31 January 2010

Trannies, Trains and Creativity

Today my long-lost cousin called. Well, actually, he's newly-found, as I am to him. You see, near the end of August, he and I met for the first time since I was about ten years old and he was in his 20's. So you might say that each of us changed a bit. That tends to happen to people when you don't see them for 40 years.

Ironically, through all those years, he'd been living just a few neighborhoods away from where I live now. In fact, I pass his house, more or less, on my way to work.

Anyway, he made an interesting proposition: In late March and early April, he's driving to Nevada. Like me, he won't be working during that week, which is Spring Recess for the school system and the college. So, he thought, I might be interested. And he'd like the company.

So far I've enjoyed his company. And, after all, he's a relative. Also, I've never crossed the continent on the ground. I sometimes think I'd like to pedal coast-to-coast, but I never had any fantasies of driving across the country. Then again, I might enjoy the ride with him.

He's going to Nevada, so it won't quite be a coast-to-coast trip. His mission: To retrieve a set of electric trains that he had as a boy. It's currently with another cousin who lives out there. They found out that to properly pack and insure the trains and related accessories for shipping, it would cost several hundred dollars. So, my cousin reasons, it makes sense to go out there and fetch them. Plus, he doesn't have to worry about whether my other cousin will pack them properly or what will happen to them in transit. They probably would be worth something to a collector, but the sentimental value is equally important.

Well, I said, I'm happy he asked. But Marilynne and her daughter have talked about coming up this way during that time. And, if they didn't, I was thinking of going to see my parents. But if it doesn't look like either of those things will happen, I'll go.

I don't recall the train set he's talking about, but if I saw it, I might. It seems that when I was growing up, everyone--or at least my relatives--had electric trains snaking around Christmas presents and dioramas of Currier and Ives-like Christmas Village scenes. Young boys always seemed to be fascinated with the trains: putting them together, assembling the track and all of the stuff that went with them, and of running the trains. I was, too. There was even a time I wanted to be a train engineer. But I think it had as much to do with those cool caps the engineers always wore, and the places those trains went, in the movies or on TV as it had to do with actually piloting a train--which was appealing in and of itself. I used to love riding trains with my grandfather, and he was always happy to take me for a trip on one.

Somewhere along the way, I lost my desire--however naive--to become a train engineer and my fascination with electric trains. In fact, I sold the set of Lionels I had as a kid to help pay for my first year at Rutgers. Kids who keep their fascination with model railroads and grow into men who keep up their boyhood train fantasies almost always become interested in the mechanical and engineering aspects of trains and railroading. I never did. In fact, I wasn't terribly technically oriented: I can fix bicycles but I never could handle anything much more complex. And, these days, with my limited time, I'd rather pay someone to do a major repair. I also don't tinker with my bikes the way I once did: When I have time, I'd rather ride, write, read or meet a friend.

A lack of interest and aptitude for mechanical and technical things is supposed to be a female trait. So is a lack of interest in, or even a fear of, math and science. I'll admit that somewhere in the morass of trigonometry and calculus, I was left in the digital dust. I find science interesting to the extent that I understand it, which was less and less every year that I was in school.

So, if those are such stereotypically female traits. why are so many male-to-female transsexuals --at least, so many of the ones I hear about--in scientific and technical fields? I've learned of transgendered rocket scientists (see Amanda Simpson and "A.E.Brain"), computer scientists and engineers. Rhiannon O' Donnahbain, whom I mentioned yesterday, is an engineer. So is Nancy Jean Burkholder, who was barred from attending the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival in 1990. Another transgendered engineer is Sabrina Marcus Taraboletti, who started "Morning Glow" (the predecessor of The Morning After House in Trinidad, CO). Sabrina, for whom the room in which I stayed at the Morning After House is named, describes herself as a "gear head."

