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?

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