a bad mood after that, and I didn't try.

Even a trip to the dentist wasn't so bad. I had my routine cleaning and checkup, and the doctor warned me that I have an infection developing at the base of a root canal. My root canal teeth were nothing but trouble--until I had one pulled after I woke up in worse pain than any I experienced before the root canal.

Then, thinking I would arrive late a committee meeting at the college, I flew on my bike, only to find that I actually made it about fifteen minutes early.

After that was the best part of the day: The guest appearance I made at Professor White's History of Hip-Hop class. There, I talked about the poetics of hip-hop: the stuff I've been teaching in my course. I took them on a trip in my "time machine" to find the "beginnings" of the music: specifically, where the three-beat line came from. Most students were surprised to learn that a generation before Shakespeare, John Skelton wrote poems that consisted of rhyming trimetric lines. And he even began one of his poems with "Whyll I'll chylle."

My department chair came to the lecture. She seemed to like it, in spite of the fact I couldn't play some of the songs I wanted to play because the internet wasn't available in the room. It didn't occur to me that there would be any place in the college where I couldn't access YouTube, as I have from other rooms. Had I known that, I would have brought some CDs with me.

But it all seemed to go well enough. The students were certainly primed for me, and I was for them.

And throughout the day, various people said that I looked "radiant," "pretty" or simply "good." I know I was smiling, even as I grew tired in the evening class I taught.

Could it be that I'm finally bringing, or adapting, the things I loved in my past to my current life? I know I must, and want to, do more poetry readings and guest lectures. It seems that when I do such things--which are both creative and social--I cannot help but to transcend whatever has bound me. I am opened, whether or not I wanted to be--or, more precisely, whether or not I believed that is what I wanted.

So now I know that some of the things that got me here are going to help me move forward after all. They kept Justine alive when I was living as Nick; now I can live as Justine by honoring Nick in all of those things in which he kept my spirit alive, and which he left as legacies or even gifts for me.

Forward--transcend! OK, so you can't imagine some drill sergeant barking that his troops. Nor can I. But why would I want to? A march may have brought me here; now it's time for a journey.

27 April 2009

Coming Out and Glowing

It seems that my energy or aura or whatever you want to call it is changing. Four different people--who, as far as I know, don't know each other--told me that I was "glowing" today. Now, I haven't been around any nuclear power plants lately, so I think there must be other causes.

Like...bike rides by the ocean. A walk by the ocean--my long printed skirt rippling in the wind and grazing pools spun by breaking tides--with a tall gorgeous man. A very flattering haircut and eyebrow style and tint--and a facial massage. And some make-up in sunnier tones than what I've been wearing for the past few months.

And today I did something I haven't done in a long time: I gave a poetry reading. The setting was, shall we say, intimate. In other words, there were only a few people in the audience for every poet--four, including yours truly--who read.

I felt like I stumbled a bit with a couple of my poems. I decided to read a couple of older poems, a couple of new ones and some recent work. I think that the audience was on my side: Most of them knew me, or knew who I am.

In a way, I felt as if I were "coming out," even though people in the audience knew, or have heard about, me. Some of them didn't know about my poetry before today. They knew me as their professor or colleague, but not as a person who could transform the raw materials of life into art through words and sounds.

It's ironic that reading "as" Justine should still be a relatively novel experience for me. I've done only a few public readings since my transition, but I feel that those poems--some, anyway--were written by Justine even though I didn't sign them with my name. Still, the conditions under which I wrote some of them are entirely different from the ones in which I live now.

But it felt like some kind of victory, however small, to read those poems today. Time was when I was reading just about every week--usually in some bar or club, but every once in a while as a featured poet in an art gallery or library. Poetry reading on Friday night, long bike ride on Saturday, another (possibly shorter) ride on Sunday morning, another reading on Sunday. Or sometimes I'd read somewhere after taking my Saturday bike ride and one of two things would happen: I would end up in a bed that wasn't mine, or I'd go for another bike ride on Sunday.

If I could've lived as Justine, I could have lived that life forever--or something close to it.

But today's reading and the weekend's bike rides and walks along the ocean--and Dominick's company--gave me an energy that I never could have found when I was living as Nick. Back then, I was all anger and intensity. Interestingly enough, some people actually found those qualities attractive, if only for a moment or a night. What kind of people were they? People with those same character traits. This meant, of course, that they were almost as fucked up as I was. And we all know that crazy, neurotic (or psychotic) people are good for at least one wild ride, maybe two. Anything more than that and you'll eventually make work for your friendly neighborhood divorce lawyer--or cops bearing restraining orders.

Ooh...It feels soo good that all of that is in the past. So, today I get to bask in the glow of wherever I'm walking. And people who've never met each other say the same things: I'm radiant. I'm glowing.

26 April 2009

Changes: To The Ocean, Again

Iowa may be a lovely state and they now have gay marriage. (Who'da thunk it?) Still, I don't think I could live there: It's way too far from the ocean.

Dominick understood. I probably didn't even need to tell him that. When we walked onto a beach on the Rockaway Peninsula, he could see me "coming to life." That's just how he described it.

He did something any gentleman--any good man--can and should be willing to do for a lady: He watched my purse and shoes as I traipsed through sand into just enough water so that when the tide rolled in, the bottom few inches of my skirt were soaked. Then again, I was wearing a skirt that came nearly to my ankles.

The shoes may not have been Jimmy Choos. And while I have not seen another purse quite like the one I was carrying, I don't think it would be included in any estate sales. Still, ya gotta love any man who did what Dominick did today.

Today was like yesterday, only warmer. The weather reports said the temperature in Central Park reached 92 degrees F today, but it felt more like 70 on the beach--even less when the wind stiffened.

I know it'll be a few weeks before the water's warm enough to swim: Even those splashes and swirls at my feet and ankles were enough to give me goose bumps! I know that swim season will be very short for me this year, as I won't be able to do that (and a lot of other things) for a long time after the surgery.

Am I projecting onto the world, or are there really more pregnant women than there have been in recent years? It seems that everywhere I look, I'm seeing at least one. Sometimes she looks like she's my age, or not much younger; other times, she's not long past being a baby herself; of course, most pregnant women are between those ages. But did the men of this world, ahem, found new ways of occupying their time this winter? Did they really give up ESPN? (I know what you're thinking: I've got ESPN!)

Of course, those women can't do some of the things I'm doing--like yesterday's bike ride--while new lives are growing inside them. And they need to rest for some time, and forego certain activities for some time after that. I'll be in the same, or at least a similar, situation after my surgery.

I've heard that some women's tastes change after they give birth. While they're pregnant, they crave foods they may not have liked previously to nourish the lives inside them. And they may not eat those foods again after their pregnancy. If that's true, I wonder what other tastes they gain or lose. One woman told me some of her choices in reading (not including the "how-to" books) shifted once she became a mother. For example, she said that she now loves Uncle Tom's Cabin, a novel she previously dismissed as overly sentimental.

Hmm... I wonder if my tastes will change so dramatically after the surgery. Whatever happens, I don't think I could lose my attraction to the ocean.

25 April 2009

On My Bicycle, I Have A Wardrobe Malfunction

I spent a good part of this day on the verge of a "wardrobe malfunction," as Janet Jackson so famously called it.

The top I wore had no sleeves and two shoulder straps that were about the same width as most of the bras I have. The neckline is low, and there is an elastic pleat underneath the breast. From there, the top flares down to my waist.

I wore it on a bike ride I took today. And I wondered why men who drove by were paying so much attention to me until I stopped at a store and a 6'4" (or thereabouts) man was staring down to my neckline.

It was in danger of becoming my waistband, or my hemline. Yes, that neckline that I didn't think was plunging was actually sliding down!