I don't know why so many male-to-female (MTF) transgenders are in scientific and technical fields. Some might say they were "overcompensating" or trying to show that they were "really men" until they accepted themselves. The same explanation is given for MTFs who were cops, fighter pilots and in any number of stereotypically masculine fields before transitioning. I even have explained my participation in sports in the same way. However, I think that even though it may be true for some MTFs, it's not the whole story.

I suspect that another reason why MTFs like the ones I've mentioned become rocket scientists and engineers and such is that such fields are, in their own ways, creative. In other words, they require the ability to solve problems by "thinking outside the box." That, I believe, is something women have to do more often than men realize and that we, as transgender women, have to do in order to become ourselves.

Also, because those fields are creative in the way I just mentioned, they encompass both "left brain" and "right brain" skills. If one continually has to bridge those parts of the brain, it's not a stretch, really, to transverse the gap between genders. In other words, if someone is female but has to live as male, it's not such a leap--for someone with mathematical and scientific aptitude--to be a rational, scientific person who operates, in effect, as an artist. Or vice-versa.

That makes me think of something Marci says: that she sees herself as an artist first. That, she believes, is what enables her to perform genital reassignment and reconstruction surgeries that result in such realistic-looking (and -functioning) genitalia.

Now, I'm not a scientist. So make what you will of the things I've just said. It's the best explanation I can offer for now. Meanwhile, I'm going to think about taking that trip with my cousin so that he can retrieve his electric trains.

30 January 2010

No Deduction, Just My Life

"Can you deduct that?"

If you live in the USA and you've been reading this blog, you know what that question refers to. "That" is the cost of my surgery and the question refers to my tax return.

Someone asked me that question and that led me to do some research. I suspected the answer was "no," but I figured it would be worth checking out.

Alas, my suspicions have been confirmed. Even though someone challenged the IRS on this question a couple of years ago, their rule--or, more precisely, the way they interpret and implement their rule--hasn't changed.

Actually, one transgender woman argued that the cost of her treatments was deductible under the IRS guidelines. Rhiannon O'Donnahbain, from what I understand, is still appealing the verdict that said she couldn't. The IRS claims that sex reassignment surgery (SRS) is a cosmetic procedure, and that such procedures are deductible only if it is necessary "to improve a disfigurement related to a congenital abnormality, disfiguring disease or accidental injury." (I found this in J.K. Lasser's Your Income Tax, 2009-2010. Who knew that transitioning would lead me to reading stuff like that late at night, when I should be getting my beauty sleep!)

Anyway...Considering what a small percentage of the population we are, those of us diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder have a "congenital abnormality," in the strictest sense of the word. That our bodies don't reflect our gender identities sounds something like a disfigurement, if you ask me. If you are among the great majority of people who never has to think about whether you are an "F" or an "M," and simply cannot imagine being anything but whichever one you were identified by, try to think of what it would be like if your genitals--indeed, your body--did not match your identity. I'm not talking about wanting to be better-looking or stronger or whatever; I am talking about what, for most people, is the most basic component of their identities--which, of course, is exactly the reason why most of you, and most of them, never have to think about it.

To put SRS, and the prerequisite treatments, in the same category as liposuction, Botox treatments or breast implants (which, by the way, the IRS allowed an exotic dancer to deduct) is ludicrous. But that is what the court's decision in Ms. O'Donnabhain's case does. She says that the treatments and surgery saved her life; I would say the same for my own treatments, surgery and life. Just about any other trans person would say the same thing. In fact, of the trans people who don't transiton, nearly one in three commit suicide. That statistic includes two friends of mine. It might've included me, too. As it happened, I abused alcohol and other substances in my youth and went through a series of relationships that didn't work because, in essence, I was trying to relate as someone I wasn't. Plenty of other trans people have similar stories. If the treatments and surgery put an end to those problems, how could they not fit into the IRS, or any other, guidelines?

Today I am still astounded at how decades of depression and self-loathing ended literally overnight when I started my transition and how my mental health has improved from there as a result of my surgery. Of course, that's way better and more important than any deduction the IRS will or won't allow: as far as I know, such a deduction, while good to have and a signal of fair and equal treatment under the law, is not itself a reason or purpose for living.

