31 December 2010

At The End of 2010: Leaving The Past, Again

Nobody I know seems sorry that 2010 is ending.  I realized this tonight, when Mom, Dad and I were having dinner at the Mezza Luna restaurant (highly recommended!) in the European Village of Palm Coast.  The owner, who greeted customers after they were seated, said he was worried about business earlier this month. The economy is bad everywhere, but particularly in Florida.  It might be better here than in Detroit, but that's like saying that the North Pole isn't as cold as the South Pole.

I won't say "good riddance" to this year.  It wasn't great, but it wasn't awful, either.  More than anything, I'd say this was a transitional, or perhaps developmental, year.  It was my first full year after my operation, which means that I am still learning new things about my body, myself and my world.  Probably the most important change I'm seeing is in the ways in which I see other people. 

Probably the most interesting, and sometimes difficult, thing I've learned is how to look at my past without either hatred or sentimentality.  In some ways, what I had thought of as my past wasn't really mine after all.  I have come to suspect that, at least to some degree, this is the experience of most women.  As she was leaving Torvald, Nora (in A Doll's House) said that she went from being her father's property to Torvald's property.  Her ideas, opinions and wishes--and her very life itself--were therefore never her own; she took secondhand versions of what those two men in her life offered, if she got anything at all.

My life, before my transition, was a variation on that:  I was trying to fit, or make myself fit into, the ideas, wishes, wants, dreams and accomplishments of men, most of whom I didn't even know.  All I knew was that they didn't fit me any more than I could fit into them.  I could no more become the military officer my father had wanted me to become (To his credit, I think he came to understand that.) than I could become the next Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.  It wasn't only a matter of being more than a foot shorter than the basketball legend; it also a matter of my emotional--and, according to the medical tests I would undergo much later---hormonal makeup.

Now I am just beginning to discover what my strengths as well as my interests are.  I don't know how long I will continue to do that:  In some ways it's exhiliarating, but at other times I wish I could be more settled.  But then again, I sometimes think that I always was and always will be in a state of flux.

So 2010 was a year of transition and development.  It's probably the sort of year I needed to have.

30 December 2010

Lunch With My Mother And Her Friend

When I was a teenager, I enjoyed the company of my mother's friends, especially two in particular.  Mrs. Orzel and Mrs. De Land were both very intelligent and interesting people, and I always noticed that my mother was happier and more confident when she was around them.  Maybe that was the reason why I enjoyed being around them:  They made my mother into the person I knew she really was.

Of course, even though I never sensed that they were speaking to me with condescension, I knew even then that I could not consider them as friends or peers.  They were my mother's age, give or take, and I was less than half that.  And, of course, I was living as a boy.  Perhaps they knew that, at least in some ways, I was different from the others.  Those differences may well have been the reason why we got along and I actually preferred spending time with them than with my so-called peers.

My mother is still in touch with Mrs. Orzel who, like her daughter,  has been battling cancer in another part of the country.  She has sent her regards to me, and I've sent mine to her, through my mother.  Sometimes I think I'd like to see her again.

Yesterday I had the sort of encounter I would like to have with Mrs. Orzel--with another of my mother's friends.  We all went to lunch at the local Ruby Tuesday.  And I saw the same sort of change in my mother I used to see when she was around her friends all those years ago:  She was a happier and more confident person.  That has something to do with the fact that her friend can empathise with her in ways that my father, whatever his other virtues, never could.

Fortunately for my mother, this friend lives very close by.  They play bingo together, along with a few other female friends about their age, and sometimes they get together for lunch.  My mother's friend is almost the definition of a "lovely" person:  You feel good about yourself, and a sense of peace, when you're around her.  And I felt that she not only accepted, but welcomed, me.  Perhaps my being my mother's daughter was reason enough for her.  That's fine with me.  I never had the sense she was "tolerating" me.

I have always felt close to my mother.  But I have had, lately, the sense that our relationship is going to change.  I could not say how; I still don't think I can.  However, I think that perhaps some emotional channel of which I'd previously been unaware will open up.  It may well have to do with the wishes I had when I was talking with my mother's friends all of those years ago.

29 December 2010

What Would You Give Up To Get Out?

Should someone's parole be predicated on her donating a kidney to her sister?

That's what's happening in Mississippi.  The two sisters were convicted of armed robbery and have served sixteen years in prison for it.  Some have argued that they've been there much too long, as they were teenagers when they, with another teenager, ambushed two men whom they hit over their heads with guns.

For their troubles, the youngsters got $11.

Technically, Mississippi Governor Hayley Barbour indefinitely suspended the sentences of the two sisters.  An indefinite suspension is different from a commutation or pardon because it has conditions attached to it. If those conditions aren't met, the person with the indefinite suspension could be returned to prison.  However, according to reports, the sister who's donating her kidney volunteered to do so. 

Some would say this is a win-win situation.  However, as someone who wants to keep the government as far from her body as possible, this situation seems more than a little creepy to me.  Could a state actually mandate, say, an organ donation as a condition of release?  Or could it demand that someone to simply surrender some part of his or her body? How far is that from the Middle Eastern practice of chopping the hands off accused thieves?

28 December 2010

Cycling Under A Sword of Damocles

This is one way you know you're in The South (and I ain't talkin' about the Bronx):

Between this bike/pedestrian path and the ocean is a strip of land about 200 yards wide, consisting of more trees-- like the one in the photo-- with moss cascading from them, interrupted by roadside ice cream and hot dog stands, biker bars, gated communities and a Publix supermarket. Between this bike/pedestrian path and the Inland Waterway are a couple of state parks, a couple of convenience store/gas stations, a couple more biker bars and a couple of "professional buildings."

I stopped in one of the convenience store/gas stations. The latter is owned by Citgo, but the store is part of a local chain called Jiffy. This part of Florida, like much of the US, has experienced its coldest weather on record for this time of year. So, I had a yen for something I never craved in my previous trips down here: hot chocolate. Also, I started the day with a headache, which I incorrectly thought I could pedal off. So I also wanted aspirin.

While there, I got talking with Sharon, the store manager. I can best describe her as a redneck wife, and I don't necessarily mean that disparagingly. She's somewhere between my and my parents' age and has lived all of her life in this area. Business was slow, she said, but that's how it is everywhere: "Nobody has any money."

