31 January 2010
30 January 2010
29 January 2010
28 January 2010
Today was the first day of the Spring semester. Funny that they should call it that: It snowed this morning and there's talk of more on the way, followed by plummeting temperatures. And when this semester ends, just before Labor Day, it won't quite be the end of spring.
The boundaries we draw are so arbitrary sometimes. Spring "officially" begins some time around the 21st of March: almost two months from now. And that "official" beginning has little to do with weather, though it usually is a bit warmer by then than it is around this time of the year. Rather, it has to do with the position of the earth to the sun and the resulting equinox. But there have been years when it was colder at that moment than it was on Christmas or New Year's Day.
Plus, when the season "officially" begins, the ground and the water will be even colder than they are now. It will take a few weeks for them to warm up, and a few weeks more than that for the ocean to become swimmable for most people.
So what is it that seperates one season from another? One country or continent from another? I have pondered that whenever I've crossed a national border and when I took the ferry from the European to the Asian side of Istanbul. Why is one side of a narrow strait considered to be part of one continent, while the other side is part of another?
You probably know where this discussion is going. In fact, you probably knew before I did. It's led me to a question that I can ask only now: What is the line between one gender and the other? Of course I have no doubt that I am female; others have shared my certainty througout my transition, and even before it. However, in the eyes of many people--and the laws of most places--I have been female for little more than six months. You might say that, on some level, I see gender identity in the same way. After all, I feel so much more confident and have less need to explain or defend myself in daily situations. And I have noticed that I am seen and treated more as if I'm the woman that I am than I was even a few months ago.
Did my "spring" begin on the 7th of July? Or did I cross some line before or after that? I have had a State ID that identifies me as female since 2003, the year I began living full-time as a woman. Some people identified me as such well before that, even when I was lifting weights and riding 50 miles a day.
Perhaps it's a cliche to say that a boundary is a state of mind, or has to do with one. I felt that I was essentially female even in my macho he-man days. On the other hand, there's almost nothing about today that puts me in a "spring" state of mind, whatever that is.
Oh well. Spring semester it is. They seem to go by even more quickly than the fall semesters. Soon enough, a year will have passed since my operation. A year--now there's another boundary. It's a good one, but like all boundaries, it's a little strange nonetheless.
Well, at least I'm on this side of that boundary. And things are going well, so far. They can call this side or that side, or the boundary itself--or, for that matter, me--whatever they want. At least I know where I stand. I'd better: I'm wearing thin high heels today!
If you drew some kind of line at that last joke, I don't blame you!
26 January 2010
Today I guess I had a taste of the "real world": I spent most of it in meetings. If I told my students, or any other young person, that if they enter a profession, they will spend much of their time in meetings and will spend much of the rest of their time doing paperwork, I wonder how many of them would decide to be bus drivers or haircutters instead of teachers or accountants.
All right, I've got my whining out of the way. Classes start on Thursday. So I get a "day off" tomorrow, which I'll spend preparing syllabi and other materials for it. Maybe I'll sneak a bike ride in there somewhere.
At least the food at lunchtime was really good. Among the foods were a couscous, pasta and potato salads and sandwiches made of grilled vegetables on whole-grain rolls. And to chase all that tasty, healthy food were some desserts that looked healthier than they actually are: dark chocolate-covered whole-grain pretzels, a raspberry coffee cake and a few other "healthy" snacks. Finally, there were regular and diet versions of Coke and Sprite to wash it all down.
The meal reminded me of a soda float someone used to make with diet Coke and one of the really rich brands (e.g., Ben and Jerry's or Haagen-Dazs) ice cream. This person--a college classmate--reasoned that the diet soda made up for the high fat and caloric content of the ice cream. I must admit, I've employed worse logic in my time.
The lunch came courtesy of one of the publishers of one of the required textbooks. When I wasn't in meetings, I was in a "workshop"--which everyone in the department had to attend--conducted by reps from that company who were introducing a new edition of that book. Those reps are really good at what they do: They smiled and said encouraging things even as I and a couple of other faculty members said, in essence, that the book is not terribly useful for the course in which it's used (Freshman composition) and the level of skills the students bring to it.
