30 August 2009

Tomorrow, The First Day

Tomorrow I will teach my very first classes in my new life.

Somehow I get the feeling I will be more conscious than anyone else of that fact. I'll probably have some students who had me in previous semesters; I doubt that they'll notice any difference in my teaching. Now, if they tell me that I'm "glowing" or "radiant," as some of my colleagues described me at last week's meeting, what will I do? Glow some more! What else can I do?

Of course, the majority of my students will not have had me before. However, some of them will come into my classes on the recommendations of their friends or even the counselors and advisors at the college. That seems to happen every semester.

Even though this will be a "first" for me, I don't think it will be nearly as dramatic a change as 8 September 2003 was. On that date, I taught for the first time "as" Justine. As I recall, I didn't have any "holdovers" from the previous semester. However, I did see many students who were in my classes during the previous year. They didn't know that Professor Nick was about to become Professor Justine. Some of them did double-takes when they saw me; others walked by me until I called their names.

I think I saw more jaws drop during those first few days "as" Justine than I saw before or have seen since. All of them--even the ones whose grades were C or lower!--wished me well and, as you can imagine, a few sought me out so they could "come out" to me.

One of the most gratifying moments of my first year of working in my new identity came toward the end of the spring semester. On my way to a class, I went to the ladies' room. On my way out, I stopped in front of the mirror to brush my hair and fix my make-up. To my left, making herself even prettier than I could ever be, was a student I had the previous year and hadn't seen since. I don't know whether she didn't recognize me, or was simply preoccupied.

"Hello Maria."

She turned and gaped. "Professor!"

"Call me Justine."

"Well...I'm happy to see you. And you look happy..."

"You can tell!"

"Yes. And that makes me happy."

"Well, thank you."

"I'll always remember the day..."

I didn't recall it until she described it: She was looking as if her spirit were even more tired than her body. If she weren't in that classroom, she would've broken down into a long, cathartic cry. And, in fact, she did, when I took her out into the hallway as the other students were completing an assignment I gave. "Look, don't worry about it," I whispered. "You just go and get some rest. Your soul needs it."

"How did you know?!"

As the saying goes, it takes one to know one. That's not what I told her, of course. But I'd felt the same way more times in my life than I could count; the only thing that kept me going through that year--the one that followed my leaving behind what was, in essence, a marriage and everything that went with it--was my determination to start living on the terms on which I needed to live.

I didn't know the details of Maria's life the day I sent her home. But she told me a few things the day I encountered her in that ladies' room. She was a single mother. The father took all of her money and anything else he could sell. "Para otras mujeres, es lo mismo," she said. However, she could simply see no light at the end of the tunnel, and she felt that she had no spiritual or even emotional resources left.

Of course, at that moment, she was underestimating herself, to say the least. That she is a woman and that she got herself into school that day--that she'd gotten herself to that day, in fact--was a testament to something she had and that I hoped I had as I embarked upon life as a woman.

And that's what I still hope--for tomorrow, the first day. And for the days that follow.

29 August 2009

Another Meeting 30 Years Later

Tonight I had dinner with someone I haven't seen in about 35, or maybe even 40, years.

Rocky is the son of Aunt Madeline, with whom my parents and I had lunch two weeks ago. I hadn't seen her in about thirty years. So, I spent more years not seeing her and Gene than I've been on this planet.

When he invited me to dinner, I accepted even though I had absolutely no idea of what to make of it. Maybe he's curious about me, I thought. Even though I couldn't honestly say that I knew anything about him, I sensed that his curiosity wasn't malicious or conspiratorial. I also didn't think he would mentally compare me to whatever he saw on the Jerry Springer show or what guests on Oprah's show said about trans people. For that matter, I didn't think he watched either show.

Turns out, I was right on all counts, or so it seemed. I never had the sense, as we talked, that he was sizing me up, or looking for juicy gossip. He did say that, as a Jehovah's Witness, he didn't "agree with" what I've done, but, "If that's what you feel you need to do, so be it. They only ones you have to answer to are yourself and God."

If he was proseltysing or trying to "convert" me, I didn't feel it. Perhaps the notion was in back of his mind; I'm sure that he had at least some wish that he could have spent time with me during the past years and, perhaps, convinced me not to undergo my gender transition and instead to become a Witness. But, during those years, other people have tried to turn me into a Witness, or into an adherent to any number of other religions. And you can see how successful they were!

I must say, though, that our dinner--at Uncle George's, where else?--and coffee and dessert (at Omonia, the bakery/cafe that made the cake in My Big Fat Greek Wedding), was unlike any other time I've spent with anyone else.

When he picked me up, of course, I didn't recognize him immediately. The last time I saw him, he was young and thin, and had a full head of thick black hair. Now he is bald, his facial structure has broadened and, while not fat, he's not skinny, either. (As if I should talk!) I could just barely recall that young man, and, as he talked about his jobs, marriage, divorce and kids and told some funny and moving stories about some of the things he's done, the boy whom he once knew seemed almost unreal.

Now I find it really odd that our past--which includes our relationship, however long it lapsed--was not at all a factor in our conversation. He never brought up anything he recalls about me as a child, as a young adolescent. His stories, as entertaining as they sometimes were, did not include any reminisces about the time we spent together, or about me. Except for this: He said that when he saw me in my childhood and teen years, he thought that I might possibly "go gay." He said I had "certain mannerisms" and that I talked and acted "feminine." But, he said, he never mentioned anything to anybody.

It probably wouldn't have made any difference, anyway. Actually, it's probably better for me that he didn't say anything. If he had, who knows how I might have ended up. I might've been shipped off to doctors and psychiatrists who couldn't help or who would have simply made things worse, as most of them thought that "butching up" a sissy boy would make him normal.

For much of my life, I had the same notions as those doctors. I thought the "right" woman, sports or any number of other things could shock, prod or otherwise exorcise the knowledge that I am a woman out of me. I did not talk about those things with Gene, not because I didn't feel comfortable with him--to the contrary!--but rather because they simply weren't a factor.
Even when he talked about his days as a bagel baker or his marriage, I never felt as if I we were reminiscing. How can you reminisce about someone you never knew, or someone of whom you have memories that are so distant that they seem to have almost no relation to the person you now know, or to what you yourself now are?