Now, I don't have particularly big breasts. My mother doesn't, either, and true to the doctor's prediction, I'm half a cup size smaller than mom. According to my doctor and everything I've read, a trans woman will typically end up with breasts that are one cup size smaller than her mother's after two years of taking hormones.

Anyway...I may not have mountains. But it seems that I have developed a rather noticeable valley. So, today I made a great discovery (Will it change the world?): Men's eyes are drawn to the clevage, and if it's noticeable, they'll take notice. Perhaps my clevage makes my breasts seem bigger than they are--assuming, of course, only the cleavage and not the breasts are seen.

The latter was becoming a risk. The second time I noticed that my neckline was slipping--I had begun pedalling home from Point Lookout--the top slopes of my breasts were coming into view. Visions of a drunk kid with a pickup truck or a cop pulling me over flashed through my head.

I fixed my top by pulling down the bottom rear part, which made the neckline become more or less of a neckline again. Now the guys were shouting "nice legs,"as they always seem to do when I'm on a bike. At least that, and exposing one's legs, are not illegal--or, at least, won't get me into as much trouble as exposed breast.

The rest of my ride went blissfully uneventfully, although I felt cold as I rode along the ocean in Nassau County and The Rockaways. The water, as I understand, is still only about 45 or 46 degrees F (7 degrees C), so the breezes from it make those areas fifteen to twenty degrees F cooler than a few miles away from the ocean. I know, I should have brought a jacket or something. But I wasn't thinking about that as I left my place around two in the afternoon, when the temperature was in the 80's F.

Oh well. At least the wind was at my back for the last fifteen miles or so (of a 65 mile ride), as I pedalled north from the Rockaways. And my Mercian was great to pedal, as always.

Did Janet Jackson have the wind at her back?

24 April 2009

Another Moment Fugue

We played a game of "smile tag." She started it. Honest. (Are you reading this, Dominick?)

Bruce and I were having lunch at a Thai restaurant near his office. I sat against the wall; he sat with his back facing the next table. There she sat, on the opposite end of the table from Bruce, facing me.

She was looking at me from head to toe as Bruce and I sat down. I wore a casual top in a hue somewhere between aqua and turqouise that flared over a long print skirt in shades of blue, green and pink. On my feet were a pair of Keen flip-flops: the kind with the toe guard and the traction soles. None of it was exceptional, I thought: Any number of women my age could have been dressed in a similar way if they were going to lunch or shopping on a fine spring day like today.

And, I wasn't wearing any makeup, save for a dark pink shade of lipstick. I felt so good about my skin after the facial massage last night that I didn't want to touch it. Also, I wanted to see just how "natural" I could be. On my way to lunch, I ran an errand, during which I met someone I hadn't seen in several months. She complimented me on how "pretty" and "fresh" she thought I looked.

That, of course, made me wonder what that woman behind Bruce saw. As he and I talked and ate, I could see her out of the corner of my eye. I think she wanted me to look at her for longer than I did. She might've been a friendly enough person, but I couldn't imagine her in any other moment but that one, so I would not be interested in seeing her again.

Of course, if this scene had happened before my transition, when I was still living as Nick, it would've been just another case of girl-flirts-with-guy-in-restaurant. And she was like other women who were attracted to me and whose phone numbers I might've requested: Petite, curvy and dark-haired, with a face that bore too much complexity to be described as "pretty" or "pleasant," although she was not unattractive. I think that much of her look had to do with her eyes which, although a very dark and deep shade of brown, were as translucent as water.

But of course she was not looking at Nick; she was eyeing me. Might she be a lesbian? Bisexual? Maybe, I thought, although one can never tell for sure unless...Well, how graphic do you want me to be? Funny, how I wanted to know those things even though I had no intention of seeing her again. I guess I'm strange that way: I am curious about people I have absolutely no desire to see again.

I guessed that she might be a creative person of some sort. I've gone through times in my life when I would not consider a relationship with any other kind of person, and other times when I swore them off. I'm not in either of those phases now: I'm rediscovering men, and learning which types attract me. I prefer tall men with dark or darkish hair, and although I thought I'd want a man who's close to my own age, I find myself with Dominick and not caring that he's much younger than I am.

But I digress (again!). Each of the woman's glances toward me seemed to grow longer than the previous one. And, I must say, her smile had a disarmingly direct warmth: something I wouldn't have expected from her. As Nick, I could have interpreted it in a certain way and acted accordingly. But now that I'm Justine, I don't have to be prissy (which is, by the way, not the same as being a lady). So now I don't have to say she intrigued me; now I can say she baffled me. Well, all right, "baffled" is not quite right either. I simply couldn't figure out what she saw when she looked at me and started our game of "smile tag."

She parted about five minutes before Bruce and I left. On her way out, she turned her head and gave me another long glance and smile. I wished her a nice weekend; she expressed the same wish for me.

And that moment survives, partially, only because I'm writing it down now. Barring the unforeseen, I will have lunch with Bruce again next Friday--and see Dominick this weekend.

23 April 2009


Today I went for a haircut and coloring. I also got, for the first time since August, a facial massage and had my eyebrows shaped and tinted. I guess you could say it's a sort of mini-vacation.

The funny thing is that I could sit beside two women who are far more beautiful than I could ever dream of being, yet I could feel confident. It's funny that I can feel more comfortable and confident around women like them than I can around people who have more or less my level of education and with whom I can more or less hold my own when it comes to scholastic or intellectual accomplishment. Funny, how that smaller gap between me and, say, professors seems like a much wider gulf than the one between me and drop-dead gorgeous women.

I guess in a refuge, everyone is more or less equal. Yes, that's how I'm thinking of Zoe's Beauty Salon now. One rarely, if ever, encounters a man there, so whatever tensions existed between us and them are at bay, if only for a couple of hours. And your professional status, or where you live, count for nothing there.

Plus--and this is something I never realized until today--I don't have to apologize for or defend myself as a trans woman. The owners and beauticians there know about me: The first day I came in, I was still in boy-drag. They have seen me change; they have seen me become more like them, not only in appearance. On the other hand, I feel as if I have less and less in common with my work colleagues, save for a few exceptions.

You might say that I am mentally withdrawing from the college, and from education generally. The more I teach in that college, the less integrated into it I feel; the longer I spend in the class I'm taking, the less I feel I'm learning--or want to learn, at least about the subject of that class. And, to be quite honest, I've begun to feel as if I don't want to be more integrated into the college, or even into the department in which I teach.

As a Nation of Islam minister once said, "Why would I want to be integrated into a burning house?"

OK, that statement goes a bit further than I intended. Maybe this paraphrase is more like it: Why would I want to be integrated into a house that doesn't have anything to offer me--not even shelter. Who wants to live in a house in which one can't interact in any meaningful way with whoever else is in that house? Or a house in which one cannot feel safe? That's emotionally as well as literally true about the college, at least for me.

It's perhaps most ironic of all that I go to Zoe's because they know about me, but I want to find a job in a place where nobody knows me. But, like all ironies, it makes perfect sense: With Anna and the crew at Zoe's, they know why I want the things for which I go to their shop, and that seems to help them in serving me. On the other hand, while at the college, I am continuously prodded to be, well, a tranny rather than someone who happens to be trans. And I am expected to be that person to serve the purposes of certain people at the college.

22 April 2009

Fatigue and Frustration

Today I felt tired and fat and old. Maybe it had something to do with the chill and rain that grayed the air. Or, perhaps, it has to do with the fact that I'm nearing the end of the school term and, almost concurrently, my current life. I feel that I've given all that I could: first, toward being a man, then toward my transition. The former is done, finished, or at least reached its ending a long time ago. The latter is almost at that point. Neither is retrievable now; I could not return to the former or or remain in the latter even if I'd wanted to.