It's not a bad book, really. In fact, it's very good for what it is. It's just not a book that the freshmen (most of them, anyway) have the skills to use effectively. Maybe, after they take the course, it will be helpful to them. But in the composition class, there are so many other things we have to teach them in order to prepare them for the rest of their college classes and to make up for all of the things high schools (at least the ones here in New York) seem not to teach anymore.
A few of the faculty members--young ones, mostly--would not voice such concerns. But a few of us older and more cynical, I mean wiser, instructors voiced some of our criticisms. When the reps acted like good reps--which is to say, they acknowledged us without hearing us--we turned to each other and rolled our eyes up.
Sometimes I'd like to bring some of my younger students to a gathering like that to show them what they have to look forward to in the "real" world.
All right, I'll stop being cynical. In spite of everything, I felt really good today. No, I take back "in spite of." I can see a difference in the way some colleagues are reacting--or should I say responding--to me, compared to the beginning of last semester or last year. Someone told me that they can see the confidence I have in, and the peace I feel with, myself. Those reps will probably never see me again; they will take their act to another campus. On the other hand, I feel more like--a peer, for lack of a better word--to Jonathan and Helen and other colleagues in the department. I may not have some of their accomplishments, but I have others. But most important of all, I am feeling more confident about myself. And, as Joanne, a tutor in the Writing Center, said people are responding to that.
25 January 2010
24 January 2010
23 January 2010
22 January 2010
Last night I fell asleep while reading a student's paper. That should not be taken as an assessment of the student's work: I probably would have fallen asleep had Angelina and Brad walked into my apartment and done whatever it is Angelina and Brad do.
Anyway...When I woke up--nearly ten hours later--I was stretched out on the couch, with Charlie curled up by my feet and Max by my left side. I had been sitting up when I started to doze off; I cannot remember stretching out on the couch. And I didn't notice when Charlie and Max climbed onto the couch. Then again, it's not the first time I've awakened with them by or on me.
What's more, I didn't dilate before I went to sleep. So yesterday was the first day I didn't. I'm guessing that one day in six months won't ruin what's come to fit me so well. Also, I didn't take a warm bath, as I have been nearly every night. To fall into such a sleep without my bath, I must have been really tired.
At one time, I would have berated myself for being so tired and falling into such a deep sleep without having ridden my bike long or hard, or having exerted myself in any other way. Yesterday, I simply taught my class, read some papers, ran an errand, ate and read some more papers. My body had its own reasons for being so tired, I guess.
Yesterday was the last day of the class. I told my students that I'd be in my office this morning. Fortunately, as it turned out, only one student was looking for me, and she wasn't upset. We managed to find each other this afternoon, a little while after I arrived on campus.
It was a bit odd to have started the day and work after ten hours that were a blank. And I didn't have the excuse of anaesthesia or other forms of induced unconsciousness. Heck, I haven't had a drink in more than twenty years or smoked pot for even longer than that. No, my body shut down--shut me down--all on its own. Not that it's anything to celebrate. I just haven't fallen asleep so suddenly or deeply for no particular reason in I don't know how long.
At least I felt rested today. And Charlie and Max didn't seem to mind. Nor did I mind them sleeping on me. I have to wonder, though: Do they like me only for my body heat? Or do they really like me because, well, I'm their human.
What if some scientist were to find out that people hug each other only because we are drawn to each other's body heat--that is to say, only to keep warm. Or that our impulse to hug is rooted in an old survival mechanism. What did Miguel de Unamuno write? Nos morimos de frio y no de oscuridad: We do not die from the cold, not from darkness. Could Senor Unamuno have been a gato in his past life? Or, perhaps he was un gato que vive en un cuerpo de hombre. I used to tell my cats that's what I was; now I tell them I'm in un cuerpo de dama. And, of course, they always greet such comments with that look that says, "Whatever!" Cats perfected it long before humans came up with the word and sullen teenagers started sputtering it.
I'm sure that Mr. Onzain, my first Spanish teacher--who was the best-dressed and -groomed man I had ever seen up to that point in my life--would be speechless at my translation. Whether he'd be speechless over my proficiency or lack thereof in his native language, or simply my audacity in attempting the translation, is an open question. Then again, I wonder what he'd think of that Unamuno quote.