She said she'd seen a report saying that the county in which her store is located--and in which my parents live--has the highest unemployment rate in the country. It's hard not to believe that: Everywhere I've pedalled, and every place I've gone with my parents, I've seen empty stores and condo buildings. A so-called European Village consists of a pedestrian plaza ringed with restaurants and shops, about half of which were vacant. When I last saw it, two years ago, all of the spaces were occupied and business, although not booming, had yet to be wracked by the ravages of the implosion of the local and national economy.

Sharon says she's never seen anything this bad. In a nearby town, where she sometimes has to go on business, she sees "kids with eighteen siblings, and none of them have the same father." And, she says, "They're white."

Five years ago, someone with no job, no income and no assets could get a loan to buy a house. Today, this county and other places are full of young people with no job, no education and no future. Now, if they had education, they'd be like certain young people in the Northwest of England nearly four decades ago. What did they do? They became the Johnny Rottens and Sid Viciouses of this world. If, instead of education, they had religious dogma, they'd be suicide bombers.

But those young men and women truly believe in nothing at all. At least, they're not willing to die for anything, and they're living, not for the future, not for (much less in) the moment, and not even for the present or the Eternal Present. Instead, they are in a chasm that cannot be filled with anything, not even their own deaths.

You can see it on their faces. In fact, during the time Sharon and I were talking to each other, three of them--the "rock-heads," as she called them, came into the store. One young man used the bathroom and left; a girl, younger, tried to buy cigarettes and another bought a case of beer.

"You've got to watch out for them," she warned me.

"They look pretty scary."

"You're on your bicycle. You're a woman riding alone. Around here, that can be dangerous, epecially between here and the bridge."

"What do you mean?"

"They attack people and rob them. And sometimes they do worse."

I thanked her for her advice and wished her a happy new year. And she wished me a safe trip, which I continued under the trees with moss hanging from them.

27 December 2010

How Do You Do, Ma'am?

This is the third time I have come to Florida to see my parents as Justine.  And it's my first visit since my surgery.

Each of my first two visits lasted a week. This is my third (fourth, if you count my arrival) day of this visit.  And I noticed something that I noticed on each of my previous visits:  Everyone addresses me as, "Hello ma'am,"  "How do you do, ma'am?"  (Are they asking for instructions?  Little do they know...I can give them!)  or "Nice day, isn't it, ma'am?"  Once in a while, someone refers to me as "miss."  But every other time, I am presumed to be a woman of a certain age--which, of course, is what I am.

Now, I am long past the thrill of "passing."  In fact, I am grateful that even during my last visit as Nick--the one in which I "came out" to my parents--I didn't even get a second look, much less a squint or furrowed eyebrow, from anyone who asked how "ma'am" was doing.  You see, I have no idea (and, frankly, don't want to have any idea) of what could happen if anyone had any inkling that I was once a native of Mars, so to speak.

It doesn't matter whether I'm wearing a skirt and makeup, or whether I'm in baggy sweats like the ones I wore today.  I still get the same greetings and responses.  The women are almost invariably cordial, and the men are be polite, chauvinistic or solicitous.  Have I become who I am as deeply as I like to believe I have?  Or are people down here less savvy about these things?

Or am I just a parochial Yankee who still carries, in her mind, stereotypes about people in this part of the world?  If  I am, I apologize!

25 December 2010

Carrying On

I know, I haven't been writing much in this blog.  Part of the reason for that is the semester that just ended:  Over the last two weeks, I had almost no time for anyting that wasn't school-related. 

But the truth includes something else:  I simply haven't been thinking as much about the issues and experiences I'd been writing about in this blog as I was when I was first writing in it, or during the days leading up to, and immediately following, my surgery.  Perhaps, that's exactly the point of going through a gender transition and gender-reassignment surgery.  I saw that as a destination, or at least a goal, when I started on this journey.  When you've lived your whole life in conflict, not having to think about it sounds very, very appealing.  And, of course, the very appeal of something is enough to make it a dream, a destination or a goal.

I am not sure that I will never have to think about my gender identity again.  But I am in situations now where I really don't have to talk about it, or at least where nobody's brought up the subject and I haven't said anything.  And now I am at my parents' house in Florida.  Wherever I go here, people address me as ma'am and I don't even think of it as a victory, or anything in particular, anymore.  It's just who I am and the way I relate to the world, and it relates to me.

And then of course there is my parents' acceptance of who I am, as difficult as that has been for them at times.  When you find acceptance, or at least tolerance, you don't have as much need to explain or defend yourself as you do in other situations.  My life seems to include fewer and fewer of those other situations.  Perhaps there will be changes that will eliminate those situations that remain.

So...You will probably see less and less on this blog. This isn't to say that I'm ending it; perhaps only my unwillingness to let go will keep it going, however sporadically.  As you may know, I have another blog, about cycling.  Perhaps some of my other interests will lead me to start another new blog; it may or may not be a spin-off of this one.  But whatever I do will be motivated by my curiosity, love of writing and desire to connect with anyone who might be receptive to what I represent, even if he or she doesn't agree with what I say or like what I do.  Becoming a woman, becoming one's own person, is always an ongoing process.  Whether on this blog or some other, or in another venue altogether, I plan to continue that, and nothing more or less.

20 December 2010

The Sexes at The End of The Semester

Well, I know one thing:  The end of the semester is basically the same sort of grind, whether you're male or female.

Actually, there is one difference that I've seen.  It seems that when you're a female faculty member, you're expected to be more sensitive and understanding when a student wants to make up the work he or she hadn't done since Labor Day and you're expected to have time and not to even think about saying "no" when someone has an "emergency" of some sort. Said "emergencies" usually happen because of some change in regulations or someone's lack of planning.

And, as I was telling the prof with whom I rode last week, I hear some of the same "sob" stories that I've always heard at the ends of semesters.  The difference is in that when I was a Professor Nick, I used to hear the stories mainly from female students.  And, as I half-jokingly told the cycling prof, with every tear they shed, I could see their skirts hiking up another inch.  

