31 May 2009

Sensing That I'll Soon Be Leaving (for my surgery)

So...One month and one week until my surgery. Two units of time that aren't hard to fathom: How many things in our lives are done weekly or monthly? Some of us get paid on one of those schedules or the other; most of us pay bills by the latter schedule. And, well, let's say that even after my surgery, there is one thing I still won't be able to do that other women do--involuntarily--every month.

After a bike ride to and along the ocean, from the Rockaways to Coney Island, I came home and made myself dinner. After eating, I sat in my over-stuffed chair and watched Cold Case. Before I could lose myself in the details of the story, Charlie climbed onto the chair, and me. Then he curled himself upright against my torso and propped his head on my shoulders. He wriggled, trying to find the perfect position; upon finding it, he closed his eyes and purred deeply. It was better than any vibra-massage chair; soon I found myself dozing off.

He's normally a very friendly cat, but lately I notice that when he climbs onto me, he doesn't want to let go. I don't mind that; in fact, I enjoy it. I would have let him rest on me all night if I didn't have to get up from that chair.

I wonder whether he senses the imminence of my operation. Maybe he thinks I'm going to leave him for a long time or, perhaps, that I won't come back. I will actually be away for about a week and a half and, well, I hope it's not longer than that. Surgical techniques have improved so that I don't expect it to be a major risk, though I still worry about being under anaesthesia.

Whatever's going on, I hope he's not signalling danger or trouble for me--or advancing age and declining health for him. Something in me said, "Maybe he's trying to tell me his days are numbered. "

Whatever it is, he's welcome to climb on me--as long as I'm not wearing a black wool skirt, of course!

And yes, Max, you have the same rights and privileges: All kitties are equal in my house!

Off to sleep again, to the sound and feel of purring.

30 May 2009

A Journey and a Language

A quiet day today. I slept until almost 1:00 this afternoon; I can't remember the last time I did that when I wasn't jet-lagged. And I'm starting to feel sleepy again. I don't think I'm coming down with anything, and I don't think I'm falling into the kind of depression my father has experienced--or any depression at all.

I didn't do anything earth-shaking: Took a skirt to the dry-cleaner, mailed a package and shopped in the weekly farmer's market on Roosevelt Island. I was rather surprised that they were still there when I arrived: they normally run out of most of their produce fairly early in the afternoon. They still had some mushrooms: the best I've found in this area. However, they'd run out of cherries. Victor, one of the men who runs it, expressed the disappointment I was feeling. However, he offered some consolation: Although the cherries were at least as good as they were last week, they're still not locally-grown: Those won't come in for another couple of weeks, at least. Still, I was a bit disappointed: Cherries are one fruit I very much look forward to finding and eating late every spring and early every summer. In January, there are cherries and other fruits from South America. They're perfectly good, just not as fresh as the domestic produce.

So, today was a warm, sunny day on which I didn't go for a bike ride. (Well, I rode to the dry cleaner and the market, but that doesn't count.) At one time that would have infuriated me; woe would betide whoever asked me to spend such a day with him or her rather than in the saddle. What woe would betide them? They'd have to put up with me, in the kind of mood into which I'd sink.

Yesterday, through the graduation ceremony and the reception that followed, this image played through my mind: That I had been looking at a map that showed roads that led to the ocean, and I was nearing the end of one of those roads. I have been on more than a few trips in which the destination was the sea, including one in which I landed at Charles de Gaulle Airport and my only itinerary was to ride my bike to the ocean. After about a week and a half of pedalling through some lovely countryside and stopping in various chateaux, musees and pretty towns and provincial capitals--and a bend in the Garonne river, where it begins to open itself toward the sea--I arrived at the duned shores near Bordeaux.

I remember that particular bend, not only because it's a lovely place, but also for an older couple I met there. They had to be one of the most contented pairs I've ever encountred. I imagined that they had been living near that bend all of their lives, mainly because I could not imagine them in any other place. Why? I had arrived late in the afternoon or early in the evening, depending on how you keep (or spend) time. We talked a little; they were fascinated that someone from the other side of the ocean would come to their part of the world to ride a bicycle. And said etrangere could speak French reasonably well! If I recall correctly, they spoke no language other than their own. And, really, it was all they would need: what they knew about that place really couldn't have been described in any other way.

As we talked, the man nudged me: Voir! Voir! He pointed to the water: What looked like an oceanic tide rushed toward the bank where we stood. Deux fois chaque jour, his wife explained: Twice a day, the tide comes in to their bend in the river, about 20 miles inland from the sea.

That's the sort of thing the tour books don't mention. And it's one of those things you can only find on a journey to the ocean, precisely because there is no way to predict that you will find such a thing.

I don't know why I was thinking about all of that during the graduation and reception. I guess those new graduates were arriving at the ocean, a seemingly infinite and chimeric expanse stretching before them: one that is familiar yet almost never understood in its own voice, which can only be understood, much less mastered, through intimate experience with it. Schooling has given students the means for making maps and boats, if you will. But, as necessary as they are, they are the phrases that allow approach and entry; really learning about the sea requires living with it.

You might be say I am also describing my own situation, as my surgery date nears. I know why I am undergoing the surgery and I have visions of what I want my life to be like afterward. However, I also know that there's so much before me that I don't and can't know; I think I might be speaking, in effect, a different language once I get there.

When you understand something in its own language, you change. I wonder how I will change.

29 May 2009


Today: College commencement. Some of the graduates were students of mine, whether during the semester that just ended or in earlier ones. After the ceremony and the reception that followed, I went to my office to take care of a few things. To tell you the truth, I didn't want to leave: Somehow this day's events were some of the clearest signals that this part of my life will soon end. What I always wanted is near enough that I can practically taste it, but I think that today I realized, at least to some degree, what I've learned and what I've gained (besides weight) during the nearly six years that I've been living as Justine.

Two students--one whom I hadn't seen in more than a year--gave me two of the warmest embraces I've ever received from people who were not relatives or intimate friends. They both said they've read entries on this blog. I didn't ask--but now I'd love to know--how they found out about it.

Sharon took three classes with me. Before that, she took a workshop I taught on the test everyone in the college has to pass in order to continue into her or his junior year. She recommended me to quite a few of the students who've taken my classes since I first met her. I don't think I've ever seen a more committed student: She managed to keep up with her studies even as she was working, raising two kids and giving birth to another. And she moved during the middle of the second course she took with me.

Actually, she graduated last year. But she came to today's ceremony because friends of hers were receiving their degrees. I don't think those friends could do anything but go to school and graduate as long as Sharon is in their lives: I've seen very few people who can motivate people the way she does. I know I was a better teacher when she was in the classroom.

I probably will see her again after the surgery, and I may see her before it. However, I saw many other students--and a few faculty and staff members--whom I won't see again , at least before my surgery and the Fall semester. They all seemed to know about my impending surgery and were offering me words of encouragement. A few even said I've "inspired" them. To what, they didn't say, mainly because I didn't ask. I never knew I could have such an efffect on anybody!

Another of those students is Tiffany. She took my hip-hop class; before that, she took Writing for Business with me. Talk about two different kinds of courses! Two of her friends, whom I'd never met before, accompanied her. "We've heard all about you!," they both exclaimed.

"Whatever Tiffany says..."

"Is the truth," she replied to me.

Tiffany, like Sharon, is a student I anticipate seeing, or hearing from, again. At least, I hope so. Another similarity between them, as you may have guessed, is their commitment to their studies.

And there is another similarity...aside from being African-American women of roughly the same age: They inspired me. There were days I simply did not want to go to the college; once I was in the classroom, however, I remembered why I was there.