I must still be tired if I'm rambling the way I just did. Oh well. Maybe I'll have another long sleep tonight.
20 January 2010
19 January 2010
It is for me, in a way. After all, this is my first year after my surgery. A lot of things still seem new. What that means, of course, is that they're still in flux. I realize that when I look at my new body parts: They are becoming what I envisioned, only better. Still, they seem to be different every time I see them. I guess that even though the major healing is completed, what Marci created is still developing and, I guess, taking shape to my body. In other words, it looks like a vagina; it is a vagina and it's becoming my vagina.
That may be the first time I've used the "v" word three times in the same sentence. Then again, I'm not Eve Ensler. (That said, her play is canonical, as far as I'm concerned.) It's funny that I now feel, upon using it, what kids feel when they use a "forbidden" or "bad" word. Of course, there's nothing wrong with the v-word (!), but it's funny that it's still novel for me to use it in reference to a part of my own body. I guess I'm still getting used to the idea that what it refers to is mine.
My vagina. Through all of those years, I wanted a vagina rather than what I had. I guess that was the only way I could think of her. (At times like this, I wish my first language was Italian, French or Spanish: It seems so weird to call such an intimate part of one's self "it.") I had seen enough women's genitalia to know generally what they looked like--though, I must say, I still have no idea of whether what I saw represents a fair cross-section of what the world's women have. I just knew that I was meant to have one of those.
What I didn't know was what mine would be like. I'm not sure that, save for her origins or a couple of things she'll never be able to do, she is so unusual. I mean, the size is about right for a woman of my proportions, and her folds are in all the same places. Even my clitoris is like others I've seen, and has a "hood." The hair is still growing around her: I don't know whether this rite of puberty is progressing at more or less the same rate as does for other females. Or am I developing slowly? If that's the case, I guess it would be appropriate: After all, it took me a long time to get to where I am now.
Whatever...The development is happening at my pace, and not someone else's--certainly not that of the boy who was experiencing the puberty he so dreaded. I'm talking, of course, about me when I was about thirteen or so.
I never felt that same sense of ownership over what developed then as I do over what's been developing for the past six months. Perhaps "ownership" isn't quite the word: It commodifies whatever I'm talking about. Somehow claiming ownership of something is not quite the same as saying that it is mine: I take ownership, but something becomes mine in an inevitable, even organic, way.
And I know that my vagina is becoming mine by the way it feels in my body: At times I can feel the tension and energy of muscles and tissues that have been growing together and working with each other in ways that, while seemingly natural, are still new. Other times, I just feel--comfort is not the right word; perhaps inevitability is. Though my vagina is only six months old, I find it hard to believe that there was ever anything else in that part of my body. Even her color, a sort of pale pink, seems more of a match with the skin of the rest of my body than the tone of the organ I had before.
My vagina is mine because she's becoming mine. And I expect--and hope--she will continue that way. She's still new, after all, even if she's always been a part of me.
18 January 2010
Today I pedaled somewhere I haven't been in quite a while: the Williamsburg waterfront. It's not far from where I live, but it seems like an accomplishment, given how little bicycling I've done over the past few months.
Plus, I had a feeling that my lungs and sinuses wouldn't clear themselves much more if I stayed in the house. So I took my trusty Mercian fixed gear bike, which made me feel as if I'd ridden only yesterday.
It's only been about six or seven months since I've been there, but in some ways I could scarcely recognize it. Oh, the amazing views of the Manhattan skyline haven't changed. Nor has the metallic yet briny smell of the mist from the East River about half a mile from the Williamsburg Bridge.
One odor that's gone is that of a freshly-opened box of Domino's brown sugar. That smell filled the air near the factory that made the stuff, next to the river and practically at arm's length from the Bridge, even after it closed a few years ago. Now that the aroma and the jobs that made it possible are gone, I wonder what will happen to that building. If a structure can be beautiful in a Dickensian way, that factory building is. Will some developer turn it into a condominiums?
If it were to be converted, it certainly wouldn't be like the condo buildings that stand along the waterfront now. Construction on those condo buildings started about two years ago; they have been completed for several months now. They are much like others that have been built in the last ten years or so along the city's waterfront: rectangles of steel, mortar and glass that are meant to be stopovers for the night for young professionals who work, and young trust-funders who do whatever they do, in and among the famous buildings they can see from their apartment windows. Perhaps I am old-fashioned, but I have a hard time imagining them as places of rest, much less living.