The thin, strong young man with the thick black hair is more like an image in a gallery than an actual memory. So, for that matter, is the boy I was when I last saw him. So having dinner with him was more like spending time with some cousin I never knew I had than it was like a reunion. Perhaps we will be friends. I would like that.

27 August 2009

The Secret of A Luddite Tranny

I've just been outed....

No, I'm not talking about an incident at school. Or an article about my dim, dark, secret, sultry life. (I should merit such an article!)

Besides, anyone who's googled my name knows about all the things such an article would mention. Why, my father just recently googled my name and found things that shocked him in ways I could have only dreamed of when I was an adolescent!

So what closet have I been dragged out of?

It seems that a very intelligent man named Ed McGon, who's commented on two of my recent posts, has found an article that I wrote for a kinda sorta right-wing website.

Actually, I've written a few articles for Lew Rockwell's site. I haven't written for them as much during the past year as I had during the previous few, partly because I was busy with one thing and another. And, frankly, I started to feel a little out of place there: It seems that lately a lot of the articles have been about hoarding gold and guns. Now, I'm not keen on owning a gun, and don't think I'd ever acquire one unless I could see no other way to defend myself or anyone I love. I simply don't want to add to the violence that already burdens this world. As for gold...well, who wouldn't want some?

I first started reading Lew's site a few years ago because some of its writers were offering the most cogent and eloquent denunciations of the Iraq war I've seen. Some of those writers also explained something I had long intuited: that such wars are inevitable when states grow in their reach as well as in their size. I won't get into that here; after all, you're not reading this post for that. Right?

My most recent article was a slight revision of my Recovery Without the Telly post. Ed mentioned that he saw it on LR and liked it. He also said that while he agrees with my decision to give up TV, he won't give up his computer or internet connection. I feel the same way.

I thought about becoming the world's first (to my knowledge, anyway) Luddite tranny. Or Amish "girl." Having just had the operation, I'd give up all sorts of technology--like the ones that are allowing you, dear reader, to see this post!

Now I'll tell you another terrible (!) secret about me: I didn't even touch a computer until I was 41 years old. (OK, so now you know I'm over 40!) I really hoped to get through life without using one, much less a cell phone. Now, like most of you, I cannot imagine life without them.

And it's even more difficult for me to imagine my transition without these technologies. I was reminded of that today, when a fellow alumna of Trinidad called to ask me a question about dilation. I won't get into specifics here, but suffice it to say that it's not the sort of question you'd ask your neighbor, best friend or family member. I say that not because the question would be "inappropriate," but because none of those people is likely to know the answer. Even here in New York, you have a better chance of finding an albino peacock than of finding anyone among your immediate circle of acquaintances who knows anything about post-op issues.

I can't begin to tell you how much information pertaining to hormones, transitioning, surgery and related isssues I found on the internet, whether on websites or through correspondence with others--some of whom I may never meet.

Imagine how much more difficult and time-consuming those things would have been if I didn't have the Internet and a calling plan that costs about as much as one single call I made back in the day.

And, yes, all that technology made it possible for people like Ed to find out my secrets. Oh well. Why would I want to be the world's first Luddite tranny, anyway? The shock value, if there is any, doesn't interest me.

Besides, if my parents know my secrets, where are there any closets left?

26 August 2009

My First Day Back

Today was my first day back at the college. I don't teach until Monday; today my department had staff development meetings. Plus, a committee on which I serve had its first meeting today. So, my first day at work turned out to be a long one.

I must admit to having felt some anxiety about returning. Would the ones who knew that I was undergoing surgery see me differently? Would I see them differently? And how would I answer "What did you do with your summer?" if it were asked by someone who didn't know I had the surgery?

Intellectually, I knew that the answers to my first two questions would be "no." Still, I worried. About the third: Well, I encountered it only once. And that was at the end of the day, so I was ready.

Even though I knew that the atmosphere would be informal , I wanted my "first" day at school to be flawless. I fretted over wearing something tasteful, and on the train ride to the college, I fretted even more that I'd be late.

Well, lots of people told me that I looked really good. Two female profs said my outfit was "perfect" for me: a long skirt in an Indian floral print in shades of light purple and a grayish-white hue, with a dressy tank top and cardigan in a purple that matched the shade in the print. Purple is my favorite color, and the cuts of the skirt and tops flattered my shape (no easy thing to do!), so I felt confident. And I arrived with time to spare.

Meanwhile, half of the male profs were wearing shorts and sandals. And the meeting started late because we were locked out of the room in which we were supposed to hold the meeting.

The first person I met was Janisse, who's about a decade older than I am and whose facial lines lend depth to her soft good looks. Her blue Midwestern eyes reflected concern and hopefulness as she embraced me. "How are you? I've been thinking about you."

"Thank you. I'm feeling good."

"You don't look like you've just had major surgery."

"Well, thank you. I haven't been feeling pain, just tired."

"Well, that's to be expected. Get the rest you need. Promise."


Others followed: Nathan, a poet/professor who looks the part and is all the more lovable for it; Ruth, a Jamaican woman who returned to college in the middle of her life and started to teach last year; Glenn, an African-American woman who returned even later in life and La Forrest, who left a career as a singer so she could write and teach. They have all lived through their share of difficulties and have no time to waste with superficiality. So their greetings, shows of concern and good wishes are genuine.

As Ruth said, "We're happy for you because we know what kind of a person you are and you deserve to be happy."

And, during the workshop, it seemed that ideas were coming to me from all directions, and I simply couldn't contain myself. Later, two of the profs in it commended me for my contributions. "You were just lit up today," one of them said.

"Yes. You were positively radiant," said the other.

Radiant: I love hearing that. And, yes, I was starting to feel that way: as if a sun were shining from within me that I couldn't obscure even if I wanted to.

So...after wondering whether I'd changed beyond recognition or not at all, I realize that I was, and am, simply who I am. And, it seemed, that was more than enough today.

25 August 2009

Anxious About My Return

Tomorrow I go back to school. I am feeling nervous about it, although everyone says I shouldn't. It's not as if I'm going to do things there that I've never done before. At least, that's what I think.