So, for now, I can only say something like c'est la vie to not having a deduction. I don't have the time or resources to challenge that; I hope that someone else will and that future trans people will have that deduction and other things that would make us equal, under the law, to everyone else. For now, I am happy to have had the operation, and will try start the support group for transgenders 45 or older that I have discussed with Tom at SAGE, and to help Dwayne with the shelter he wants to open for homeless lesbians and trans women. Those are the sorts of things you do when you're a "lover, not a fighter," but have been forced to be an advocate and activist.

So...no deduction. At least I have what I can't deduct, and the life it is giving me.

29 January 2010

Ramble On Waking Up Late

It's amazing how quickly the day goes by when you wake up late. I'm not so surprised about waking up late: Yesterday, the first day of the semester, was a Thursday, which will be my longest day of the week this semester, as it is in most semesters. It started with an 8 am class, and my last class didn't end until almost 6 pm. And, in between, it seemed that everyone was having a crisis. That's about normal for the first day of a semester at any college I've seen. Maybe things are different in the military colleges like West Point or in Swiss colleges. Then again, I never wanted to go to either one. Well, a Swiss school, maybe. And my father wanted me to go to one of the Armed Forces academies.

And how much sleep did I get the other night? About 2 1/2 hours. I probably shouldn't have bothered. I was preparing my syllabi and doing some other things to prepare, which took me a bit longer than I expected. Turning on Obama's speech didn't help. Even if he weren't the President, I probably wouldn't have slept through his speech, or any other he's given. Yes, he is probably the best speaker of any major public figure we've had since Martin Luther King, Jr. or Malcolm X. But Obama certainly doesn't have the vision--or, I think, the pure- and- simple grasp of reality--that either MLK or Malcolm had.

Even though I voted for Obama, he's really starting to seem scary to me. I can almost agree with those people who say that, at times, he seems like Hitler. It's in his body language: ramrod-still, except for his arm when he's jabbing his finger toward his audience.

The thing that really worries me about him, though, is this: No matter what issue is at hand, it's always about him. People like that aren't just frightening; they're dangerous. In fact, that trait alone makes him, given the current climate, far more dangerous than George W ever was. Bush the Younger was easily the worst President of my lifetime (Then again, Carter had only one term.), but I don't think he was the megalomaniac that Barry can be. Rather, I suspect that, if anything, he was a sort of King Lear figure who was led around by The Dark Side (personified by Dick Cheyney, who did the bidding of the military-industrial-financial plutocrats who really run things) and those who were simply mendacious or murderous. If anything, George II might have actually done better if he had been a bit more egotistical. Maybe those two could effect some sort of exchange.

All right...I shouldn't criticise Obama for everything being about him. After all, I've been writing in this blog, right. But then again, I never claimed that this blog is about anything but me. It's called "Transwoman Times," but I don't claim that the expereinces I describe and anything else on this blog are "typical" of transwomen, whatever that means.

I know, I'm rambling. I haven't had to be very focused today. I did a few errands. In the process, I probably frightened off a few kids and pets. Maybe a few adults, too. Actually, I probably appalled the adults, if they noticed me. I brushed my hair and put on some lipstick before I went out. When I got a glimpse of myself in the Starbuck's restroom, I saw the face of a middle-aged woman who'd just rolled out of bed, brushed her hair and put on lipstick. And I hope the transgender goddesses don't condemn me for the way I was dressed, much less for the weight I've gained. O great tranny goddess, you know that life doesn't always happen at our convenience. I had my surgery; for a few weeks after that, I had almost no appetite. But my appetite came back before I could ride my bike or engage in any other physical activity--and just in time for the holidays.

28 January 2010

Where Does It Begin Or End?

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

Is Prometheus What Pandora Would Have Been Had She Been A Man?

Last night the drizzle turned into rain. It became a torrent that raged, with the stiff winds, against my windows. At least I didn't have to go anywhere today. Even so, I did my laundry when the rain let up a while: the laundromat is only half a block from my apartment. The only other person there was the owner, who was fixing something and chatting me up. He is kinda cute.