Even more noticeable was the new bike lane along Kent Avenue--and the absence of trucks. I have long enjoyed cycling there after business hours and on weekends, when the formerly industrial landscape became strangely serene. When I rode there on weekdays, I was never worried, not even when the trucks came and went: Most of those drivers were considerate and curious. All you had to do was make yourself visible and not do anything stupid, and all was well.
It was even quieter there on Saturdays than on Sundays because most of the small factories and warehouses that lined that stretch of the river were owned by Hasidic Jews. Although I have seen them only from a distance (As I understand, their religion frowns upon communication with outsiders unless it's absolutely necessary.), they were part of the landscape, if you will. It was odd, to say the least, not to see any along Kent Avenue today.
In a way, it's surprising that these changes didn't happen sooner. The part of Williamsburg along and near Bedford Avenue has long been a hipster haven, and many of the lofts near it were artists' and musicians' studios. As happened neighborhoods like the Village, Soho and Park Slope in past decades, what follows young creative people and wannabes is young money, whether of the yuppie or the preppie variety.
Now, I don't mean for this to be a sociological analysis. Instead, I just want to describe a change I've noticed. Even though I hardly ever had contact with the Hasidic Jews, I somehow felt a kind of kinship with them. As best as I can tell, it has to do with the fact that they're survivors, and I can say that I've had to be one. So, even in my lycra-clad racer-wannabe days, I felt completely at home when I rode through the Hasidic Industrial Zone, if you will.
Plus, they were, I now realize, among the last holdovers of an old way of living and thinking in New York. They worked at the waterfront. They weren't there for the views or the prestige of a waterfront address, mainly because, when they were there, a waterfront address had no prestige. Maybe it's because New York has so much shoreline that residents of the city didn't value--and, it seemed at times, denigrated--the water's edge. The most prestigious addresses in Manhattan (along upper Fifth, Madison and Park Avenues) are the ones furthest from the water. And in Park Slope, the further up the slope--and the further from the water--you go, the more elegant and pricey the brownstones become.
Meanwhile, the waterfront was for laborers, like my uncle who worked at Bush Terminal in Brooklyn. This seeming disdain for its shores was perhaps best seen in this city during the 1950's and 1960's, when the NIMBY projects, like public housing and waste disposal plants, were built along the oceanfront in Far Rockaway and Arverne and along the Hudson and East Rivers in Harlem.
So...I grew up among people who made their living--and, in some cases, lived--by the water. I still feel drawn to it, and to the kinds of people I've talked about, today. Perhaps that is the reason I've connected more easily with my students than with my colleagues.
But today, the few people I saw were at the water's edge, not to work, and not even to play, but for the relative proximity to the skyscrapers they can view from their windows. For some of them, it could just as well be part of the decor, as the remaining piers may as well be.
Don't get me wrong: I met a few people who were friendly enough when I stopped at the pier and went into the Duane Reade store at the base of one of the buildings. Admiring a baby's big blue eyes got me talking with his young parents; a young woman struck up a conversation over my bike when I propped it up by the pier. They all seemed nice enough and if I spent more time with them I might've found common ground. But I have seen the place in which they're living in a way they never could, and they could not even know that the eyes that allow for that way of seeing are fading; no new ones are being born to replace them. Of course that is inevitable: The world has changed, and so has this city and the neighborhood in which those younger people are living.
Jobs like the one my uncle worked no longer exist; the places that employed people like my uncle for those kinds of jobs--some of them located, only a few years ago, where those condo buildings now stand--are also gone. Gone, too, are the expectation that people like my uncle would work in such jobs (or that they would work in a factory, as my father did when I was a kid) and that their wives would stay home with the children they bore, as my mother did until my youngest brother went to school.
Part of me says, "Good riddance." After all, most people wouldn't want to work those jobs if they had other choices. And women, save for ones like the Hasidim, don't have to have children as soon as they're old enough to bear them or marry men so as not to compete with them for their jobs. Plus, if a woman is going to work, she doesn't have to be a nurse, secretary or elementary school teacher, as honorable and necessary as those jobs are.