Now I find that the female students try to wrench me with sheer emotion.  That doesn't surprise me:  It's almost trite to say that women do relate to each other emotionally more than, or at least in different ways from, men.  On the other hand, some of the male students think they can charm me, as they think they can charm any other female, into cutting them some slack.  Not all are like that, but enough that I notice and expect it.  

That prof, and a couple of others, have told me that what I'm experiencing now is "typical."   If those male students are, or are trying to be so unctuous with me, I can only imagine how much of that sort of behavior those other profs--especially the one with hom I rode--experience.

19 December 2010

In The Book: Yesterday, And Before

Last night I got six hours of sleep. That's about as much as I'd gotten during the whole week before.  Really.

I think now of what I told my brother:  This time of year (and May) are to college instructors (especially those of us in English) what tax season is to accountants.  We find out how much work we can get done on how little sleep.  And we discover forms of caffeine and refined sugar we never knew existed.  Some of us, of course, partake of substances with more mysterious provenances.  I haven't done anything like that in almost half of my life.  I guess that's something of an accomplishment.

Yesterday I got a little surprise in the mail.  No, it wasn't a Christmas present from a mysterious admirer.  At first I didn't recognize the address or the name of the company from which it came.  All I could tell, by the shape and feel of the envelope, was that it was a large paperbound book of some sort.

That book contains something I wrote a few years ago.  It had been rejected by a site that was regularly publishing my stuff.  The editor said it was "too controversial" and "too advanced" for his readership.  That meant, of course, that some of his donors would stop writing checks.  So I could understand why he rejected the piece, even if I wasn't happy about  it.  

Now I wonder how many people will read and buy that book.  Probably few, if any, of my colleagues, either in the schools in which I work or in the academic world generally, will see it.  The opinions expressed in some of the pieces in the book would absolutely appall almost anybody in an English Department and in other parts of academia.  Hey, some of the things I wrote in it would break up a friendship or two.

I stand by what I said in the essay.  However, in reading that piece again--which, frankly, I hadn't since the editor of the book accepted it four years ago-- I was reminded of the things in my life that have changed, and how I've changed.  In fact, in reading that piece again, I felt almost as distant from it as I feel from some things I did before I started my gender transition.   I wrote that essay from the perspective--which was mine at the time I wrote it--of someone who had been living in her "new" gender and taking hormones for a couple of years, and who was preparing herself for surgery that, truthfully, she had no idea of when she would experience. 

It's really strange to prepare yourself for something when you have no idea of when or whether it will come to pass.  People do it all the time: Much of the practice of organized religion has to do with it.  That makes it no less strange.  I could say the same for people in other areas of life who prepare for things that may or may not happen.   How odd a thing it is to do did not occupy my mind, even momentarily, before I re-read my old essay.

If nothing else, seeing that old piece made something make sense for me:  Why do some of us want to change one thing or another after undergoing transitions (whether or not they have to do with gender identity)?   In my case, the person who came into those things no longer exists, any more than did the guy named Nick who left me his life.  If the person I was during the early days of my transition belongs to yesterday, the man in whose identity I lived belongs to a time before yesterday.  In that sense, the recent and distant past are the same:  They're both gone.  All I can do now is read and look at what they've left me.  

15 December 2010

Directives Growing

Yesterday I told my brother that this time of year is, for those of us who teach in colleges and universities, like tax time is for accountants.  That means piles of papers that think you're shrinking until you stop for a minute and turn around. Then, like the brooms in Fantasia, they multiply.

And everybody's stories are getting longer.  There are those students who, if they spent half as much time doing the work as they are in telling me why they've missed work.  But they're not half as bad as those long-winded authority figures whose directives are growing longer.  (How would the world be different if someone told Pinocchio that his directive was growing.)  How would my life be different had I succumbed to a man whose directive was groing longer?

You know it's really late and I'm really tired if I'm asking questions like those!

12 December 2010

He Had No Future; I Have No Past

Not long ago, in the course of a conversation, I recalled something I hadn't thought about in a long time.  During my senior year in high school, I was on the committee that planned and arranged our class's senior prom.  I think I got involved with it because the faculty advisor taught a course in which I needed a grade I couldn't earn otherwise.  

That class wasn't required for graduation.  However, doing well in it might have helped me to get into a few schools and programs other people wanted me to get into.  I had no other reason to take that class or, truth be told, to be on that committee or to do almost anything else I did that year.  

I knew full well that once I graduated, I probably wouldn't be back.  My guidance counselor, who might not have been useless if he hadn't tried to drown sorrows that could swim, said as much.  It probably was the one useful or relevant, let alone prescient, thing he said to me.

What I also knew, somehow, was that I wasn't going to the prom that I was helping to plan.  Of course, I didn't tell anyone that; it wouldn't have made any more sense to them than it did to me.  If nothing else, I was learning one of the most important lessons of my life:  What makes sense and what's true are not always the same thing.

And the most essential truth--or so it seemed-- about me made absolutely no sense to me at that time.  I'm referring, of course, to my gender identity.  Nearly every day, I had to play that mental game of ping-pong:  "Your'e a man.  No I'm not.  You have a penis.  It's really a big clitoris.  You like girls.  Yes, but not only in that way.   You're an athlete.  Just like how many other women?

My understanding of gender and sexuality was so primitive--though not any less advanced than that of most people in that place and time--that I simply could not even think of showing up at the prom with another girl.  No girl in that milieu would have done that.  And I couldn't have gone with a boy, either:   No boy, no matter his identity and orientation, would have gone with another boy, even if he was really a girl who just happened to have a boy's body.

That, by the way, is the main  reason I didn't date when I was in high school, in spite of my father's and other adults' efforts to hook me up with someone or another's daughter.  My status as dateless became my ostensible reason for not attending the prom I helped to plan.  In addition, I told myself that it was silly to spend lots of money and energy over people and a place I would never, and had no wish to, see again.

I am just starting to realize how that experience affected me.  It's a reason why there are so many things to which I woulfddn't commit myself: I so often feel as if my efforts were for things of which I could never partake, and that I was always serving people who were living lives completely different form any I could, or wanted to, live.  

Every LGBT person has felt, at some time or another,  something like what I've described.  We are paying for, and in other ways serving, a society and economy that supports institutions--including marriage, as the law and most people define it--in which we cannot participate.  And I have often felt that my job as an educator is to prepare people to live in that sort of familial and societal arrangement.  

