30 November 2009

Between Seasons: Middle Age

Back to campus today, after the move. Now I'm feeling really tired. It's not just from the move, though.

Today was one of those gray, rainy days on which the fallen brown leaves seem even more sere than they did on the windy days that preceded it. And the now-earthbound foliage lacks the color it had in the days when it was about to fall from the now-bare branches. At the same time, the sky doesn't have the stark clarity of the clear winter sky after snow has fallen.

Someone once told me that what I've just described is a very good metaphor for middle age. Some would say I am of that age, but I don't feel I'm much like the scene I've just described. Still, it feeds, feeds off of, and feeds again any fatigue one may be feeling.

Today I talked with one colleague who can't wait for the semester to be over. I'm sure she's not the only one who feels that way now. At least by the end of the semester, there will be an interlude of cheer from the lights and colors, induced though they may be, of the holiday season.

29 November 2009

Just Around the Corner

I am so exhausted. So what am I doing, writing on this blog?, you ask. Well, I'd rather whine to whoever may be reading this than to myself. Call it whatever you will.

I've spent all day unpacking and I still have so much left to do. Why is it that I never recall just how much work it is to move? One would expect that I'd be ready after all the moves I've done. I have an excuse this time: the short notice.

Now I'm thinking of something John, Millie's husband, said as we were returning the van. "If I could sell my house for about a million and a half, I'd just leave everything behind and start over." I can say that if I were made such an offer, I'd probably be tempted, too.

The bruise on my left side has grown. I guess that's to be expected, given all the bending and lifting I've had to do. Dang, it's ugly!

Millie called tonight, as she did last night. She reminded me that since she still has visitation rights to Max and Charlie, she'll be over this way sooner or later. And I'll be at her place again, probably for Christmas.

It's been weird, spending three days with no background music. I still haven't unpacked the speakers. They're in one of the hardest-to-reach boxes. I'll get to them sooner or later.

Now I'm living right around the corner from many of the stores in which I shop and restaurants and cafes in which I eat. I can't help but to think of my first visits to those places, some seven years ago. That's when I first moved onto the block from which I just moved. I'd just met Millie; I hadn't met any of her family members. I didn't know anyone else in the neighborhood. In some way, I felt even more like a stranger among strangers than I did when I first went to Europe.

When I first went to Europe, I'd just graduated college. But I toured on my bike, so I felt I was, in some way, a peer of many of the people I would meet, however briefly. Plus, I felt no special attachment to the college from which I graduated--or, really, to almost anyone. About the only people with whom I made any real effort to stay in contact were my mother, my maternal grandmother and Elizabeth. If I hadn't had them in my life back then, I probably would have stayed away even longer than I did.

When I first moved to the block I just left, Tammy and I had just broken up. We'd been living together for four years, and during the last year, I became a recluse. I was even distant from Tammy, even though we were sharing the same bed. When I moved out, there was really no reason for me to see her again, much less to return to the neighborhood in which we lived.

Now I am on another block where I know no one. But just around the corner, there's so much that's familiar to me.

28 November 2009

Do You Want Your Life To Be The Way It Is In Your Blog?

If only life could be like it is in our blogs!

Is that this generation's version of "I wish life could be the way it is in the movies!"?

The other day, someone whose blog I follow told me that lately her "off-blog" life has been chaotic and terrible. She confines her blog to a particular topic that doesn't lend itself to revelations about her personal life as much as this one seems to demand that I reveal about my own life. Still, I understood what she was talking about.

No matter how much I reveal on this blog, I still have a life apart from it. It's not that I'm willfully withholding terrible secrets from my readers; it's just that there's only so much one can talk about in the amount of time and space one has. And, I find that I tend to start with one subject or another and write whatever seems to present itself in the context of my paying attention to that subject.

No matter how much, or in what way, we express ourselves, such is bound to be the case. So--I'm not trying to elicit pity here--there are still things you don't know about, for example, my move. You may not want to know those things, anyway. But that's not the reason I haven't written about them. I simply wasn't thinking about them at the time I sat down to write. And, of course, my time is limited.

But I assure you: My life at the moment is about as chaotic as I've presented it here in this blog. After all, what else would you expect from someone who had to move less than five months after her surgery, the day after being whacked by a car door. Said move was done without her longest-standing male friend (who helped her with her previous move) who is suffering from pneumonia. Another one of the people who helped her that day seems to have disappeared from the face of the earth and she's broken off with another one of her ex-helpers.

Actually, now that I think of it, maybe my life is actually more chaotic and stressful, at least right now, than it is in this blog. At least, at this moment it is.

27 November 2009

Moving Day

Well, I've got about a dozen and a half boxes--about half of them books, or things related to books--piled around my living room. I'm going to sleep here tonight, in a canyon between some of those boxes and the wall behind the sofa on which I'm sitting. It's not a bad sofa, if a bit worn: The landlady insisted on leaving it here with me. "It's very comfortable," she pointed out.

That means my futon is in my bedroom. It's a convertible, but I might just use it as my bed. Then I could fold it back up, if I wanted to, and use the space in my bedroom for--well, whatever. And it's a bigger bedroom than the one I left.

Plus, John--Millie's husband--pointed out, "If it works for you, why buy another bed?"