It has at least partly to do with the satisfaction I get from helping people like Sharon and Tiffany to achieve their goals and to think beyond whatever boundaries they may not have even known they had. (I think most, if not all, people have such boundaries. Sometimes I think my life has been a process of discovering them, and at least sometimes, breaking them.) The funny thing is that they were helping me to learn the same thing for myself. That may be reason why, in teaching that hip-hop class, I was--at least for the time I was in that class--not conscious of any of the labels anyone may have affixed to me: "white," "transgendered," (or other, less polite, terms), "middle-aged," or even "professor." Sure, I made jokes about them, but I feel that it is a way of working beyond those boundaries.

In other words, I feel that, thanks to people like Sharon and Tiffany, I've learned that I can actually live and work by my spirit, my essence, rather than by mere expectations.

Is that what my real change--my "graduation," if you will--is?

After seeing them, I got to spend the evening with Dominick. Talk about change for the better!

28 May 2009

Forty Days, Beginning With Graduation

Forty days. That's how much time stands between me and my surgery.

Forty days and forty nights. A rather fine, if chilly, mist wrapped itself around this day as if to keep it from following the sun into the new season. Now that mist has turned into rain. It seems that we've already had forty days of rain; I hope we won't have forty more. Otherwise, some guy with a long beard might start to build a big wooden boat in Socrates Sculpture Park. And it won't be art for art's sake.

Forty days...I'll be spending fifteen of them in a class I'm teaching in June. It ends on the 24th; I'll have a few days left before I go to Trinidad. Dominick says I should take a trip somewhere, preferably to some Caribbean resort. The idea of taking a trip tempting, but my finances may not permit it. Besides, I just may have more to do during those last few days than I now realize. And, quite honestly, I've never had any interest in going to some tropical island so I can fry myself on a beach full of tourists: the kinds of people I could meet in a Long Island or New Jersey mall. There's plenty of ocean here and in other places, thank you. And I need only to take a bus ride, not a plane trip, to a mall.

Tomorrow some of my students will graduate. So will a few hundred other students at the college. Some of them have jobs; some are already working. The rest, I don't envy.

The year I graduated--1980--also featured a tight labor market. Actually, the labor market had been so for about a decade: almost half of my life up to that point. Some of us were scared out of doing things we actually wanted to do. In my case, they were writing and teaching--and going to graduate school. Jobs for high-school English teachers were scarce; college faculty positions were all but non-existent and no one knew when or if the situation would change. For me--and, I'm sure, other students--it provided a good rationale for "taking time off from" school. Like most of my peers, I was tired of being a student: It's what I'd been doing since I was four years old. And I knew that at some time in the future (Is that just a nice way of saying "Not now! Not now!"?), I would become a student again. How or why, I didn't know.

More than a decade later, I did indeed return to school, for a master's degree. In a way, it was easier than my undergraduate schooling: I didn't have to take courses in subjects like math. I graduated with honors; a few people urged me to continue my schooling and earn a Ph.D. I told them, "Maybe later." Once again, I was tired of being a student, even though the master's degree took only two years to complete.

This semester I took a PhD level course and realized that it wasn't for me. Actually, I knew that even before I took the course, but my department chair and a couple of other people egged me into taking it. At least now I can better explain why I'm not interested in pursuing further study. I guess that counts for something.

For now, I have to prepare for the next steps in my life. As far as I know, I can't learn that in any classroom.

27 May 2009

On My Way To A Gynecologist

Well, at least my father seems to be getting help now. As a result, my mother is so much calmer than she was the other day. I don't know quite what will happen to my father, but it has to be better--for him and Mom--than what he had been experiencing.

Mom remarked that he was "seeing so many doctors" and "they were all pushing another drug on him." I think the last things in the world he or she want are more drugs and more doctors; although she was talking about Dad's situation, she could just as easily have been describing her own. The difference, of course, is in the drugs that were prescribed: no psychoactives or psychotropics for Mom. Even so, she's expressed her belief that the doctors were "just pill-pushers."

I feel so lucky. Today I went to what is--barring something unforeseen--my last visit to my regular doctor before my surgery. My experience with Dr. Tran--who insists that I call him "Richie"-- has been almost the exact opposite of my parents' experiences with their doctors: He actually seems reluctant to prescribe pills. That's how I prefer things, anyway: Even when I was slogging through my worst depression, before my gender transition, I didn't want to take medications, and I never did. Perhaps my own struggles with substance abuse made me wary of any sort of drug, even a legitimate one. Believe it or not, that was one of my self-imposed obstacles against starting my hormone regimen.

Isn't it ironic?: I abused alcohol and other drugs, in part, not to deal with my gender identity and sexuality issues. After recovering from my addictions, I didn't want to take any drugs or medicines at all, in part to assure myself of my virility. ("Only sissies need that shit.") Then, I was reluctant to start taking hormones because I didn't want to acknowledge the woman that I am. Now I've embraced her, and all she needs.

Soon she--I--will have another need, which my doctor anticipated. He prescribed an appointment for me with a gynecologist, which the receptionist/secretary scheduled for 27 July: almost two weeks after I return home from my surgery.

A gynecologist. Now there's a first for me. Of course, I knew that sooner or later I'd need one. But I hadn't thought about it; somehow it seemed even more distant than my surgery seemed when I set the date for it.

But there was something about the way Dr. Tran--excuse me, Richie--said "appointment with the gynecologist" that made it seem like a marker of some sort. Ironically enough, the calmness of his demeanor and the softness of his voice conveyed the significance of it to me: He knows that I'm entering what is, in some ways, still uncharted territory in spite of the preparations I've made to examine and prepare myself for it.

As I was making the appointment, I understood why it seemed like a line of demarcation: It was a signal that I was indeed on my way to entering the gender and world I've always felt the need to inhabit. I am now 41 days away from my surgery, but I feel that I moved even closer to it today than in the past few weeks. Not that I felt I wasn't progressing toward the surgery; rather, the leap I seem to have taken today alone brought me closer to my trip to Trinidad than everything I did during previous weeks.

A result is that I feel less like I'm leaving some things--namely, my rather long life as a male and a shorter time living as a transwoman, or a woman transitioning toward her surgery and the life that, I hope, it will enable.

Yes, I am on my way. (I hope!) The gynecologist's offices will be one of my first stops on the other side. I talked to three of her patients, who rave about her. So does Richie.

Everyone assures me that I have nothing to worry about: I'm on my way.

26 May 2009

Playing Chicken With a Rainstorm

Today I took another ride up to the George Washington Bridge, then down River Road through Bergen and Hudson counties to the Jersey City waterfront, where I allowed my mind to flicker and ripple languidly like the surface of the river that channels glass and steel reflections on either shore as they fill with schools driving toward the same wrecks at the bottom of the day's currents and disgorge those same schools-- some of whose members are full-- at the end of the day.

And it was about the end of the day when I arrived on the network of piers and promenades that form a kind of buffer zone between Exchange Place and the Hudson River, only a few miles from where it meets the ocean. I thought I felt a couple of raindrops; through my ride, I felt myself tempting the rain that the forecasters said was a possibility. A couple more drops here and there, as I rode behind Liberty's back to the Bayonne Bridge, where a boy with a girl and a skateboard declared, "I love your colors, lady--on your helmet and your bike."

Well, kid, if you ever see me again, you know what my favorite color is. Now as for my dress size, my age or any other personal information, you'll have to get to know me just a little better!

I did something silly, though I didn't realize it until well after I'd gotten home and eaten dinner: I forgot to bring my cellphone with me. Yesterday, during my brief ride, I cried and, as I was about to go to Millie's house, I found out how dire my parents' situation had become. In spite of that, I felt invigorated, even giddy at times, as I rode and took my leisure in the shadow of a tower on the bank of a river. It's as if I knew Millie and Dominick were right: Everything would be OK; I would be OK.

Except, somehow I felt that I didn't need the future conditional tense. Things were not going to be all right; they were in the process of becoming all right. I learned of this after I discovered my mistake and turned on my phone.