It's difficult to be involved in organizations and institutions when you know that you cannot benefit from the fruits of the labor you put into it.  It's impossible to have any enthusiasm for more than a relatively short period of time when you don't even have the right to be yourself as you're helping others to realize their dreams.  And it's none too encouraging when you can't get the people with and for whom you're working that they are operating from, and their expectations of you are therefore based upon, privilege and a sense of entitlement that they very often don't even realize they have.

I'm thinking about all of this now after learning that someone with whom I spent some time--a friend of an ex--died recently.  He was smarter, and far more creative, than I or almost anyone else could ever hope to be.  Yet he never went to college, in spite of offers of full-ride scholarships from very respected institutions.  He did well financially, and in other ways, and he wasn't boasting when he said he succeeded without much planning.  In fact, very little in his life was premeditated.  

The reason, he once told me, is that he knew that, for one thing, as a gay man, he wouldn't be able to live the sort of life for which schools and other institutions would have prepared him.  (That, interestingly enough, is the only way in which I ever heard him talk about his sexual orientation.)  And, for  another, he knew--not expected, knew--that he wasn't going to live to be fifty.  All of the men in his family had a congenital heart condition that killed them before they finished their fifth decade.  That condition is one of the few things, along with bloodlines, that he shared with them.  

So he knew that he wasn't going to be part of a nuclear family and collect Social Security in addition to a pension.  You can imagine how he must have felt about paying into that system, especially because he always was a business proprietor or an independent contractor of some sort.  

Why should I prepare for a future I won't have?, he asked.  Had I been more aware and articulate, I would have been asked that same question.  Why am I helping to plan a prom I won't attend?  

The difference, of course, is that I did have a future.  It just wasn't the one anyone was planning for me, or preparing me for.  Some of what I did to prepare that future has been useful to me; so much else wasn't.   But I can say that I do have a future of some sort, even if it isn't a very long one or one that nobody can predict.  Now, in some way, what I don't have is the past--or, specifically, my past.  Preparing for someone else's life, of course, meant that I was living someone else's life.  And there's never any future in that.

09 December 2010

December: Nights Growing

The days are getting shorter and colder.  But my work days seem to be getting longer.  Perhaps that's just as well, for now.  At this time of year, I start to feel some of the grief I seem to feel when the holidays draw near.  That has to do with the deaths I have experienced in December:  Uncle Sonny, Kevin, Cori and Adam.  And the terrible thing about them is that they were all unexpected yet inevitable.

Don't get me wrong: I can have a lot of fun at holiday time, mainly because a few years ago, I decided that I would.  But one of the reasons why I made up my mind to enjoy it was that this time of year could be, and has been, hard for me.

08 December 2010

Seeing By The Light of Othello

It's cold and I'm really tired.  Charlie curls up on me and falls alseep; I also find myself drifting off.

It's that time in the semester when you read papers from a stack and, just when you think you're finished, the stack grows.

Some things never end:  like LGBT kids getting abuse and worse from family members and school mates, not to mention teachers. Yesterday, one of my students talked to me about it.  She's ostracized  for wearing baggy men's clothing, and her conservative mother--who comes from a culture not noted for its tolerance of queer people--has been telling her "I wanted a girl, not a boy!"

She said something else I found interesting, in reference to a video of Shakespeare's Othello:  "It's so gay.  Didn't anyone else see that?"

She had missed the previous class when I mentioned that some commentators have suggested that Iago tries to destroy Othello's marriage to Desdemona, not so he can have her to himself, but so he can have Othello to himself, if you know what I mean.  I'm not the first one who's ever mentioned that possiblity:  One of my profs did, more years ago than I'll admit, and I've read that interpretation of Iago's motives elsewhere.

What's even more interesting, to me, is that the student told me that Othello, which she was reading for the first time, is the first work of literature she found interesting, and the first thing she was ever assigned to read in any class and didn't hate.

I believe her, if for no other reason that I simply can't imagine her flattering someone.  She is angry over the way she's been treated, and I can't say I blame her.  But, I know that whatever her quirks and flaws may be, she has integrity, and that she's not simply going through a phase, in expressing herself as she does.

All right...Maybe I'll take that back.  Maybe she was trying to flatter me, in a way:  Expressing what she feels about Othello may have been a way of getting my attention.  When she pronounced the "gayness" of the film we saw, I could tell she was looking to me for something--perhaps simply a non-judgmental ear--that she couldn't get from her family or peers.

Somehow I get the feeling that she's going to find other readings interesting and even entertaining.  And she'll know that she's going to need them, and the lessons she learns from them, to help her through one thing and another.    After all, I reminded her, she'll have to be smarter and better-informed about everything because of what she is.

06 December 2010

Without Guides

Yesterday I was teaching my cousin how to use his computer.  Well, at least I taught him how to get on the Internet and check the e-mail and eBay accounts, and use the online dictionary, one of his friends set up for him.  

After helping him, I started to think that nobody teaches anybody how to use a computer.  It's more like someone opens up the computer for someone else, and the person who's learning navigates his or her way through whatever is necessary or interesting.

Maybe that's how we learn anything, in the end:  Someone shows us the basics, then we figure out what we need to do next.

Some members of my family thought that the last woman  with whom I was involved in a relationship
"influenced" me to start my transition.  For one thing, by the time I started my transiton, there weren't very many people or things could have influenced me much, if at all.  By that time, I'd come to realize a few things. about myself and about the world, that nobody could have swayed or coerced me into.  Truth be told, not many people would have wanted to nudge me, if that was possible, into the direction my life has taken.  

What this person did was to acknowledge and, for a time, indulge my inner femaleness and the ways in which I was beginning, again, to express it.  If she "swayed" me in any way, she encouraged me to do things that were not only making me happy, but that were also allowing me, for the first time in my life, to make any sense of who I am and what, exactly, was my struggle with living.

What she did not intend, I think, was that I would embrace the essence of myself and live by it, not merely exhibit it when we closed the door behind us.  That, of course, is the reason why we broke up:  It was obvious that there simply wasn't any other way I could have chosen to live.  And she decided that it was incongruous for the life she was making for herself.  She works in a very conservative industry, and her colleagues' knowing about me--or, rather, fears about me--could very well have detoured, or even ended, her career.