They helped me with my move. Now tell me they aren't friends: It's the day after Thanksgiving and they could be doing all sorts of other things. But they helped me. And it left me in tears for a time.

Now they're not living next door or across the street from me. We're only about half a mile, if that, apart. Still, I miss having them as neighbors: They're the best I've ever had.

And, I miss the place I left. Maybe it's not the place itself, which wasn't bad, but the things I associated with it. For one thing, it was the first place into which I moved as Justine. My life as I know it now developed there. Finally, I had my operation while living there.

I must also say that my landlady there treated me well most of the time. But in the four and a half years I lived there, I often wondered whether I'd have to move on short notice. And that's precisely what I've done now.

About a year into living there, her father's health took a dramatic turn for the worse. One day, someone from a social service agency informed me that I would have to move because he needed to live in my apartment, which was at the street level. He was in a wheelchair and couldn't climb stairs.

I was literally hours away from moving--I'd paid a security deposit at a new place and was in the middle of packing--when she said that her father wasn't moving in after all. Turns out that he needed care that neither she nor her mother could provide. So, she offered to give me the month free if I'd stayed.

It wasn't the only reason I stayed. I simply didn't want to move, as I had grown comfortable in that place and neighborhood. Plus, I was rather liking the arrangement of living on the first floor of a private house with the landlady upstairs. If nothing else, it meant that the house would be well-maintained. And it was, until recently.

A few months ago, I noticed cracks in the plaster on the ceiling. Then parts of it started falling down. I asked her to fix it. To do that, I had to remove the bed from my bedroom. I'd wanted to replace the mattress anyway, as I'd had it for a long time. So I tossed the bed, figuring that I'd get another.

A family friend who is the superintendent of a building in another part of Queens did the job. He convinced my landlady that the room--in fact, the whole apartment should be repainted. That was in early October.

Well, one thing and another came up, and he didn't do the job. And, in the meantime, a city inspector came to the house. It turns out that the apartment from which I just moved is illegal. The landlady claims the apartment, which was created by constructing a barrier, was there when her family moved the house.

She asked me to leave the apartment "for a couple of weeks" so that she could board up the bathroom, remove or cover the stove, sink and refrigerator and have a new inspection. Then, she said, she'd like for me to come back.

I asked her what I could do with Charlie and Max in the meantime. Or with my personal belongings: If I left them there, wouldn't an inspector know that someone was living there? And, I wondered where I was supposed to go. I mean, I have friends with whom I could probably stay. But, to me, the only reason to live out of a suitcase is if you're traveling.

So here I am in my new place. At least, this time I knew about the city Department of Buildings website, where I was able to check the status of this house. I just hope this all works out for me.

26 November 2009

Another Happy Thanksgiving

I'm writing, in part, to wish those of you who are reading this (and those who aren't!) a Happy Thanksgiving.

If you've been reading my blog, you know that I have many reasons to be thankful. The biggest one, is of course, that I've made it. I survived molestation, battering, decades of depression and self-loathing and all of the self destructive things I did--and I'm here now. I've managed to live long enough to live as a woman--and, of course, to have the surgery.

And now I've just shared a Thanksgiving dinner with Millie, John, their daughters Stephanie and Lisa, their son-in-law Tony, grandkids Melanie and Stephen and Millie's friend Catherine. Today's dinner marked the fifth Thanksgiving I've shared with them.

Now I have to go and continue packing for tomorrow's move. Hopefully, that will be a reason to give thanks, too.

25 November 2009

Pregnant With A Hammerhead Shark On One Side

Have you ever seen those ads that promise to tell you your "true age?" Well, I think I don't need one of those ads: My body is telling me, loudly and unambiguously.

Today I've been packing for my move, which is the day after tomorrow. Actually, I have until the first, but Friday was the only day for which I could rent a van. And, the month begins on Tuesday.

I'd forgotten how much work it is to pack for a move! Another problem is finding anyone to help me on such short notice, especially during this holiday week. Plus, Bruce has pneumonia.

When you've been as inactive as I've been for the past few months, you feel it after you've lifted things or bent a few times. And the injury I incurred today isn't helping anything, except my memory of why I don't normally use bike lanes.

I was on the nice old Raliegh three-speed I bought a couple of weeks ago. I was riding it about three blocks from my place when I experienced one of the worst nightmares of most urban cyclists. Yes, I got clocked by a car door and went down hard.

The thing about most falls is that you don't really see what injuries you have from them until later. It's as if you're in too much shock to notice. The scrapes on my arm weren't as bad as they felt when I first got up. But where I didn't feel any pain on my first--on my left side--there's a huge, particularly ugly bruise about half the size of my hand. And, the swelling is noticeable under a form- or close-fitting top. Someone who doesn't know me might think my liver is swollen from booze, even though I haven't drunk alcohol in more than twenty years.

Speaking of which: Having been around a lot of active and recovering addicts, I've seen people with what I've just described. Someone in that condition looks like he or she is pregnant with a hammerhead shark on one side of his or her body. I can recall one particularly extreme case: A woman I knew named Jackie, who worked with me at MacMillan Publishing at around the time I was getting sober. About the same age then as I am now, she was vivacious and very knowledgeable about so many things. I saw a photo of her when she was young: I would not mind looking the way she looked then! Well, except for one thing: Her eyes seemed incongruously dull, save for a twinge of sadness.