Mom had called me twice to say my father is in a hospital, and, from the sound of things, he was getting help. When I called her back, she seemed calmer and more relaxed than she has in some time. For the first time in months, she has at least some hope of having not only her own life again, but something like a partnership rather than the relationship of a parent whose kid won't listen to her and, in doing so, finds ways to make himself miserable.

Hearing from her--specifically, hearing what I heard from her--was as reassuring, at least for now, to me as the light rain that fell unaccompanied by wind or thunder as the boat plowed its way through waters that had become choppier in front of Liberty, at the point where the Hudson roils into the New York Bay--and, from there, into the ocean.

Perhaps some of us are soothed and reassured by soft rain and mist because we spend our lives, wittingly or not, playing chicken with storms. Lovely as those brief showers are, they can no more prepare us for hard rain and squalls than the clearest skies can. We fall asleep to the drizzle, to the intermittent showers, and the storms seem to come without warning.

My storms--which were not as severe as the ones some other people have experienced--have, through their accumulations and erosions, built something that may not be as formidable of the Statue of Liberty. But they made an individual as, if I say so myself, distinctive as the Statue in the harbor is. And a lot happier, even through the storms I've experienced recently.

I hope that my parents have an experience like that. Especially Mom: She so deserves it!

And, yes, I still hope that she'll be with me in Trinidad after all.

25 May 2009

It Continues On Memorial Day

Around noon, I went out for a bike ride. How couldn't I?: The day was gorgeous and I was going to a barbeque at Millie's, where I expected to take in more than a few calories.

I got home around 1:45, took a shower and dried my hair. Then I heard the signal on my cell phone that indicates someone left a message. Someone turned out to be Mom, who sounded even more distressed than she has lately. However, her message was equally disturbing: Dad wanted to talk to me.

I called. He answered and said he wanted to ask about withdrawal from drugs, about which I know a bit. It seems that one doctor doesn't know what the other has prescribed for him, and every doctor he visits prescribes something else. He decided to stop taking all of the prescriptions except one.

He's spiralling even deeper into his depression. Just before he called, he'd written notes to Mom, me, my brothers and other people, and called the VA hotline. Now he's worried that because the counselor recorded the call, as she is required to do, that record could harm him. How, he couldn't say. If anything, I advised him, it might help him to get the help he actually needs.

But he lapses into the same monologue I've been hearing for weeks: He "doesn't see an end to it" and that he has "nothing to look forward to, no motivation to do anything." He admits he is "driving people away" and "destroying" Mom with stress. I haven't seen her since Christmastime, but I would not be surprised to see that she's aged another ten years since then. She sounds that way over the phone.

She and Dad insisted that my impending surgery has "absolutely nothing" to do with their current emotional states. Dad even said, "It's what you need to do to be happy; don't feel guilty."

Yesterday, he told me, "I foresee a tragedy coming." I pointed out to him--and, afterward, Mom, that it was the first time I had ever heard him use the word "tragedy." I tried to get him to talk more about this, but he claimed he didn't know what it was or even what it might look like. "Does it involve death?" I asked.

He hedged. "I dunno."

"Well, that's what a tragedy is: a death. Is that what you mean?"

"It'll be a disaster."

"Well, you can survive a disaster, overcome it, even come out better for it. That's not a tragedy."

"But I don't know how to get out of it."

"That's why you need help."

"But nothing's helped."

"You've been to the wrong doctors. They're not equipped to help you in the ways you need. Whatever it is, wherever you have to go, keep trying."

He repeated something he said yesterday: "I want to kill myself. But the reason I don't is that I'm chicken."

"No, it's because you're not."

"What do you mean?"

"As long as you choose to live, you have a chance to heal. If you don't..."

"What would be the difference?"

I mentioned something I've never told him before. "I used to think about killing myself all the time."

"Until your change."

"Yes. But I'm not going to tell you that it's what you need. I don't know exactly what your change will look like. But I know this: You have to choose to live."


"Because I want you. Because Mom wants you. Because my brothers--your sons--and your grandchildren want you."

"For what?"

Another revelation: "Five people in my life have committed suicide. All of them, for problems that could have been solved. It would have taken time, and work. But they could have found a way to work things out. "

"And what difference would it have made?"

"They'd be here. I don't know what their lives would be like, but I can tell you they would all be worthwhile. And--all right, I'm being selfish--I wouldn't've had to carry the wounds they left me. And other people wouldn't have those wounds, either."

Then he lapsed into a lament that's become all too familiar to me and everyone else in the family: He was a bad son, husband and father. I reminded him, as Mom and others have, that he can't do anything about the kind of son he was--although, I continued, he was probably a better son than he realizes, given the kind of father he had. And there's still a chance for him to be a good husband and father. "I, for one, don't care about what you did, or might have done, to me thirty years ago, forty years ago. There's now. And, to tell you the truth, you've been better to me than I ever imagined you would be. "

"Well, thank you."

"No, I thank you. "

"But I'm not like your mother."

"Who is? So why do you have to be like her? After all, I already have her in my life."

"So what can I do?"

"Care. About yourself. About seeing your grandchildren grow up. About your children. About Mom, especially. That's all you have to do. Nobody expects you to start a new career and make lots of money. But, you have to care."

I don't think I had any effect on him, for the conversation ended with his refrain about being a bad son, husband and father, and feeling that he can do nothing about it.

Well, I guess I shouldn't be surprised. It seems that this date, 25 May, and today's holiday, Memorial Day, have often been significant for me. (It also just happens to be the birthdate of Jamaica Kincaid's Lucy!) Wonderful, terrible but important things seem to happen for me on this date, and on this holiday.

To wit: This date two years ago was a Friday and the weather unusually hot for the time of year. I'd had lunch with Bruce and, having no place where I had to be, decided to take the D train out to Bensonhurst. I wanted to capture the light and heat of a day like it in that neighborhood: They come without warning, which doesn't allow shadows to form and provide their refuge from the refulgent, relentless sun. The bricks and shingles of the houses trap that light inside them and cling to the heat, which made the sandstone-dry streets of that neighbood seem like ovens.

After spending a couple of hours wandering that neighborhood, at its edge, I came to the Holy Spirit church, where I was an altar boy. I had not stopped for, much less entered, it since 1971. Though it wasn't on my itinearary (as if I had one!), I needed to go there and confront the "ghost" of the priest who sexually abused me.

Four years before that, this date fell on a rainy Sunday that was unusually cold for the time of year. Ruth, a woman with whom I became friendly when I was volunteering at the LGBT Community Center of New York, called and asked whether I wanted to accompany her to PS 1, a gallery and performance space not far from where I live. "Of course," I said. I replied in the same way when she asked whether one of her friends could accompany us.

I was coming to the end of that year when I was going to work as Nick but socializing away from my neighborhood as Justine. So Ruth had only seen me "as" Justine. Her friend, however, turned out to be a colleague at work! Of all co-workers I could have chosen to be the first to learn about my identity, there hardly could have been anyone better than Alice. As long as you're not napalming babies, she can understand and accept just about anything you might do.

After that day, I knew I had no choice but to "come out" to everyone I saw regularly. I had planned to return to work the following semester as Justine, so of course "coming out" was inevitable. I guess that that day, I realized for the first time the inevitability of the life I would come to lead: the one that has led me here. After our visit to PS 1, we walked to a since-closed fish- and -chips restaurant and a movie theatre where we saw some silly flick. On the way, we walked by LaGuardia Community College, where Alice and I worked. No one except a few security guards were there. One of them glanced at us as we walked by the main entrance. He didn't give us a second look; I would bet that as best as he could tell, we were just three women in early middle age. I took that as a good omen.

Let's see...I could choose about seven or eight other May 25ths and Memorial Days that were significant, for better and worse. for me. Here's one: In 1998, when this date fell on a Monday (as it did today) and was Memorial Day, I had set into motion the most desperate series of acts in my life. They comprised the relationship I would come to have with Tammy.