But she didn't "influence" me, and she certainly didn't "teach" me how to be who and what I am.  Nobody could have done that.  Some might argue that nobody can teach us how to be ourselves; I wouldn't disagree.  And I'd say that it's doubly true for transgender people, especially those of my generation or earlier.  There was nobody who could have taught us how to be the women (or, in the case of FTMs, men) we are, and there certainly wasn't an atmostphere that would have allowed us to seek out such knowledge.  For too many, the only ones who taught them anything were the ones who were the most violent and grotesque parodies of themselves.  That's the reason why so many could make their livings only as performers or sex workers:  If a boy or young man were to leave everything and everyone he knew--which is what he would have had to do--in order to live as a woman, the only role models she would find were the most exaggerated kinds of faux femaleness, and the ones who preyed on them.  

Most people, no matter how self-motivated they are, still need a teacher or guide of some sort, at least when they're embarking on whatever journeys they're taking.  Anyone who can't find a champion, or mentor, becomes either the most intractable, incorrigible sort of individualist or falls prey to someone who shares his or her determination and disregard for the consequences, without the ethics.  Or they simply give up.

The woman I mentioned, while she may have been tolerant during the first couple of years of our relationship, was definitely not a mentor.  She couldn't have been; there was simply no way she could have mentored the sort of person I am.  

On the other hand, she is the one who taught me--after I'd turned 40--how to use a computer.

04 December 2010

It's Still New

Yesterday I had to go to my doctor's  office for "labs," which consist of a phlebotomist taking four test tubes of my blood.  While there, I asked whether I could see Dr. Jennifer, the gynecologist who is part of the practice.  She wasn't in but, the receptionist said, Susan,  a midwife/nurse practitioner, was on duty and I could see her.  

I described the twinges I felt around my clitoris and what seemed to be an unusual discharge.  She said it "wasn't serious."

"Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to..."

"Don't apologize," she said.  

"I really give myself away as a tranny at times like this, don't I?"

"You're learning."

"You're right.  It's a strange thing:  Having a vagina seems completely normal to me.  But I still don't understand it."

She assured me that is "normal," and that it will take time to learn about it.  "Yes, it feels normal to you.  But it's still new.  How long has it been since your surgery?"

I did a mental calculation.  "Sixteen, almost seventeen months."

"That's not long at all.  How long did you have a penis before that?"

I won't tell you that, dear reader.  After all, a lady isn't supposed to give away her age.  Right?

After giving my answer, I added, "But you know, it seems so long ago. Sometimes I forget that I had one. Does that make any sense."

"Of course.  You've changed."

I was reminded of just how much when she asked, "How long has it been since you had implants?"

"You're the best!  I've never had them."

She was asking the question because, in asking about what examinations, vaccinations and such I've had, she wanted to figure out whether I needed to be screened any time soon for breast cancer.  That reminded her of breasts, generally, or mine anyway, and the fact that implants need to be replaced something like every seven years.  

Now, I think that my breasts are small, particularly for a woman of my size.  But I'm not troubled by that, and I was never tempted to get inplants or any other surgical procedure on my breasts.  The well-endowed women I've known have complained about their "gifts," and I can happily live without the back pain and other problems that seem to come with large breasts.  Also, when I've had relationships with women, I never cared about whether or not they had big boobs; a couple of women with whom I was involved had them, but they weren't  what drew me to them.  

Somehow I don't think I'm going to change my mind about them.  Then again, I have changed, and will probably change even more.  And, as Susan said. even though all of this feels natural to me, and that I carry myself with ease (Really?), I'm still learning about my body, as it's become.

03 December 2010


This week is ending.  But, it seems, the semester isn't going to end, even though it's raced by me.  A lot of students and faculty members have expressed similar felelings.

How does time go by so quickly while the moment seems not to end?

I'm sure the Theory of Relativity has something to do with it.  So do the stacks of papers that seem to multiply when I turn my back.  

I spend time working on them and end up with even more to do. They're next to me now and I'm falling asleep again. 

01 December 2010

Beauty Sleep

Soo tired.  I feel like I'm still catching up from my illness back in October.  There hasn't been any end to the papers I've had to grade and just the work, in general. I didn't go to work for a week, and I couldn't even read papers because my eyes were hurting too much. But that week seems to have set me back a month.

The weird thing is that in all of this, I've had people tell me that I looked good.  Some are people I know well enough to know that they weren't saying it sarcastically.  But I've heard it from acquaintances and even strangers.  (No, the guy who yelled "Hey Sexy" from his SUV window doesn't count!)

Hmm...Maybe the world likes tired women.  Or, at least, men do.  What's with that?

It's really strange, the way you sometimes get compliments when you feel you don't merit them.  In some weird way, it makes me think of a semester when, at least in terms of my teaching, nothing seemed to go right or well. I think I taught two decent class sessions, if that, all semester.  Yet I got one of my best evaluations.  Not only that, the prof who evaluated me was said to be the toughest critic in our department, if not in the whole college.  

I suppose that those who are more optimistic than I am (though, I must say, I think I'm fairly optimistic) would say that I was getting the compliments when I needed them.  One or two of my friends, one of whom is a practicing Buddhist, would say that it was my karma.  Hmm...Maybe I was a better person, or had a harder time, in a past life.  Interesting.  

Now I'm going to get whatever sleep I can.  My beauty sleep, ha, ha, ha.

29 November 2010

Remembering Dreams And Fantasies That Weren't Mine

After going to the Jersey Shore and having lunch, I didn't feel a sense of nostalgia or deja vu.  You can't really feel those things for people with whom you have a current relationship.  Or maybe it's just me.  All I know is that these days, I don't think that much about my childhood or adolescence when I'm around Mom and Dad.  

It strikes me as odd that, with the people with whom I have my longest relationships, I essentially have no past.   At least, I don't feel as if I have one.  It's as if the person who lived as their son, who fought with his father and cried to (and, at times, with) his mother was somebody else.  In a sense, he is:  I am not living his life now.  Of course, that is what I wanted, and still want.  But it's still strange nonetheless.

So what was so different about me during my teen years, when I lived there?  Or in my early adult years, when Mom and Dad were still living there and I used to visit, at times grudgingly?  Or even my early thirties, before they moved?  