As I recall, she died not long after I left MacMillan. I hadn't thought about her in ages. What's happening? A college friend I hadn't heard about in at least twenty-five years has gotten in touch with me. Now I'm thinking about Jackie. Will I be revisited by more of my past?

Right now, I wouldn't mind some of the physical stamina I had in my past. But I certainly wouldn't want to be in the mental state I was in back then.

And I hope I'm not pregnant with a hammerhead shark on one side of me for too much longer.

24 November 2009

Next Installments

So today I paid my first month's rent on my new place. I still have mixed feelings about it. On one hand, it's a new beginning and is therefore exciting. On the other, I wonder whether this is a detour from the things I'd anticipated.

At least I feel like some part of my future is unfolding. Today I also met with Tom Weber, the head of SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders), Randi, a social worker with SAGE and someone whose name I'm not recalling at the moment.

We talked about starting a focus group with transgender people 45 years and older to find out what they might want in a group for trans people of that age. I came up with the idea when I was in Colorado and noticed that Joyce, Lindy and Danny, who were there for the surgery, were all around my age. It made me think about some of the issues we face, and how so much of what's available doesn't address them. Like so many other things in our culture, support groups and other LGBT services tend to be very youth-oriented. Not that I have anything against the young people: It's just that our concerns are different.

I am excited about the idea of moving ahead with such a project--and, if you know me by now, you wouldn't be surprised to know that I'm a bit nervous. I know that I'll be working with mental health care professionals, who will help with screening and other things in which I have no experience. Still, when I'm doing something to help someone, I want to know I'm doing the best that anyone can do for that person.

At least the ideas I expressed look like they may bear fruit. I guess that's an accomplishment, for now.

23 November 2009

What Age Do You Want to Be?

This cold is slowing me down, the grayness and the shortness of the days are getting me down and it seems that just about everything else is spending me down.

And the next few days, save for Thanksgiving Day itself, will be non-stop work, as I am moving.

It's not the first time I've moved. In fact, I've probably moved more than anyone should. I recall the time Janine came to visit after one of my moves and remarked that I have had more addresses than anyone else she knows. It's an American thing, I guess.

You know what they say about being careful of what you wish for. Even though I like my current landlady and the place isn't bad, I felt that I might want to move as soon as I was well enough. I had been debating, to myself, a move to Colorado or Seattle or Europe. One problem is the same for all of those locales: finding work. And as much beauty as there is in Colorado, it's a bit far from an ocean for my tastes.

So now I'm moving to a place that's a few blocks from where I now live. The place is a good bit bigger, and the fixtures are in better condition. But now I'm feeling anxious about it. After all, the place in which I'm living now is the first to which I moved as Justine. And, of course, I've had my operation while living here.

At least, the apartment to which I'm moving is close enough so that I'll see Millie and Tami, the best friends I made on this block and the best friends I made in a very long time. And it's closer to transportation and shopping than the place where I'm living now.

Part of me tells me to look forward to the move. After all, the last two moves were good for me. I want to think this one will be, too. Other changes may result from it: good ones, I hope.

Then again, so much of what I've been experiencing during these past few months simply can't be compared to anything I experienced earlier. It's an odd feeling, in a way: Sometimes I wonder whether I'm losing my ability to miss my past.

Next semester, one prof is offering a Special Topics course he's called The Literature of Aging. He's made flyers and brochures that begin with this question: If you could be any age again, what would it be? 20? 30? 40? 50? 60? My answer would be "none of the above." Actually, I haven't been sixty, so I couldn't repeat that age yet. Fifty was just a year ago: It wasn't bad, considering that I was waiting for my surgery. But it's hard for me to imagine repeating any of those other ages. At forty, I was in the best physical shape of my life, but I was grasping at straws: I'd started to date Tammy in the hope that her love would make me into a man, or would at least make me want to be one. Thirty and twenty were both miserable times in my life; I would not want either.

Now, if I could have lived at any of those ages as a woman, I might feel differently about repeating them. But then, I wouldn't be repeating them, would I?

22 November 2009

Coming Down With, Coming Down To

I have a cold. At least that's what I hope. All I need now is the flu, or something worse.

The holidays are coming up and I've got stacks of papers to read. And I'm going move, though not by choice. I'll talk more about that later. So if my posts are shorter or less frequent during the next week or two, you know why.

I know, you didn't come to this blog to hear me whine. Whatever else is going on, my life is still better than it was. Or, at least, I'm feeling better about it all, even if I'm not feeling so good now.

Perhaps the irony of my situation is that something I forecast is coming true. I had a feeling that some things in my life would change after my surgery--some by design, others by circumstance. Well, I guess this is a case of the latter coming true. As with so many predictions, it's coming true, though sooner than, and not quite the way, I intended.

Now I have to attend to my needs and get whatever sleep I can. G'night, all.

21 November 2009

More Remembrances

I know that yesterday's post talked about Transgender Remembrance Day and the stories of several transgenders who were murdered. However, I want to revisit the topic to discuss three more LGBT murder victims whose stories caught my eye.

Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado spent all of his 19 years in Puerto Rico. Last week, his burned and dismembered body was found on the side of a road in the town of Cayey. Dressed in women's clothes, he was picked up in a red-light district by a man who offered him money for sex. According to testimony, the man brought Jorge to his house and, upon finding out that he was a man, began beating him.

