05 March 2010

Obliging Myself

Today I did a training with an organization commonly called SAGE. When it was founded, the acronym stood for Services and Advocacy for Gay Elders. But now "Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgeder" has been added to "Gay." But most people who know about the organization still call it SAGE.

It's headed by Tom Weber, whom I met on a retreat hosted by an organization connected to the LGBT Community Center of New York. That retreat took place a few months after I'd begun therapy and counseling, a couple of months after Tammy and I split up and, as I recall, less than a month after I underwent the first of a series medical tests that preceded my taking hormones and living full-time as a woman. It was one of the oddest times of my life: I was going to work and socializing, to the extent that I did, with family and friends as Nick but living another life as Justine. Even though I knew that I would soon start living full-time as Justine, and would come out to family and friends, I living in fear of, and doing everything I could to prevent, having my "secret" discovered by those same friends, family members and colleagues.

The retreat on which I met Tom marked the first time in which I "came out" to a group of strangers who weren't in a support group or some other similar setting. The facilitator of the retreat broke the larger group down into smaller groups of six for discussion and various role-playing exercises. Each group had to choose a leader; before I could say otherwise, the members of my group--Tom was among them--picked me for the job.

Through that weekend, Tom and I talked quite a bit. He had just lost his father; for reasons that I could not understand at the time, he looked to me for support. I gave him the best I could; he would insist later that it was "very, very important and helpful" to him.

It was scary, yet exhilarating, to have Tom and a bunch of other people I didn't know looking to me for strength I didn't know I had.

He was the only person I knew when I walked into today's training, which will continue into tomorrow. Yet the people there looked to, and rallied around, me in much the same way as Tom and those other people I met at the retreat did so long ago. (It was seven years ago but somehow seems longer.)

What's interesting to me now is that in being the kind of ally, colleague and friend they want for the brief time we're spending together, I don't feel as if I'm obliging them. Rather, I feel as if I'm obliging myself.

That, I realize now, is what I have been doing for the past seven years. And today it led me to that training, and soon I hope it will lead to a project Tom and I discussed a while back. Perhps it will also lead to my making a new friend or two (or more!) this weekend.


Keri said...

Justine.... just found your blog and like, wow!.. you're right out by me! Wondering how life is on the Isle post-trans, as I'm heading down that highway. BTW, a focus group 45+ sounds like a cool idea... Perhaps we'll run into each other sometime!


Justine Valinotti said...

Hi Keri: I hope to see you some time. Please get in touch with me, if you'd like, via Blogger.