On one hand, I really want to go back. It would be a sure sign that I'm progressing in my life, that I'm living completely as Justine. On the other hand, I don't want to leave this part of my life behind. I don't think I've ever learned so much about myself--or just simply learned--as I have during the past six weeks.

Sometimes, when I think about going back to the college--or about lots of other things--I want to be in Trinidad, at the Morning After House. It's the first place and time in my life in which I felt that I was "normal" whatever that means. In that community of transgenders, their supporters and medical professionals who helped them, I didn't feel out of place, as I have felt in so many other situations.

Well, who knows: Maybe I'll be normal--more or less--in that setting of college, of work, of colleagues. Or maybe not.

Now I just want to sleep

24 August 2009

Plus La Meme Chose, Plus Ca Change

Tonight I got off the N train at Broadway in Astoria. I figured that I had some time to wait until the bus arrived, so I stopped in Parisi Bakery, which is right next to the entrance of the train station.

If you're ever in Astoria, forget that you're on the Atkins Diet. Any and all of Parisi's breads are to die for, from the traditional French/Italian to their double-helix (they call it "twist") loaf. Semolina, whole wheat, ciabatta: They're all great. And so are their pastries, which they began to make and sell only this year.

Anyway, I'd just walked out of Parisi, a twist loaf in my tote, when a baritone voice called, "Justine, how are you?"


It had probably been five years since I previously saw him. We'd been in a couple of transgender support groups, as I recall. He didn't seem any older, though he seemed shorter than I remembered him. During the course of our conversation, I would learn that he had been in an accident, which left him with a bad back, migraines and holes in his formerly-photographic memory.

He apologized profusely for that loss of memory. However, he seemed to remember the groups we were in, and some of the things I said and did, very well. In fact, he even reminded me that I gave him some of my "boy" clothes. Now I can scarcely recall having had, much less worn, male clothing.

The one thing he had difficulty in remembering was the time I interviewed him on the community-access cable TV program I did. Actually, he remembered my interviewing him and that it had to do with TV; he couldn't remember the details and circumstances.

I can forgive him for that! ;-) He's still as sweet and lovable--and smart--as I remember him. When I first met him, he had recently graduated from college but he looked younger; when we hugged at the end of every group session, I didn't want to let go. Yes, you could say that I was feeling friendly and maternal at the same time.

Turns out, we live only two blocks apart now. Actually, we have been neighbors for a few years; I didn't know it until tonight! Equally ironic is the fact that we both went to see "Gomorra" at the Socrates Sculpture Park film festival last Wednesday and didn't meet each other.

So...We tried catching up on five years during a five-minute bus ride. Last fall, he said, he took a trip to Paris and Rome--his first time in Europe--and "loved it." I can well understand, having lived in Paris and having returned eight times and having been to Rome three times.

He asked whether I'd taken any trips lately. "Colorado," I said.

"Oh, it must have been great!"

"It was."

"It's so beautiful. What did you do."

By this time, he couldn't see anything but my smile, which he later described as "radiant."

"I had my surgery."

His eyes lit up. "You know, when I saw you, I just knew. It must have been wonderful."

"It was." I talked about Marci, the hospital, the Morning After House and some of the people I met there. "You couldn't ask for a better experience than what I had."

"So you're done?"

I recalled that another female-to-male I knew once quipped "When you're becoming a boy, your work is never done." When I last saw Danny, he was about to have the surgery on his chest; he's had other surgeries since then and plans to have what he hopes to be his final surgery soon.

"Yes, the surgery is done. Marci does it all in one procedure, right down to the clitoriplasty. "

His eyes widened. I'm not sure that there were one-step procedures the last time we saw each other. To say the least, I felt very fortunate.

The funny thing is that if anyone had seen us five years ago and were to see us now, he or she probably wouldn't see much difference, at first glance. And Danny and I were talking to each other with the same ease and empathy we had back then. Yet, even before I mentioned my surgery, Danny said that he could sense, the moment he saw me, that "something was different." And I would've said the same about him.

The difference, I now realize, is that each of us feels more confident that our bodies--however similar they are to what they were before--are truly ours, that they reflect in some fundamental way the way we see ourselves and want to be seen by others. Even though he's lost some of his strength as a result of the accident, and I've simply gotten older, I realize now that each of us has been renewed and strengthened by the spiritually healing and nurturing relationships we have developed between our bodies and our selves.

Perhaps we should invert Hugo's Plus ca change, plus la meme chose. We are the same--we are ourselves, that is how we've changed. And how we recognized each other.

22 August 2009

A New Mystery

Early this evening I went out for a walk. I followed 34th Avenue, which intersects the street on which I live, to 21st Street, which is one of the main commercial strips in this area. I'd planned to stop at the Dunkin' Donuts for a cruller or croissant and to walk some more.

Well, just a few steps away from DD, a man slightly taller, and a few years older (I guessed) than me, smiled and said "hello."

That in itself may not seem so unusual. But it seems that in the past week or two, I've passed this man on the street every day. No matter how hard I try, I cannot recall having seen him more than a week or two ago, much less before my surgery. Yet, each time he and I passed each other, I tried, in my mind, to locate him: Something about him seemed familiar, especially when he turned, gave me a wan little smile (which I wasn't expecting from him) and said "hello."

Tonight the greeting led to a conversation. He is an inch or two taller than I am, neither thin nor fat. In other words, he's neither imposing nor frail. A shade lighter than mocha, I guessed him to be a Caribbean-Asian mix of some sort. As it turns out, he's from Guyana, and of black and Indian origin.

And he told me more about himself: how working for a small bank became a career and forced retirement from Chase after it acquired the bank for which he'd been working, how he made and lost money through lucky investments and unlucky business ventures and an even unluckier marriage, and about his dilemma: his desire for material comfort and his need for spiritual nourishment.

"Isn't that the basic human dilemma?" I wondered aloud.

He paused. I wasn't sure of whether he wasn't expecting my almost-rhetorical question--or, perhaps, whether he simply wasn't expecting it from me. Somehow nothing I'd heard from them surprised me--or, more precisely, hearing it from him

And so we queried each other further. He's one of those people who is, even in his most mundane details, mysterious. Oh, no, I said it: The M word.