We had spent that weekend together and we took our first "roadtrip" together: to Wave Hill, one of the most beautiful places in New York City, which served as the inspiration and home to a number of artists. It overlooks the Hudson and its many trees and flowers were in full bloom or about to reach that state. It was a great place to spend a late-spring day and to make some attempt to "get myself together" as I understood doing that in those days. I was nearing forty, and clinging on to that last hope that I could live as a heterosexual man. Tammy had no idea that day of what she'd gotten herself into.

As I recall, I met some of Tammy's friends for the first time that weekend. She would later tell me that they remained silent as they knew her ex-husband was sleeping with her female friends. In fact, one of those friends was one of her ex's sexual dalliances. I have not spoken with any of them since Tammy and I split up; I can only imagine what they might have been thinking when they met me.

Two more years when this date fell on a Monday and was Memorial Day: 1992 and 1981. In the former year, I had the first tremors within me that would culminate in the quake, of you will, of having my first flashbacks to my childhood sexual molestations. About three weeks later, I would have a sort of low-grade breakdown and soon afterward, I would talk about those long-ago experiences for the first time. Sometimes I think it's the second step (getting clean and sober was the first) toward recovering my self.

And in 1981, I had come back from France to take care of some business and see family and freinds. That day, I went to Philadelphia with a couple of friends I had at that time and accompanied them back to New Brunswick, NJ (where I attended Rutgers) for a party with some of our common friends and acquaintances.

At that party were, among other people, four of my Rutgers friends: Robert, Amy, Tony and William. That would be the last time I would see any of them alive. Within a few years, all of them would die from AIDS-related illnesses: the first people I knew who suffered such a fate. Sometimes I think of that day, that Memorial Day, as the beginning of "The Last Summer."

Then there was this date in 1991: I had gone to Middletown, NJ, where my parents were living, for a family barbecue. That night, after I got home, I went to an AA meeting, where I saw Kevin in person for the last time. I knew he had various ailments brought on by his then-recently-diagnosed AIDS, and on that day he wasn't looking well at all. Still, he insisted on remaining my sponsor, as long as I wanted him. Bruce advised me to take him up on it, for it would probably help him keep his spirits up, he said.

Two days after that meeting--on Memorial Day-- Robert, whom I last saw at the 1981 party, died. I found this out a few days later, from friends of common friends. By that Christmas, I would lose four other people in my life to AIDS, including Kevin on the day before Christmas Eve. And the younger brother of a woman I dated would be stabbed to death in the hallway of the buiding in which I was living.

And now today. And now this. I suppose that I should be thankful that after experiencing, among friends and other people who've been in my life, fourteen deaths by AIDS and five by suicide, that I have not grown numb at the prospect of facing another pointless, needless death. This is the first time in a very long time that I'm facing the prospect of a family member dying, and the first time I am looking at the possibilty of a family member's death by his own hand. At least I'm doing what I can to keep it from happening. I'll be continuing it today, on Memorial Day, and beyond.

24 May 2009

Now This

More family drama. Actually, more of the same family drama. It goes like this: My father is spiralling deeper into depression and indolence, knows that he should do what Mom, his doctor and therapists, his sons and I have recommended. But, he says, he has no interest in eating or reading a newspaper. Under those circumstances, how can anyone expect him to join clubs, make new friends, take up a hobby--or even a job, given that he doesn't really need the paycheck, which would be small, anyway.

He has no bodily strength, he says. Mom concurs; he eats only when she forces him. That's one of the easier things she's been doing. Every time I've talked to her during the past two weeks, she sounds more tired, angrier and sadder. She doesn't have the strength to keep up with all the extra work she now has; she expressed regret that she probably won't accompany me to Trinidad after all. She probably won't go to my nephew's high school graduation in California, either.

It's one thing for my father to passively prevent my mother from going the her grandson's graduation or my gender reassignent surgery. But it would be much worse if he deprives my brothers--and me--of their mother, my nephews and nieces of their grandmother, Uncle Joe of his sister and other people of someone they love. That, I've told him, is the one and only thing for which I would not forgive him.

I hope he doesn't undermine me in getting the surgery, or anything else. For a time, it seemed as if he were being as supportive as he knows how to be of anything, and he even was helpful. Now this, as I'm only six and a half weeks from my surgery.

23 May 2009


I'm totally convinced that men--most of them, anyway--like sweaty and somewhat grungy women. Why else do they watch me and yell, "Hey, babe," "Nice legs, honey, "Come to me, girl!" when I'm riding my bike. Especially when I've just pedalled a bunch of miles.

Oh well. So much for my brilliant observations about the gender in which I lived for the first 44 years of my life. I wonder if any of my notions about either sex will begin to change 45 days from now. If they do, will those changes be a result of the surgery or of the Colorado air and water? Oh my goddess: That sounds like a Coors Lite commercial. Brewed with pure Rocky Mountain water. Aged in the mile-high air. Or something like that.

As I recall, when I was drinking, Coors was not one of my beers of choice. Back in the days before domestic microbrewers, that first taste of Heineken would ruin you for drinking native concoctions. Oui, apres Heineken, la deluge. Now that's not a slogan that will ever be used. Well, in France, maybe. Or in Quebec or other Francophone lands. Anywhere else, I simply can't imagine a Dutch brewer using the language of Louis XIV in its adverts.

But after Heineken, I had my first girl. St. Pauli Girl, that is. (Remember that commercial? "You never forget your first girl.") Now that really spoiled me. So did Carlsberg, St. Sixtus Ale (I mean, what else do you expect Belgian Trappist monks to do but make great beer?) and others I might remember--if I wanted to.

This ramble got me to thinking about someone who was in one of the first support groups I attended. His nom de femme was Andi; as a man he was Andy. The reason I am referring to him as male is that somehow I never believed that he would actually live the rest of his life as a woman. Perhaps that is not fair of me; I'd like to find out where he is now and to see whether or not he's still with another member of that group--a transwoman named Alex who, en femme, looked rather like Drew Barrymore.

Andi, while not quite as pretty or passable, probably could have been made so. After all, if I can, anybody can. Right? But I still think of him as male, and probably always will, unless I see him again. On the other hand, Cori, whom I talked about a couple of days ago, is a woman in my memory. She talked with me about her "gender conflict" on the last night of her life; I have chosen to remember her as female, even though she had that "M" in the box of all her identifying documents and I never saw her en femme. And Toni, shortly before overdosing on sleeping pills, confessed to feeling jealous--to the point of denouncing me--when I began my transition because "You are doing what I always wanted to do." Well, I'm doing the reverse of it, anyway. In any event, I like to think of him as male simply because he didn't have the opportunity to live as one.

Anyway...How did I get from men who like sweaty women to beer to Andi. Well, the beer-to-Andy segue, I'll explain now. You see, he claimed that he couldn't drink as Andy, but he could as Andi. As Andy, he had to attend AA meetings and do other things to stop his drinking, which was, from his accounts, as compulsive as mine was. However, he claimed that as Andi, he could control his drinking.

Amazing, what changing a vowel at the end of one's name will do, isn't it?

I imagine that he must have been sweaty and grungy at least some of the time at work: He was a landscaper. I wonder whether his wife was sweaty and dirty when he got the urge to fuck her.

About the only thing I know about the wife is that she had their divorce papers delivered to our support group. As our group left the building (across the street from the LGBT Community Center in New York) in which we met, a car drove by and a passenger flung the rolled-up documents in Andi's direction. I must say: That guy had really good aim. The papers landed just inches from Andi's feet.

I also must say: He actually had nice legs. And his feet, which were even bigger than mine, actually looked nice in the high-heeled sandals he wore even though it was some time between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Not too many of us were sweaty or dirty that night.

22 May 2009

Sheldon Meets Nick's Sister

Sometimes you just never know who you'll meet.

No, it wasn't a celebrity. Or someone I'd been trying to avoid. Well, not really, anyway.

He is someone I hadn't seen in about ten years. In those days, we used to ride with a few other guys. We all lived within a two-neighborhood radius in Brooklyn, so it was easy for us to do impromptu rides together.

