28 February 2010

February Made Us Shiver

It warmed up to about 45F (7C) today, so much of the snow melted. Still, there was a lot of slush in the streets and there still could be icy or slick spots, so I didn't go bike riding. It's not as if I'm training for the Tour de France. Still, I'm itching to get back on my bike. Those few little rides I've taken have whetted my appetite.

Plus, the Winter Olympics ended today. So now I just want winter to be done, over with, so I can get out and ride.

I'm thinking now of that line from American Pie: But February made me shiver/With every paper I'd deliver. In those lines, Don McLean captured the feeling of the month that's ending today: It's indisputably winter; Spring isn't around the corner and the holidays are long past.

Someone once asked what the song meant. His reply: "That I'd never have to work again"--or something to that effect. I don't recall that he recorded anything after the eponymous album. For that matter, I don't think he even performed again. Somehow I can imagine him moving into the woods of New Hampshire, as the recently-departed J.D. Salinger did. The difference is, McLean didn't become famous for not doing much of anything after his masterpiece, as Salinger did after Catcher In The Rye. For some reason, no one seems to have stalked McLean for interviews he wouldn't give, as so many journalists and fans did to Salinger.

Other than their reclusiveness, what other reason is there to mention Salinger and McLean in the same post? It occurs to me now that they are both essentially conservatives, at least if Pie and Catcher are indicators. In American Pie, McLean basically laments the sixties, the decade that had just passed before he wrote and recorded that song. Bad news on the doorstep; I couldn't take one more step. He felt that "the day the music died" was the day Buddy Holly perished in a plane crash; apres ca, la deluge. To me, American Pie is Stairway to Heaven without drugs or the sexual revolution. Some might say that it reflects an infantile desire to continue his adolescence; others have said the same about Catcher in the Rye and, for that matter, almost anything Mark Twain wrote before Letters From the Earth.

As for Catcher: Its protagonist, Holden Caulfield, has been called a rebellious teenager. How can anyone say that about a young man who says he wishes he could write a letter to Thomas Hardy to tell him how great a writer he is, and that he likes Evelyn Waugh, too, but not enough to write him a letter? I mean, I like Hardy, too: In fact, I think he's very underrated as a poet. But I wouldn't say that liking him is exactly an act of rebellion unless your elders were all fans of Ezra Pound and post-modern fiction.

I'll bet February made Holden Caulfield shiver, too. Yet somehow it's hard to imagine what he would be after a "summer of love." I don't think he would be quite like McLean, or the narrator of McLean's song. Then again, it's hard to see McLean's narrator having much sympathy with Holden, or whatever he might have become.

What they have in common with each other, and the rest of us, is that for them, and us, tomorrow will be March. Will it usher in the spring, or will it be a continuation of winter by other means that will end only with summer--of love, or other things?

27 February 2010

What Cats Know About Gender

Max is climbing all over me again. Earlier, Charlie was doing the same. They've always been very affectionate cats, but ever since I've returned from having my surgery, they can't seem to get enough of me. I thought they'd get used to having me again a few days or a couple of weeks after I came home. But they're just as greedy for me as they were the night I came back from Trinidad.

I'm thinking now about a few nights ago, when Sara and Dee stopped by my place. It was the first time Dee had been to my apartment, and almost as soon as she settled into my couch, Max climbed on her. He clung to her and purred loudly and deeply, as he does for me. Dee--who, as best as I can tell, is a woman only in the sense that she has XX chromosomes, and who has said that she'd make the transition to male if she were younger, had fewer health problems and better finances--worried that Max was attracted to her "as a woman."

I assured her that Max was simply an "aggressively friendly" cat and would climb on anyone who didn't resist him. Well, that statement was a bit of a stretch, as I've only had a few people to my place since I adopted Max. One, Millie, rescued him from the streets, so of course he loves her. And he tried to climb on Nina, but I had to pull him away because she's allergic. Ditto for my old landlady. He also climbed on Tami, who is most definitely female and has a few more cats than I have. Let's see...Who else did Max "conquer?" Well, he used to climb on Dominick whenever he came over. He's lived with cats--and dogs--all of his life and knows how to treat them.

Hey...Now it occurs to me that almost everyone I voluntarily spend time with is female. Anyway, Max tried to sit on all of them. Charlie, once he got to know them a bit, would curl up with them. But now I wonder: Do they really like women better than men? Or are they simply more used to women?

I've heard people say that cats like women because we're similar in sensibility to them. Someone else, I forget who, said that cats know we'll make a fuss over, and speak soothingly to, them. Either theory seems plausible enough. Still, I have to wonder whether cats actually know a human's gender--and if they do, whether it makes any difference to them.

Before I adopted Charlie, I had another cat with the same name and a very similar gray and white coat. He used to rub himself on my hand when I was holding the phone receiver--and talking to a woman. It didn't matter which woman; Charlie liked them all.

The day I met him, he was rolling and curling around the other kittens in his litter. They were born to a cat who lived with a friend of a friend; I had gone to her house with the intention of adopting one of those kittens. But, to my delight, Charlie adopted me: When he looked at me, he and I both knew that he was going home with me. Janette, who was the chaplain at Housing Works during the brief time I worked there, said that it was proof that I am indeed female, even though I was living otherwise. "He knew before you were ready to," she quipped.