I'd just like to feel young and lively and pretty-and skinny. At times like this, I really wish I'd undergone my transition earlier in my life. But then again, what would my life be like now? I could have lived all of those years as a woman. Or, given the way the world and I were, how many years would I have had?

Most of the people who knew me as Nick are not in my life now. Most people with whom I work and otherwise spend my days know that I lived that part of my life, but they never saw me that way, save in photos I've shown some of them.

I'd really like to go to some place where nobody knows me--or, at least, knows about my past. Yesterday I gave a talk to an honors seminar on the subject of transgender health care, and the ways it parallels the experiences of other women. I'd agreed to do it months ago, but once I got to the class, I wished I weren't doing it. I think the students sensed it; so did the two professors that teach that class.

Part of the reason why I wanted not to give that talk was that two students whom I hoped never to see again were in that class. Fortunately for me, they were never my students. But one of them is the editor of the student newspaper. Ever since she assumed that position, she's wanted to do a story about my gender identity. Not about my teaching, my poetry, my activism or even my cats. She just wanted to write about the fact that the college has a tranny prof. I never trusted her for a number of reasons, and I don't respect the newspaper for the same reason I don't respect the college's student government: They never take on the serious issues that affect students. But there I was, talking about my experiences and she smirked when she wasn't wearing a shit-eating grin.

The other student was a tutor when I was directing the tutoring center last year. She was one of a group of tutors and other student workers who hated me because I was trying to improve the standard of tutoring that was offered, and I refused to sign their time sheets for four-hour shifts when, in fact, they showed up for only one or two. Anyway, this student and the others made spurious, fictitious complaints about me. They claimed that I cursed and made sexual jokes.

I mean, if they had to run me out of there, at least they could have showed a little creativity and originality. Any fool can bring down a tranny or anyone else who experiences bigotry over his or her identity simply by imputing sex, or the threat thereof, to that person. And said fool can get a cowardly paranoid authoritarian to believe it and to rid the workplace of the clear and present danger.

Yes, that student told those lies to my supervisor and the provost (The tutoring center came under the auspices of the office of academic affairs.) and smiled to my face and pretended that she had nothing to do with the troubles I was experiencing.

If I could've had my way, I would have turned around and never gone back when I saw those students. But I promised that prof I would give the talk. And I didn't want to give ammunition to anyone who may still be trying to get me ousted from the college.

Maybe I still can't set foot in the college without thinking about last year. The job I had then was the worst I ever had, and early in that year, I was attacked as I was leaving the campus. My supervisor and the provost told me to keep quiet about it. And, when my attacker was apprehended, he couldn't be expelled from the campus--he was a student--and no one would tell me his name.

Well, at least I know how it feels to be in a place where victimizers have more rights and protections than the victimized. That knowledge will probably come in handy.

21 April 2009

Into the Mist, Prematurely

Today I walked out the doors of the college's main building into a fairly heavy fog. I crossed the street to enter the college's second classroom building. At the opposite end of it is a stone promenade that seperates the campus grounds from a Revolutionary War-era cemetery. Some people are afraid to walk by cemeteries; I find them rather benign. And I thought the promenade would take on a mysterious aura.

But the entrance to that building was locked, so there was no access to the promenade. This meant walking the street that seperates the building from the larger main classroom building. At the end of the block, one passes under a stone trestle of the Long Island Rail Road. (Yes, they spell Rail Road as two words.) Along the way, one passes the old St. Monica's Church building, in which Mario Cuomo was baptized and served as an altar boy. Now it's a daycare center.

Although I was disappointed at not having access to the promenade, I was enjoying the walk. Fine clouds of fog swirled around the streetlamps; the impressions--How can you call anything seen in fog a "reflection?"--made by that light could make even the stones of that church seem unbound by the weight of time.

As I approached the church, I thought I heard a young woman crying. Then I saw her huddled in an almost foetal position on the stairs to the church entrance and another, older, woman standing in front of her.

"Is everything OK?"

"She's OK," the older woman said. "I think she's going into labor," referring to the young woman on the stairs.

"Can I get anything for you?," I asked the young woman.

"No. I need help."

"You called for an ambulance?, " I asked the other woman.

"Yes. They should be here in a couple of minutes," she responded to me and the young woman.

"How does it hurt?," I asked the young woman.

"From my back down to here," she winced as she pointed to her crotch.

"Does it hurt like a menstrual cramp?" the older woman queried.

She nodded. The older woman and I took turns reassuring her that help was on the way. Just then, she grabbed at her crotch.

"A stab of pain?" I asked. She nodded again.

"Just keep on breathing. Breathe deeply. As soon as you feel pain, breath in deeply." I don't know where that came from; the words just came out of my mouth.

She took a deep breath. "Try to relax. Let your breath out as the pain passes through you. Then take another deep breath."

As we continued this impromptu breathing exercise, the older woman said "That was so good of you to stop." I didn't acknowledge her; I continued to talk, as soothingly as I could, to that young woman.

Then a patrol car arrived and the male officer who got out knew he was in the wrong neighborhood, so to speak, when he saw two women standing over a younger woman. The female officer who accompanied him, on the other hand, knew what the young woman needed: to get to a hospital, and reassurance that she was going there.

Another patrol car arrived, but still no ambulance. Then the male officer from the first car decided to take her and the older woman--who, as it turns out, was her aunt--Jamaica Medical Center, the nearest hospital. The older woman and that female officer thanked me as I started to walk away.

I'm not sure of what, exactly, I did or whether it actually helped that young woman. As I entered the subway station, it occured to me that the older woman--and nearly every other woman in the world--had knowledge that I never had, and will probably never have, and could help someone like that young woman in ways I never could.

But I did not feel alienated or put off by any of it. Of course it's satisfying to know that one has done what one could in a situation; I hope only that the young woman and her baby are doing well, whether or not I did anything that helped. I do, however, wish there was more I could have done.

After all, I can hardly imagine anything more terrifying than to suddenly go into labor in a place where one hadn't expected it to happen, and when it happens sooner than the due date. In her case, she's about a month premature: She said she was in the 32nd week of her pregnancy.

From that scene, I walked under the trestle, turned left at the next corner and continued to the stairs of the subway station. The mist was growing finer yet felt heavier against my face. I descended the stairs to the turnstiles, and another flight of stairs to the platform. About ten minutes later, a train arrived; I entered its doors. When I got off, about half an hour later, I walked up the stairs to the street. The air seemed to have grown a bit warmer as a steady rain fell.

20 April 2009

Coming In Out of the Cold

Just when I thought I could go anywhere, any time, with nothing between my legs and the world but a couple of microns of nylon, I experienced this day.

I've been out on much colder days than today in sheer pantyhose. But today the cold went straight to my bones, or so it seemed. Maybe today felt even colder than some days we had in January and February because we had warm weather on Friday and Saturday and mild weather yesterday. However, the temperature did drop quickly: I could feel the difference between the time I got on the subway to go to my opthamologist and when I emerged from the station at 23rd Street and Broadway half an hour later. And the wind drove the rain, which became needles that bored the chill into bare and nearly bare skin.

I arrived early for my appointment, so I went to a nearby Walgreen's drug store, where I bought a pair of opaque tights. Actually, I bought four pairs--two black, one each in navy and ivory--because they were on sale at two pairs for five dollars. I ducked into the bathroom of a nearby coffee shop to change; it helped. After that, if the weather wasn't pleasant, at least the cold was tolerable.

Are my hormones surging? I got giggly with Dominick yesterday and was crying last night when I thought about returning to the college. And, I noticed that a couple of my bras seem to fit tighter than they'd previously fit: Could it be that my breasts are growing again?

Now the cold today...At least I'm come in out of it now.

