30 April 2010

Waking Up Again

I'm amazed at something I experienced today, even though I've experienced it before:  One minute the anesthesiologist was doing his work; the next minute the doctor and nurse told me everything went just fine.

Today, I didn't spend as much time "under" as I did when I was having my sex reassignment surgery.  I expected that, as a colonoscopy isn't nearly  as complex procedure.  Still, I know that I was in an induced unconsciousness for about half an hour.   It still seemed as if I woke up only a moment after I was put to sleep.  

Maybe it's a good thing I had the colonoscopy today rather than last year:  After SRS, there aren't very many medical procedures I fear.  That may also have to do with Dr. Blechman, who did my preliminary examination three weeks ago as well as today's procedure.  I guess I'm still something of a teacher after all:  One of the first things I noticed about him is that he knows his stuff very well and does a great job of explaining it, without condescension.  He also seems to have had other transgender patients before:  He asked about my procedure, how long I lived as Justine before it and other pertinent questions.  Yet, even as he asked those questions, I never had the sense that he was looking at me as "the tranny patient"

The nurse with whom I spoke yesterday assisted him.  She did some of the pre-procedure screening over the phone: She asked about my allergies, previous illnesses and procedures and whether I was taking any medications.  I mentioned that I was taking Premarin; she asked whether it had to do with pregnancy.  I chuckled and politely explained that I cannot become pregnant.  I think she sensed what I told her next:  I'm transgendered and, in answer to her question about prior surgeries, I mentioned my GRS/SRS.  She asked me to explain it, which I did as best I could.  When I saw her today, she thanked me.  

Hmm...Maybe that's what I'll do in my next life or career:  Explain the surgery to doctors who have not performed it or worked with any patient who's had it.  Imagine that:  I could teach doctors.  Wouldn't that be something?

Anyaway;  I'm starting to get sleepy.  Maybe I still have some of that anaesthesia in me.  So:  Will I sleep for only a minute?  Or will it only feel that way?                                 

29 April 2010


A little bit later, I get to repeat the day before my surgery.  No, I'm not in Trinidad; I'm surrounded by all the charms that Jamaica, Queens has to offer.  What I get to relive is the joys of not eating after breakfast and of drinking that stuff that tastes like Elmer's glue sprinkled with salt.  You're supposed to drink four liters of the stuff at ten-minute intervals. On The Day Before, I didn't drink it all.  I don't know of anyone who has.

At least this time they gave me a packet of lemon flavoring to mix with the stuff.  So I guess I'll find out what Elmer's glue sprinkled with salt tastes like when you add lemon-flavored powder to it.  What is it about lemon-flavored stuff that's always sweet.  No lemon I've ever tasted was like that.

All right.  I'll stop whingeing.  Tomorrow, after I've reprised the least pleasant part of The Trinidad Experience,  I'll do something I was supposed to do last year but somehow managed to forget (though my doctor didn't):  a colonoscopy.  To all of you young people who are reading:  this is the sort of thing you have to look forward to when you get old(er).

Then, I'll probably be out of commission for a while.  Some time the day after tomorrow, I'll get on my bike and maybe I'll meet someone for tea.  The instruction sheet the doctor gave me lists a bunch of things you shouldn't do within twenty-four hours after the surgery.  Bike riding is one.  (At least I don't have to wait four months, as I did after the surgery!) Driving and operating heavy machinery are two others.  Also, it says not to make "important financial or other life-changing decisions during that time."  Hmm...Maybe I shouldn't mention that here.  After all, the wrong sorts of people might be reading this.  One of them might decide to have his way with me.

Imagine:  Some day, I could be walking down the aisle and wondering, "When did I say 'yes' to this?"  I wonder: How many other women have asked themselves the same question?  I did, but I wasn't a woman then, at least in the eyes of the state.

I have a class in a few minutes.  It's funny:  Students came to see me right before my office hour, when I was sitting through a presentation by a candidate for another job in the department.  It actually was a very interesting presentation; I just wish I weren't so tired or felt the tugging at my sleeve I always feel when I'm campus, even when no-one is within fifteen feet of me.  But during my office hour, I was reliving, not any of the experiences I've described so far, but Waiting for Godot.  I haven't thought about that play in a while.  Here's something I never thought about until now:  There are no female characters in that play.  I'm sure that some critic or someone else has cited that as proof of the play's homoeroticism. 

Maybe I should read it again.  Maybe I should read everything I've ever read again.  I know some things will seem very different to me from the way I saw them the first time I read them. 

Anyway...Time for class.  The next time I write in this blog, I might be a little woozy.   Will that make a difference? 

27 April 2010

A Little Repression Is Good--For Whom?

It rained heavily when I left for work this morning.  That didn't delay me, but it seemed to be the reason some of my students were late for class.  However, I get the feeling it's not the only reason.  Some of them just want the semester to end; they seem to have wanted it since about the second or third day of the semester.  Others are fed up with one thing and another, inside and outside the college.   As for others, I'd bet there are plenty of stories to go around.

