07 June 2009

Down to the Last Month

My surgery is scheduled for exactly one month--yes, thirty days--from today.

My final month as...what? A man? I haven't thought of myself that way in a long time. Almost nobody seems to think of me that way anymore. I've been living as a woman, but I am not yet one--at least in the eyes of the Federal government, as well as a lot of other people.

So it's my last month as...what?

I'm thinking now of the time I was given this assignment: To write as if I had one hour left to live.

Marc Crawford, who had some brief fame when he won awards while covering the Civil Rights marches and urban riots of the 1960's, gave the assignment to me and some fellow students in a class he taught. One of my classmates recommended him; the first time I saw him, I wondered what in the world I was getting myself into. So did a lot of other students: After he gave that assignment on the first day of class, about half of them never came back. Of course, that was how Marc wanted it: Those of us who remained were committed (Well, one or two may have ended up in asyla, but I never heard of it!) or at least stubborn. As for me, I knew I wanted to take the class--and to prove Marc, who didn't think I'd return for the second class session, wrong.

I think he never expected to get tenure at Rutgers, so he taught and started and edited a literary magazine his way. At times, I've been tempted to teach his way. But I don't think I could pull it off, and if I did, I'm sure I wouldn't be re-hired--or hired anyplace else.

Sometimes I try to write the way he did, or at least the way he wanted us to write. If Hemingway weren't so testosterone-besotted, he might've written like Marc. And if Marc hadn't been so, well, besotted for so much of his life, he might have lived longer and written more. Or would he?

I, too, spent a large portion of my life besotted. And drugged. And trying to hold in the storm of my gender identity conflict--which may have been caused by a hormonal imbalance. I did not write about any of those things in my "One Hour Left to Live" story. However, it may have been the first time that I so much as intimated that I had feelings for men, and feelings for women that were very different from those experienced by most heterosexual men.

Those feelings were, of course, why I drank so much. That was my mother's first question when I "came out" to her many years later. My conflict was a major cause of my drinking, which I accepted as part of the course of becoming a writer like Marc--or, even better, Dostoevski. Honestly, I never liked Dostoevski so much as a writer--I still don't--as I liked the idea of him: the raging depressed alcoholic jabbing his quill into an inkwell and stabbing his plume against the blank white sheet in the darkness of a Russian winter. To me, that was to Romanticism as Romeo and Juliet was to love stories. I mean, how can you beat Dostoevski as a solitary alienated figure in opposition to--What? The very Russian upper classes who were his potential audience, mainly because at the time they were the only ones in their country who could read?--as a Romantic archetype? Drinking, gambling, womanizing (Does anyone ever manize?): those were the hallmarks of the writer bearing the existential burden of life. Someone like me, in other words.

Well, I got the drinking down. I was never much of a gambler. And I was a bisexual serial monogamist, although hardly what anyone would call a woman- or man-izer. But at least the drinking drowned my sorrows until they learned how to swim. Actually, they knew how to swim all along: They just bobbed under the surface of the water and held their breaths until the tide receded. And, in my infinite writerly wisdom, I figured that if whatever amount I wasn't drinking wasn't enough to drown them, then I had to hit them with a storm surge. No one who gets caught in it survives, right?

As you know, I found my way into Twelve-Step programs and a few self-help workshops. However, even after I got rid of the booze and drugs, and no matter what else I did, I still felt an isolated, misunderstood figure, albeit one who doesn't have the talents of someone like Dostoevski--or Marc.

And now, here I am, starting my "last" month. The difference is, I know I can't do this month in the same ways other people have done it, just as I can't have the same therapeutical or surgical experiences--much less events--as other trans women, not to mention other women--or men. Whatever comes, in spite of all the advice of gotten, I'm still entering a new and (at least for me) unchartered region.

At least I'm not alienated, depressed--or drinking or using illicit drugs.