What I find interesting is that Caterina and Candice, the two female cats I've lived with, were the same way with me and other women. So were both of Tammy's cats--a female and a male.

Hmm...Now I'm wondering whether cats are a gender unto themselves. One thing I know is that, on the whole, they--whether male or female--are drawn more to females than males of the human species. Does this mean that all cats are lesbians or straight males?

Whatever they are, they probably think we're silly. And that's exactly what they love and use in us. And many humans, like me, are only too happy to indulge them. Given my history with cats, how could I not?

Whatever their motivations, they know how to make us happy.

26 February 2010

Another Storm

Yesterday morning, the wind drove the rain and whipped the snow around. That, of course, made the weather seem even colder than it actually was. The rain and snow melded into something wet, heavy and frozen that was neither rain or snow but turned, instead, into needles that pricked the cold, wet wind into the pores they opened.

Toward evening, those raindrops/snowflakes puffed into white, almost cloudlike clumps that were still too dense and wet to be called flakes. Surprisingly, students in the last class I taught actually paid attention to the lesson. Of course, once that class ended, most of them left campus as quickly as they could.

I stayed for a while after class ended. I had work to do, and I figured that the snow wasn't going to affect the subway, at least not too much. I normally don't mind being out in the snow, at least when it's fluffy. But last night's precipitation was merely slush in whiteface, so I wasn't especially eager to venture out into it, even though I wanted to leave the college and go home.

In a way, my desire to go home was ironic. This winter has seemed, if not brutal, at least endless, as it seems to have grabbed us on Thanksgiving weekend, when I moved into my current place. My friends are elsewhere. So, I feel, are the allies and friendly colleagues I have had at the college. The prof with whom I talked most often is out on maternity leave. Others seem less friendly. I thought that was merely my own perception, or misperception, but Anita, who used to work as an office manager in the writing program, also seems to think so. She brought it up during our conversation after we bumped into each other in a ladies' room. I hadn't seen her in at least a year, since she was transferred to another department in another part of the campus I have almost no reason to go to.

The prof whose office is across from mine has been rather friendly since we broke the ice early last semester. However, I hardly talk to some of the faculty members with whom I used to spend time. That's happening as I--and they--spend more time on campus, partly because our class sizes and the demands placed on us have increased, and partly because of the weather. Under those conditions, I feel sometimes as if we were in a modern-day iteration of Hitler's bunkers.

When people are hunkered down in the same place away from the same storm, that doesn't always produce camaraderie, much less empathy or friendship. But weathering the same storm might. At least, that seems to have happened on my way home last night, when I met a young trans woman in the ATM vestibule. She's new to town, and I told her where to go for counseling, medical care and other things.

She is in--or, at least, she is entering--storms like the one I've weathered. Perhaps we will meet again. Perhaps the storm will pass, or at least lessen, for her.

25 February 2010

From Snow Blindness to a Warm Glow

Just got in out of the blizzard that's wrapped around this city like a scarf tossed by the wind. From the intersection at the end of my block to my apartment, I didn't see anything at all. I literally walked home with my eyes closed: It was the only way I could navigate the squalls of snow and ice. I abandoned an umbrella that a gust tore apart; I covered my face with my scarf but wished I had a pair of ski goggles. Then again, they would have only kept those needles of snow and ice from blowing into my eyes; I don't think they would have allowed me to see very much in front of me.

As I type this, I'm eating some tostones with Mexican white cheese melted over them. The tostones are like tortilla chips, only bigger, flatter (though not totally flat) and more intensely flavorful: I can really taste the nuttiness and graininess of the corn from which they're made, which is one reason why I love them. But, tonight I'm also eating them for the same reason I'd eat a grilled cheese sandwich, or anything else that's a vehicle for something hot and gooey and full of fat. I'm munching them between sips of the chicken broth I heated up.

As soon as I finish filling myself with hot viscosity, I'm going to dilate, take my mandatory (as if I'm protesting!) hot bath and go to bed. That's about the only sane place to be on a night like this!

24 February 2010


I really think that paper multiplies. I don't think it reproduces itself through sex--at least, I've never seen that. That leads me to wonder whether it replicates itself by spreading spores onto desktops that grow into full-fledged folios. Or, perhaps, whether it divides like an amoeba and grows only to divide again.

It seems that no matter how many papers I read, there's another stack. Those papers are like the brooms in Fantasia. I guess that around Memorial Day, those papers will start behaving themselves, at least for a little while: until I teach again, whenever that is!

So, now I'm wondering what birth control for papers would be. And, would they be willing to practice such a thing?

Just when I'm feeling tired and cranky from looking at all of those papers, the very person who doesn't understand the phrase, "I can't talk to you right now!" calls. That person, who also doesn't listen to much of anything I say, calls my work phone, which doesn't have call ID. Or, that person will call my home phone from a restricted number. And I end up spending an hour on the phone with that person.

Am I describing a corollary or two to Murphy's Law?

All right...I'll stop whining. I guess I can't have wonderful epiphanies and reunions every day.

I feel a bit better physically than I did yesterday. But whatever I have is running its course: I still feel tired and, after that call, even crankier than I was.

