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.

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