I remember that once I wrote a poem about not having fantasies.  I have it somewhere, if not in digital form.  The fact that I didn't bother to preserve it electronically probably means that it's even worse than my other poetry, or my other writing, for that matter.  (If you've been reading this blog, you know that's saying something!)  I think it was bad because, if I recall, I turned it into a poem for whomever I was involved with at the time:  In essence, I didn't need fantasies because I had that person.

Of course almost nothing could have been further from the truth, but not through any fault of the subject of that poem.  The truth was that I didn't have fantasies--of the sexual, or any other, variety.  For much of my life, I didn't even dream, and when I did, those dreams--the ones I remembered, anyway--were utterly mundane or outright depressing, even more so than my waking life was.

I didn't dream of being an astronaut or pilot, or of making love to Faye Dunaway or anyone else.  I didn't even daydream about any of the girls, or boys, in my classes.  When anyone asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I couldn't tell them.  An astronaut, a doctor, an accountant:  nothing appealed to me.  The things people wanted from me were even less appetizing, for they included such as the aspirations of a career as a military officer that my father and a family friend had for me.

One question I don't ask is whether Dad still thinks about that--in part, because whether or not he does isn't going to change much, for me, him, Mom or anyone else.  Just as I didn't have other dreams, I didn't share his dreams.  And, of course, I couldn't share my mother's dreams, which included my giving her the grandchildren she wanted.  At least my brothers took care of that.

Actually, I had one dream. Of course, I did not reveal it to anyone until long after Mom and Dad had moved, my brothers had kids who were in school and a few people we knew were dead.  I don't think any young person could have revealed such a dream to anyone else in those days, even if he, she or I had the words for it.  

I have learned that language only during the past few years.  That is why I have just begun to have dreams, and why I am just starting to learn about my fantasies.  I suspect that some of them will be fulfilled as I begin to have memories of my own.  One can only have those things in one's own language.

27 November 2010

The Real Jersey Shore

Today I had lunch with Mom and Dad in Jersey.  As it was cold and windy, and they're not used to this sort of weather anymore (and, shall we say, a few years older than I am!), we didn't do much else.  Normally, when they come up for a visit, we go for a walk on or by the beaches, and perhaps shopping.

They spent Thanksgiving with my brother and in-laws.  As I'm not invited there, and Dad doesn't want to drive into the city (for which I can't blame him, frankly), we usually meet as we did today.  Although our meeting wasn't very long, I didn't mind, as I was in a really good mood, as they were. Plus, I'm going to spend Christmas with them.

I've decided, though, that the next time I go out that way, I want to ride my bike.  I used to do that fairly often when Mom and Dad were still living in Jersey and my brother and I still had a relationship. It's about 40 to 45 miles one way, depending on which route I took.  So I would ride out on a Saturday (or Friday, if I had the day off) and ride back on Sunday (or Monday, if it was a holiday).  A couple of times, on summer days with long hours of daylight, I started riding at dawn or earlier and start riding home late in the afternoon.

When Mom and Dad were waiting with me for the bus I would ride home, I noticed something odd.  The place where the bus stops is Airport Plaza in Hazlet.  It was actually an airport, back in the early days of aviation.  Today it's a drab little shopping center that, as merchants come and go and the place undergoes one facelift or another, always manages to look, or at least seem, the same.  I say that from middle age, having seen the place ever since my teen years.

Actually, very little ever seems to change in that part of the Jersey Shore.  It's about ten miles from the ocean at Sandy Hook, but it's less than half a mile from Raritan Bay, which is an inlet of the ocean.  The funny thing is that if one crosses the bay, it's less than fifteen miles to New York.   But the irregularity of the coastline makes an overland journey, even on the Turnpike and Garden State Parkway, three times as long.

Some condos have been built along the bay in Keansburg.  But along the side streets that lead out to Route 36, one finds the same drab-to-shabby houses inhabited by, it seems, the same families who were blue-collar when I was living there and still are if the men still have their jobs.  As often as not, their sons don't have jobs and their daughters have either gotten out of the neighborhood or have had more kids than they could afford.  And, along Route 36, building-supply and furniture stores come and go with ice cream stands that are closed now for the season; between them, scrubby trees gnarl and bend on marshland that was drained and abandoned.

I wish I could have lived my entire life as female.  But I wouldn't have wanted to live it there.  Even the town where my family and I lived during my teen years, which is on the other side of Route 36 and more working-to-middle-class (and from which most of my female classmates went to college), was oppressive enough for any female, whether or not she was living in a body congruent with her gender.  So, for that matter, was the part of Brooklyn in which we had been living before we moved to Jersey.

To indulge in a cliche, those places and people helped to make me who and what I am now.  That is the reason I can return, but only briefly.  And you can return only because you've left.  

26 November 2010

The Truth About The Real Black Friday

On Sunday, two days from today, a year will have passed since the suicide of Mike Penner, a.k.a. Christine Daniels.

I never knew her, but I feel her loss.  Autumn Sandeen has written a brief but moving remembrance of her on "Pam's House Blend."  What makes it so poignant is that Ms. Sandeen describes not only her loss of a friend, but of what too many of us lose simply for being the people we are.  The loss of family, friends and other communities of support can be enough, by themselves, to send plenty of people over the edge.  For someone who needs those supports even more than others, losing them can be nothing less than catastrophic.  I don't know which is worse: losing them or not having them in the first place.  Both scenarios are too common for gender-variant people.

Penner/Daniels lost her most important bond--that with the person to whom she was married--as a result of living as Christine. I know what it's like to lose the love of friends and family members, or at least to lose the illusion of love that some people offered.  But I can't imagine how desolate her being must have been after returning, for whatever reasons, to living as Mike without what she had when she previously lived as Mike.

I also cannot help but to think of Cori and Toni, two gender-variant friends of mine who committed suicide. Both of them described their feelings to me:  Cori was a woman's soul  in a man's body and Toni saw herself as a man in a female form.  While it could be argued that other factors played into Toni's overdose, I will not accept the idea that conflicts over gender identity had nothing to do with it.  And Cori, on the last night of her life (I will always remember her as female even if other people and the state do otherwise.), told me that being at her wits' end over her dilemma made her want to kill herself.