Now I'm realizing that it's been almost three months since I've moved. Although the place in which I live is a bit nicer, and the neighborhood more convenient, I still don't quite feel like it's home yet. I don't know anyone I didn't know the day I moved there; on the day I moved onto the block from which I moved, I met people who would become friends. It was a hot, sunny August day, and my first days on that block came at the end of summer and the beginning of fall, when people spent time outdoors. On the other hand, I moved into my current place just as winter was beginning, or so it seemed. And this winter has been colder and wetter than the past few, so people--including me--haven't spent much time outdoors.

Fewer papers. More sunshine. An end to unwanted calls. More time on my bike. Less weight on my midsection. Am I asking for too much?

Oh well. At least I have the one thing I wanted most. Yes, I am grateful for that. But gratitude does not short-circuit new desires, or the acknowledgment of old ones.

And for as long as I've been teaching, I've wished that paper would behave itself! ;-)

23 February 2010

Old, New and Current Beginnings

Today I didn't go to work. I had a really bad headache all day yesterday and my nose was more congested than the Long Island Expressway during rush hours. And when I blew my nose, what came out was only slightly less toxic than some Superfund sites.

So I went to my doctor, at Callen Lorde. Actually, I didn't go to Richie Tran, my regular doctor; I saw one Victor Inaka,of the other doctors in the practice. On my way into the building, I saw Dr. Jennifer, my gynecologist. She's exactly what you want any health care professional to be: She not only has good knowledge and skills, she makes you feel better just by being within sight and hearing distance.

With Jennifer was someone I hadn't seen in a long time. (I seem to have run into a lot of people like that lately!) Kate is one of the butchest (Is that a legitimate adjective?) women I've ever known. She once told me that she thought she was transgedered but decided to live through her "masculine side."

She facilitated the very first transgender support group in which I participated. I can't believe that it was eight years ago! I can recall some of my "classmates" in that group. One, who called herself "Jennifer,' was sixty-five years old. She had just recently begun to live full-time as a woman, having waited until her children were grown and until she retired from her job to "come out." As she expected, it ended her marriage, but she didn't seem too sorry about that.

I'm also recalling Laura, who was a freelance photographer, among other things. She was attending Sarah Lawrence College, which--not surprisingly--she found to be a "tolerant and supportive atmosphere." We went to the Guggenheim and a couple of galleries together, and spent some time with me as Tammy and I were splitting up. I enjoyed the time I spent with Laura because she and I saw our gender transitions--and life itself--as spiritual journeys. She once told me that her goal was to "become the Buddha."

Then there was Marianne, who had just recently "come out." She had just taken a leave from Columbia University, where she had completed two years' worth of courses. I won't make any judgment as to whether she--or anyone else--is transgendered, or any other label you can think of. But I remember feeling that she had a whole bunch of other issued that she needed to work out before embarking on a transition. I know, because I had some of those very issues.

I wonder where they are now. I'm especially curious to know how (or whether) Jennifer continued to live as Jennifer. Tom at SAGE and I are still talking about creating a group for older trans people, so hearing about Jennifer's experiences would be especially interesting to me. I'm also wondering whether Laura continued her transition or whether her journey led her to someone else. As for Marianne, I'd like to know that she's still intact.

There were others in that group, some of whom attended continuously and others who came and went. At least one or two may have decided they weren't transgendered after all, or simply decided they didn't want to make the transition. Sometimes I think the latter is Kate's story.

Speaking of whom...Seeing her again further changed my perception of time. She met me just as I was leaving my life with Tammy and now I am post-op. The one constant is that I have been a woman all along, which I think she understood.

Seeing her again--especially in the presence of Dr. Jennifer--made it difficult for me to believe that eight years have passed since I participated in that group Kate facilitated. Yet my days in that group seem like they happened aeons ago.

But Kate and Dr. Jennifer, like Marci, also represent beginnings in my life. By definition, beginnings define and demarcate the past. That is why the people who helped to make them happen are always present for you, even if you don't see them for years.

22 February 2010

A Face of More Change?

I've got to get someone to photograph me. Perhaps that sounds vain, but I'm thinking that it might be important.

What got me to thinking that way? Well, when I was walking to my aprtment, I bumped into Sara and Dee. I hadn't seen Sara since some time around the holidays, and it'd been even longer since I'd seen Dee. I think of Sara as a kind of Mrs. Dalloway figure, and Dee as her lover. However, theirs isn't the sort of relationship that lovers or even partners have. As far as I can tell, they're just two people who love and need each other, for better and worse.

Anyway, they both remarked that my face has changed over the last few months. They're not the first people who've told me that. Jay also said it a couple of weeks ago; so did Beth, a prof in my department. As far as I know, Jay and Beth don't know each other, and neither of them knows Sara or Dee. But their comments echoed each others': They all said my face has "softened" and "looks more feminine." I hope they're right. Something seems to have changed, and I hope they all perceived it accurately.

If they're right, I can't help but to wonder whether it has anything to do with the surgery. Of course, Marci didn't operate on my face, but if nothing else, her work has helped me to feel more confident in who I am. Perhaps that's what's showing in my face.

I have another, slightly more scientific explanaton. My change may also have to do with the fact that I no longer have my testicular glands. So, my body has not been producing testosterone and I have not had to take Spironolactone to counter it. I can't help but to think that the fact that there isn't any testosterone to counter or suppress has to be changing something in my body. And, of course, the Premarin I've been taking since I started my transition is probably having more effect on me than it did when I had to neutralize my testosterone.