Sheldon was dating a very attractive and smart woman named Danielle. They're married now. Ray, another one of our riding buddies, hasn't married, but is still with, the woman he started seeing around the same time as Shedon got involved with Danielle--and I with Tammy.

He's forty now, and well, if you don't know my age, I'm not going to tell you. ;-) But neither of us could believe that the other had reached the chronological milestones at which we now find ourselves. To tell you the truth, he seemed more surprised at my age than at the changes I've undergone in the intervening years.

What surprised him most, he told me, was finding out that I am indeed the one he knew as a guy named Nick. "When I saw you, I thought there was something familiar about you. I wasn't sure. Then, when you talked, I thought, 'Maybe she's Nick's sister."

"Except that I don't have a sister." And neither did my brothers--or at least, none that they knew of, until six years ago.

"Well, here you are. You're look great."

"Ooh! That, coming from the man who's married to Danielle!"

"Well, you should see yourself. You're smiling, you're glowing. And that outfit is great for you."

Only Bruce, with whom I had lunch before I bumped into Sheldon, knows my secret: I wore it yesterday, too. I got lots of compliments on it, and I feel pretty and feminine--even ladylike (OK. Now I'll lose whatever feminist friends I may have still had!) in it. It's a sleeveless dress that falls below my knee. Over my shoulders and chest I wore a bolero-type jacket, in the same linen material and the same color as the dress.

That color is one I love, and people say is "perfect" for me: a deep lavender that's almost periwinkle. I just felt so good about wearing it yesterday that I wanted to wear it again today.

Realize that the last time Sheldon saw me, I was probably in one of my bicycling team outfits, and I was probably grungy. Or I may have been wearing what lots of American males wear when they don't know what else to wear: Dockers and a plaid button-down shirt. Or, if the weather was cooler, I might have been wearing corduroy slacks or jacket. Also: My hair was short, and I wore a beard.

What I didn't tell him was something he probably knew that I was thinking: He's cute. It's not so much about his looks, although he is nice-looking guy. It has more to do with his personality, and with this: He seems to have an air of innocence that belies mischieviousness, or an air of mischieviousness that is the surface of, or is protecting, his innocence. Sometimes I used to feel as if he and I had gotten away with something he would never, ever do.

Now I'm realizing that in all of our conversation, I didn't find myself wishing for those days. He says that he and Ray are training to race again next year; I wish them well but have no desire to do anything like that, even if I were in better shape. Even the relative ease of those first two years I spent with Tammy--also, if I remember correctly, the last two years I rode with Sheldon and Ray and the other guys from Brooklyn--is not something I want to revisit. All I really did was to forestall the breakdown and changes I needed.

The images of those rides and nights out and other events--with each other, and sometimes our significant others--felt, as they do now, rather like pictures of things my brother did: the sorts of things mothers and daughters collect in albums or frame and stand on dressers or desks.

Maybe Sheldon understood even more than I realized when he said he thought I might be Nick's sister.

21 May 2009

The End of the Semester; Inevitability

Well, I'm done for this semester. Now I have a week of appointments with my doctor and oral surgeon, and the commencement before I start teaching again--on the first of June.

At least the end of this semester wasn't like the end of last semester. I taught a lighter course load, for one thing. And, this time I wasn't worried about whether I'd make it to my parents' for the holidays. Last semester, the final for one of my classes was scheduled for the evening before Christmas Eve. I never could understand how a college couldn't schedule its final exams more than a week before the fact. Well, I guess I'm not one of those great minds that will solve the mysteries of the universe.

So now I'm on the eve of Memorial Day weekend. I have no particular plans, except to go to Millie's and John's house for a barbecue on the holiday itself. In other years, I took trips on the holiday weekends. A couple of times I went to Boston; another time to Montreal. Other times I took long bike rides: a couple of day trips, or an overnighter. I recall the time I rode out to Somerville, NJ, for the annual Memorial Day bicycle race after I got into a particularly nasty fight with Eva. I rode out there--about 60 miles from where we were living--and found a room in a house; a few other people were renting rooms for the weekend in that same house. I don't remember what I paid for it, but I know that it was cheap because that was all I could afford.

Back in those days, the only kinds of trips I could stand to take were spur-of-the-moment ones. Sometimes I still get the yearning to go on one. I could go to any of those places I just mentioned. Or France or England. No set itinerary, just a Lonely Planet guide. Later, after I made friends in some of the places I'd seen, I might call them just before buying my plane ticket. For me, that was planning.

It occurs to me now that almost nothing in my life has been planned, but nearly all of it is an inevitable outcome of one thing or another. Some might say that my life, and everyone else's, is governed by a plan that's not of our own making--that it's in God's or Allah's or whoever's hands. Maybe. I guess you can't plan for something that's inevitable. After all, if you know something is coming and you have some power to alter its course, it's not inevitable, is it?

What's happened over the past few months, and in my life generally, was inevitable, which is not the same thing as being predetermined. Given my nature and my circumstances, I don't know how I would have acted any differently than I did. That is not to say I always did the right or best thing, at least the way most people would define those words. Instead, I mean that I did what, realistically, might be expected from someone with my combination of traits and surroundings.

Knowing about my gender identity, but having neither the words nor the images, much less the texures or the context for it, I could not plan for the same sort of lives as other people led -- or any life at all. If you don't know your own name--or, if you have to ask Desdamona's question: "Am I that name?"--you don't know what your life is or means, much less what it can or should be. Words like "marriage" were alien to me because I believed--ironically enough--as nearly everyone I knew believed: that marriage was between a man and a woman. I was expected to grow up to become the former, but knew I had no way of doing that; I knew somehow that I was really the latter, but had no way of explaining it. And even if I could have talked about it, who could have listened to, much less understood, what I might have said?

So, as my mother said on the night I came out to her, it's no wonder that neither my marriage nor my other romantic relationships worked out. Or that I couldn't "settle down," no matter how long I stayed in any one place. And, as I confessed to her later, it's also the reason why I was always running away, whether on those long trips by myself or through various other forms of escape.

And now, given the opportunity to be myself, what happened? Well, I had a great time in that hip-hop class I taught. Actually, I did in all of my classes, but especially that hip-hop class. Am I the only one who could have created that course? Probably not. But I probably could not have truly expressed my love for poetry, and I certainly could not have connected with my students' love of the music (or at least the fact that it's what they grew up with) had I not allowed myself to be, well, Justine. Simply respecting what other people value is powerful enough. But experiencing what it means to them is something much more powerful altogether. And it opens all sorts of doors. I mean, I first learned to love poetry because of the musical performers like Bob Marley, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell I heard when I was growing up. Now I could share that with my students, and open up poets who wrote in England 400 and 500 years ago--or even American ones who wrote 100 years ago--through Nas, Slick Rick, Talib Kweli, Lauryn Hill and Queen Latifah, just to name a few.

Maybe they won't go on to take courses in Shakespeare or Emily Dickinson. But a few students told me that such writers seem less foreign to them now. I could see it in the papers they wrote: They were describing sonnets, tetrameters, slant-rhymes and other features of poetry in their own coherent words, which they could relate to their own lives. I would always like to accomplish more, but that seems like a good accomplishment for now.

It was inevitable, because I was being me. How else could it have turned out? At least it's a happy ending. Hopefully, there will be more.

Yes, it's been a pretty good semester. And in another 46 days, I'll be arriving at another inevitable outcome. I would have found a way to make the money and doing whatever else I need to do in order to have my surgery. But, as I recall, as I was about to embark on this journey, someone predicted that I would do what I'm about to do. "After all, you're a woman. You need to live like one." That woman, who was a chaplain for Housing Works when I worked there, said I could not be anything but a woman, and that I couldn't do anything but to manifest my nature. "You'll get the help and support you need," she predicted.