Any time a gender variant person kills him or her self--something we do, depending on which studies we believe, anywhere from four to twenty times as often as everyone else--his or her struggles with gender identity inevitably play a role, whatever the ostensible cause or method of self-destruction may be.  In a sense, it's rather like AIDS, which doesn't actually kill the patient, but leaves him or her vulnerable to other illnesses that kill and to sicknesses that wouldn't kill someone whose immune system wasn't ravaged by AIDS.  

Not being able to live as one truly is, or living with the ostracism and violence that too often follow those of us who are willing and fortunate enough to live by our souls rather than our mere bodies,  makes us more vulnerable to any and all kinds of despair.  And some, like Mike/Christine, lose everything they had in the journeys to themselves and find that there is no way back.

That, I now realize, is one of the real purposes of the Transgender Day of Remembrance.  We not only remember our dead, but also that we are here, that we--by whatever means--are surviving, at least for the time being.  That we are here and they are not and we cannot explain why can be, for some, a source of guilt and despair.  But the fact that we are alive, and can do something about our lives and those others who are still here, is something that we owe, in some way, to those who are gone.  

If, as Voltaire said, we owe the dead nothing but the truth, then we owe those who are gone the truth of our own lives, of our own selves.  And we owe them an even greater debt because, even if they administered themselves the doses, gunshots or whatever else killed them, they are still human beings who were murdered by hateful people.  I feel that way about anyone who feels driven to kill him or her self because it seems like the only alternative to living with the oppression they experience.  They succumbed to the notion of which too many of us are inculcated:  that we are somehow less worthy, and that our lives have less justification, than those of other people.  Those of us who are living know that the truth is something entirely different, and we owe it to those who aren't here to live it. 

That is all we have, and all they could ever have hoped to have.

25 November 2010

Giving Thanks on a Quick Morning Ride

I heard it was going to rain today.  So I tried to sneak in an early ride:  just a few miles on my fixed-gear bike.  It felt about ten degrees colder than it was when I pedaled home last night after teaching in the technical institute.  And yesterday was at least that much colder than the day before.  At least, it seemed that way, for the wind blew hard enough to strip nearly all of the remaining leaves from wizening branches. 

One of the things that amazes me about cycling is that, even after all of these years, I can ride down some street I've pedaled dozens of times before and a moment, an image, will imprint itself in my mind.  Just south of LaGuardia Airport, in East Elmhurst, an elderly black woman stepped, with dignity if not grace, from behind a door on which dark green paint bubbled and the wood splintered and cracked into ashen hues like the ones on her coat, which she expects, or at least hopes, wil get her through another winter.

She is probably thankful for even that.  You might say that I am, too, for being able to ride by and see that, and to be able to ride home, then to Millie's house for Thanksgiving dinner.

I hope yours was at least as good as mine.

23 November 2010

On This Date: The Road Ahead

It was the day after Thanksgiving:  this date, the 23rd. I was fifteen years old. I recall it distinctly for a couple of reasons.  For one, the previous day was also the tenth anniversary of President Kennedy's assassination.  It seemed that everyone on the radio and TV talked about it.

But I have a far more personal reason to remember such an otherwise mundane day and date.  We--my mother, father and brothers--had taken the ride (My father drove) from the Jersey Shore to the far end of Long Island.  

The day started chilly and dreary.  But by the time we were about halfway through Staten Island, rain had begun.  The drops had turned into needles of cold wetness by the time we reached the graves of my grandfathers in the veterans' cemetery.  

Even though the sunset officially came about an hour later--not that anyone could see it--the sky had already grown almost as dark as some of the pavement the car's tires swished and planed on.  Or so it seemed.  Not long after we shuffled into the Ford station wagon (the kind with the imitation wood-grain panels on the sides),  my two youngest brothers were asleep in the back.  Soon, my other brother would nod off next to me and, by the time we were in Brooklyn, my mother would doze off, her head still straight up, next to my father.  Besides him, I was the only one still awake.  And, because we had taken the trip so many times before, my father probably could have gotten us home even if he'd fallen asleep.

All I could do was look at the windshield wipers that couldn't flick away the rain nearly fast enough and out the window to my left, where reflections of head- and street-lights bobbed and floated in the raindrops that never seemed to touch. In the cars that rode by, passed and flagged behind us, walleyed drivers drove tires that swished on pavement as kids fought, played or dozed and wives talked, knitted or fell asleep.

At the far end of Brooklyn--in or near Brighton Beach, if I recall correctly--Dad steered the station wagon into the neon flood of a parking lot of some restaurant.  Actually, it was more of a hot dog stand, like Nathan's, except that the hot dogs were even bigger.  None of us could remember the last time we went there, but Mom managed to keep everyone else from whining about having to make this trip when she promised my brothers that we'd stop for those hot dogs.  At one time, they would have worked as a bribe on me, too.  But by that day, I was past bribery, not because I'd become more virtuous, but rather because I didn't care, or at least believed I didn't, and was stupid enough to think that somehow made me more of an adult.

The truth was, I only wanted to seem like an adult, just so everyone would leave me alone.  Just a few weeks earlier, I'd begun my junior year in high school and everyone wanted to know what college I wanted to attend and what career I'd prepare myself for when I was there.  That is, except for the adults who'd decided which college and which career I should go into.

I knew of a couple of careers and a few schools I definitely didn't want.  But I really didn't care about the rest of it:  Whatever I did, adulthood would mean only another life I didn't want and a career in something that would matter to everyone but me.  

Behind us was the cemetery.  Ahead, there was only hard rain and a pitch-black sky.  And, in the moment, there were just foot-long hot dogs.

22 November 2010

Even They--And We--Get The Pronouns Wrong Sometimes

Today, I stepped into a store on my way from lunch with Bruce to an appointment with my opthamologist.  (Dr. Noah Klein, one of the best in the business)  I can't even remember the name of the store, or why I stopped in it.  All I remember is something I saw on the TV behind the counter.

Someone was interviewing Cher, apparently for one of the TV news magazines.  She was talking about her son Chaz, ne her daughter Chastity.  It was hard not to admire her, as she admitted that it wasn't easy for her to take when Chastity said she was going to become Chaz. Coming from someone who, as she said, knew that something was "different" about her child long before she came out, and who's been an advocate of gay rights, that's quite an admission.  But what I found just as revealing was when she called Chaz "she," caught herself and said, "I'm still having trouble with the pronouns."