I'm neither a doctor nor a scientist, so take that explanation for what it's worth. I just hope my friends' and colleagues' observations are accurate.

21 February 2010

Number 500

So...It looks like this is my 500th post on this blog. It's just a number, I know. But I didn't envision writing so many posts. Actually, I had no idea of how many I would write. After a while, I found myself writing in this blog more or less every day...or unconsciously, then consciously, trying to. Now I feel as if I've missed something when a day goes by without my writing in this blog--unless, of course, there are extenuating circumstances and what follows them!

I also didn't know I would keep up this blog for as long as I have. I had planned on recounting the year leading up to my surgery; I wasn't thinking about what would follow. But, once I had my surgery, I couldn't imagine not continuing this blog, at least for the foreseeable future, however long that is.

You might say this has become my ritual or addiction. It's certainly better than others I've had.

Has keeping this blog changed me? I'm not so sure that much can change me, at least a whole lot, at this rather late date in my life. Perhaps I have changed incrementally in some way that one changes when one records one's experiences. Writing (or painting or otherwise making something of) them does change a person in small, or subtle, ways because, if nothing else, one has at least some sort of power, or at least control, over the experience. Plus, the record of the experience can't, and shouldn't, match a memory of it.

And what did I do today? I made crepes, ate them, went for a short bike ride, read and came home. On my way back from the ride, I took a slight detour (one block) to stop in a bodega in which I hadn't stopped in months--since some time before my surgery. I used to stop there sometimes when I was riding to or from work. It's cramped, and almost completely devoid of charm. There are two reasons to stop there: To pick up a pack of gum, candy or popcorn, and to visit a resident who's even friendlier--at least to me--than the proprietor.

That resident's name is Kiki. I'm not sure of how it's spelled; that's how the proprietors pronounce her name. She's very pretty--and could be Charlie's sister. Yes, she's gray and white, just like he is. And she's shy, at least according to the prorprietor, but very friendly toward me.

Don't believe that cats don't have memory: She recognized me immediately. And every time I was about to leave, she brushed against my ankles. I could almost hear her wondering, "Where have you been?" and insisting that I promise to come back.

Also don't believe that cats don't have any intelligence: They know a friend when they see one! Just ask Charlie and Max.

All I need is a few more days of weather like we had today: It was still chilly, but not as cold as it's been. And there was scarcely a cloud in the sky. As far as I'm concerned, it's about as good as a biking day as one can have at this time of year. And I felt good: a little tired afterward, but fine. I see how out of shape I am, but I know I can improve my conditioning with some regular riding.

After all, I want to be able to do at least another 500 posts--and have some material for them.

20 February 2010

Stranger In A Pizzeria

Millie came over to my place today. She clipped Charlie's and Max's nails as I held each of them. I made good on my promise to feed them salmon tonight (Yes, I cooked it.) if they were compliant kitties.

And what did I eat? Pizza! Of course, I didn't plan that. I'd gone out for a walk and was about a mile and a half from home when I simply couldn't wait. I was going to stop in a bistro-cafe where the owner and baristas know me and don't demand that I buy anything when I use their bathroom. Even so, I usually end up having an espresso or cappucino (Those are the only kinds of coffee I drink these days.) and maybe one of their little desserts. Alas, they were closed. So I went into one of those pizzeria/gyro shops that abound in this part of Queens. By that time, I had to go so badly that I simply pointed to a pie and nodded in response to hearing "Slice?" from behind the counter.

That slice could have filled me even if I hadn't eaten all day. There was so much cheese on that slice, which also had diced chicken and tomatoes, that I could picture a herd of cows striking in protest. And the crust was thick enough to use for insulation. It tasted all right, but it's not quite my style of pizza.

As the counterman was warming my slice, I went into the bathroom. I thought I'd locked the door, but a rather squat woman, perhaps a few years younger than I am, opened it as I was finishing up. She apologized loudly; I nodded toward her and walked to the counter, all the while talking on my cell phone. I paid for the slice and sat down to eat it when she tried to start a conversation with me.

I guessed that she is a regular patron of the place, as was a friend of hers who came in shortly afterward. Her friend and one of the cooks were at the table opposite mine, and egged her on simply by looking at her and looking at me.

Now, I know I was pretty disheveled: I threw on a ratty pair of sweatpants, a sweatshirt and a sweater this morning, did nothing to my hair and wore no make-up save for lipstick. I wasn't a sight for sore eyes, to say the least, and--as Millie noticed--my nails were even more chipped than mishandled ceramic plates.

The woman in the pizzeria became more insistent on talking to me, seemingly oblivious to the fact that I had my slice in one hand and cell in the other. The way her friend and the cook were staring at her, and me, she couldn't do anything else. I found myself thinking about two kids getting into a fight on a playground. If the other kids surround them, they have no choice but to fight.

I've been in stranger situations, but not lately. I'm still wondering what it was about.

19 February 2010

A Meeting Yesterday, A Committee From Long Ago

By the end of the day yesterday, I could just barely keep my eyes open, even when I was standing up. After my classes, I had a meeting with my department's curriculum committee. It's the first committee meeting I've attended since June: Last semester, I had a class during the same hours that the committee met.

