"Call me Justine."
30 August 2009
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.
She turned and gaped. "Professor!"
"Call me Justine."
"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.