06 June 2009

Meeting During the Last and First Days

Yesterday I mailed cashier's checks for my balances with Dr. Bowers and the hospital in which she practices, Mount San Rafael. After what I did the day before! I hope I don't have any other mishaps between now and my surgery date.

After sending off those checks, I picked up two twenty-pound bags of Iams Light cat food. I have been buying one bag every two months or so since I moved into this neighborhood almost seven years ago. Al, the balding and tatooed proprietor, looks like someone you would expect to see fishing for marlins off Key West. But he's always been sweet and helpful, and commented on my buying two bags: "Stocking up for tough times?"

"I hope not."

"These'll last you a while."

"I know. I'm going to be away for awhile, and I want to make sure my cat-sitter has enough food on hand."

"Where are you going?"


"Really? What are you going to do there?"

I don't know whether he expected me to say "mountain bike," "hike," "smoke herbs" or something else. But he met me as Nick, so I figured the truth was safe with him: "I'm getting my operation."

He paused, and looked at me. "You mean, you haven't had it yet?"

"Oh, no. I've been living as I am in preparation for it."

He looked at me again. "Wow! You must be really happy. You look it. Congratulations!"

"Thank you. "

He carried the bags to the door and asked how I was going home. "I was going to take a cab or car service." He then hailed a gray Lincoln Town Car driven by a man from India.

"Good luck."

"Thank you."

People who met me at the very end of my life as Nick have been some of the most interesting people of all to observe. Millie is one of them; so are most of the other people I know in this neighborhood. Millie has been about as good a friend as anybody could be to me; the man who owns the pet store is another. And I met another, whom I hadn't seen in a couple of years, today.

Lorna is a very funny--in a New York Jewish way--curly-haired administrator and part-time instructor at LaGuardia Community College. I worked there for three years--the first as Nick. I know I met her during those last days as a boy because she ran the college's English as a Second Language (ESL) Center, and anyone who teaches English, as I did, in a college like LaGuardia, where the majority of the students are ESL, deals with the ESL office or program.

When I saw Lorna again today, we caught up on what we've been doing: She got married; I got my current position at my current college. She talked about some of my former colleagues, some of whom I'd like to see again. And I mentioned my upcoming surgery.

She actually looked surprised. That surprised me, because I literally made my transition right before her eyes, and those of the colleagues she mentioned. Since I talked to practically all of my colleagues, and many of my students, about my change, they knew that I hadn't yet had my surgery, for I hadn't taken hormones or lived as a woman long enough to be approved for the procedure--not to mention that I didn't have the money.

Maybe she just assumed that I had the surgery during the time I didn't see her. But what I found even more surprising is that neither of us talked about those days. It's as if she never knew me any other way but how I am now. And that may have been the reason why I didn't feel nostalgia or bitterness when I walked up and down the corridors at LaGuardia.

So what was I doing there?, you ask. Well, a dance recital was held there today to commemorate the 100th birthday of the Queensboro (a.k.a. 59th Street) Bridge. Yes, it's the bridge in Simon and Garfunkel's song, and it's steps away from the college. Anyway, the majority of the program consisted of dances choreographed by Michio Taminaka, a neighbor and friend whom I met through Millie. She insists that we call her Tami.

The think I like so much about Tami's dances is that they are expressions of the spirit that inspires movement rather than bodily movements made to express some idea or another. If I remember correctly, Rodin once said that he was expressing reves au pierre--dreams of stone. Likewise, Tami seems to bring to life dreams in movement. Although it is very emotional and reflects a certain kind of romanticism, it is not of the sort that borders on--or tilts into--ephemerality and sentimentality that one finds in the works of someone like Balanchine.

And so her choice of dancers is something Balanchine would never have dared. He once said, in essence, that he wanted his ballerinas to be like the core of an apple: the whiter and thinner, the better. On the other hand, Tami casts people of just about every skin tone and body type you can imagine. In fact, my favorite of her dancers is someone who I believe is Latina and rather diminutive and even a bit stocky, though not a porker. The way she expresses her spirit reminds me of those rather husky-voiced jazz chanteuses whose singing can give you more of an education in love, loss and human nature than any PhD program or seminary ever could. What they were doing, of course, was channeling their own sometimes-harrowing lives. I suspect the dancer I'm talking about has survived a few things herself.

Tami and I have talked about collaborating on a dance: She wants me to write because she likes my work and that being a transgender woman has given me a particular kind of insight to what we plan to base our work on. That's as much as I'm going to say about it for now.

Tami didn't know me as Nick. In fact, she says she didn't even know that I ever lived as male until I mentioned that part of my life. "I simply cannot imagine you that way!," she claimed.

Other people have said that, too. One of them is a student who's in the class I'm teaching now. She was also in the composition class I taught last spring. That is where I first met her. I would guess that she's in her mid to late 30's and I know that she comes from one of the Caribbean islands, has kids, works as a paraprofessional in an elementary school and is active in her church. She is one of the best students I've had so far; she says I am the best prof. Someone who's such a good student doesn't need to say things like that! ;-)

This was her reaction when she learned that I am transgendered: "God made you, too. You are equal to everyone else he created, so I cannot and will not judge you."

Turns out that some of the students in the class I'm teaching this month are there because she told them about me. And she wants to take another class with me. Of course I'd be happy to work with her again.

The other night, she stayed for a couple of minutes after class to talk about the assignment I'd returned. Then we started to talk about other things, when her cell phone signalled. "That's my husband. He's picking me up."

"Good man!"

"I've told him all about you."

"He's not worried?"

"He worries about everything."

"Did you tell him you're talking to a female prof?"

"Then he'll accuse me of being a lesbian," she intoned with a conspiratorial wink.

"Who to better understand what a woman wants?" We giggled as she walked out the door.

I was not expecting that exchange, especially not from her. Even more unexpected, for me, was the ease of her banter. Looks like I have to give up another stereotype: this one about religious people.

Now, the kinds of people I've been meeting in my last days, so to speak, have me wondering what kinds of relationships I'll have with the people I meet for the first time after my surgery.