In this life, in this life, in this life,
In this, oh sweet life:
We're (we're coming in from the cold);
We're coming in (coming in), coming in (coming in),
coming in (coming in), coming in (coming in),
Coming in from the cold.

So begins my second-favorite song in the world. Who but Bob Marley could have written or performed it? One wonderful thing about this verse is that it so deftly weaves hope to the difficulties that made him/her seek that hope. There's no doubt that this person wants to live and to love. The song exhorts listeners to the same:

It's you - it's you - it's you I'm talkin' to -
Well, you (it's you) - you (it's you) - you I'm talking to now.
Why do you look so sad and forsaken?
When one door is closed, don't you know other is open?

So what do we learn? Cold kills, but it is not a reason for despair. How can it be, if coming in from it is the first step toward survival--in an profoundly spiritual as well as in a literal sense? I would never have known the joy of becoming myself, of becoming Justine, had I not spent so many years living as someone else.

So what did I learn today from feeling the cold? That it is possible to come in, out of the cold--even if you're outdoors on a cold, windy, rainy day with nothing more than a thin pair of pantyhose on your legs!

19 April 2009

The Present and The Moment

Spent more time with Dominick today. We didn't do anything quite as stimulating as our visit to the Botanical Gardens the other day, but I came away happy that we were together yet a little sad that we both have to go back to our respective jobs and such tomorrow.

We went to one of those big-box "buying clubs," where each of us spent more than we'd planned on spending. I had legitimate reasons to buy everything I brought home with me, but I didn't need any of it immediately. Well, the English muffins and cheese are for immediate consumption. But I also bought a few things I won't need for a while, though I will eventually use them. I guess that's what they want customers to do in stores like that.

Then we went to his house, where he and his grandmother were trying to feed me more than I could possibly have eaten in a week. Having them in my life isn't going to help my waistline, but their particularly Italian desire to see me eating is familiar and comforting. After all, I grew up with it.

Dominick shares my belief that I am in the process of giving birth to myself. Though she wouldn't express it in similar words, I suspect his grandmother may think something like that, too. Maybe they know that new lives have to be nourished, and the one who is giving birth is responsible for the health of the one about to be born as well as her own well-being. In other words, she is not eating only for herself; she is eating for the life she is carrying within her.

That life, and the life I have lived. In the end, I don't have much else. For better or worse, Dominick still has a place to which he can return: He's lived there all of his life. Perhaps one day he will live somewhere else, but I suspect that unless his family sells that house, it will always be a kind of second home to him. On the other hand, I do not have such a place. Now I have a few people who have opened their homes to me; perhaps their hospitality will extend through the rest of my or their lives. However, I can't return to any place in which I've ever lived. It's not only that different people live in those places now; it's also a matter of how I've become a very different person from the one who left those places. When you stay in some place, you and it change with each other; after you leave, you and it change in different ways. The house in Brooklyn Dominick saw the other day is not the house in which I grew up; it ceased to be that the day my family and I moved out.

From a place like that, one carries what I like to call the Eternal Present: the moment in which everything is frozen in place. It is not yesterday, and it is certainly not tomorrow.

Speaking of tomorrow...I've been trying not to think about it. Back to work, back to school for me and him. If someone had asked me a few months ago, I would've expected tomorrow and the following days to be a sort of denouement, or even a time of "playing out the string." It may very well be. However, I am going to be very visible at the college during the next two weeks. I'm giving a guest lecture on Tuesday and another the following Tuesday. The day after my second lecture, I'm doing a poetry reading.

Perhaps only the students in the classes I'm visiting will hear my lectures, and only a few people will attend the reading. Or, the classes may have visitors, and perhaps the reading will be well-attended. Officials of the college may show up for one or all of those events. I'm not so worried about them: I don't think anything I do in the lectures or reading will affect my standing at the college. But the guest lectures may be the last ones I give, and the reading will probably be my final public performance before my surgery. For that reason, I want them to be wonderful.

As for the class I'm taking: I really wish I weren't. I suppose I should value the most important things I learned: I am not doing gender studies and it's very, very unlikely that I'll pursue a PhD. Actually, I pretty much knew those things already; the class simply confirmed them for me.

Back when I was working on my master's degree, one of my classmates wondered, "If literature is so beautiful, why do literature courses suck?" I may be able to answer that now: Literature courses suck because graduate programs destroy any creativity and love of literature a student may have had upon entering. In graduate school, you no longer read the actual literature; you read wordy essays that begin with some thought about a work of literature but get hijacked by all sorts of mental masturbation. A great poem or other piece of writing is no longer a jeu d'esprit. Instead, it's a manifestation of some theory or another. And it's all expressed in the most impenetrable prose imaginable. I suppose that it reinforces the sense of superiority the writer has over his or her readers: To ask, "What in the world does this mean?" is an invitation to condescenscion or outright ridicule.

Well, at least that class will soon be in the past. Then again, my surgery will be, too. And, hopefully, I will not merely be in "the future." Rather, I hope that the life to which I am giving birth is eternally present, not merely the Eternal Present.

18 April 2009

Girls, Bikes, Kids and Ocean

Lately, I seem to find myself talking, however briefly, with babies, toddlers and small children with greater frequency. If the kid can understand what I'm saying, I'll ask his or her name and what kinds of things he or she likes, and continue from there. If the kid's too young, I make faces and sounds.

And I'm really enjoying it. Not that I didn't like kids before: I still feel that the best job I ever got paid to do was to teach poetry and creative writing to kids. But somehow I feel that I have some sort of connection to them that I never had before. And the parents, or whichever adults are accompanying them, never seem to mind. Or at least they seem to sense that I bear no harm. Which, of course, I don't: I never could understand how or why anyone would want to harm a small child. And, given my history, it's the last thing I would ever want to do.

I realize now that the colleagues with whom I seem to get along best are the ones who have, or have had kids. Mark, the playwright, comes to mind. So does Matthew, a newly-promoted prof who takes me to the subway when we both have late classes. Ditto for Professor White. And, of course, there was Regina, the counselor in the Office of Students with Disabilities. She's at another college now, and I'm hoping to see her again soon.

It's odd that I find such people more accessible now. For a long time, I used to feel put off by people who had kids, at least when they were gathered and I was the only one in the room who didn't have kids. What's more, I didn't expect to have any. Take that back: I did just about everything one can do, consciously or unconsciously, not to have them. I got involved with the sorts of people with whom I wouldn't have had children if we were the last people left on the Earth. At least Tammy didn't want to have children; or more precisely, she had, before she met me, resigned herself to not having them.

But why am I having all of those nice encounters with kids? I don't think I've done anything to make myself more likeable, charming or accessible--at least, not that I know of. Maybe I shouldn't try to analyze what's happening. After all, I like it.

Today a young boy exclaimed, "Look at what that girl over there is doing!" I had just pedalled to Point Lookout, which is across the bay from Jones Beach and Fire Island. On the shoreline are a jumble of rocks and concrete blocks. I stepped from one jagged rock to another until I found one with a long flat area. Behind it was another stone that stood even more straight and upright than any of the concrete blocks. I sat back in my stone "chair," taking in the wind that skittered along the waves and the sun that reflected on them.

"Wow! You're a really smart girl," the boy yelled.

"Thank you. I bet you're a smart boy."

"But you're a smarter girl."

Two women who accompanied him laughed. "To him, we're all girls," said one of them. "And I'm his grandmother."

"Well, you certainly don't look like his grandmother." I meant it: She looked at least ten years younger than I am.

"If he wants to call us girls, I won't stop him."

"Nor will I," I promised.

We laughed and wished each other a nice day. So did the boy and his mother.