However, I didn't feel as if I were "catching up." I'd been following the proceedings and staying in touch with the other committee members. But that wasn't the only reason why I had a sense of deja vu at the meeting.

During the past few months, I'd all but forgotten what deja vu is. I was experiencing a lot new things, some of which had to do with my surgery and transition. What seems ironic now is that even after a few weeks, having to dilate three times and take hot baths twice a day didn't seem repetitive or routine. Perhaps it had to do with the fact that I had to take care of my body in a way I never did before; in fact, consciously taking care of my body, period, was a new experience for me.

Even talking to my mother and having Millie stop by at my place every day remained fresh experiences for me. I had begun talking daily to my mother around Memorial Day. I continued through my stay in Trinidad and my first three months home. And, once I got home, Millie started coming by every day.

I hadn't had daily conversations with my mother, or any member of my family, at least since I was in high school. And I can't remember the last time (before last summer) that I saw a friend every day.

But going to the meeting yesterday was simply repetitive. It seemed that the same things were being argued about, in the same way, by the same people that argued them all those months ago. Actually, I realize today that it didn't just seem that way; it actually was that way: not much has changed since the last meeting I attended. Yet that meeting, like so much else, seems like it happened a lifetime ago.

And they're still arguing. Even though I participated in those arguments, and wrote two course descriptions, I felt as if I had never been part of that committee, that it did what it was going to do anyway, with or without me.

What's even odder was that I felt neither sad nor joyous over what I had done, or that I was meeting with that committee again. The work I did simply felt like some part of my distant past, and the meeting felt like just another repetition of another point in time, and that time was yet another repetition of yet another point in time. That is what people commonly call "the present," which often has nothing at all to do with the moment. The past few years have been, for me, as much about learning--if not alway successfully-- to live in, but not for, the moment.

I will be at the next meeting; I don't think I'm being cynical when I say I don't expect much, if anything, to change. It's all for the same moment, one that seems like a very, very long time ago.

17 February 2010

Bitch or Babe: Am I That Name?

As I was leaving the college today, I exchanged a bit of banter with the prof whose office is across the hall from mine. I've
mentioned her before on this blog: She's the one who didn't like me, or so I told myself.

She'd been reading a bunch of her students' papers. Her face was in one of them. "Tough semester already?," I half-joked.

She stirred. "Oh, no. Just the usual things."

"I see."

"Well, some of my students were a bit crazy."

"There are always days like that."

She nodded. "One student in particular is a real handful. But I made my point with him."

"What happened?," I wondered. I'm always curious as to how other profs and teachers handle difficult situations and students.

"Well, he called me 'babe.'"

"I can see how that could be a problem."

"Yes, I let him know that doesn't go. He apologized and he understands why he shouldn't."

"Good. He probably didn't realize that there was anything wrong." That's what I said after I caught myself. I almost told her that I could see why he called her "babe."

"Still, that's not a cool thing to do."

"I agree. But a lot of guys don't realize that they're belittling us when they say that. A lot of the older Italian men call everyone 'babe.' I grew up around guys like that."

"That doesn't make it right."

"I know. But at least it's an opportunity for us to talk to them, to educate them."

She let out a weary sigh. Then, I realized why she didn't see the situation as I did: She's been hearing that all of her life. And there probably have been people who didn't take her seriously because, well, she looks like someone men (and a few women) would call "babe." Hey, back in the day, I probably would've called her that, too.

And I was thinking: I wouldn't mind someone calling me 'babe.' Well, I've had a few men call me that, and I don't foresee getting tired of it any time soon. But I haven't lived that prof's life, or the life of any other non-trans woman I know.

I did say something to the effect that we have been shaped by different experiences, even if we now have at least two things in common--being a prof and being a woman. Still, I couldn't help but to think about how each of us experiences both of those things differently.

"I still think it's wrong for a student to call me 'babe.' In fact, I don't care much for anyone calling me that."

"I can understand why. And, I promise, I won't call you that."

She chuckled. "Want to hear something even funnier?," I asked.

She nodded lightly. "Well, I must be one of the few people in this world who was happy to be called a 'bitch.'" She laughed harder. "It was about a year into my transition," I recalled. "I accidentally pushed a guy on the stairs to a subway station. He turned groaned and said, 'Watch where the f--- you're going, you white bitch!' And, to myself I said, 'Yes! Yes! Yes!'"

"That's so funny."

Humor--and patience: They're what have helped me to deal with people calling me 'bitch' or 'babe." I'm sure she's heard the latter more than I have; I hope she doesn't hear the former too often. Then again, I'm sure she has her own ways of dealing with them.

Which will I be tomorrow? Or is my experience a prelude or prologue for yet another name?

16 February 2010

I Love Figure Skating And I'm Not Sorry

OK, so I've broken my vow not to watch TV. But it's not TV that I'm watching: It's the Olympics.

Specifically, I'm following the skaters. Last night, the pairs competed; tonight it's individual male skaters.

Now I have to admit to being disgustingly politically correct: I feel the urge to apologize for the fact that I'm watching the skaters. Why is that? Well, I can almost hear the voice of some gender studies graduate student reminding me that skating competitions reinforce gender roles. In one of the pairs, the girl looked young enough to be the guy's daughter, or at least his niece. And, of course, one of the ways in which figure skating resembles so much ballet is that the man picks up the woman, twirls her around and lowers her onto the ice in exactly the right position so that she can do a twirl or spin of her own.