21 August 2009

Authoritarian Genital Fixation

My new passport arrived today, three weeks after I mailed in the application. I'm one of the last people in the world to say anything good about a government agency. But here it is: The State Department processed my application and got my passport in my hands more quickly than their documents and website promised. I asked for the standard service (expedited service costs about twice as much, and I didn't think I'd need it), which, the State Department says, will result in delivery of a passport within four to six weeks of their receiving the application.

My only gripe is that I wish the photo were better. Well, not really better: It's actually not an unflattering likeness of me. Millie thought it was pretty good, and she can be a tough critic about such things. But I'm not smiling in it: The photographer claimed that the SD really wants a "mug shot" for the photo.

I actually had to work at frowning, or making a moue, or whatever they want to see in a photo. I guess the folks at State know what they're doing: After all, if I were to disembark at Port Said (Why I would do that, I don't know.) or some place like that and present a smiling likeness of myself--while smiling, as I am wont to do--they might think I'm one of those "loose" American/Western women.

What's interesting is that State returned my supporting documentation: my old passport, the court order for my name change, and a certified copy of Marci's letter, in which she states that yes, she did indeed give me female genitals. (At least that's how most people think of the surgery. If you've read some of my previous posts, you know how I see it: that she brought out what was in me, just as Michelangelo chipped away at the stone until he got to the David that was within it.) That is their definition of my femaleness.

That is also how most people would define my, or anyone else's, gender. I won't be too hard on them, though: I defined gender, to the extent that I did, in the same way. I had, really, only comic-book notions of what transsexuals or hermaphrodites were, and I knew nothing of intersexed people.

Now, you may be wondering, given the things I've just said said, I've had the surgery. Well, I do feel more complete, more whole now that I've had it. And healthier. It's interesting--to me, anyway--that "whole," "hale," "healthy" and "holy" all have the same root--hwalen--in Anglo-Saxon. And the words "sante" (health) and "saint(e)" (holy; also the title of anyone who's beatified; e.g., Saint Michel or Sainte Marie) come from the same root--sancteum--in the Latin dialect that would become Old French.

But I digress. I chose to undergo the surgery because I felt that it would allow my body to be, in some way, a better reflection of the female person I am. It did not "make" me female; in the corporeal sense, I will never be completely so because I still have XY chromosomes. But now, at least, I can better function as a female, in accordance with my spirit.

You might argue that I have internalised some of the same genital fixation that I have been denouncing. I would say not because I know a number of transgendered people who, for whatever reasons, have not undergone and will not undergo the surgery, and treat them as the gender that they are, or identify as. And I have never seen, and have no wish to see, their genitals.

Still, I can't help but to wonder how they'll cope with those scanners in airports that can see people without their clothes. Or with getting strip-searched, should things come to that. One thing I can understand is the frustration, anger and depression one can feel over his or her inability to function in the sexual as well as other arena in life according to the dictates and desires of one's spirit.

And how do they deal with the authoritarian fixation on genitals that rules so much of our lives?

20 August 2009

Recovery Without the Telly

For the past six weeks, I’ve been recovering from my surgery.

Of course, one of the reasons why my recovery is progressing quickly and smoothly is that the operation has, in the space of not much more than a generation, gone from being very risky to fairly routine. That is a result of science and technology: Marci and some of her peers have dramatically improved the techniques used to perform that particular surgery.

Improvements in her technique have also been made possible by the instruments used in the hospital, and in my particular operation: They bear little resemblance to the machines on Marcus Welby, M.D. and other medical dramas I saw when I was growing up.

That brings me to the one “miracle” of modern technology I haven’t had during my recovery: television.

No, I haven’t been whiling away my idle days on some uncharted isle (unless you’re such an Uptown Girl or Guy that you consider Long Island to be remote!). I have remained ensconced in my Big Apple abode, in the bustling borough of Queens. And, no, we haven’t had a power outage like the one that plagued some of my neighbors for more than a week three years ago.

I am without the “tube” by choice. When the government ordered that all viewers would have digital TV or no TV at all, I opted out. I know, I could have gotten, with a government-issued coupon, a converter box for less than a Southampton summer resident spends on a pair of flip-flops. Or, I could have subscribed to a cable or satellite service for not much more than that per month.

However, as the date for the change-over drew closer, I became more determined to try living without the “idiot box.” I made this decision knowing full well that I would soon undergo the surgery I have just experienced, and knowing how much time I would spend recovering from it.

At various times in my life, I have subscribed to cable or satellite services. The result was always the same: Out of the 500 (or however- many) channels, I could find three or four, maybe five, offering programming that interested me. And, after a few months, those channels would repeat the episodes or movies I’d seen during the previous months.

The sad part is that what I’ve described is a better state of affairs than what is to be found on “regular” network TV. However biased some of the films and programs I saw on cable or satellite TV were, at least some of them exhibited more understanding of economics, history or the cultures they were depicting than what one sees on Faux, I mean Fox, News or the news programs of ABC, NBC, CBS and, sometimes, PBS.

Plus, I’ve gotten to an age at which one doesn’t miss pretty faces nearly as much as one does in one’s youth. Sure, Chris Cuomo and Matt Lauer are cute, as are the escapees on Prison Break. However, the plots of the latter program actually seem less convoluted and more believable than much of what is uttered as “news” or even “commentary” on most programs with pretensions about informing and uplifting the public.

I figured that allowing my mind to fill with such stuff wouldn’t help my recovery any. My hypotheseis, it seems, is bearing out: Today I visited my doctor, who said that I’m “recovering remarkably well and quickly,” given the surgery I’ve had.

Perhaps my home’s new ambience has something to do with it, too. There’s a bit more clutter, as I haven’t been able to spend the energy to organize, and I can’t lift anything weighing more than ten pounds, at least for the time being. However, something else makes up for its lack of physical beauty: a calmness I never knew possible.