The chief police investigator said he "had it coming to him" because of his "lifestyle." And the man who beat him is pleading "gay panic."

Then there is Terri Benally, a Navajo transwoman in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She was beaten to death on 7 July of this year: the very day I was undergoing my gender reassignment surgery. Perhaps this is one reason why it's probably a good thing I've had this surgery at this fairly late stage of my life: I now know that feelings of guilt are a futile reaction to a tragedy. Yes, I was getting my life--or, more precisely, I was becoming whole--on the very day someone destroyed her body.

All I can do now is to give the life I've had to create for myself as well as the one I've been given. Having two lives means living in two spirits. Maybe that's the real meaning of the term "two-spirited," which is what the Navajos called transgenders. (It's a term I sometimes use to refer to myself.) Having two spirits is what gives us the strength we need to live our lives with meaning, which is the only appropriate response to someone else losing his or her life.

Finally, I am going to mention someone whose death should give pause even to someone who doesn't care about transgenders. Ronnie Antonio Paris may not be what most people would call transgender. But his father, Ronnie Paris beat him to death for "acting like a sissy" and because he feared his child would grow up to be "less of a man."

Ronnie Antonio Paris was three years old.

20 November 2009

Transgender Remembrance Day

Today is Transgender Remembrance Day.

I missed the rally that was held at the LGBT Community Center of New York. However, on Sunday, I plan to attend a memorial service to be held in a church near the Center.

On one hand, I am glad that we observe this day, which is the anniversary of Rita Hester's murder in Boston in 1998. She was stabbed in the chest at least twenty times just a few weeks after Matthew Shepard was beaten, kidnapped, tied to a fence and left to die in a bitterly cold Wyoming desert night.

If people pay any attention at all to murders or other crimes against people who are (or perceived to be) gay or simply not conforming to prescribed gender roles, Shepard's and Hester's murders are two of the major reasons why.

Yet something makes me uneasy about Transgender Remembrance Day. It's not that it reminds me of the fact that we are twelve times as likely to be murdered as anyone else; rather, the observances make me realize that, too often, the dangers we face are recognized--if indeed they are recognized--only after one of us is killed. Or so it seems.

Also, when I read the names and stories of those of us--or those who were perceived as one of us--who were killed, I am distrubed to see how much more brutal and grisly our murders are than most others. The way Rita Hester was killed was not unusual at all, at least for a trans woman: It seems that when trans women are attacked, the attackers not only want to kill us; they also use as as punching bags, voodoo dolls and bonfires for their rage. Lisa Black was stabbed in the eye and beaten twenty times with a hammer; Christiaan D'Arcy was strangled, bound and locked in the trunk of a car that was set on fire and Michelle Byrne was tortured with a hot electric iron to her breasts before her killers cut off her hands and feet and finally beheaded her.

I learned about Lisa, Christiaan and Michelle from this site. None of their stories received any media attention outside the victims' local LGBT newspapers. Nor, at first, did the murder of Gwen Araujo seven years ago in California.

Araujo was killed in October of 2002, just a few weeks before Laci Peterson. Of course, that was a brutal crime, and it deserved all of the media attention it received. However, it's hard not to think that her murder got all that press because she was a pretty white cis-gender woman from an All-American family in an upscale Bay Area suburb. On the other hand, Gwen came from the "wrong" side of the Bay: Newark, a poor-to-working-class town in which a large percentage of the residents are Hispanic, as Gwen was. And, of course, she was trans.

At least her case was solved. The same can't be said for 92 percent of the other murders of transgender people that have been reported since 1975. I learned of this terrible statistic while researching an article I wrote four years ago.

Why are so few of our murders solved? Probably for the same reasons those same homicides committed against us receive so little attention. When one of us is killed, too many people see it as "just" the death of a deviant or a social misfit. Also, too many of us die alone: We have been disowned by families, friends and former co-workers--if, indeed, we ever had them in the first place. A corollary to that is that so many of us are poor: A study done in 2006, a prosperous year for the economy, indicated that 35 percent of all transgenders in San Francisco were unemployed and 59 percent were earning $15,300 a year or less. Plus--and this is one of the few stereotypes about us that has any truth--too many of us are sex workers. It's not that we have any more desire or inclination to such a job than anyone else has; it's that too many of us don't have other options. After all, what else can a teenager do if she's dropped out of school because she's been beat up too many times and her family has kicked her out--or she's run from the abuse she was facing for being who she is?

Finally, there is pure and simple misogyny. Crimes against women still aren't taken seriously by too may law enforcement officials and society generally; a "man" who "becmes" a "woman" is seen as bringing trouble on herself.

So, knowing these things, why am I against the "Hate Crimes Law? I think it has the opposite effect from what's intended: By saying that a murder or beating is worse when it's committed against members of one group, one is setting up a class system of justice. A crime is a crime, no matter who commits it against whom. If someone stabs someone, shoots that person, then douses him or her with gasoline and lights a match, it's a horrible crime, no matter who the victim is, and should be treated as such. That's how it has to be seen if we're to have policies that are actually equitable.