Anyway...I'm thinking now about a comment "Jeanne Genet" (I love the tag!) made on my posting about my new vagina. She said I overestimate "how comfortable women who were born with the stuff feel about it." Fair enough: There's still so much I am learning, must learn and will probably never learn about being a woman, or at least being a woman as most women experience it. One of the things I just learned, courtesy of "Jeanne," that "women in general are more detached from their 'stuff' than men are, less aware of how it feels to/in them." I may not know much, but I know enough to agree with her when she says she finds that situation "bizarre."

That, by the way, is one of the points Eve Ensler was making with The Vagina Monologues. I guess that's one of the reasons why the play was meaningful to me even before I started my transition, much less my surgery. Even then, I could see that so much was at stake with a woman's knowledge, or lack thereof, about her body. One reason, of course, is that most women are capable of bearing children and the majority will do so. That means that a woman's health affects not only her life, but the life of someone she hasn't seen face-to-face but knows intimately even before he or she arrives in this world.

But even for those women who have no capacity or desire to reproduce, the stakes in knowing or not knowing about their bodies are, in some ways, even greater than they are for men's familiarity or ignorance of their bodies. Perhaps I am saying that now because I have had to pay attention to not only what I have, but what has been created and what has been developing. For one thing, there is the possibility of infections and other issues that women experience but men don't.

Even more important, though, is the way an external factor such as the cleanliness of my bathtub or towels can turn into an internal matter in ways that never could have happened when I had male genitalia. I'm talking, of course, about infections and such that can develop down there. They can retard or even stop the further development of my new organs. That is not merely a cosmetic issue; it can also affect my health in other ways.

I'm guessing that other women experience parallel, if not similar, problems. But knowing one's body is not just a matter of preventative medicine, as important as that is. Rather, I think it is also a way of learning about one's self. I mean, really, how can you not be interested in learning about yourself? Perhaps my perspective is colored by the fact that I have a vagina, and to a great degree, the body I now have, by choice. But I feel that knowing what one's body can do, and respecting its limitations, is a very important way to learn about one's capabilities, or simply to feel more confident and happy. That's really the reason why a lot of people take martial arts classes: Yes, they want to defend themselves. But they also feel so much more confident when they truly understand their bodies' capabilities.

It's funny that when I was in as good condition as some professional athletes--and in better shape than about 95 percent of men my age--I didn't know very much about my body at all. I just pushed it as hard as I could and gave it the nourishment it needed. Tammy once remarked that for someone who was in as good physical condition as I was, I had surprisingly little self-confidence and even less self-esteem.

Now that I think of it, I realize that lack of self-esteem may well be, if not the reason, then at least an important reason, why I didn't accomplish more than I did, given my status at the time as a white male.

But I've digressed a bit. Why is it that women are "more detached from their stuff"? Something tells me that it isn't a lack of desire to know more; I know enough to know it isn't that women are less intelligent (!) than men.

The short answer is, of course, is that most anatomical and medical knowledge comes from a male point of view; even the ways of learning about them are male-centered. The male-centeredness of medical education has been alluded to for decades; it seems that although things are changing, male is still seen as the "default" gender in medicine and that women's medical issues still receive much less attention than those of men. Also, Freudian psychology is notorious for thinking of women as unfinished men, which means, by extension, that a clitoris is an undeveloped penis. (Aside: I'm a living argument against his notion of "penis envy!") It seems to me that the resulting lack of information about women as women can only exacerbate whatever other inducements not to learn, or disincentives to learn, women seem to absorb from their schools, families and cultures.

I grew up with none of that discouragement to learn about my body, much less the prohibitions some religions place on women gaining knowledge about themselves in any way. In other words, I did not grow up with, or carry into my adult life, the idea that I am auxiliary, or an accessory to, some man. That, ironically enough, gave me the means and permission to learn about my body, but it also gave me the luxury of not having to know too much about it. After all, whatever I didn't know, some man--whether or not he was a medical professional--would know.