If you have ever gone deep into a wooded or other uninhabited area, you know how quiet (sometimes disquietingly so, for city gals like me!) it is at night. No city street is ever that placid or peaceful, even after the stores, offices and clubs have closed and people have gone to bed. The urban scene I’ve just described is the best comparison I can make to the way my house felt when I temporarily turned off the television. The natural setting I’ve depicted is how my home now feels, by comparison, now that I haven’t “tuned in” for two months.

My physical recovery, I believe, is not the only thing that has benefitted from this change in my environment. I feel now that I can more fully concentrate on what I read and write. (It will be interesting to see whether I continue that after I return to my regular job next week.) And, some friends have said that I seem “more present” and happier. I know the latter is true; I trust their judgment on the former.

On top of everything else, Charlie and Max seem to be purring louder and more deeply.

I don’t know whether I will never, ever watch television again, as I don’t predict the future. However, if the surgery I underwent and the subsequent care I have received will make living in my body more tenable, I feel that forsaking television just might be helping me to find the life of my mind and spirit to be more fulfilling. And, I suspect, it could make me less susceptible to micro- and macro- forms of groupthink—which, after all, is what helped to bring this economy and country into the mess it’s in, and ensured that too many people would go along with it.

Perhaps switching off is not the solution. But, for me, it seems not to have been a bad start.

19 August 2009

New Passport, New Journeys

Today I got word that my new passport will arrive shortly--around Monday, the 24th, according to the State Department. Of course I am excited about that: It's yet another sign of recognition of what I, Marci, my friends, some of my family and others already know about me. A few of them understood and accepted it as soon as I "came out," or even before.

Like I always say: If you want a government to do something, you have to do it first. And maybe, just maybe, they'll follow.

I thought my passport photo was fairly good. The woman who took it--a clerk at the Duane-Reade across from St. Vincent's Hospital in Manhattan--told me that the State Department frowns upon people smiling (She didn't say it quite that way, but hey, what do you expect from someone making $8 an hour?) in passport photos, so I had to turn down the wattage on that beam that's lit up my face just about continuously. Everyone who's seen me lately has commented on how happy I look. So it was pretty hard for me not to smile. But somehow I did it: After all, I'm a woman now, and women can do anything. Right?

I've already decided that during my winter break or next summer--if time, finances and my healing permit--I want to go to England to see Aunt Pat and France to see Janine (if she's up to it) and Marie-Jeanne. The new me, with a new passport!

I was tempted to ask whether I could have my new passport book with a lilac or mauve cover. Not that there's nothing wrong with the dark blue cover all of my previous passports have had. But, hey, if I'm paying $75 for something, shouldn't I get to choose the color?

Oh well. After all of my talk about the spiritual journey I've taken, now I'll have something I'll need to take a certain kind of physical journey. Except that I don't see the latter as a journey: After all, who calls travelling by plane a "journey?"

I guess it's a journey if you're changed at the end of it.

18 August 2009

Doing Nothing Is Such Hard Work

I never knew it would take such effort to do nothing!

That's one of the things I told Bruce when he asked what I've learned from my experiences surrounding my surgery.

I knew the forced inactivity would make me a little crazy. (Then again, I've been told that I'm more than a little crazy.) It's not just the time off my bike that I miss. And it's not only my inability to pick up a ten-pound bag of cat litter or to do any of the other things I normally do that I find so difficult.

Rather, it's the time I have to spend doing things to take care of myself, to the exclusion of other things, that's so disconcerting and sometimes annoying. I take that back: It's not the taking care that I mind so much. Actually, I rather like that: It's teaching me to look at myself in a way that's, paradoxically, less ego-based than the way I saw myself before.

When you take care of any living thing, whether it's your pet, your child or yourself, you provide him or her with what he or she needs. Of course, I'm not talking only about material needs: I also mean the words, the actions and the empathetic energies that your charge (whom or whatever she, he or it may be) needs for emotional as well as physical survival and spiritual growth.

Now, I've never had children, and never will, so take what I'm saying for whatever you think it's worth. What I've said about providing means, at least for me, is that when you're providing whatever you're providing, you have to be completely present in the moment, for the sake of whoever is receiving whatever you're providing, and very often for the act of providing itself.

Sometimes parents or other caretakers fall into that state naturally, unconsciously: They describe moments with their kids when there's nothing and nobody else in this world. I've given moments like that to various people in my life, and to my cats.

What I never realized, until now, is just how necessary such moments are. They are not luxuries; they are necessary for the survival of the giver as well as the receiver. I also never realized that sometimes it's necessary to be both the giver and receiver, or how much focus on living in (rather than for) the moment that would take.

As I've mentioned in previous entries, I have to dilate for fifteen minutes three times a day for the next couple of months. After that, twice a day for another few months; then once a day. So, for now, forty-five minutes of my day are taken up with the act of dilating.

In order to dilate, I have to relax. If I'm thinking about going to the store, the upcoming semester or even writing one of these entries, my body will tense up. If that doesn't make it impossible to dilate, it results in dilation taking even more time.

And what does it take to relax? Well, as I mentioned, not thinking. Sometimes I can relax to music; other times I need silence. When I do put a CD into the player, of course Led Zepplin and Rage Against The Machine are out of the question. But even some of the less intense albums aren't helpful, either. For example, when I play anything from Vivaldi's Four Seasons or even Debussy's Claire de Lune, I can't relax because I become so involved in the aesthetic pleasure of listening to them. Then, of course, if the song has lyrics I particularly like--lots of Bob Marley, Nick Drake, John Lennon and, of course, Bob Dylan songs come to mind--there's no way I'm going to leave my mind behind.

So, sometimes I play music to which I would have turned up my nose or cringed. The "light FM" station gets another listener. Or else I put on a CD of "new age" music somebody gave me. I don't even know what those pieces are called or who composed, played or recorded them: The person who gave me the CD didn't label it. So there's no satisfaction--or, more accurately, ego-gratification--in being able to tell anyone the names of the works or who did them. All I know is that sometimes they relax me. That is to say, my body, for whatever reasons, needs them at that moment.

Another thing I discovered: When dilating, I can't read a book or a magazine. For part of the time, I have one hand free. Now, I don't know whether it has to do with my coordination or lack thereof, but even when one hand is free, I have a hard time keeping a book or magazine in it, let alone concentrating on the contents of the pages, when I'm doing the other work I need.