She's been right, mostly. Here I am. And, on campus, everywhere I turn, students are asking me what I'm teaching next semester.

And I have friends I never knew I could have.

20 May 2009


Tonight my composition class took their final exam. All composition classes take the same final exam, which faculty members in the department create. It consists of an article of five or six pages, of which students are given copies during the last class meeting before the final exam. Then, when they take the test, they're given a shorter article on a related topic. The students are asked to write an essay comparing and/or contrasting something each author says. And the students are also asked to compare what each of the writers say with their own expereinces.

The longer article, which appeared in the New York Times magazine around the time of Obama's inaguration, discusses the variety of cultures and heritages that make up his and his wife's families. The other article talks describes a man's futile effort to merge his local school district, in which nearly all of the pupils are wealthy and white, with a neighboring district that's mostly poor or working-class and black. The man pointed out that in the lifetimes of the children, the majority of the American population will be nonwhite. He said something to the effect that his district couldn't deny its children the opportunity to interact with "future Obamas."

You can imagine how well his appeal went over!

However, one of the administrators in the neighboring district, who said that such a merger would be a "logistical nightmare," said that the kids are already interacting more than most adults realize: at malls, movie theatres and such. "They don't need for us to build bridges between them," he claimed. "We're the ones who need the bridges."

That statement reflects much of my experience. When students know about my gender identity, they're interested, on average, for about five seconds. Then they want to know what grades I "gave" them on their latest assignment. If they don't know, they seem surprised when they learn of my identity. They may ask a few questions. Then it's on to other things.

On the other hand, some of the faculty members and administrators, who congratulate themselves on having voted for Obama, act is if my identity doesn't matter. Next thing I know, I find myself accused of things I hadn't even heard of, or having my willingness to work hard and help people, as well as my other better qualities, used against me. That is exactly what happened in the position in which I worked last year; it's practically a rerun of how I was drummed out of the last college in which I worked.

However, the students in my composition class--the one everybody has to take--made it a point of telling me how much they enjoyed the class. Now, some of them may have been buttering me up. But I think at least a few meant what they said. "You are such a good professor," one explained, "because you are who you are--a joyful and caring person."

The young woman who said that is active in her family's church. More often than not, she's wearing a cross pendant. And she's not shy about her beliefs.

But she likes me as a prof. So did another student, who also said that I "dress much better than the other professors." This student is thinking about taking design courses, which would mean going to another college. However, she said she would like to stay at this college because "it's suited me otherwise."

"How so?"

"Well, it's nearby. My family doesn't want me to go far away. And my courses have been good.

She, born in this country to Mexican parents, lives in a part of Queens that's almost entirely black. The college's student body is about 80 percent black. Oftentimes, after school she goes to Richmond Hill, where some of her friends and relatives live among multitudes of Indian-Guyanese people.

That is a typical day for her: one spent crossing bridges. Hopefully, I've done something to make the journey more fulfilling.

19 May 2009

Save Me From Changing

This is the time in the semester when students want to hand in assignments that were due months ago--and to go over those assignments line-by-line with them. And they want more time to rewrite the assignment.

Well, OK. I just had one of those students now. Her excuse was that she was going to turn in the paper yesterday, but she had a doctor's appointment. She never asked me for an extension--until now. And I made it quite clear to her, and the rest of the class, that the deadline was last Wednesday.

And then she'll complain to the department chair, the dean or anyone else who will listen.

As if I'm not under enough pressure now. Evangelists are supposed to save people's souls. People like the student I mentioned think that my job is to save her ass.

And then I come home and call Mom and Dad. Dad answers and gives me, practically verbatim, the same monologue he gave me the other day. He knows what he needs to do, but he doesn't have the will to do it. I can give love, and maybe not a whole lot else. Certainly, I can't give someone the desire to be the kind of husband and father that he now laments not having been.

Perhaps I seem callous. But I've listened to him, even empathised with him--I spent lots of time depressed, too.--but he says he has no interest in anything, not even sex or food. He knows he needs to eat, and that getting laid probably wouldn't be a half-bad idea for him, either. He also knows he needs to shower, shave, get dressed and get out of the house--for any reason at all, really.

When I told him that I have days when I don't want to leave the house and face all of the people at work, he said, "Well, it's your job. You have to do it." True enough. But, I explained, the teaching, advising, mentoring and other ways in which I interact with people--as much as I like doing those things, most of the time--aren't just the way I make my living. They're a job in the real sense: They're a purpose, one of my purposes. The only other thing about which I feel the same way is my writing. They are my raisons d' etre.

That, I explained, is what he really needs. He needs to create a purpose, a job, for himself. There are people who've lost their jobs, yet still wake up in the morning, shower, shave, dress and go to the train station. From there, they might actually take the train downtown to look for work. Or they might go to a cafe or some other place where other people like them congregate to encourage each other, compare resumes and such.

He could make his job something as basic as keeping up the yard or some part of the house. His old job isn't coming back, ever. Even if it were to return, my father probably wouldn't be hired for it; He is too old, in the eyes of those who are hiring. But he still has a lot to contribute, to himself and members of his family. And it isn't monetary.

But he needs a job. That is the way he identifies with, and values, himself. He needs a purpose, whatever it is. For the first time, I am understanding that a person's purpose changes over time. Back in the days when people died of things today's paramedics treat every day, perhaps they didn't have to change purpose: There was only survival, and most people grew their own crops and slaughtered the animals they ate. And they got married at 14 or 15 and had ten kids, four of whom might live long enough to become bearers of children themselves. When life is brutish, nasty and short, your only real job is to survive, and to ensure the survival of your family and race.

Now people like my father live much longer. Their jobs, or the instutions for or in which they performed them, become obsolete and and disappear. Their children move away and move on.

The scenario I've just described can happen to anyone. I can already see how some of my own jobs, my own purposes, have changed over the past few years. And I suspect that they will change again, however incrementally, after my surgery--which I hope to be ready for, and to do this July 7.

17 May 2009


Today I talked with Mom, as I usually do on Sunday mornings. And I talked with Dad--I mean, really talked--as I've begun to do only recently.

I wish only that the circumstances were better. Mom sounded exhausted and unhappy when I called. My father is spiralling deeper into his depression, which is exacerbating the other illnesses he's suffering. He has no interest in anything--not in eating, not in reading, not in watching TV, or even my mother--or other women.

Talk about a cosmic bad joke: We should be worried that my father's eye isn't roving!

He berates himself for having been a "lousy" son, husband and father. I remind him that the past is exactly that. He can't do anything about what kind of son he might have been (which, I suspect, is better than he says, especially considering the father he had) and, frankly, I no longer care about what he did and didn't do for and with me thirty or forty years ago. I also remind him that he treated me well when I visited back in August and at Christmastime. And that we talk now. That's what matters to me.

However, today I gave him my sternest warning yet: He could kill my mother. Not with a gun or knife, of course. He is exhausting her in every way a person can; he could cause her emotional or physical collapse. Of the two, the latter is more likely. But, I said, if either happens, he's responsible. The one thing for which I would never forgive him is taking Mom away from me--and my brothers, nieces, nephews and other relatives.

I tried to assure Mom I am happy that she wants to go with me when I have my surgery, and that I would understand if she couldn't go. She was talking about that today. She said she told my brother not to expect her at my nephew's high school graduation in California next month. She didn't say the same thing about accompanying me to my surgery. I would love that she came with me, I said, but I care more about her well-being. I'd rather that she live a few more years than to destroy what she has left in trying to support me. I feel her support already; her physical presence would be the proverbial icing on the cake.

She gave birth to me. Whether or not she takes that trip to Trinidad with me, she'll be present as I give birth to my self. I hope she understands that.

At least she understands why I'm doing what I'm doing. A few other people do, too. And I'd like for more to understand: not for myself, but for others who are following or will follow a path like mine.