Plus, I didn't want to know too much about my body because, well, it never felt like my body. Or, at least, it wasn't the body I felt I was supposed to have, much less wanted.

Now I have, at least after some fashion, the kind of body I wanted, and was meant, to have. That, of course, makes me more interested in it. But I also feel, in some way, more protective of her--I'm talking about Ms. V, of course!--than I might otherwise feel because I had to wait until I entered middle age to find her. And now I am experiencing, in some way, another kind of puberty as my vagina and clitoris develop, and the tissues and hair develop around her.

Now I understand, a little bit, why people like Eve Ensler believe that knowledge of their bodies is a political issue. In Western democracies (actual or so-called), women still have less access to knowledge of their bodies than men have about theirs. And we also have less status, overall, than men have. In some countries, such as conservative theocracies (I'm not talking about Muslim ones, now.), women have even less access to such knowledge and to the care we need. Some countries, such as Afghanistan under the Taliban and Saudi Arabia (which exists courtesy of the American taxpayer), take things even further by mandating that women be completely enshrouded and by keeping them out of public life. When you can see the world only through a grille around your eyes, nobody can see--or hear--you. To my admittedly Western and bourgeois eyes, that's a form of living interment. It's no wonder that when such repressive laws were enacted, the state of women's health, not to mention their education and overall well-being, plummeted.

In the so-called advanced countries, most women don't have dominion over much besides their bodies. And even that ownership is tenuous because most of what little information women have about their bodies is from a male point of view. So I can only imagine what life has been like for Afghani or Saudi women, or even women in countries like Ireland until fairly recently.

Anyway...I didn't mean for this to be a treatise or a call to arms. But "Jeanne Genet" made me aware of at least one way in which my experience as a woman is, and most likely always will be, different from that of other women.

24 January 2010

Sunday Mist And Drizzle

When does a mist become a drizzle? When you go outside.

At least, that's how it seemed today. No mist is finer than the one you see through your window; the moment it touches your skin, it is no longer drifting. Then it has fallen; it has become a drizzle.

On Sundays, most people will experience it through their windows: as a mist. If it continues, it turns to rain on Monday.

All right: Now I've given you a local weather report and forecast. You came to this blog to read that, right?

Anyway...This is the first Sunday mist and drizzle I'm experiencing in this new apartment. (In a couple of days, I'll have lived here for two months. I guess it's still a new place for me.) It's funny that a couple of days ago I thought that I'd never see the kind of light I used to see around the old place on misty Sundays. It is, in some ways, even more stark than what one sees on the clearest and coldest day of every winter. That is because the light that has become of the mist from the river, which was only a block away from my old apartment, seemed to focus the hard if not sharp edges of the warehouses and shops, empty on Sunday, and the rows of sometimes-shabby but sturdy houses where many sleep and others retreat.

Here, the rows of brick houses and buildings seem to take depth from, yet add texture to, the misty air. It's like a kind of Pointillist painting, except that the grains that make up the image are even finer, and that image is on an even greater scale. I will risk triteness in saying that it is perhaps more romantic--in a very bourgeois (which I don't mean derogatorily) way. On the other hand, the light and mist around my old place, in its definition by sharper lines through a more encompassing kind of veil that drapes itself over the buildings and anything else that happens to be outside, seems somehow more apropos of an industrial, blue-collar neighborhood. There, it is definitely a drizzle and, as often as not, turns to rain.

It seems that mist and drizzle filled every Sunday of the first fall and spring I spent at the old place. They were also the last fall and spring I spent before I began to live full-time as Justine. Now, seven years later, I've had my surgery and it seems that I'm still early in the first chapter of my new life. That means, of course, the mist cannot remain a mist for long: It will become a drizzle--that is to say, change. Naturally, I do not, and probably cannot, know what kind of change I'll experience, save for what has already been planned. All I know is that there will be some rain and some sun, and whatever's in between.