Now, some of the feminists may have winced--or worse--at our exchange. But it occurs to me that if I'm a "girl," maybe that has something to do with why I feel closer to kids--and of course, other "girls," and parents.

Then again, it was hard not to feel good about anybody or anyone on a day like this. It's one of those days that lets you know that yes, it's finally spring, and we're not going back. Even if the weather gets colder tomorrow or the day after, it's not a relapse into winter. The overcast and rainy days that follow have a different sort of light than those gray days we seemed to experience for weeks on end this winter. During a spring rainstorm, the water falling from the sky becomes a kind of light: one that becomes colors in its transparency. Fall and winter rain, on the other hand, seem to devour light.

Plus, today I did a bike ride I haven't done at least since last year. At one time, I did at least one equally long or longer ride every weekend; by this time of the year, I would have done at least a dozen or so such rides. I don't remember when I pedalled my first path to Point Lookout, but I'd bet that it was before the clerk in the store where I stopped was born. I'd pedalled to Point Lookout from Upper Manhattan, which was probably a bit longer than today's ride; I also pedalled to Point Lookout from Park Slope, which wasn't quite as long as today's ride. How far away would I have to move from it before I stop riding to it?

Dominick says that of all the photos he's seen of me, the ones in which I look best--"where you look most like you"--are the ones in which I'm next to or in front of the ocean, or some other large body of water. Well, the great expanse of wind and surf and sky does, I guess, make me look less fat. (Is that "girl" talk, or what?) But I do feel like I belong next to the sea because I belong to the sea. If, as the ancients believed, the four elements are earth, air, water and fire, and that they are our essences, I would guess that I am mostly water, with some air and a flame or two, but practically no earth. That may have something to do with the fact that I never could imagine myself living more than couple hundred miles or so from an ocean. As the crow flies, that's about how far Paris is from the Atlantic, and the Seine, which bisects that city, flows into it.

I know that I will certainly need to spend time by the ocean before I go for my surgery. The hospital is in Trinidad, Colorado. As I understand, it's in the desert: a land of earth and fire. Hopefully, there will be kids and "girls."

17 April 2009

Revisiting and Revising

Last night I was talking with Dominick on the phone. I was recalling a time when I went with Tammy and one of her friends to a restaurant. Sometime between our entrees and dessert, I excused myself to go to the bathroom. Later that night, when Tammy and I were home, she told me that her friend wondered whether she minded that I was looking at other women.

"No. She's not looking at them. She's looking at their outfits and wishing she could wear them."

Now, of course, Tammy did not refer to me as "she." That is, until I related the story to Dominick. I did it unconsciously; I wouldn't have noticed it until Dominick asked, "But weren't you still living as a man back then?"

Lately I find that whenever I think of my past, I think of myself as Justine, not Nick, in all of my past situations. It's as if I were talking to people who knew nothing about my life six years ago or earlier. Justine was an altar boy; Justine was riding with all of those guys. And she also taught in an all-boys' Orthodox Yeshiva, where the only other female was the secretary, who was the head rabbi's mother.

I recall that psychiatrists used to train transgender people to "rewrite" their pasts in this way. They would tell me to say, "When I was a little girl..." or, if I had to talk about being married, to turn Edie into Eddie. (Not that I ever was intimate with an Edie or an Eddie.) When I started my transition, I vowed that I would never allow myself to slip into induced amnesia or revision. But, now, without any conscious effort on my part, I am reshaping my past. It is now becoming one in which I was a girl or young woman named Justine.

I even had a dream the other night in which I was very young and my mother took me on a "girls' day out": shopping, the hairdressers', a long conversation over lunch in some cafe, and so on. My mother has never been one of those hyper-feminine or prissy woman--I don't recall her wearing anything pink--but there is no mistaking her for anything buy a woman, no, a lady. Perhaps she did all of the "girly" things when she was young; I never had that opportunity until I started my transition.

Still, my past does include things that are not in the lives of most women: sports (more than most women, anyway), military training and such. Even though I have used almost nothing from that training in about thirty years, it has shaped me: I probably would never have rejected militarism to the degree that I reject it had it not been for my involvement with the military. I also probably never would have understood the importance of knowing what one's home is (It's not always a physical space or geographic location.) had I not spent so much time, energy and money on running away. And, I never would have understood, as I am now only beginning to understand, how men need to be loved in their own ways had I not experienced the dissatisfaction and devouring emptiness I felt over being a man in a love relationship, whether with another man or with a woman.

Of course, one should not dwell on the past. However, the surest way to remain bound to it is to ignore or run away from it. At least two people I know will say that I have no right to say what I'm about to say, and they'd probably be right. But I'll say it anyway: As near as I can tell, a person's relationship to his or her past is like the relationship women have, from their adolescence until middle age, with their menstruation. It's a pain in the ass; for some it's temporarily debilitating and even immobilizing; for still others, it's a source of rage or frustration. But the having or missing a period also tells them about the state of their bodies, which tells them something about at least one aspect of their immediate and long-term future.

OK...Any of you women who hate the fact that I, who have never experienced that time of the month (except, perhaps, emotionally--Eva and Tammy both claimed that I had my own version of "that time of the month") can take it out on me in whatever way you like--except, of course, by "borrowing" my accessories and not returning them!

Back to revising history...I've a feeling I might be doing more of that, if unconsciously. Today Dominick and I had a wonderful time at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. It was the first near-perfect spring day we've had this year: exactly the sort of day to wander through arbortea full of tropical flora and lanes lines with flowers--including the ones from Shakespeare's plays and sonnets--and to stop and linger under a soft pink veil of cherry blossoms that will be in full bloom in about a week or two.

From the gardens, we had a late lunch at El Viejo Yayo, a place down the block from my old Bergen Street apartment. Back in the day, I ate lots of meals from them: sometimes at their counters, other times as take out. The food was wonderful and almost absurdly cheap. Today it was wonderful and reasonably priced. And they seem to have tripled their size with a dining room, where Dominick and I ate, and a bar.

We both ordered Cuban sandwich platters. I hadn't had a Cuban sandwich in a while and I could hardly think of any place, save perhaps for Miami or Havana, where I could find a better one. We washed them down with cafe con leche; I indulged on, but he passed on, the flan.

After we left, I talked Dominick into driving me to the house on Dahill Road where I lived from the time I was eight until I was thirteen. Two other streets--17th Avenue and 42nd Street--converge and dead-end in front of the house. I recalled that my brother Mike and I shared a third-story bedroom fronted by a large window. From that window, I could see far down 17th Aveune--on a clear day, all the way down to the Verrazano Narrows and the Bridge, and sometimes to Staten Island or even beyond.

Dominick idled the car so that I could step up to its porch. He suggested that I ring the bell. I did; someone poked his finger through the mail slot and claimed not to speak English. Then, as I walked away, he emerged from the door, looking very disheveled and screaming that his brother the cop was down the block.

Oh well. I can't say I blame the guy for being upset over being awakened by a stranger. And, upon seeing that the house had been covered with aluminum siding, I had a feeling that ringing the bell wouldn't be such a hot idea.

I also realized that even if I had been allowed inside, nothing that I could have seen would have borne any resemblance to anything I remembered. Likewise, nothing that I recall now could mirror the ways I used to remember, much less my actual experience. After all, I have changed, so the ways I see and have seen myself have also changed. How could it be otherwise when I am recalling myself as Justine, the person I am now in my waking life as well as in my dreams?

16 April 2009

Pedalling and Sleeping

Today I took a bike ride I haven't taken in quite a while. It was unplanned: I'd orginally intended to cycle onto the Rockaway Peninsula and along the ocean to Coney Island. But somehow I managed to make a couple of "wrong" turn. So I went through some neighborhoods people rarely see unless they live in them. The houses were all very attractive, spacious and well-kept; so were the parks. From there, I pedalled into a few towns and villages in Nassau County, and followed a couple of roads up to the North Shore, where some of those waterfront houses would've made Gatsby blush.

