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.

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