23 January 2010

A Familiar Shore In A New Life

Probably no cinematic scene is more emblazoned in my consciousness than the one that ends Le Quatre Cents Coups, a.k.a. The 400 Blows. Antoine Doinel, a boy of about twelve years old, lives in a dysfunctional home (to put it mildly!) and spirals downward from schoolboy mischief to petty crime in the neighborhood near Le Moulin Rouge. At various points in the film, he says he wants to see the ocean. After he is arrested, his mother asks whether he could be sent to a seaside reform school. Of course, the truant officer is none too willing to oblige; he says something to the effect that he wasn't running a resort.

Anyway, he's sent to a kind of military school where, during a football game, he escapes and keeps on running until he reaches the sea. When his feet touch the water, he turns his head and his face fills with an expression that has probably been interpreted in more ways than any other facial expression save for the Mona Lisa's. It's a combination of relief, release, conquest and a sense of what Yeats meant by "a terrible beauty is born."

Now, I'm not sure that whatever expression I wore today on the Coney Island Pier is nearly as enigmatic or interesting as Antoine's. But I'm sure I must have shown some of the sense of release--I could feel it--and what I like to call a sense of Zen ecstasy. And, of course, I've been to the ocean many times before. But this is the first time I've ridden my bike there in more than six months.

It was cold, but not terribly so, and there was no wind or precipitation. And the almost pristinely clear sky was almost too bright for reflections: The sun and the clear sky actually seemed to light the water from within, so that the waves flickered like nearly translucent lapis lazuli flames. Even though the air was chilly and the water, I'm sure, was very cold, I felt those colors and the refulgence of the sun glowing within me.

A new life, or a new stage in one's life, is often referred to as a new (and distant) shore. I wonder whether anyone ever thinks about reaching a familiar shore in a new life. Actually, I think that's part of what Zen teaches.

I'm thinking now about a day very early in my life as Justine. I rode my bike to the Coney Island boardwalk, as I did today. And I had a flashback to myself on a beach one Sunday in October during my senior year of high school. It amazes me now that more kids don't run away from home or do even more reckless things at that time in their lives: The pressure of expectations is so great even for a kid who's not struggling with his or her gender identity or sexuality. That tug-of-war between what parents, teachers and other adults want a kid to do and what that kid might actually want to do exacerbates, and is exacerbated by, the tension between the sort of person the kid wants to be, or realizes he or she is, and what the parents and other adults hope for. In my case, it meant that I would apply to West Point and Annapolis because my father and some other adults in my life wanted me to become a military officer. I think women were admitted to those academies the year after I applied to them, and at that time, the number of female officers was probably smaller than the number of male women's studies professors. So, of course, being a military officer would mean living very much as a man.

Anyway, on that long-ago day, I could only see more of the same struggles. In other words, I was seeing what I now call the Eternal Present: Everything ahead of you is just another version of what's in front of you. So, while I could apply to colleges and make plans to prepare myself to become an officer or a doctor or whatever, I simply could not envision the person who would be whatever I was supposed to become at the end of that training. What others dreamt for me was invariably predicated on my becoming a man, or at least their idea of what a man is. And, of course, that is exactly what I couldn't be even if I'd wanted to.

So today's bike ride brought me back to a place where I'd struggled, and first began to reconcile with that battle. In other words, it brought me to a familiar shore in a new life. At least now I can hope the familiarity is a blessing, or at least an advantage. If nothing else, it made me happy, if tired.

22 January 2010

Sleep And Body Heat

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

When I Started To Learn What Is Mine

Tonight I got to see Dwayne again. Even though I saw him about two weeks ago, it felt like a reunion all over again. He says that I am a different person from the one he first met about seven and a half years ago, and he loves seeing what I've become, and what I'm becoming.

You may think I'm flattering or aggrandizing myself when I mention that here. Perhaps I am. But I don't really care: What he said is special, and so is seeing him again, because he is the very first person to whom I "came out."