Next time I talk to my mother, I'm going to ask whether she saw that.  I remember how, early in my transition, she was almost aplogetic:  "I'm really trying!"  To which I replied, "I know." 

I've told her that if I've been lucky about nothing else in my life, I've been "lucky in the mom department."  Of course such declarations cannot fully convey the way I feel about the love she has always shown.  But that interview with Cher reminded me, whether or not I needed it, of how good a mother I have.  And, I suspect, Chaz Bono has a good mother, too.

Even the best of them--and us--slip up on pronouns.  There are certainly worse things.

21 November 2010

Moving Forward, Again

I feel better after taking a ride today.  Still, I am thinking about Janine and  something both my mother and Millie said yesterday:  "A lot of people have been dying lately."  They have never met each other, but they said, verbatim, the same thing.  That in itself is a little strange.

Then again, they're both, shall we say, a few years older than I am.  And my mother lives in Florida.  So I think that they're both going to see more people dying around them than I could expect to see.

And, yes, it is the very end of fall.  So some living things are supposed to die, or be in the process of dying, now.  

I guess that I could see those deaths as part of a cycle of change.  It's been going on since, well, there have been living beings and seasons.  I'd rather that no one else in my circle dies any time soon.  And that may well come to pass.  But change is unavoidable.  And I've known, ever since I started my transition, and have understood more fully since my surgery, that more is to come.  

Someone with whom I had to break off relations lamented, "Why can't things go back to the way they were before?"  Of course the person who said that is male:  Everyone who's ever said that to me, or whom I've known to say that, was of that gender.

That question, paradoxically, makes two seemingly contradictory traits make sense, and seem entirely congruent with each other.  On one hand, men are said, or expected, to be more decisive and to move headlong in important actions.  On the other, they have a harder time making and keeping emotional commitments.  When you believe that you can return your (or the) past, whether the way it actually was or the way you wish it had been--and perhaps even feel entitled to do so--it's easy easier to take risks about things, but harder to do the same for people.

Women have never been able to "own" the past in the same way as men.  Until recently, they had to relinquish their own names--and most still do--upon uniting with a man.  And while men have typically experienced changes that affected their circumstances (a job lost or gained, for example), women have undergone more changes that fundamentally affect the way they see the world.  For example, most women give, or are at least capable of giving, birth.  And our bodies are more easily traumatized through sexual and other forms of violence.

It seems that for women, the only choices have been to move forward, or to live in the present or the Eternal Present.  Many who settle into lives as Mrs. Man end up doing the latter.  That's not likely to happen to me.  But the present, whatever that means, is also not an option, for it is gone as soon as it happens.  That leaves only the future, and I am just starting to see it now.

20 November 2010

Transgender Day of Remembrance: For The Truth About Amanda Gonzalez-Andujar

Today is Transgender Day of Remembrance.  For those of you who are just learning about it, this day commemorates those who met violent deaths on account of their actual or perceived gender identity and expression.  It commemorates the 1998 murder of Rita Hester in the Boston suburb of Allston.  

Like so many murders of transgenders--and that of Matthew Shepard, which preceded hers by a few weeks--it was notable for its gruesome overkill.  For all of those who think that we're trying to make our deaths, and the ways in which we are victimized, seem more important than crimes against everyone else, I want to say just a couple of things.

First of all, murders of transgender (and other gender-variant people) have some of the lowest "solve" rates.  When I wrote an article about the issue five years ago,  92 percent of such murders committed during the previous 30 years hadn't been solved, according to Interpol. That has much to do with the fact that they are not taken seriously by authorities in many places; among those in law enforcement and criminal justice, there is too often the attitude that we "had it coming" or that no one will miss us.  The latter notion is, too often, true, for many of us have been cast aside by the families into which we were born or the ones we made.  (In that sense, I am luckier than most, as my parents have been supportive even though they don't entirely approve of what I've done.)

Second, as I've mentioned, our deaths are some of the most gratuitously violent.  In those cases in which investigators actually investigate our deaths, much less take those investigations seriously, police officers and coroners as often as not say that our murders are the most horrible they'd seen.  As an example, just two weeks ago, a cross-dresser and a eunuch were tortured--Their eyes and nails were removed--and burned beyond recognition.  

You might be tempted--as I would have been, not so long ago--to say, "Well, that's Pakistan.  Things like that happen there."  Indeed it is a conservative Muslim country.  But there, as in India, there is a class of people--of which the two murder victims may have been part--called the hijra. They have been tolerated if not afforded equal status, but they have been increasingly marginalized, and even stigmatized, during the past sixty years or so.  Still, the fact that they were even tolerated--if only for their usefulness as sex workers--makes them without parallel in most of the Western world.

(Ironically, "Hijra" is also the migration of the prophet Mohamed and his followers to the city of Medina in C.E. 622.  Most Americans and Europeans know of that journey by its Latinized name, "Hegira." )

To his credit, the Police Superintendent Syed Amin Bukhari has actually formed separate investigative teams for each murder.  And while some people still seem to think that they brought it on themselves by "bringing misery to the streets," as one commentor said, others have lamented the brutality of those slayings.  

However, to find any of those attitudes expressed, or to know how brutal the murder of a gender-variant person can be, one needn't go to Pakistan.  At least, I don't need to.  All I have to do is ride my bike about half an hour from my apartment to Ridgewood, Queens, where Amanda Gonzalez-Andujar lived and died in March.  Hers is one of the (too) many names being read at Transgender Day of Remembrance events this year.   

Somehow, I don't think this will be the last time I mention her name.  I know that there are others--some of whom I saw at the vigil held in front of her apartment--who will also keep her name, and thus her memory alive, for themselves and in the minds of those who investigated her killing.  Even though they made an arrest and are to be commended for their work, I don't want them to forget, for her sake as well as that of anyone else who meets a fate as terrible as hers.  

And I want to remember, and be sure they remember, her and the others because of what Voltaire said:  On doit egards aux vivants; on ne doit aux morts que la verite:  To the living we owe respect; to the dead, we owe nothing but the truth.