Ditto for reading while taking a bath. I've already dropped a book and a magazine into the water, and I've been bathing for only a month! But even more important, the reason for the bath is not only to clean those new parts of my body; it's also to relax them. That's why Marci recommends the warmest water you can stand, with Epsom salt. The purpose of the bath is to give myself something I need, not to get other things done or to satisfy the ego that I've rendered socially acceptable (at least in the circles in which I travel) by calling it my intellect.

Then, of course, it doesn't help my recovery in any way to think about whatever else I'm not accomplishing, or the ways in which I'm not being "productive" right now. What does it mean to be "productive," anyway? Contributing to the GDP? Getting an article published in a professional journal? Even if those are the definitions of productivity, I'm starting to wonder how it's possible to be productive without having at least some time in which one is "doing nothing," which is how we're taught to see that time we spend providing for the real needs of children, other loved ones, or ourselves. And, of course, as trite as it sounds, we can't give to others if we don't give to ourselves.

If that's "doing nothing," I'd like to know what hard work is!

17 August 2009

Seven Years: No Itch, Only Change

Seven years ago today I took my first steps toward the life I have now.

It was a day very much like this one: hot, almost unbearably so. But that day seemed even hotter, mainly becuase I was moving from the apartment in which Tammy and I lived to one across the street from the one in which I now live.

That day, I arrived on this block knowing no-one. I had no job. All I knew was that somehow or another, I just had to arrive in the sort of emotional and spiritual place I now inhabit, or some place like it. I had no idea when I'd get here; I had only a vague idea, really, of how and which way(s) I'd go.

About the only things I knew that day were that my life with Tammy was done, my life as a man wouldn't and couldn't last much longer and that I could only move forward from where I was at that moment. And, oh, yeah, I had to unpack a bunch of boxes and make my new place habitable, at least for me.

If the year that preceded the move was the most desultory of my life, the year that followed was the most schizophrenic. Within a week of moving, I had work--as Nick. Soon after that, I involved myself with advocacy and various social events--as Justine. And I was careful not to be seen by my new neighbors in the identity I would, some months later, reveal to them: as the person I am, as Justine.

So, it seemed, I was always coming home very late at night--and, during the ensuing winter, through streets filled with snow and empty of people.

I suppose that if someone asked me how soon I expected to have the life I had now, I might have said "seven to ten years," even if that seemed like an eternity. Now I am surprised at how quickly that time has gone by. I am even more surprised at what I have experienced and what I have learned since then. And I am most astonished of all over the joy it--yes, all of it--has brought me.

I am not surprised that my mother could accept me even when she couldn't understand, much less approve of, what I was doing. Since those days, she has come to understand what I've done and why I've done it. As to whether she approves: I'm not sure that she does, or ever will. But, I've learned, that's not so consequential: Love matters more than approval, or anything else, really. I'm still learning to live by that lesson.

Also not surprising was Bruce: When I first told him, over the phone, what I was doing, he had his doubts. But, as he said much later, his curiosity won out over his skepticism, and he made a point of having dinners and lunches with me as I was starting my new life.

My most pleasant surprises have been with Dad and Millie. I really had no idea of what to expect from my father. On one hand, he wanted so much for me to go to the Air Force Academy, or one of the other Federal academies, and pursue a career in the military. And we often fought about how the directions my life took differed from the path he wanted me to follow. On the other, he was helpful to me when I left Tammy and at other times in my life. I guess he's like a lot of men: He doesn't know how to extend himself emotionally, but he tries to take care of, or fix, situations that arise.

There have been difficult moments--just last week, for example--and I think there will be others. But I can honestly say that he's been not just tolerant, but accepting. I even feel that he's tried to show some more affection than he has previously shown; I think he understands that, whatever else may be, he has in me a daughter, or at any rate a child, who loves him.

And Millie: I never in a million years expected to have a friend like her. Although she greeted me warmly the day I moved in--which I appreciated--I didn't imagine we'd become such good friends. When I first met her, I thought our common ground began and ended with our love of cats. But I would soon learn that she had more in common with other people I've loved, and that we shared more of the same loves and values, than I ever imagined. Most important of all, I never knew that I could just, basically, come out of nowhere into someone's life, and that someone would show me such kindness.

Then, of course, there are other people I've met, and things I've learned about myself, that I couldn't have imagined seven years ago.

Probably the most important things I've learned are that kindness--to myself and others--is not just a nice trait to exhibit; it's a survival skill. In all those years when I was skinnier than one of the rails on my bike seat and I was stronger--physically, anyway--than the iron I was pumping, I was punishing and pummeling myself and my body into submission. I wasn't a happy camper; people didn't stay very long in my camp. And who could blame them?

If some people want to see my kindness (such as it is) as weakness or naievete, so be it. It's keeping me alive. If they want to see in me someone who shouldn't have undergone my transition (because I don't fit their stereotypes of transgender people, which they use to rationalize their prejudices against us), well, it's not my job to argue them out of it. After all, winning argument isn't the same thing as being right or aligned with the truth; such victories will no more keeping one's game face on will ensure victory.

Every living being has no choice but to grow or die. (That much I remember from the Biology classes I took more years ago than I'll admit.) Growth comes about only through change. And, really, the only person, place or thing any living being can change is him or her self. Not any old change will do, however: It has to be brought about by love. And whom must we love first?

Maybe you've heard all of this before. If you have, I apologize, not for repeating it, but for being a slow learner. Then again, I am the kind of learner I am. All I can do is nurture it. And to nurture the woman I've always been. Those, for me, have been the lessons of the past seven years. Back then, I couldn't have imagined them.

15 August 2009

Stories: The Assumption and Woodstock

Today is the Feast of the Assumption. Having gone to Catholic school, I should know what's celebrated on this date.

As it turns out, the Assumption refers to the Virgin Mary's physical ascencion into Heaven at the end of her life. Some churches teach, and people believe, that Mary never passed through death; she entered Heaven body and soul. But others believe that she died and, three days later, she was resurrected and assumed into Heaven. This is seen as an homage or precursor to the death and ascenscion of Jesus or as a preview of the Final Judgment, when all of the dead will be resurrected and, along with the living, judged.