If I've already told this story, could you please indulge me in telling it again? Dwayne was working as an intake counselor at Center Care, the Mental Health Services section of the LGBT Community Center of New York. The day I came in, I knew nobody there and had no idea of whom I would meet. I just knew I had to talk to someone who would understand what I was feeling, or at least steer me to someone who could.

I knew my relationship with Tammy--and the life I was living as a result of it--had been slipping away from me for about a year. Actually, it was already out of my grasp by that day, and I knew that there was no way of getting it back. Nor was there any reason to hold on to it, even if I could. But I would not acknowledge that my previous life was already gone: that, in fact, I never had it in the first place. In other words, it was never mine.

Sometimes I still miss Tammy. We had some very good times together: In fact, the first two years I spent with her were the best time in my pre-transition life. And she shared more of my interests than any other lover, and any but one or two friends, I've ever had. But I also knew, in my heart of hearts, that it couldn't last. I tried to deny that fact to myself: I told myself that I was falling into an old habit of waiting for the other shoe to drop. But, if nothing else, I finally learned why the other shoe would invariably drop. And it had nothing to do with cynicism or bad karma: The shoe dropped because it couldn't stay on my foot--because it didn't fit.

By the day I met Dwayne, the shoe had dropped and hit the floor with a loud thud. So, I knew that trying to put that shoe back on wasn't the solution. Whatever I wore next would have to fit, whether it was a combat boot or a candy-apple red patent stiletto pump--or a bedroom slipper.

I was thinking about all of this as I saw Dwayne, and about the post I wrote yesterday. Now I have, and am finding, what fits me. Of course, I'm talking about the results of my surgery, not to mention the therapy and all of the work I've done on my own. Dwayne helped me to take the very first steps I took in the shoes that fit, along a path that has turned out to be right for me.

And tonight I got to spend time with him after I finally wrote those words yesterday: my vagina. My life. My name. My work. My relationships. My thoughts, my impressions, my observations, all rendered in my language, as ungraceful as it may be. Or, its lack of refinement may just be a reflection of its newness to me, and mine to it.

The funny thing is that because that language was really a part of me all along, it's that much more of a struggle sometimes to learn, just as I'm experiencing the growing pains of my new body parts taking me through a new puberty--one that is entirely my own.

Throughout my life, I've learned all sorts of things as quickly as I could forget them. Sometimes I meet one of my classes in a room in which a math class met the hour before my class. When I arrive, the blackboard is full of equations and other symbols that mean nothing to me now, but that I learned long ago--and forgot the day after the class in which I learned them ended. Likewise, I once learned some German with surprisingly little effort. But whenever I see anything in that language, it's as indecipherable to me as the equations some math prof left on the board of my classroom.

Perhaps learning what is truly mine takes effort simply because it reaches deeper into myself than those other things I learned, including so many of the skills I used to live as a male. Maybe I feel a good kind of tiredness from the work I put into what I'm learning now--and from the way my body and soul are developing--because I am so much more engaged, and learning has become a passionate rather than a passive experience for me. You might say that nothing I'm learning now is theoretical or hypothetical: It's all as concrete and immediate as learning how to walk or use my hands. Except, of course, I'm learning so much more than that!

Dwayne understands that. He saw how it all began for me. Maybe it's true that a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle. But sometimes a woman can use a really good "butch" like Dwayne! --or anyone who can help her learn what is or isn't hers.

19 January 2010

Mine: Becoming Mine

Neither the students nor I can believe that the winter session is almost over: just two more days of classes. This means, of course, that the year is more than two weeks old. Is it still a "new" year?

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

A Bike Ride Into Change

I just had to get out of the house and on my bike, even if only for a little bit. And even if I still had a heavy cold.

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

Giving Birth To New Definitions Of Ourselves

When I began my current life, I had assumed that there were two things I would never have: XX chromosomes and a uterus. Somehow I had the feeling that even though I never would have either one, sometime in my lifetime some trans woman would be fortunate enough to get them.

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.