My inner '70's feminist recoils or screams, depending on her mood, in horror at the spectacle. Yet I'm loving every second of that spectacle. Does that make me some kind of horrible reactionary? Have I become a Bourgeois Bitch?

Well, truth be told, I was always something of a BB. I mean, I like comfort and pretty things, and I seek refinement and relate to the world through my emotions.

OK, so I've established my credentials for the first "B." So what gives me the right to call myself the "b" that rhymes with "witch?" Well, other people have called me that, but I've long since learned that what other people say about you doesn't make you what you are.

Rather, I now realize that I am a "bee-yatch" because, it seems to me, that the unspoken, unwritten definition of one is a woman who does what she needs and wants to do, and doesn't apologize for it.

And I don't apologize for the fact that I'm enjoying the couples who skate their way into traditional gender roles and male figure skaters who are, well, male figure skaters. And, yes, the female figure skaters, too.

But I'm not really watching TV. Really!

15 February 2010

I Was An Ex-Gay (Well, Almost...)

Is it me, or has the media been paying a lot of attention to so-called "ex-gays" lately?

Now, I've known of them, and the ministries that purport to make them so, for more than thirty years, since I was an undergraduate at Rutgers. In fact, you might say that I was trying to be one of them: I knew that I wasn't a straight guy so, by default, I must have been gay or bisexual. Or so I reasoned, with my admittedly-limited skills in that endeavor.

At that point, the only thing I knew about transsexual people is that they were named Christine Jorgensen and Renee Richards and I was not like them, so I could not be one of them. I had to be a man, I thought, because I had the body of one and did not see it in the same way as I imagined they saw theirs. I hated mine; I despised even more the thought of having to share it, as a male, with someone in order to love or be loved.

The thought of living as a gay man appalled me --some might say because of my residual homophobia and the fact that, with a couple of exceptions, I despised men. But the thought of changing genders seemed unfathomable or, at least, terrifying. So, the only way I could envision, at that time in my life and for many years afterward, having a union with either a man or woman was doing so as a man--which disgusted me even more than the prospect of the sexual relationship itself.

So why did I align myself, however tenuously, with gay men during that time? Well, in my very primitive understanding of sexuality and gender (The only times I'd even heard the latter term were during grammar lessons.), I came to the conclusion that I could come closest to living like a woman by being a gay man. The only gay men I knew (or knew that I knew) at that time were the "flaming queens": You couldn't not know about them. I couldn't particularly identify with them--one of whom was Robert, my first roommate in college--but at least they seemed to be living something that might be more or less plausible and doable, if not easy, for me.

So....Almost as soon as I "came out," I was looking for a way to be protected from what I thought I was going into. (I had "come out" to my mother during that time. I wonder whether she recalled it many years later, when I would reveal to her the life I'd just begun to lead as Justine and all of the feelings and some of the episodes that led up to it.) Perhaps if I believed in the redemptive powers of the Holy Spirit, I thought, I could be "freed" from my "sinful" desires.

That led me to join a fellowship of born-again Christians on campus. In some ways, I wished to be like them: They all seemed content, or at least free of the existential guilt and shame that I felt. And they all seemed so certain of their futures: God would reveal His plan for them, which would invariably consist of stable careers, if not a ministries, of some sort, and heterosexual partners who would gladly sire or bear their children, all according to the Lord's plan. That, by the way, is something I understand about all sorts of young religious zealots, from the Orthodox Jewish kids I once taught to today's suicide bombers: They are all completely certain, in ways that most mainstream religious or secular people aren't, about their futures in ways they could not be if they did not have their fanatical belief in God or Allah or whichever deity.

Even more than their certainty about their futures, in this life and after it, I wanted two other things that their faith and fellowship seemed to offer: the hope of redemption, and safety. I really wanted to believe that maybe, just maybe, I could be "delivered" from the certain death that would follow a life lived by my "sinful" nature. I knew that life as a gay man or woman, let alone a transsexual, could be a lonely one subject to sudden death at any given moment at the hands of someone who hated me simply for being. (Of course I would know about that danger: I once committed a gay-bashing myself.) Even though I was thinking about suicide all the time, I didn't want to a horribly violent death at someone else's hand, much less to find that whatever comes after this life is even worse.

Going to a baptismal service at a Pentecostal church with members of that fellowship, and "accepting Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour" (Yes, I actually told them I did!), offered me the chance to "redeem" myself--which, truth be told, meant, at least to me--a kind of escape from my dilemma. The minister who "baptised" me very firmly stated, "There's no such thing as a born-again homosexual;" therefore, in order to give the Lord the chance to "wash away" my sins, I had to renounce myself. In a way, I was only too eager to do that: It would preclude my "solving" my gender-identity dilemma by living as a gay man.

Being known as an ex-gay (or, more accurately, a never-was gay) had an effect I hadn't anticipated in that fellowship: I gained immediate respect, and was even seen as a sort of "guiding light" by many in that fellowship--including its leader, who became almost paternalistically protective of me. Almost immediately, I was asked to lead prayer meetings and healing circles, and was taken up on my offer to start a newsletter.