The weather was warmer than we've had for the past couple of weeks but cooled off quickly. By the end of the ride, I was wearing the jacket I'd brought with me.

I recall doing this same ride--or one very similar to it--in the days after Tammy and I split up and I moved onto the block where I now live. I was not "out" to anyone except for Jay, who was then an intake counselor for the LGBT Community Center's mental health services. I was only beginning to meet members of the communities of which I now consider myself a member.

I shed a few tears for those days. Sometimes it's even worse to remember loneliness and isolation than it is to actually experience them.

And now a ride that I once would've done without blinking, much less stopping, has me sleepy. It's a good thing Dominick and I didn't go out, as we'd planned. Being a professor, I'm supposed to put him to sleep, not fall asleep on him.

Time for this girl--actually, a female recognized by New York City and State but classified as male until 7 July of this year--to go to bed. Tomorrow I will wake up as Justine; in less than three months, I will wake up as female in the eyes of the Federal governmment as well as the city and state in which I live.

So, do I need to sleep for two? Or are two cheaper than one?

Let me sleep on that.

15 April 2009

Who Should Play Transgendered People? How Sould They Be Played?

Today I stumbled over a blog I plan to check out every chance I get. It's called "Femulate," and bills itself as "the weblog of a male, (sic) who emulates female."

Its hostess, Staci Lana, has a number of interesting entries. (If only I were as good and as prolific a writer as she is!) But the one that caught my eye was about the issue of women portraying trans women in movies and TV shows. In particular, she talked about the notion of Nicole Kidman playing a transwoman in the upcoming film The Danish Girl. "Sure, Nicole Kidman is tall, but except for height, how many transwomen resemble Ms. Kidman?," Ms. Lana wonders.

Well, I couldn't agree with her more. I know I bear no semblance to Nicole Kidman and know no other transwoman who does. And, believe me, I know quite a few who are simply beautiful, and plenty more that are simply better-looking than I am.

Then again, I'm not so sure I'd want to resemble her. Sure, she's pretty, but I always thought she was just another pretty girl. That's also pretty much how I feel about Jennifer Aniston. On the other hand, if I woke up one morning and saw someone who looked like Angelina Jolie, Isabelle Huppert, Rihanna or Michelle Obama in the mirror, I'd be ecstatic. And I'd want to age like Sophia Loren, Jeanne Moreau or Lena Horne.

Anyway...Staci Lana got me to thinking about the portrayal of transwomen in the media. Too often they're murdered. That reflects what happens in real life: I read somewhere that we're twelve times more likely than average to be killed by someone else, almost invariably for being ourselves. But I also recall a report that said more than forty percent of all African American men in certain cities have been involved in the criminal justice system, and that nearly half of all Latinos don't finish high school. Imagine the (justifiable) outcry if all the blacks on film and TV were getting arrested or sent to jail, or if all the Latinos were uneducated and unable to speak English well.

But, as if all those dead transwomen (Transmen, it seems, aren't portrayed at all.) weren't bad enough, they are as likely as not to be portrayed as having been sex workers or hustlers of some other kind. Thus, in the minds of many people, the dead transwoman "had it coming to her" or died as a consequence of her "choice" to do sex work--or to be a transwoman in the first place.

Of course, we could say that any action we take is a choice. In theory, we could choose not do most of the things we do, but sometimes we don't want the consequences of not making that choice. As an example, someone who kills someone else in self-defense possibly could have made another choice--provided, of course, that he or she had more time and the other person's gun were not pointed at his or her head.

I think now of something Paul Fussell told me when I was one of his students at Rutgers. (Has it been thirty years--almost--already?) "There's no way to justify killing another human being," declared the Purple Heart and National Book Award winner. "No one ever has the right to take the life of another," he averred. But, he also admitted, when a gun's pointing in your face and a finger is pulling on the trigger, you don't have a whole lot of time to weigh your alternatives. Or maybe your alternatives aren't very tenable ones.

So, yes, some teenaged trans girl who stopped going to school because she was getting beat up and who's been kicked out of her family's house can choose not to become a prostitute or drug runner. She can also choose not to shoplift food, clothing and medicines, not to mention cosmetics. I mean, isn't it more honorable to starve than it is to practice "the world's oldest profession?"

And I guess Jean Valjean could have chosen not to steal that loaf of bread or to committ that petty crime that violated his parole. Had he made those choices, he wouldn't have had Inspector Jalabert on his tail for all of those years.

Sometimes I wonder what other choices would I have made had I begun my transition earlier in my life--or if I hadn't tried to masculinize myself by playing sports and otherwise trying to be "one of the guys." What if I'd been one of those girls who didn't finish school and whose parents threw her out? I think now of Sylvia Rivera, whom I met near the end of her life and the beginning of my current life. Her father abandoned her family; when she was three, her mother committed suicide. Until she was eleven, she lived with a grandmother who put her out of the house after she started wearing makeup and women's clothing.

So what's an orphaned trans girl from the Bronx to do when her grandmother expels her from their home?

Of course, she didn't remain a sex worker. Had she, she probably wouldn't have lived as long as she did: to the same age that I am now. (Actually, I'm a few weeks older than she was when she died.) But she never escaped the poverty into which she was born. If anything, she was probably poorer: She lived on the streets for long periods of her life.

And I--even with my rather tenuous employment situation on the lowest rung of the college faculty ladder, and having earned little money from my writing--am among the better-off transgender people. I first realized this during the brief time I worked for Housing Works, which was also the first time I met (relatively) large numbers of transgendered people. Unless you're born with a silver spoon in your mouth, being transgendered and making that transition early in life has been a virtual recipe for poverty and even homelessness, not to mention early death. That has just begun to change: Some trans kids are getting the support they need. But it's still a very, very risky world for us.

It's telling that the status I have now--which would be low for a straight person of my age who's living by the gender assigned to him or her at birth--is largely the result of things I was able to do before I transitioned. I probably would not have had the chance to study with Paul Fussell, Alicia Ostriker, Marc Crawford, Allen Ginsberg, Jean Valentine or Thomas Lux, much less become a professor, had I been in a situation like Sylvia Rivera's, or that of any number of trans kids. I probably wouldn't have had the opportunity to live in another country or to talk with Norman Mailer. And I almost certainly would not have whatever credibility I have (or have left) in the worlds of work, and generally.

So I did not have to make the choice to become a sex worker or drug dealer. But that's not the same as not making the choice. The difference is that I have never had to suffer the consequences of making, or not making, such a choice.

Now, I don't think anyone's ready to see a transgendered four-star general or admiral. Frankly, I wouldn't want to see such a thing, anyway. But I also don't think most people would find a transgendered CEO or a tranny Mother Teresa terribly credible, either--at least not today. But, if filmmakers and TV producers are going to portray trannies as hookers who end up dead, they should at least start making stories that show how those trans people came to be sex workers. I mean, at in Les Miserables, we know why Jean Valjean commits his crimes. Heck, in L'etranger, we know that the protagonist has no real motive for the murder he commits. And when we're talking about transgendered people becoming sex workers or other kinds of criminals (at least according to the laws on the books), we're not talking about the seemingly-motiveless malignity of Iago in Othello.

So...I think Staci Lana is right when she decries casting directors' choices to play trans women. However, I think it's not just a matter of who plays them; it's also a matter of how they're portrayed.