Besides, someone can argue or decide that the murder of a trans or gay person, or a member of any stigmatized group is not a hate crime. The defense tried to argue that Matthew Shepard's murder was a robbery gone wrong. Then they tried to invoke the "gay panic" defense. If such tactics work, as they do in many cases we never hear about, the victim becomes, to those who are adjudicating his or her case, simply another sexual deviant who won't be missed.

And, of course, people like me have to educate both in the sense most people think of that word and through example.

Finally, in the meantime, we need to remember Gwen. And Rita. And all of the others.

19 November 2009

Rain Again (!)

Rain today again. More people absent from classes. The ones who came looked tired. You can tell it's almost the end of the semester: Students are looking ahead to the holidays and dreading their final exams and papers. Soon I'll be competing with about 500 other faculty members at the college for the title of Public Enemy Number One. Then, after the semester is over, some of the students will return to liking me, if they ever did. What can I say?

18 November 2009

In Sickness and In Stress

Today it seemed like everyone was sick or in a crisis, or both.

On Monday and Tuesday, I noticed that more students were absent than I would normally expect. And, in one of my classes today, only half of the students were present. Other profs have told me that a lot of their students been missing, too, this week.

Last night, two students came to my office before one of my classes. Before they could say anything, I told them to go home and to send in the next assignment by e-mail. They looked sick; there was no point to demanding that they come to class.

Today, my between-class office hour was taken up by two students who were on the verge of tears. One thought I was "picking on" her because I spilled lots of ink on her paper. I wasn't "picking on" her, but I was certainly was making demands of her. As I explained to her, I think she was trying to express ideas that deserved no less than the kind of work I was demanding of her.

I guess that teaching is supposed to have moments like that. At least, that's what teaching seems to bring my way sometimes. I'm not complaining about that; if I didn't want to have encounters like that, I would've stopped teaching after the first month. And, even though her reaction wasn't unique, it still surprised me a little: She thanked me.

Thanking someone is not always easy. Nor is getting thanks.

Then another student actually broke down while talking to me. I won't get into the particulars, but it didn't have to do with my comments on her paper! Suffice it to say that she's just having a very difficult time for all sorts of reasons, none of which have to do with her work ethic. I mean, when you're in a country that's not the one in which you were born and raised and are working 50 hours a week while you're taking organic chemistry, human anatomy, my class and another class (I forget which), you're going to have at least a little stress.

Other students talked to me after classes about one thing and another. They, and everyone else, seemed to be suffering some combination of fatigue and stress. No wonder: They're all working, and some are raising kids or caring for other family members.

This sure ain't college the old-fashioned way. No wonder so many of the students--and some faculty members--I've seen during the past few days look sick or stressed or both.

17 November 2009

What Came My Way--And What Came of-- Yesterday

Yesterday I had two surprises. One of them wasn't pleasant; the other might be.

First to the unhappy surprise: One of my brothers--the one who broke off contact with me after I "came out"--wrote an anonymous comment to this blog. One of the reasons I didn't post it is that he addressed it to me by my old name. If he wants to refer to me that way for the rest of our lives (assuming, of course, he ever thinks about or talks to me again), that is his right. As we say in the old country, he can call me whatever the hell he wants. But it would have been a bit incongruent, to say the least, to have something on my blog that's addressed to someone who does not exist.

Then he disputed much of what I've said about the relationship I had with him and his kids. Of course we all see things differently, but I never said that I was a court reporter. Rather, I write more about how I have experienced one thing and another. I don't expect him or anyone else to have experienced anything in quite the same way as I have. He claims that I was making my relationship with his kids seem closer than it was. He is right about this: I didn't see a lot of his kids. But I always enjoyed whatever time I had with them, and I thought about them often between visits--as I do now. I never said anything more--or less--than that.

He also took issue with the way I "came out" to him and the rest of my family. Maybe, with that wonderful gift called 20/20 hindsight, I could see a better way of having done it than I did. But given all of our circumstances at the time, and with what I could discern from talking to other people who had to do the same, I made the best decisions I could at the time. Perhaps someone else would have done better. It just happens that I'm not someone else.

Also, he complained how much I revealed about him and his family and expressed his belief that it cast them in a bad light. The irony is that his comment revealed more about him and them than I ever could have. So, in keeping with his wishes to the degree that I can (I can't be his male sibling or go by my old name.), I didn't post his comments. I will say no more about him and his family unless he decides to be in touch with me again. And I will continue to harbor no ill will toward him or them.

The other surprise came in my e-mail box. After opening her message by introducing herself, she wrote, "I've been trying to find some old friends and for some reason, your name sprang to mind."

I'd love to know for what reason. She didn't mention money or children. The latter is not surprising, as we did nothing that could have made them possible. And, as far as I know, we don't have some common relative.

The tone of the e-mail was friendly, as she recounted some of the things she's done since we were last in touch, which had to have been at least twenty-five years ago. She moved, trained for a new career, worked it for about fifteen years, then lost it in the recent economic turmoil. Now she's teaching in what she described as a "career college."

In her message, she said that she followed the name by which she knew me until it became the name I have now. (Well, she didn't say it that way, but it's the best way I can summarize what she told me.) And voila!--She found out that the guy she used to know is now a girl. And, along the way, said guy got married and did a few other things that weren't quite in keeping with either the young man she knew or the woman I am.