And, if I recall correctly, I actually wrote an article about "hating the sin but loving the sinner." That, of course, is exactly how many evangelical Christians claim to feel about homosexuality and those who are inclined toward it. I even adopted that as a credo for myself, as it allowed me, however unconsciously, to hate myself and gay people even more than I already did. Today, I cannot see how it's possible to claim to "hate the sin but love the sinner" without seeing the sinner as someone less than one's self, or whatever one perceives one's self to be.

Now, I know of people who don't approve of what I've done, and many others who hope their kids don't "turn out" gay or trans, but who relate to me as the human being I am. I have learned not to hope that everyone will approve of what I've done because that requires that they understand why (and I'm not just talking about knowing that "you have to do what you need to do") I or anyone else would undergo the treatments, surgery or other aspects of changing from a life lived by expectations to one lived by our need to love, and be loved by, ourselves and others. I can't expect anyone else to understand that; if anyone does, or even begins to, I consider that a victory and a gift. So, for that matter, is finding someone who accepts you for what you are.

Anyway...I know I can't offer any explanations as to why someone would go through "de-programming" or any other aspect of a "ministry" that's intended to "cure" someone of homosexuality or identifying one's gender in a way that was not proscribed at one's birth or approved of by the culture in which he or she lives. And I don't claim to know whether those who claim to be "ex-gays" really were gay, or even bisexual, in the first place, much less whether they were "cured." All I know is that the notion that we can become "ex-gays" (or former trans people), if believed by those with enough hate or simply a lust for power, can be dangerous and even deadly because it is not based on any sort of understanding of what we actually experience. That, of course, is something for which a zealot of any sort has absolutely no use.

14 February 2010

What Would (Fill-in-the-blank) Do?

Yesterday I talked to someone with whom I hadn't spoken since I started living full-time as Justine. It was about what I expected: He kept an emotional distance--at least as much as he could--but not necessarily reserve. We didn't get into an argument, mainly because I didn't give him anything he could argue with me. And he said he would not mind maintaining a relationship based on phone calls and e-mails, though he has no wish to see me.

I didn't try to get him to understand how I feel or why I made the changes I've made. Actually, I think he knows more than he'd like to--and not only because I "came out" to him. He even said,"You did what you needed to do." But, he said, he cannot and does not want to see me as anyone other than the guy named Nick he knew for a long time.

I told him I could understand his feelings, at least a little, and that is the reason why I am not, and have not been, angry with him. And, I told him, I understand and respect his wish not to see me. I promised not to ask him to change his mind--or to ask him any other favor of any sort.

As you may have guessed by now, he is related to me. Why else would I have even bothered to call him in the first place? Two people who once called themselves friends have decided that they no longer wanted my friendship--in fact, one even denies that we ever had a friendship. I am not sure that I would be interested in resuming a relationship if either were to call. But for someone related to me, that is a different (and more complicated) matter.

So why did I call, you ask? Well, I really was wondering how he was doing. But, more important, I felt somehow that I needed to do it for myself. Have you ever forgiven, or otherwise reached out to, someone who utterly despises you (This is not to say that the person I've mentioned despises me.) or who has simply hurt you in some way, even though you know that your effort will make absolutely no difference to that person or the situation? If you have, you know that you're doing it for your own spiritual survival or, if you're lucky, growth.

That's not to say that your act necessarily makes you a better person or improves the situation in which you find yourself with that other person. It may not even be a learning experience--or, to use that odious phrase that was so en vogue a few years ago, a "teachable moment." (How can a moment be taught anything?) Rather, it's something that's simply necessary: In what sense, I couldn't tell you. It just is.

Of course, I didn't tell him that and he will know only if he reads this. The only other thing I could say is that I did it because yesterday was the first time I felt emotionally ready to do so. I really feel that I have become, oddly enough, stronger as I've become more vulnerable. Really, I've had to. I knew I could be hurt--in a non-physical way, of course--by my conversation with him. But I also knew I needed to take that chance in order to "move on," as they say.

Plus, there's nothing like hashing out the decision to transition and have surgery, much less actually doing those things, to show you what else you need--and want--in life and to make you feel less guilty or apologetic about going for them. I knew that there would be people who didn't approve of what I've done, and I anticipated that some would want nothing to do with me ever again. But I could not let them deny me my chance at living my own life and being my own person--and, to paraphrase Goethe, dying my own death.

The one I called yesterday referred to me by my former name and male pronouns. He seemed to make a point of doing so. On the other hand, when he said he couldn't take seeing me "act feminine"and I said it wasn't an act, he said, "Yes, I know."

Some might say that I should have asserted myself more. Perhaps. But getting into a battle over names and pronouns would have accomplished nothing--or, at least, would not have changed his mind. So, I thought, all I could really do was to call him and actually be myself, whether or not he wants to acknowledge it.

It's the best I knew how to do. But I'm still second-guessing myself.

13 February 2010

Seasonal Blues

I just wish the winter would end, already. Normally, I don't mind a few weeks of cold weather and some snow. But this winter has been colder and grayer than the past few. It's not my mood or imagination: Other people and scientific data support what I'm saying.