In some way, I've come to realize that those changes have made my changes possible. I am not bound by those expectations that people once had for males like the one I portrayed or for the woman that I am and have become. So I had the option--though I had to wait many years for the opportunity--of leaving the constraints of my male body without dying. And I did not have to become the sort of woman Christine Jorgensen, bless her soul, became.
That is because the world in which I lived not so long ago no longer exists. Of course, that is a good thing in many ways. But sometimes it's still jarring to see so much change, and that it seems to have happened so quickly, even if I had to wait a long time for it. But here it is. I'm still finding my way around it and getting to know some of the people in it--and myself.
17 January 2010
Well, it seems that the dream of a uterine transplant will come true for a trans woman even sooner than I imagined it would. For the past few days, I've seen stories about Sarah Luiz and her belief that she will become the first transgender woman to give birth.
More than one commentator has said that Ms. Luiz was to the '80's as Christine Jorgensen was to the '50's. She knows this, which is the reason why she has applied to become the first trans woman to receive a uterine transplant. She figures, and she believes the doctors at Downtown Hospital know, that her ability to garner publicity will help them get the money they need to do the research necessary to refine their techniques.
Actually, if any transwoman were chosen to be the first recipient of a uterine transplant, that would generate much more publicity than if a non-transgender woman were to receive it. When I read about the surgery, I had a fleeting temptation to apply for it myself. But I've decided not to, mainly because it's hard for me to rationalize giving birth to a child at this point in my life. After all, by the time that child is a sophomore in high school, I will be eligible to collect Social Security--if indeed it's still available.
Also, I'm not so sure that giving birth will make me more of a woman than I am. Many other women are no more capable of having babies, for any number of reasons, than I am. Yet almost nobody doubts that they're women. Some--including some of those women themselves--may consider them as somehow incomplete or defective women. But in a world--or, at any rate, in any country in which people don't have to give birth to ten children in the hope that four of them will make it to an age in which they can help to support their parents--no one has a responsibility to have children in order to continue the species. Furthermore, women today--again, at least in modern industrial and post-industrial societies--have roles other than those of birthing and nurturing.
One thing I've come to realize is that I am part of what may be the first generation of people to be free of the notion that sex can be justified only for procreative purposes. Some may think it's caused a decline in morality; somehow I get the impression that morality never existed, or at least wasn't as widespread or ingrained as some people seem to think it was. Anyway, I think that being freed of the notion that love must lead to marriage and sex must lead to babies has given us more freedom to define our sexuality and our gender identities--and what those things mean to us--in our own terms.
I think now of how Christine Jorgensen tried so hard to be what women in her place and time were expected to be: As she was researching the new science of gender reassignment, she was also studying to be a nurse because it was considered to be a "woman's job." I also think of how being able to "go stealth" was considered the sign of a successful transition, and how I believed I wouldn't be able to pull it off. And, naturally, my self-esteem rose faster than a rocket Amanda Simpson helped to design whenever I "passed." What that meant was that I seemed more or less like what people expect a woman of my age to be.
Another thing I've come to realize is that, just as the definitions of sexuality have expanded with every person who defines him or her self in his or her own terms, each of us who decides to live by the gender of our mind and spirits rather than what's on our birth certificates is also expanding the definitions of "male," "female," "man," "woman," "boy" and "girl." Even the ones about whom people marvel, "I couldn't tell" change our ideas about gender.
So, it's a most interesting irony that Sarah Luiz is trying to become more like what people have traditionally defined as a woman and that in doing so, she's actually helping to change the definition of "woman, " just as "the man who had a baby" will have contributed to such a change.
As for me...I don't think I need to have a baby in order to feel complete. Perhaps I will feel differently as I spend more time in my new life. But I never before had any wish to have a child, mainly because I felt that someone as conflicted and as full of self-loathing as I was would not make a good parent. I don't regret that decision; I've seen too many kids who were born to such parents (or, worse, to parents who didn't want them). Still, I think it's great that I and many other women (I'm not talking only about trans women.) may soon have yet another choice to make--and another opportunity to define for ourselves what it means to be a woman or man, or, perhaps, something we haven't named yet.