Sometimes the ones who understand are the ones you expected to. An example is one of my colleagues at work, who's a playwright. He was in the Tet Offensive and wears his love of sports and women on his sleeve. A regular guy, in other words.

But he spent a year talking to me about my transition before I brought in some old photos of myself. "All I have to do is look at these," he exclaimed, "to know why." I didn't even pick any extroadinary ones of me; just a few that were handy. "All I can see is sadness and anger in them, " he explained.

He also gave me an idea: An essay accompanied with those photographs, and some recent ones of me. I think I'll do it. The thing is, there's one photo I'd really like to use. In it, I have a long, thick, almost unruly beard, and I'm standing in front of a stone wall in the late autumn twilight. Actually, if I recall correctly, it was a rather mild day in winter, and part of the photo's autumnal quality comes from the way the earth tones of my flannel shirt echo and accentuate the hues of stone and shades of setting sun--as well as my reddish hair and beard.

I was about twenty-five years old; if I recall correctly, that photo was taken just a few weeks after Cori, a friend of mine, committed suicide. I spent the last night of her life with her: She'd called me, and hearing the distress in her voice, I dropped whatever I was doing and went to her place. I think she felt that I could help her with some resource I didn't even know I had--or, more precisely, was doing everything I can to realize I had.

You may have guessed what she told me: That her conflict was the same as mine. Of course, she didn't say that it was the same as mine; she expressed her feeling that she should have been born female. For most of that night she was holding on to me, literally--for her life, it seemed.

And I did not keep her from drowning. Or, more precisely, hanging herself, which is what she did the next day: three days before Christmas.

A week before that, my uncle Sonny died suddenly of a heart attack. And a little more than a year before that, my maternal grandmother, with whom I was closer than I was to any human being besides my mother, succumbed to one of the many ailments her diabetes and high blood pressure bred in her.

Anyway, the photo captures not only the pain, rage and sadness I was feeling. It also, I think, captured my status as an "outsider." It was almost as if the photographer were showing the hostility to the world that underlies the life of an Amish person, a Hasidic Jew, a Luddite or anyone else who isn't one of the "cool kids." And, of course, there is an echo of the world's hostility to which the outsider reacts, consciously or not.

I want to use that photo in the project my colleague suggested. However, the print I have of it is faded and otherwise not in very good condition. So I decided to get in touch with the man who took the photo. I hadn't talked to him in more than twenty years; I recall that we had a falling-out, but I don't recall why.

Although I'd guessed that some photofinisher could restore that photo or make a new copy of it, I thought it would be better if I could have a new print from the negative. That is, of course, if the photographer still had the negative. That is, of course, if he were still alive: When he took that photo, he was about the same age that I am now.

Turns out, Tom is alive and living in Florida. When I called him, he was entertaining guests. But he took the time to tell me that he probably didn't have the original negative, but that someone who's skilled with Photoshop could restore the photo for me.

I apologized for being out of touch and that we'd parted on such bad terms. "I don't remember why; it was so long ago. But I really want to hear more about you. Why don't you write me an e-mail. "

"I'll do that."

"If you'd like to tell me more about why you want the photo, please tell me."


This could be interesting, to say the least!

16 May 2009

Dreams, Fatigue, Sleep, More Dreams

I thought the dentist gave me local anaesthesia for my surgery. Here I am, two days later, still feeling tired. Yesterday I slept early in the evening, then got up and stayed up late. This morning, I was awakened much earlier than I had anticipated by a mail carrier delivering a package to me. Late this afternoon, I dozed off for a while. Now I'm awake late at night, again.

To be fair, I know that the anaesthesia didn't, or at least shouldn't have, made me tired. But I have to wonder if it wreaked havoc with my sleeping patterns. Hopefully, I'll return to some sort of normal sleeping schedule soon.

Bruce asked me an interesting question yesterday: Have I had dreams about my upcoming surgery. I haven't, that I know of. Then again, I don't make much effort to remember my dreams. Once in a while, I do recall one, but not because I was trying to hold on to it.

Were I to dream about my surgery,or anything related to it, what would the dream be like? Would it be one of those dreams from which I awaken in a cold sweat and with my heart racing? Or one in which I feel as if I'm falling through my bed?

I seem to never wake up from a pleasant dream. So, who knows? : Maybe I've had a happy dream or two about the surgery after all.

A pleasant dream about a surgery. Hmmm....? Perhaps it's more realistic than it sounds. Early in my transition, I told my social worker that I felt as if I had awakened from a bad--and very long--dream. That is why I felt anxiety and exhiliaration at the same time: I felt the anxiety over what I had experienced rather than what lay before me, which I could not imagine anyway. I could only anticipate and plan some of the things I would do, such as "coming out" to family, friends and co-workers. But I could not foresee what the results of those actions would be. At least they've been, for the most part, better than I'd hoped. After all, I am getting closer and closer to my surgery, aren't I?

15 May 2009



They came in late this spring. Perhaps it had to do with the cold weather we had until a couple of weeks ago. Actually, we had a heat wave for the last weekend in April; then, the weather turned cold again until the other day.

Or maybe the lilacs are appearing only now because we've had so much rain this spring. Not being much of a gardener or horticulturalist, I can't even give an educated guess.

But at least they've arrived, and I picked up a bunch from a store near me. I was tempted to buy them from a sidewalk display I saw as Bruce and I were walking up Prince Street in SoHo. There, the blooms cost ten dollars a bunch. At the greengrocer that sells flowers on Broadway near Steinway Street in Astoria, a like group of branches with clusters of light purple petals cascading from them cost half as much as they did in Manhattan. I'm glad I waited until I got to off the subway in my neighborhood before opening my purse again!

Lilacs are one of the few things in this world for which I don't mind paying more than I should. You might think that's frivolous, particularly for cut flowers that won't last more than a week--or two, if I'm lucky and careful.

So why are they my favorite flowers, you ask? Well, there's the color, which is the most exquisite shade of the hue I like best because it's feminine in the most complex possible way: It's translucent. I mean that in the old sense of the word: It moves from one kind of light to another. I can see, feel and smell the steely grayish-indigo of a late-afternoon, late-winter sky coaxed open by rays of sun that almost feel too strong because they are the first of the season, having come without warning.

In other words, the color of the lilac reflects the vulnerability that underlies the strength of one who survives. And the aroma of those flowers conveys the feeling of that color.

You probably know the opening of The Waste Land: "April is the cruellest month/Breeding lilacs out of the dead land." The promise of spring, which is the first and sometimes only hope of this world, is wrested from the death-grip of winter. From there, we--I--have no choice but to nurture that first or most palpable birth of the season. Fortunately, I would not want to do anyting else, and I believe there are other people who feel the same way.

It is the only first step I, or anyone, can take if we want to follow the other steps toward the conclusion of The Waste Land: the conclusion I seek. Here it is: "Shantih. Shantih. Shantih."

14 May 2009

Oral Problems and Sleep

Well, there are certainly some things that don't change with one's gender. Today I experienced one of them--namely, something oral.

I know what you were thinking. (How would I know, right?) But it's not that. However, it did involve a man sticking things in my mouth and inflicting pain on me.

Yes, today I had oral surgery. A root canal I had about ten years ago developed an infection. And it just happens to be in the tooth directly below my sinus cavity. That, according to the oral surgeon (and a few other sources) may be the reason why my headaches and sinus problems are frequent. True, I do get migraines. But I also get other headaches that I know are unrelated.

I hope he's right. For now, I've got a real headache. But most of the pain is coming from the surgery. Actually, the pain isn't quite as bad as I thought it would be. Nonetheless, I wish it would go away.

The weird thing is that I expect my cheek to look puffed up, like what one might find on a cross between a squirrel and President Nixon. But, looking at my face, one couldn't tell that my gum was cut open and stitched. So, I could go out with Dominick: I am still more or less presentable, or at least as presentable as I can be made to be. But I'm not going out with him or anyone: I'm just too tired. In fact, I fell asleep before I booted up my computer and started writing this, and I'll probably go back to sleep after I finish or abandon this entry.