Still, I am intrigued by her idea of getting more men to play trans women. (It seems that there simply aren't enough transgendered actors to go around.) What would happen if casting directors started to think as Staci Lana does? Well, they would certainly rule out lots of actors: Some wouldn't be credible, and too many others could never vacate their own egos long enough to do such a thing. But I think that the real difficulty in portraying transgender people is that we are all acting--pretending to be someone else--until we begin to transition. Few people can understand what it's like to act in one's everyday life, simply to stay alive. Somehow I doubt that Nicole Kidman or Tom Cruise could understand this.

What few also understand is that almost no one who had to perform in order to survive would choose to continue performing, no matter how well he or she might be paid for it. That, I think, is one major reason why there are so few transgendered actors. No transgender person wants to do drag, if you will: Even playing a transgender character--at least the types we've seen in movies and TV--is, in a sense, returning to the closet. Why? I can't think of any transgendered character in a mainstream film or TV program that served any purpose but being transgendered--or, more precisely, embodying the stereotypes of transgendered people.

So we need not only the right actors, we need writers, directors and casting directors who are more aware. Then we'll have Sean Penn or Meryl Streep or whomever playing demure transgendered account executives. Oh, happy day!

Then again, I am waiting for an opera about a woman and her cat(s) rather than about monarchs or military "heroes." Meantime, I guess I have to content myself with Felicity Huffmann in Transamerica.

14 April 2009

Did They Ever Imagine This?

Another rainy day in April. What else is new?

Today there was a tornado watch where my parents live. Although I know I probably would have heard from them had anything happened, I called. Mom wasn't home, so I talked to Dad for a while. Between today and the other day, I've talked more to him than I did in some years.

That's no exaggeration. Even today he knows that whenever I call, I'm going to talk for longer and in more intimate detail with Mom than with him. But there was a time when, if he answered the phone, he gave it to Mom without speaking to me.

You could say that we had a difficult relationship. Even today, I can sometimes feel the strains, although each of us is making more of an effort than we've made before. Before my transition, I didn't fulfill a single hope he had for me. Or so it seems. And sometimes I wonder whether he's saying to himself, "Now this..."

I know he wanted to have a daughter. So did Mom. And she would have named her Justine. (She told me that when I was fourteen, when we were talking about something else entirely.) But I don't think either of them envisioned that their girl would come into their lives the way she--I--did. Then again, how many people's lives go exactly according to the scripts they've written?

All those years I imagined myself living as the person I'm becoming. But I never imagined that I ever would have the opportunity to live that life. Nor did I imagine that I would come to it as I have.

And Mom and Dad: Did they ever imagine that their lives would become what they are? They are living far from where they were born and spent most of their lives, and people are dying all around them. None of their kids are living anywhere near them; neither are any of my mother's old friends. Now she's finding that she doesn't have as much in common with them as she once did: They've moved to other places and developed new lives. Dad has had only two friends, and both of them are dead.

Did either of them imagine they would be where they are now? Or the ones who would enter that place?

For that matter...Did any of us imagine a tornado watch, much less an actual tornado? Did they ever imagine their daughter would call them to be sure they were OK?

I never imagined any of it. At least some things are better than I ever imagined. After all, I am Justine. And I am called by that name.

13 April 2009

I Passed Two Tests Today. Do I Get $4000 for That?

Today, like yesterday, was clear, breezy and cold for this time of year.

Unlike yesterday, however, today was a day of preparing for my surgery. So, I went to my doctor for an EKG and an HIV test.

My doctor insists that I, and everyone else, call him "Richie." Even if he wanted to be called Dr. Tran, he would seem no less accessible. He attended to me once before: Almost two years ago, I took a fall and Dr. Schwarz, my doctor at the time, wasn't in that day.

He's soft-spoken but not self-effacing. That's not to say that he's self-important; rather, he exudes a confidence that's completely un-selfconscious. And, people describe him as "sensitive," which is accurate. However, there's even more to him than that.

Lord Byron wrote of his cousin, Mrs. Wilmot: "She walks in beauty." (Now tell me, wouldn't you love to have someone write that about you?) Well, you can say that about Richie, but in a different way: He just has a beautiful spirit. He knows his stuff when it comes to medicine, but I get the feeling that he's channeling a kind of life energy that he walks in.

We talked a bit about ourselves. As a child, he left Vietnam with his family after the fall of Saigon. Yes, he was one of the "boat people." He and his family sailed to Malaysia before coming to the US: That was a common route for the refugees. Death was also common: "You had about a 50 percent chance of dying," he related. The boats were rickety, the seas were rough, and there were pirates, "just like Somalia" he said in a reference to the privateers who captured a ship on a relief mission to Africa.

He spoke with no self-aggrandizement or self-pity. However, I could not help to feel admiration for him, which isn't what he wanted. But he did not admonish me for it.

As warm, but more effusive, was the nurse who hooked me up for my EKG. If you ever need one, and go to the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, you may be fortunate enough to meet Emily Phipps. I had never before had an EKG and I was afraid that the test would reveal some ailment I didn't know I had and would prevent me from having my surgery. She knew this even though she didn't know my story. She also sensed, correctly, that I have had fear of being seen without clothes.

But I felt comfortable and safe with her. At every step she explained what she was doing; in between, she talked with me in a way that didn't merely soothe me; it guided me into the calm we needed. She didn't merely tell me to be calm; she talked with me into it.

So I passed two tests and had a great experience. Then I came home to....

A call from Dr. Bowers' office. Robin, her office manager, let me know that the worst-case scenario came to pass: The surgery will indeed cost $4000 more than they originally thought. The hospital in which Dr. Bowers performs the surgeries raised its fees by that amount; she spent the past few weeks trying to negotiate it down. No luck.

Well, if I had to choose, I'd naturally rather have the price increase than to be kept from having the surgery because of medical reasons. It's easier to do something about money than your EKG reading.

Now I'm recalling kids I knew in school whose parents or other relatives gave them money or othr gifts for "good" report cards. Sometimes they'd see mine and say, "Wow, my father would give me five bucks for that." In those days, you could go to a few movies on that amount of money.

Today I passed two tests with flying colors. Do I get $4000 for that? I know that might be a bit more than the adjusted-for-inflation report card rewards. But, hey, don't I deserve it?

Hopefully, after my surgery I'll get everything I want with my looks, charm, wit and erudition. Then I want to get rich.

Right now, all I really want is to do my surgery and to be safe. At least Richie and Emily helped me toward that today.

12 April 2009

Easter: Food and Movies Today, The Doctor Tomorrow

Easter Sunday...My last before the surgery. It's ironic that Bruce has told me that my transition "resurrected" me. Now I've just a few more weeks to go before my surgery. If my transition was my "resurrection," then what will my surgery be?

Today I've eaten enough for three people. I had a bowl of Corn Flakes this morning. Then, my landlady's mother brought me some Indian-Guyanese food--curried goat, rice and peas-- enough for a light lunch. After that, I went to Millie's for lasagna, pulled pork, vegetables and salads, rice and desserts. All great stuff: just what a growing girl needs, right?

Tomorrow I go to the doctor for an EKG and HIV test. If you're, ahem, a certain age, the former is required within 90 days before the surgery, and the latter is required for everybody. Even though I had an HIV test in November, it's not recent enough for the purpose. I just hope the doctor doesn't find any problems now. Or, I should say that I hope I haven't developed problems I don't know I have. Dominick says the doctor will say I'm crazy, but I pointed out that it's not a physician's job. Besides, everyone knows that I'm the sanest person in the world. And the most beautiful, too...

I took my hormones with food today, so I can't blame them for that last bit of silliness. Last week, when Dominick came to my place, I was giggling at everything he did, including his breathing. Then I realized that all I had in my stomach were the hormones and a couple of cups of green tea. My giggle fit could just as easily have been a crying jag; I'm sure that Dominick preferred what he saw.