I must say that the Final Judgment seems immensely unfair to whoever may be living at the time it happens. After all, the sins and misdeeds of the long-dead will be forgotten by that time, or the memories of them will not be fresh. Then again, I recall what Shakespeare's Antony said upon the death of Caesar: "The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones." So maybe it all evens out...

The odd thing is that there is no actual record of Mary's death, and people at the time did not know what happened to her. She was one of those people you see one day, and the next she's gone. Her assumption was essentially an apocryphal tale, a legend: Nowhere in the Scriptures does it specifically talk about Mary's fate. However, Pope Pius XII (who helped Nazis escape to South America) defined the Assumption as dogma for the Roman Catholic Church, and cited several scriptural verses as evidence of her corporeal and spiritual ascent. Sceptics have used those very same verses to discredit the notion of the Assumption.

Today's feast is actually a national holiday in several countries--including France, where laicite has been the official policy for more than a century. (I recall trying to cash a traveler's check once on la fete; no bank or exchange was open anywhere!) When I was in Catholic school, we were expected to attend mass on that date. I don't recall how or whether such a policy was enforced, as school was out for the summer.

Being the sort of kid I was, I wondered what people would look like when they were resurrected. Did those who lost limbs regain them? Or what about people who went blind or deaf: Would they be able to see and hear?

Now, if I believed in the story of the assumption, you know what I, as a post-surgery transgender woman, would ask!

Today, as it happens, is also the 40th anniversary of the first day of Woodstock. Now, I rather doubt that anyone consciously chose to start the world's most mythologized musical festival on the Feast of the Assumption.

So, other than for their coincidence, why should I talk about the Assumption and Woodstock in the same entry--one in a blog about my life as a transgender woman, no less?

Well...let's see...Half a million people went to the Woodstock festival. The youngest people who were there (save for the babies conceived during that heady time) are well into middle age, or even older. Some are already dead; in not too many years, others will die off in almost as rapid succession as World War II veterans are dying now. One day--most likely not in my lifetime--there won't be anyone left who was there, and there will be few people who could remember that time.

That means that Woodstock will become an event that will survive because of the stories told--in whatever ways--about it. Of course, we have film and video footage of David Crosby confessing to the crowd that he was scared shitless, as he and Stills, Nash and Young were performing together publicly only for the second time. We have the sounds and images of performers as diverse as Jimi Hendrix, Melanie Safka, Joe Cocker and Elvis and pictures of long-haired young people, their tattered clothes soaked from rain that soaked but did not cancel the second day of performances, chanting, hugging, and smoking.

For people who weren't yet born in the middle of August, 1969, those images and the music of those performances are Woodstock. And those young people--and anyone else who wasn't there (including yours truly, who was, let's say, just a bit younger than most of the people who was there)--reconstruct, in their minds, something they call "Woodstock." Even though the name of that music festival has become a kind of shorthand for "peace, love, dope and music." or "sex, drugs and rock'n'roll," no two people have exactly the same story about it in their minds.

Now, as for the Assumption--if it indeed happened--there hasn't been anyone who was alive at that time, much less saw the event, for about two thousand years. And, of course, there aren't any written, much less audio or cinematic, records of the event. Even if someone had been there and written an account, or if video were available (Young people have a hard time imagining a world without cell phones, which was, of course, the world of Woodstock!), records would have been made from the point of view of whoever was recording it. You remember what Cicero said: Victor Imperatus, or the winners write the histories. When you consider that, even in the most powerful nations, the majority of people up to about 150 years ago couldn't read or write their names, any and all record-keeping, much less the stories told about events, were skewed toward a rather small segment of the population.

Anyway, even if there were record the Assumption, who would have written or painted them? And, as for Woodstock, most of the attendees as well as the performers came from some degree or another of privilege. The poor kids were working to pay for school or support themselves or their families--or were slogging through the jungles of Vietnam.

And so all we have of either event are stories--told by people who come from narrow segments of society.

And if you are reading this, you are reading the story of someone who, though not born to privilege and not living in luxuries, has had at least other good fortune that enabled her transition to the life she had envisioned for herself. I mean, I'm not exactly a salt miner or a field hand. I have some education, such as it is, which has allowed me to acquire, if not a lot of material prosperity, at least some choices in my life that my parents and lots of other people haven't had.

I mean, let's face it: In order to undergo GRS, you have to have a certain level of literacy and education in order to find, much less use, the relevant information. And you need the time and means to acquire it. Finally, you have to come up with a way to pay for the surgery and other expenses related to your change, and to be able to take time off from making a living so that you can recover from your surgery. As it happens, as a college instructor, I have that time off.

So...the Assumption and Woodstock are stories rather than events for most people. And so am I, dear reader (oh, how quaint!): If you are reading this, you know me by the stories I'm telling you about myself and the world around me. Now, I have never been anything but honest. But my point-of-view is not all-encompassing, as is the point of view of anyone else. And, of course, one day, I'll be gone, and so will anyone who knew me now or at any other time in my life.

So I know stories about the Assumption and Woodstock. And if you've been reading my blog, you know a few about me. If you know me, you know others. In the end, whatever believe in and whom we love (which are really all that matters in life, as far as I can tell), all we have are those stories

14 August 2009

Cut Out The Chase

If you are a student or a former instructor of mine, please skip the next two sentences.

I am reading a book I was supposed to have read in a course I took. Actually, I never finished the course, and there are other things I was supposed to have read but didn't.

So why am I reading Frank Norris' The Octopus now? Well, it's there--or here, as in my place. And, well, the cover of the book is so off-putting that I have to check out what's inside.

Imagine Brokeback Mountain without even the slightest gesture that can be construed as acknowledging its characters' homoeroticism. Or almost anything Hemingway ever wrote, if his male characters were just a little bit more interesting and his female characters even more peripheral. Or Thomas Wolfe, if his lyricism were only slightly less gratuitous and his characterisations were just a little bit deeper. Or John Steinbeck, if he focused on the maleness of his male characters rather than the fact that they were farmers, canners or whatever.