She also mentioned that she's still single (I advised her not to be in a rush to get married.) and that she's undergoing a religious conversion. Ironically enough, it was through her old religion that I met her.

All right, now I'm going to reveal another secret: When I was in college, I became involved with a Christian fellowship. In fact, I got involved enough to write for, then edit, its newsletter and to be a housemate of its leader.

All the while, I identified myself as gay. I did so mainly because I didn't know how else to identify myself: I wasn't terribly attracted to women. I wasn't terribly attracted to men, either, though I had relationships with a couple. But, somehow I thought that if I had no real interest in being involved with a woman, I must be gay. And while the thought of it scared the shit out of me, at least it allowed me to function, in some way, as a male. Although I knew that I am female, the thought of doing what it would have taken--at least at that time in my life--to live at one was simply unfathomable. Translation: It really scared the shit out of me.

So I was looking for some sort of refuge and solace, you might say. Yes, I was in a lot of emotional and spiritual pain. Why did I have to live my life with the conflicts I had with my gender identity and sexuality?, I wondered. Actually, within myself, I screamed that question. And I screamed it at God, as I understood--and desperately wanted to believe--in Him. Others were beseeching the Lord for his grace and forgiveness; I was crying "Why? Why? Why?"

Plus, I still had that totally desperate wish for something better (translation: easier) than what I had and what I knew.

Desperate: Now there's a word that describes much of what I've done in my life. I was trying to hold the truth about myself at bay. All of those drinking games and physical contests with men couldn't keep it away. Nor could the love of another woman, or the desires of a man. Nor, for that matter, could immersion in the Scriptures or a life dedicated to the dictates of the Holy Spirit, whatever those were.

Interestingly enough, being part of that Christian fellowship probably got me, at least in some ways, through those college years. Because I was editing that newsletter, I was always in contact with some people who studied hard and weren't malicious. The fellowship's leader, with whom I roomed for a year, probably got me to study, or just to do something constructive, when I was ready to give up. (He talked me out of leaving school at least once.) And, even though I essentially renounced my gender identity and sexual self, the people in the fellowship probably kept me more intact emotionally than I might have been because, at least, none of the males would challenge me to beer-drinking or beard-growing contests, or goad me into raping women. I admit that I did more than my share of drinking "on the sly" and a couple of times the fellowship's leader brought me back to the house when I couldn't get there under my own power.

And, it was in that fellowship that I met Elizabeth, who would become my best friend for many years afterward. She wants to forget that now. But I can't really judge her: After all, if the woman who e-mailed me yesterday or anyone else I knew from those days had tried to contact me, say, ten or fifteen years ago, I wouldn't have responded. I was trying to forget those days and to make some kind of a life for myself among people who didn't know my past. If you've been reading this blog, you know how well that worked!

Anyway, I am very interested to see what, if anything, comes of the contact I've just had with a friend I hadn't seen or heard from since my days at Rutgers, nearly three decades ago.

15 November 2009

Georgia Today

You learn something, however insignificant it might seem, every day. Or so I've heard.

So, what did I learn today? No, not The Meaning of Life or the key to the Unified Theory of Creation (if indeed there is such a thing!). How to make a kajillion dollars with my laptop? If only...

Today I learned that this date is the birthday of someone I've loved, hated and now love more than I ever did before. No, I'm not talking about a family member, friend or former lover. In fact, I have never met this person; I know about this person only from what she created.

OK, so now I've narrowed it down to 51 per cent of the population. (Why is that considered a "minority?" All right, I know I'm not the first one to ask that question.) So who is this grande dame (I've narrowed things a bit more) of whom I speak?

Of course, she's none other than Georgia O'Keeffe. Back when I first encountered her work--in a book--I loved the way she used the colors and shapes she saw around her. I hadn't seen anything like it; I still haven't.

You might say that when I saw this painting--a reproduction, anyway--I understood, for the first time, something that now seems entirely elementary to me: The purpose of art is not only to represent how something looks; it is to convey the way something feels. It took me many more years to understand just how rigorous the work that underlies such an enterprise is. To show how something feels in a way that's entirely yours yet reaches people whom you'll never meet: Really, what else is there for an artist to do?

Plus...How can I say this?: No artist (at least no artist of whom I know anything) is more essentially female than O'Keeffe. Many people have labelled her work as "ultra-feminine," as often as not in a pejorative way, because of paintings like "Pink Tulip," the one I've linked. I made that same mistake for a time in my life, which is what led to my disenchantment with her work. That was also the time in my life when I found myself hating--or at least ridiculing--all of the Impressionist painters except for Cezanne, Mozart and just about all of the Russian composers--and Pink Floyd. And, for good measure, let's not forget Henry James and John Milton.

Now, I'm not saying all of those artists, composers and painters were "feminine," whatever that means. They simply began to make me feel things that made me uncomfortable for feeling. I'm not talking about my gender identity or sexuality, though some would argue that the discomfort I felt with the works of all those artists I mentioned had to do with my discomfort with myself. That, as reductive and glib as it seems, is a pretty good, if not complete, explanation.

So what reminded me of Georgia O'Keeffe and the fact that today is her birthday? Well, Edward Byrne's blog, One Poet's Notes, paid homage to her. And he posted a reproduction of "Red Rust Hills" along with his and another writer's musings about her and her work.