Another thing on which I can blame the hormones: I watched the Sex and the City movie again. After dinner, Stephanie and Lisa--Millie's daughters--and I sat on the long green couch in the living room and watched that wonderful monument to fashion, shopping and all other aspects of being a Material Girl. Yes, it's mindless and trashy, but I loved every second of it. It's funny how brainless, pointless movies that are full of violence--especially of the militaristic variety--are not deemed as "trash" and aren't denigrated to the same degree as movies like Sex and the City or The Devil Wears Prada. I mean, some guy who got an exemption from going to Vietnam by teaching phys ed at a private girl's school in Switzerland and doesn't even hold a machine gun properly plays a storm trooper and is considered more credible than women who are approaching middle age and trying to deal with it through sex and shopping. You tell me: Which is the real American way?

The American Way. Now all we need is Truth and Justice (yes, with a capital "T" and a capital "J") and I will have completed a journey from Rambo to Carrie Bradshaw to Superman. Why anyone would want to do such a thing, I'll never know. All I know is that if I was once Clark Kent, I'm turning into Lois Lane. At least, I hope for something like that.

Actually, I think it's weird enough to watch Sex and the City the night after watching (at least partially) The Ten Commandments. I guess I'm not the first to have done that. But I don't think anyone has ever planned such a thing. I must say, though, they had some interesting clothes in The Ten Commandments, even if they weren't the latest from Yves St. Laurent.

What will next Easter bring?

11 April 2009

Advice to a Cross-Dresser; The Ten Commandments

Today I was reading an article from The Independent by Neil Straus. He described his expereince with a survivalist camp run by a couple of guys who were, or still may be, involved with Blackwater. It's one of those things that makes you really proud to be an American. Really proud.

Anyway, the course culminated with Strauss and one of his classmates navigating a city landscape--Oklahoma City--without getting caught by the bounty hunters that filtered through the streets. If the guy and his classmate would've been caught, they would have been handcuffed, placed in the back of a Hummer and dropped off in a remote area from which they'd have to make their way back and through the city.

Well, Strauss and his classmate made it through the course without getting caught. But he had a close call--ironically enough, with a couple of frat guys who were drinking. Strauss decided that the moment was right to disguise himself. So he ducked into a Hooters restaurant to "transform"himself into a "woman."

Strauss recalls, "Gazing into the bathroom mirror, I realised, to my disappointment, that I don't even make a good transvestite, let alone a passable woman." So he tried to powder away some of the shadow on his face. Just then, one of the frat boys walked into the bathroom and very belligerently grilled him. Well, what else would he expect when he's dressed as a woman in a men's bathroom in Oklahoma? As he tried to talk his way out of the situation, the frat guy's buddy came in.

The would-be survivalist Strauss escaped only by convincing the two frat boys that he was doing an undercover drill with the Marines and that if they bothered him, he would call the rest of his batallion.

Hey, I'll try that the next time I'm in trouble!

Now, as somebody who has much more experience than Strauss has in transformation, I would tell him that he made one glaring fundamental mistake.

First of all, he shouldn't have gone into a men's room--in Hooters or anywhere else--to change. Back when I was "cross-dressing," I used to look for a unisex bathroom. Lots of coffee shops, pizzerias and such have only a single bathroom. That is all but ideal; you have to contend only with people banging on the door. As I became more of a quick change artist, that became less frequent.

Now, I'll admit that here in New York, finding such places is probably easier than it is in Oklahoma City. On the other hand, I should think he could've found such a place there. If not, he should have gone to some remote part of a park or some other place where he wouldn't have had to worry about someone following him in.

From that experience, Strauss concludes the following: "Cross-dressing is not an urban survival tactic. It's an urban suicide tactic."

It needn't be. I didn't see him, but I would bet that when I started, I was even less passable than he was. And I didn't have his training. Then again, I was presenting myself as a woman as a form of survival. I was training myself for the life I envisioned, even when I didn't believe I would have the opportunity to live it and coped by denying that I wanted anything like the life I now have, or am about to have.

I'm guessing that Strauss has never had fantasies of cross-dressing, much less of living as a woman. Still, I think he could've--in addition to finding the right place to change--been less self-conscious about the exercise, precisely because it was that--an exercise.

At least I'll give Neil Strauss this: He is actually committed to survivalism. The article was an extract from a book (Emergency) he wrote on the topic. And it was rather well-written. In all of these respects, it's not like those articles The Village Voice used to publish. (Maybe they still do; I can't remember the last time I looked at the Voice.) Those articles were invariably written by some bullshit bohemian or pseudo-anarchist with a trust fund who went into the slums or rode shotgun with some drug dealer or plutocrat, or some other "heart of darkness." In particular, I recall an article about riding the subway, back in the days when it was covered in graffiti and filth, ridden with crime and plagued by breakdowns, delays and other major inconveniences and minor catastrophes. I don't recall exactly what that article said, but the gist of it was "Wow, I rode the #2 train into East New York and lived to tell about it!"

Their mistakes were even sillier than anything Strauss described in his article. At least his biggest mistake was one on which I (or someone else) could've given him advice. And you know he won't make it again. But those kids writing for the Voice might've gone on for another fifteen or twenty years without figuring out what the score is.

On an unrelated topic: It's the night before Easter and, as happens every year, a TV station is broadcasting The Ten Commandments. It's one of those things that, the more dated it looks and feels, the more people will watch it.

When I say "dated," I'm not talking about the fact that it deals with events that supposedly happened thousands of years ago. I'm talking about the film's visual style and its acting. The former is vivid or exaggerated, depending on your point of view. It's full of colors, bold and vibrant but not with a whole lot of depth. Then again, it's a Hollywood movie, not a Vermeer or a Fragonard. Still, I can't help to feel that as dazzling as it is, it's still an illustration rather than something that conveys truths or perceptions. It makes me feel something I felt when I visited, for the first time in thirty-five years, the church in which I served as an altar boy. The bas reliefs for the Stations of the Cross, as well as other statues artwork in there, that seemed so formidable when I was a kid became oddly hokey when I revisited. (Of course, that feeling paled in comparison to what I experienced moments later, when I went into the sacristry and "confronted" the "ghost" of the priest who molested me!)

About the acting: Everyone in this film acts in a way Uta Hagen referred to as indicative. In other words, it's a diva's way of acting: Here I am, Charlton Heston, in this Egyptian getup. Now you know I'm Moses. To be fair, no matter how well she portrayed Sephora or any other role, I probably never will be able to look at Yvonne De Carlo without thinking about Lily Munster. Still, even at her best, all I can think is that she's Yvonne De Carlo with bangs and lots of eye make-up.

This style of acting--which probably constitutes the vast majority of performances by big-name starts--contrasts with the kind in which the actor or actress brings the character out from within him or herself, much as Michelangelo said he chipped away at stone until he found "David" within it. At his best, that is what Sean Penn does when he acts: His work in Milk and Dead Man Walking are two of the best examples. Geraldine Page was that sort of actress; sometimes Meryl Streep is. (Unfortunately, she became a star for doing her most indicative work back in the early '80's, when people seemed to notice only the accents she portrayed. I'm talking, of course, about A French Lieutenant's Woman, Sophie's Choice and Silkwood.)

And one more thing about the acting in The Ten Commandments: The actors all enunciate their lines in a "stagey," almost vaudevillian, kind of way. That was common in the early "talking pictures," some of which were directed by Cecil B. DeMille, who directed The Ten Commandments. And the tones of the narrator were even more stentorian than those of the actors.

Still, I'll admit, it's quite the spectacle.

Now I wonder what Neil Strauss would do if he were wandering the desert for 40 years. Hopefully, he'd stop and ask for directions. Maybe I'm harboring unrealistic expectations. As if I've never done that before!