So why am I whining about this winter? Well, I want to start riding my bike more regularly. But I also am hoping to meet some of my neighbors. I now realize that one of the reasons why I was able to make friends fairly readily on my old block was that I moved there in August, when people were out and about. I met Millie as I was moving in; I would meet Toni not long after that and Tami a bit later on. On the other hand, I moved into the place where I'm living now on the day after Thanksgiving--just as winter was beginning, really. It seemed to have rained for about two weeks nonstop after my move; then it got cold and gray. And snow followed. People tend not to be outdoors much at times like that; hence, it's harder to meet people.

Plus, even though I know I should move on and that I will always have her as a friend, it's hard to imagine meeting anyone who'll be the kind of friend she's been to me. Then again, I'm a different person from the one who met her.

Even though I had to move from my old place under unhappy circumstances, I have very good and intense memories of the place, and that block. So many important and happy things in my life happened while I was living there.

Then again, I've been here for a little more than two months. I spent more than four years in the old place, and seven on that block. Maybe I just need more time here.

12 February 2010

Normal Childhoods

Today I stopped in Keith's shop again. I really do need to get a new vacuum cleaner soon. I could probably borrow one for one or two cleanings, but after that, I'll need to have my own. I was almost ready to buy one that was more expensive than what I had originally planned to get: It seemed better-made and has features that would make it usable even if I were to live in a place with a floor made of exotic hardwoods--or shag carpets. And it seems like it would be very good at picking up pet hairs.

But then I saw another model I hadn't noticed last week. It doesn't have some of the features of the other model I'm considering. But it's German-made, with a Siemens motor.

I was about to buy that one, but Keith suggested that I think about it for another day. Well...it means that I'll go to his store again and we'll have another conversation. Hmm...is that what he wants? I'm sure that, like any other businessman, he wants to make money. But he really seems to enjoy the social aspects of having a store, too.

And that's been half the fun of going to his shop. But today I did something I promised myself I wouldn't do: I talked about my recent changes. It came about rather accidentally, when we were talking about the music we grew up with. (He's maybe a couple of years older than I am.) That, of course, got us to talking about crazy things we did when we were young. I mentioned something--it's a long story, so I won't get into it here--I did with an old girlfriend.

There was a long pause. His face didn't change expression, but I could see that he was a bit surprised. "Yes, I was living as a guy in those days," I explained.

Then he became more curious about my early life. Of course, I only told him a little bit, but he seemed rather astonished at how "normal" it was. Yes, I played sports, drank and got high with the guys and did all sorts of "macho" things. But, I explained, that was all part of a facade I was keeping up. Jokingly, I said, "But they should have known something was up when they gave me a box of Crayolas and the first color I picked was magenta."

Yes, I liked "girly" things, even if I kept my wishes to myself. I wanted to play with dolls and to wear purple or pink or red. Although I tried to project as masculine an image as I could, some people, like my mother, knew that I wasn't that way, deep down.

So I was normal on the outside...and inside I was a train wreck waiting to happen. What's even more shocking to me now than what a seemingly-normal childhood I had was the fact that I survived the conflict between it and what was going on within me.

Yes, it is a wonder that I survived it. Other people I knew didn't. I don't know what it says about me: Some people say I'm courageous. Others, like Keith, say I'm strong. Whatever it says, I know I did the best I could.

11 February 2010

The Day After (The Snowstorm)

Today the college felt like a ghost town, at least in comparison to how it normally feels. About half of my students didn't come to my morning classes. However, I had nearly a full house for my final class, late in the afternoon. Still, the halls seemed emptier. And I know a number of professors didn't come in: I saw the signs announcing the cancellation of their classes.

And I did something that piqued the curiosity of a few of my co-workers: I wore my red pumps. No, I didn't wear them outdoors: The soles are too slippery for that, and I don't want to ruin the shoes (and possibly my feet!) by stepping into a slush puddle. I changed into them when I got to my office. It just happens that they complement what I was wearing today: a jewel-necked knitted top with black, bronze, white, gray and red stipes; a black cardigan (actually, half of a twinset) over it, a tan corduroy skirt and brown tights.

Some people think you're supposed to wear drab colors on drab days. That seems counterintuitive, or at least counter to my intuition.

I wouldn't mind the cold and the snow at all if the aftermath of them wasn't slush. Actually, the scene was quite lovely yesterday: Somehow, snow swirling over brick houses makes the glow of those sunset-orange bricks seem even warmer. And I just happen to live in one of those houses. Small things make me happy.

I wish we'd had today, rather than yesterday, off. Getting around in the aftermath of a snowstorm is actually more treacherous, at least sometimes, than getting around in the storm itself. When the snow is falling or being driven by the wind, it's still that: snow. But now some of what's on the ground has turned to ice and slush.

And it really feels cold. I know I've been out--for hours, on my bike--on days much colder than today was. But I really felt it today. Perhaps it has to do with my relative lack of physical activity. Or it could just be that I'm getting older. Still, I wonder if the operation has heightened the sensitivity to cold I seemed to have developed while taking hormones. I can remember going outside in shorts on days colder than today. There was no way I would've done that today, even if I didn't have to make myself halfway presentable so I could go to work.

At least I know one thing: Charlie and Max are happy to see me. The feeling is mutual; and they feel especially cozy and comfortable when they curl up with me on nights like this!