Jean Valentine once told me that a piece of writing is never finished, only abandoned. I may have financed some psychiatrist's time share in the Hamptons when I told that to my composition students one semester, back when "bear" referred to me and not the Stock Market. That's what I was: The Scare Bear. Now I try to be a Care Bear. People tell me that I am one.

Tonight will be about self-care: the medicine the surgeon prescribed to prevent an infection from forming, Tylenol with codeine (the kind for which you need a prescription) and of course my estrogen and anti-androgen. The first two drugs I'll take until they run out, which will be in a few days. Now I'm realizing that I'll be taking the anti-androgen only for another few weeks. And the dosage of my estrogen will be reduced.

But I'm sure I'll be on Tylenol with codeine or some other really strong painkiller for some time after the surgery. Maybe an anti-infection pill, too.

One thing I don't need now is a sleeping pill! My eyelids are growing heavier. So I'm abandoning (I cannot lie to Jean!) this entry. But not whoever is reading this, and especially not the one who is writing it.

13 May 2009

The End of a Class or the Beginning of a New Stage?

Today it was good-bye to the Poetics and Rhetoric of Hip-Hop class. I'm really going to miss the students in that one. Some are graduating; I may see some of them or the others again. Still, I was about to cry at the end of it.

Students paid tributes to me, which I wasn't expecting. They said that they never knew hip-hop could be so closely related to classical English poetry and that they never knew how poems or songs work until I explained stresses in poetic lines, and their similarities to beats in music. They also said that I was one of the most inspiring teachers and unpretentious people they'd ever met.

The odd thing is that I didn't see it as another "nail" in the coffin of my current life. Instead, I started to feel as if that class was an early step in my new life. I was teaching my own ideas in my own way; I'd never quite done anything like it before.

What's really interesting to me, though, is that in spite of the fact that all but two of the twenty-seven students in that class were black (Caribbean, American or African) and the other two were Hispanic, I never was conscious of my whiteness. You might say that I stepped out of race, or at least my own race, for a couple of hours every week.

If that sounds like an escape, well, it is--from stereotypes and other kinds of misguided expectations. In other words, it's an escape from a kind of willow prison: one that is easier to bend but just as difficult to break as one made of concrete or stone. In some way, I felt as if it were part of my process of transition from life in one gender to living in another.

And from the time I started this transition, I realized that it was, in many ways, a new stage of my recovery. It took me fifteen years of living clean and sober--and as much depression and, at times, much more anger and pain than I experienced when I was abusing alcohol and drugs--to arrive at the point at which I could start my gender transition. Now I sense that teaching the hip-hop class--or, more precisely, the students in it--has begun yet another stage in my recovery: my recovery of my self, my essence.

Maybe my essence is no more beautiful than my body. (That's saying something!) But, deep down, I really would rather relate to people (and animals, or certain ones, anyway) through love than by other means. I really would rather trust people than to deal with them with suspicion. Actually, Cady Ann, my department's secretary commented on that. She told me that she warned a student from another class not to mistake my kindness for weakness or stupidity. I know that people cheat and do all sorts of unethical and simply unsavory things. But no-one ever has a chance to become trustworthy unless someone trusts him or her. Of course, there is always the risk of having that trust betrayed. Still, some people violate rules, laws and other people even when they are constantly under surveillance and the threat of punishment.

Now, I know what you're asking yourself. And I'll answer it: I caught plagiarism in one student's final paper. When I pointed out to him, he looked abashed. He even apologized for "letting [me] down."

If that's the worst thing that happened in that class, I'm pretty damned lucky. Or something.

12 May 2009

Goodbyes and First Steps

Tonight the good-byes are beginning. I have met one of my classes--Writing for Business-- for the last time this semester, and in my current life. Most of the students probably don't know that I'm about to have my surgery, but they seemed to sense that I'm about to embark on some large undertaking. Some are graduating; others asked me what I'm teaching next semester. They all seemed to know that somehow I would be different when the Fall term begins.

Honestly, I didn't want to leave that class. I can only imagine how I'll feel about the hip-hop class tomorrow. It's turned out to be the best and most satisfying work I've done since I did poetry workshop with chronically ill and handicapped kids at St. Mary's Hospital for Children in Bayside, NY.

But my students must move on, just as I will. I hope some of them will remain in contact with me. I used to discourage that, but now I see what a mistake that was.

One good-bye I hope I don't have to say just yet is to Janine. Last night, I talked with Diana on the phone. She relayed the news from Janine's sister: Janine is in the hospital, where the doctors found another tumor at the base of her brain. So it seems that it will be even more difficult than it has been for her to get out and do any of the things she used to do by herself, with Zybicek, with me, Diana, Marie Jeanne and Michelle. I'm going to send her a card, but I'd really like to go to Paris and spend even a little time with her. (I'm not sure of how much time or energy she'd have for me, given her condition.) I don't know how or when I could do that, though.

Ironically, Diana brought up the day I mentioned in "The First Girls' Day Out." We went to Brighton Beach, where I changed into a bathing suit one of them--I still don't know which one--packed. Diana recalled a detail of that day I'd forgotten: My fake breast fell out of the bathing suit when I arced into an oncoming wave. I wonder what sea creature may have found it, and what he or she might have done with it.

She said that it was "one of the most enjoyable days" she ever spent. I feel the same way; I explained to her that it was really my first "girls'"outing. "I felt that a new dimension developed to our friendships," I said. "I'd left something behind, but I also came into something."

"That's because you stepped out of gender," she explained. "Actually , we all did. It became something different from what it was when you were a man hanging out with us."

When I think of it, I feel not only that I stepped out of the gender in which I'd been living; I'd, well, simply stepped out. It was like taking my first steps in the world. I felt scared and exhiliarated at the same time; I was cursing Janine under my breath for insisting that I change into the bathing suit but thanking her for being there as I took those first steps, each one less tenuous and furtive than the one before it.

"It was odd," Diana recalled. "But you were being you, and you were exactly where you should have been."

Now, if that's not affirming, then I don't know what affirmation is.

10 May 2009

Happy Mother's Day

Today I experienced something I still haven't gotten used to: people wishing me a happy Mother's Day. I don't know whether I ever will, or should, become accustomed to the experience.

It's not that I mind people perceiving me as old enough to be a mother: At least they're not taking me for a grandmother! Plus, I still remember how I felt affirmed as a woman when I heard that greeting on my first Mother's Day in my life as Justine. So, in all, it's not a bad thing, I guess.

Still, I have mixed feelings. I still feel as if I don't have the right to be wished a happy Mother's Day. After all, I have never raised, much less given birth to, any children. I may adopt a child. Even if I do, I will not have endured and sacrificed what my own mother gave in order to bring me and my brothers into this world, or countless other women who've given new lives to this world--sometimes at the cost of their own. I could never repay Mom in any; that she wants to accompany me in my surgery is icing on the cake.

Then again, Dominick and other people have told me that I'm maternal. Very often I feel that way, particularly when a student--or anyone, for that matter-- comes to me for help or guidance. I've been told that some of my female students, as well as other women, look to me as a role model. I still don't understand why, although I'm happy to oblige them.

Another thing people have told me--and I'm finally owning up to--is that I'm nurturing. I've had moments when it might seem otherwise. Hey, I'm not perfect. But I do believe that in any situation, I should deal with people in a caring way. I mean, what other way should I be if other people are, as I am, living souls who happen to be living human lives for reasons beyond our control.

Does I merit a "Happy Mother's Day" wish because I am as I've just described? I don't know. But if people want to express such a wish to me, I welcome it. Perhaps it's not politically correct to say what I'm about to say, but here it is: I can think of nothing more difficult--and more honorable--to do.

So to any mother who's reading this--and to my own Mom, even though she never has and probably never will use a computer--a hearty Happy Mother's Day wish from me!