It is indeed a strange book. Actually, it's totally conventional for its time in the way the Norris uses language and tells the story. It makes me think of what William Blake said about John Milton, the poet who wrote Paradise Lost: that he was of the devil's party and didn't know it. Likewise, Norris's book is so obsessive in the way it portrays male characters that it would make my boyfriend (if I had one) jealous. But somehow, I get the feeling that Norris may very well have been clueless about the homoerotic undertones of the relationships--or, more precisely, the way he portrayed those relationships--in his book.

Now, since I'm not in the class for which I was supposed to read the book, I'll stop talking about what I would have been discussing in that class. Instead, I'm going to discuss something I noticed about myself, or, at any rate, the way my perceptions are changing, in the course of reading this book.

One of the many characters is Dyke (!), a former railroad engineer who was fired for union activity. He becomes a farmer, but his former employers try to take land away from him, and other farmers and ranchers, through unscrupulous manipulations of the law. Eventually, Dyke stages a hold-up on a train and hides in the mountains until agents catch up with him. Now I'm reading about the chase: Because of the way the story has been going, you know that Dyke is going to be captured.

If Paradise Lost is compelling in large part because Satan is portrayed in greater depth, and therefore more interestingly, than God or even Adam or Eve in the poem, chase scenes are almost always only as captivating (pun intended) as the character who's being chased. If the one being pursued is completely evil and does not merit, even in the slightest way, sympthy, then there's no reason for the chase.

Of course, the best example of what I am talking about is in Les Miserables, in which Jean Valjean is pursued by Inspector Javert. Even the most resolutely conservative capitalist feels at least some sympathy for Valjean as he winds his way through the Paris sewers in his attempt to evade Javert. How could anybody actually want Javert to capture Valjean?

However, I don't find myself rooting for Dyke in quite the same way, although he is, in essence, no more a criminal at heart than Valjean is. It's not that my politics have so radically changed or that my heart has hardened. Rather, I think it has to do with the chase scene itself.

It's rendered in great detail, and I could feel an almost visceral sense of the movement. But even if the chase itself were rendered better--I don't think it could have been, at least not by much--I wouldn't have been so interested in it as I have been in others.

I think my lack of engagement with that scene had to do with something that Regina said: I'm not running away anymore. I used to get thrills out of chases in movies, TV programs and in other media. I identified with whoever was running from; to me, they were always victims of whatever was chasing them. And in so identifying with the ones who were chased, I "borrowed" their anger, frustration and fear.

But now I have no need to borrow other people's guilt and anger and sorrow...or anything else. So the chase scenes, perhaps, won't mean so much to me as they once did.

That's a scarifice I'm happy to make.

13 August 2009

I Don't Want To Recruit Them; I Just Want You To Love Me

Another visit with Dr. Jennifer. She said I'm a "poster girl for post-op recovery." Everything is healing even better than it should, she says, save for a slight tissue build-up in one area. I'm going to see her again next week; she's "playing it safe," and that's what I want.

I called Mom today. She was looking at houses with my brother. She's returning to Florida on Saturday and my brother will continue her search. I honestly don't think she and Dad are going to move. For one thing, they can't agree on what they want. For another, they own their house outright; all they have to pay are taxes and the usual expenses that come along with maintaining a house. I don't think they really want to take on a mortgage, or even rent payments, at this point in their lives. Besides, they've been in Florida for long enough that a readjustment to life in New Jersey, or almost anywhere north of where they are now, would be difficult.

One thing I noticed is that she doesn't talk as much, or as freely, with me when she's with the brother who doesn't speak to meas she does when she's with one of my other brothers or her own house. So, if I can't reach Mom on her cell phone, I can't call the home number of the brother who doesn't speak to me. When she's with another brother, I can call his house and at least he is brotherly with me; if my sister-in-law Barbara answers, she pretends to be nice but at least she'll let me talk with Mom or Dad on their phone.

When I was with Mom, Dad and Aunt Nanette the other day, Mom often mentioned the things the brother who doesn't speak to mehas done, and has offered to do, for her. She and Aunt Nanette agreed that he's a "really good son." I wouldn't disagree with that; in fact, I'd even say that he's a great father. I wonder whether Mom or Dad ever tells him that I say things like that about him. I'd love for him to read this blog, especially the entries in which I mention him. Even though he's cut me out of his life, I think he's a good man and want him back.

And, really, I didn't mind Mom or Aunt Nanette talking about how good he is. To be fair, Mom did mention that I've offered to move to Florida or simply to go there more frequently than I do. Aunt Nanette said that was very kind; Mom agreed, but added that because I don't drive, I can't help in the same ways my brothers could.

Another thing: My niece will turn 16 in October. Surely she knows there are gay kids in her school; just as surely, she's heard about (if she hasn't met) transgender people. What she knows may be rumor or exaggeration, but it's still more than people of my generation knew at her age. And I can't help but to think that she and her brother have asked what happened to me, and I can't help but to wonder what, if anything their parents have told them.

I don't know whether my brother or sister-in-law fear that I will try to "recruit" their kids. Really, I couldn't do that, even if I wanted to. You either feel that you were born into the wrong body or you don't. You feel that you should have been born as the sex opposite the one on your birth certificate, or you don't. And you have to think about your gender identity, or you don't. Nobody can make you do any of the "you don't"s. It really is that simple.

Besides, I have always loved my nephew and niece as they are. Why would I even want to try to make them into something I can't make them into, anyway? For that matter, I have always loved my brother, too, just as he is. And I still do. Why can't he accept that?

Someone--I forget who--once said, "People are afraid of being loved forever. Which are they afraid of: love or forever?

OK, I'll stop whining about my family now. Besides, loving my family members doesn't make me noble. About the best thing I can say for myself is that it's a sign that I'm grateful for the life I have. Now, I'd say my mother's love for me ennobles her, simply because of what she had to endure with me. And I say the same for Marilynne and her husband, and the way they've supported their daughter.

I don't see how I'll ever be expected, or have the opportunity, to love somebody that way. For that matter, I don't think I can even be as helpful to anyone as the people who've been with me during this time in my life.

All I want is for the people I love to love me. Most of them do. But I want those others, too.