It seems like a particularly appropriate piece for this date, the fifteenth of November, which feels--even on a day as mild as today has been--most like the date on which the season seems to turn from being a segue out of summer and the beginning of the descent into winter. Is it ironic--or appropriate, or simply a coincidence--that Georgia O'Keeffe was born on this date?

14 November 2009

Enough Rain, Already!

More rain today. So far, this has to be one of the rainiest autumns I can remember. And there was lots of rain, or so it seemed, this past spring, as I was counting the days until my surgery.

Does that mean that my new life is still a seedling and that one day, after all of this rain, it will flower?

All right...I'll spare you the hokey metaphors and imagery. I know that sometimes I can be as corny as Iowa in July and more syrupy than Vermont in October. I'll try to keep those evil twins bound to each other in a tight space!

All that rain...No wonder Charlie and Max are curling up on me every chance they get. They seem to know when I'm about to sit or lie down. I wonder whether it has to do with my body language, or something else.

And it seems that ever since I've come home from the surgery, they can't get enough of me. I thought the novelty of me would wear off. I guess it hasn't, at least not yet. All I can say is: Keep it coming!

Millie and I talked about Thanksgiving today. For the past few years, I've spent the holiday with her, Johnny and their kids and grandkids. In fact, I've spent several other holidays with them, and this past Fourth of July was the first since I moved into this neighborhood that I hadn't spent with them. I had an acceptable excuse: I was leaving for my surgery that day!

Speaking of holidays...It seems that some of the stores have been decorated with, and selling, Christmas items for about a month already. It's as if they skipped over Halloween (not really a holiday, I know, but some stores have had interesting displays for it) and are forgetting about Thanksgiving. About the only acknowledgements of the latter holiday I've seen are at Parisi's Bakery, which announced that they are taking orders for pies, and supermarkets that are advertising turkeys.

The rest are hanging their hopes on Christmas. They all hope for the best, though a few proprietors and salespeople I know say they don't expect things to be good.

But all anybody can really do is to hope for the best, I guess. That's what we do when we undertake anything, whether it's starting a new business or new life.

So far, so good. I just wish this rain would let up.

13 November 2009

On Nurturing

At least the November Overcast turned into rain, though not very heavy. But some strong wind came with it. That took out one thing I was going to do today: a bike ride. Under normal circumstances, I might've gone out for a bit. But I got back on the bike less than a week ago, and I don't want to put too much strain on parts of my body that are still pretty tender.

The weather, however, was not responsible for cancelling another thing I'd planned for today: lunch with Bruce. We missed our lunch date because he wasn't feeling well. Something--the way I know Bruce, to be precise--told me that he was making his malady seem less serious than it was. My hunch was right. Now I wish I'd called him during the week.

He has pneumonia. He told me he's been sleeping through much of this week and when he's awake, he coughs a lot. In a way, it may be just as well that I didn't call, for he certainly needs whatever rest he can get. At least that's what he said when I called him today. But I wish I'd gone with my hunch. I'd've caught the next train and showed up at his door with a large vat of chicken soup (home-made, of course) in my hands.

Carolyn has been coming by, he said, and she'll be there this weekend. That's good, and not surprising--they've been together for at least fifteen years. Still, I want to go and help him. He says he just might take me up on my offer to come by his place during the week. I hope he does.

Bruce has said that my transition brought out a "maternal instinct" that, he said, I always had, even thought I didn't want to acknowledge it. And he's said that the surgery seems to have further accentuated it. Marci never told me that would happen!

Speaking of maternal...Yesterday, on my way to class, I saw Anne for the first time since May. She is a biology professor from France who's conducted genetic research and has worked with a leading researcher in her field on trying to find out whether and to what degree transgenderism and homosexuality are congenital.

This semester, she's on maternity leave. She gave birth around the same time I was having my surgery. During her pregnancy and just after I had my surgery, she expressed her belief that we had a common bond: We were both bringing a new life into this world. "I am giving birth to someone who will always be part of me," she said. "And you are giving birth to your self."

Although I believe I have been giving birth to myself, I wouldn't have made that comparison myself. I don't disagree with it; I just wasn't sure that I would've placed what I was doing on the same plane as bringing a brand-new life into this world. "But that is exactly what you are doing!." she averred.

OK, she said it. So did Regina. So did a few other women I know--all of whom have given birth. I guess I have to go along with them. But I'll fight it real, real hard. ;-)

I don't mind thinking of myself as someone who brought a life in this world or has the capacity to nurture herself or someone else. Still, I am somewhat reluctant to compare myself to any woman who's given birth, whether or not she gives me "permission" to do so and includes me in her world. After all, I still can't even fathom what it must have taken of my mother for her to give birth to, and raise, me. I can't imagine that whatever struggles I'm having in learning about this new life, my new home, can compare to what my mother did for me.

All I can do, I suppose, is to give myself, and anyone else who loves and trusts me, the best of whatever kind of care we need. Yes, we have a "sacred duty," as Helmer says in A Doll's House to our families. But, as Nora says when she's leaving him, we also have "another duty just as sacred" to ourselves. If we don't tend to that, we can't help anyone else.

I know. I haven't said anything new. Sometimes I just have to remind myself.

12 November 2009

November Overcast: Coming Into The Cold

Today was another
November Overcast day, as yesterday was. The trees seemed to have about half as many leaves on them as they had yesterday. Oddly enough, the leaves haven't lost much of their color yet. So, in the winds that whorled about with greater force as the day wore on, red and yellow whirlpools spun on the ground as the gray sky seemed to stand still.

And as the day wore on, it got colder. This morning was definitely chillier than last night, and this afternoon almost frosty compared to the morning. That may have had to do with the stiffening wind.

I noticed the cold even more after entering the college's main building and my office. Now, I'm not using that sensation as a metaphor for my emotional state or the vibes I felt upon arriving at the college. I'm sure that it really was colder. All of my female students and colleagues said so, without my prompting. That's usually a sure sign.

I remember having the same sensation during my first November, December and winter after I started to take hormones. My then-doctor warned me about other possible side-effects, but not about any increased sensitivity to cold. Maybe he didn't warn me of that because it simply never would have occured to him, being male.

And it was funny that the winter before I started taking hormones was one of the warmest on record, while the following winter was one of the coldest and snowiest. National Weather Service data confirms it. Likewise, last winter was relatively a mild, if grey, season as I awaited my operation. Will this winter be another cold and snowy one? Or will it just feel that way?

I've been convinced that this sensitivity to cold is at least partially hormonal. But now I'm starting to wonder whether it has something to do with what organs you have. Or am I noticing the cold more now than I did last year because I'm still recovering from the surgery. I'm feeling well, but I'm sure that my system is more vulnerable than it was at this time last year. Maybe I'll get some of that old fortitude back. But even if I don't, that will be all right. I'll think of that old Civil Rights chant: "I aint what I wanna be. I ain't what I oughta be. But thank God I'm not what I was."

Besides, even after the spectacle of October, there is something beautiful about the austerity of the light through branches that are losing their leaves.

11 November 2009

Learning About Home

Jonathan, one of my colleagues, and I left the college together tonight. We walked down a short path that leads to a promenade that borders the oldest cemetery in the state as well as two college buildings before passing under a Long Island Railroad trestle.

Along the way, I couldn't help but to notice that the reds and yellows of the leaves that had not yet fallen were more vivid in the darkness, with the lights from the buildings reflecting off them from behind, than they were in daylight. That is because the day was heavily overcast, although no rain fell. The light of this day was definitely late-fall, tending toward winter: It has lost the October glow and is darkening into the more stark light of a winter sky. For another week or two, we will see more color on those trees than anywhere else, even though the leaves seem to be falling off more rapidly with each day. Then the branches will be bare of leaves, not to mention color.

Every year, it seems that the department in which I teach holds its Open House on a day like this one. As in years past, it began at 4pm, just as the sky is about to start growing darker. This year, there seemed to be more camaraderie than in last year's Open House, even though the organizers of last year's event tried to make it a festive commemoration to the newly-elected Obama. I think part of it had to do with the topic of the readings and presentations: Home.

At least it's a topic that everyone can relate to, in whatever way. As I've mentioned in another post, it seemed, for much of my life, to be an abstraction: After all, how could I be at home anywhere if I wasn't at home in my own skin?

I was uneasy, not because I was giving a presentation, but because I saw the department secretary and the coordinator who'd accused me of something I didn't do. I was going to avoid them, but they both apologized to me. They seemed sincere to me, so I assumed that they were and accepted their apologies.

Of all the readings, presentations and performances, mine was scheduled to come last. I was a bit intimidated, because the two readings that preceded mine (There were eight in all.) were dramatic and done by a pair, then a group, of people. And I was going to read poems and a short prose selection by myself.

I read three pieces in all. Actually, I recited one from memory: Palais d'Hiver,one of my own short poems. I preceded it with a selection from Jacobo Timerman's Prisoner Without A Name, Cell Without A Number and followed it with Bruce Weigl's Anna Grasa.

But the way I started my presentation really got people's attention. I introduced myself and said, "I find this topic, home, very poignant right now. After all, I came home for the very first time this year."

Some of my fellow faculty members knew what I was talking about. So did many of the students who were there, as well as some guests they and faculty members brought in. And, I'm guessing that the college president and provost, and the dean of arts and sciences--all of whom were in the audience--knew, too. I haven't mentioned my surgery to any of them, but I'm sure they've heard about it.

Afterward, a number of my colleagues--including Janet, a new prof with whom I hadn't previously had the chance to speak--as well as students I'd never before met and the partner of one of the profs--came up to me and offered hugs, congratulations and advice.

The selection I read from Timerman can be found here.

My poem is here.

And here is Weigl's poem:

Anna Grasa

I came home from Vietnam.
My father had a sign
made at the foundry:
in orange glow paint.
I had to squint,

Out of the car I moved
up on the sign
dreaming myself full,
the sign that cut the sky,
my eyes burned,

but behind the terrible thing
I saw my grandmother
beautiful Anna Grasa.
I couldn't tell her.

I clapped to myself,
clapped to the sound of her dress.
I could have put it on,
she held me so close.
Both of us could be inside.

One thing Timerman and Weigl understand is that sometimes home takes some getting used to, especially if you're there for the first time, or are returning after a long absence. I'm learning about that, too: I just came home four months ago.