The first class I taught today was a course that everyone has to take in his or her junior or senior year.  It's devoted to research writing, and, frankly, I wonder how much good it actually does the students.  Certainly, most of the students need all of the help I or any other instructor can provide for their writing.  However, some students wait until their last semester to take it; others take it after taking all of the other required courses that demand significant amounts of writing.  

In a way, I can't really blame them.  After all, some of them get practically no guidance, either inside or outside the college.  Others have learned, by osmosis, to be utterly passive about their education.  They take classes because they're told they have to; they have no idea of how different bodies of knowledge are connected and why it's really a good idea to learn A before trying to understand B.    I can't really fault them for that:  All most of them have ever learned is to do what they're told, as they're told.  And that's exactly what, if anything, they learn at the college.  It's an utterly authoritarian atmosphere:  Some will mutter, to themselves or each other, about the way they're treated. But they have no idea of who to talk to or what to say about their problems. Paradoxically enough, that  is the reason why some of them react as they do when they think they've been graded unfairly:  They'll complain, but not challenge, me or other profs.

Anyway...I was talking with one student about her research paper.   In the course of our discussion, she told me that she works in a day care center and is a single mother, as her mother was.  Also like her mother, she doesn't know for certain who her father is, although, she says, she believes that he is the man who molested her when she was a child.  She says she didn't talk about it until just a year ago, about seven or eight years after it happened.  

My tears ducts filled like water balloons;  I could just barely keep from spilling them over.  I think she noticed.   I think she also noticed that she was probably even closer to tears than I was.  The reason why she was so close to tears is also the reason why she probably knew why I was so close to tears.  

Being in each others' presence may have done us some good; being in that room and that building probably didn't. I was, therefore, tempted to tell her to take her kid and get as far away from her neighborhood, and the college, as soon as she can.  Really, it's just an extension of what she's always known, from the style and layout of the buildings to the police-state atmosphere.   In other words, it's part of what caused her to withhold the story of her molestation:  the expectation of judgment rather than empathy.  Someone would've told her that it happened to her because she didn't do as she was told.

How is anybody supposed to get an education under those conditions?

26 April 2010

Fewer Degrees Than I Thought

How many degrees of separation are there?

And, how close can you come with an offhand comment?

Well, today I may have a better idea of what the answers to those questions may be.

Janet, an instructor in the department, and  I were just talking about one thing and another.  I mentioned that I'd gone to the vigil for Amanda Gonzalez-Andujar.  

"Where was it?"


"Really?  Where?"

I mentioned the street where Amanda lived, and died.  Janet's eyes widened.  "How do you know the neighborhood so well?"

"I wrote for the Ridgewood Times,"  I said, "which, of course became the Times-Newsweekly.'

Her eyes widened.  "Then you knew Michael Rosario."  

I thought for a moment.  "Yes.  He was the circulation manager."

"And soon he's going to be my ex-husband."

She then recited all of the names that would have been on the newspaper's masthead at the time my byline was appearing in it.  I recalled most of them.  "Practically all of them were at our wedding," she recalled.


"Now I understand something."

"What's that?"

"Well, when I found out your name, I thought it was familiar.  Now I know why:  I saw it on your articles."

"Yes, you would have."

"And now I know why i thought your name was Nicholas before you changed."

"That's because it was.  My byline usually read "Nick Valinotti."

Now I have to wonder:  Of the people who know me now, how many knew me then?  I wonder now whether Janet knew Nick, even a little bit--and whether he or I knew her then.  

25 April 2010

A Post-Mortem for Amanda--and Gwen and Yusuf

I'm still thinking about Amanda Gonzalez-Andujar, and the vigil I attended for her.

You might say I'm feeling a bit of survivor's guilt right now.  I never met her, but I couldn't help but to sense that she was actually as beautiful a person as her friends said she was.  I say that because, in spite of her violent death, everything about that vigil--from the way people spoke of her to the makeshift memorial by her apartment--radiated serenity that, because it was the reflection of a soul truly at rest, left us with more than grief.

Why was she killed so horribly, and at such a young age?   I guess I could answer that question as a Buddhist would and say that whatever she had to learn in this life, she learned, and it was time for her to pass on to another life.  But why was her exit such a house of horrors?  

Of course, it's terrible when anyone is murdered.  But it's been a long time since I've been so affected by the killing of someone I never met.  Probably the last time I felt as I do now was after I heard about the murder of Gwen Araujo.  And, before hers, there was the death of Yusuf Hawkins.

I actually met Yusuf's grandfather once, briefly.  There really wasn't anything I could say to him.   He probably heard "sorry" more times than anyone should.  And what good did it do him, his family--or Yusuf?  If I recall correctly, I offered to help him and his family in whatever way I could, even though I could not envision what that way might be, if there was one.

He died much younger than anyone should.  So did Gwen and Amanda.  Had they lived, Yusuf would be a man coming into the prime of his life, Gwen might be in the early stages of the career to which she aspired--that of a makeup artist.  And Amanda was probably just beginning to live the life she'd envisioned for herself; the beauty that all of those people saw in her probably had to do, in some way,  with her acceptance of them which, of course, was a result of her acceptance of herself.  Few people realize just how powerful that actually is; I would love to see what kind of a life she (or someone) could have had after developing a sense of his or her own self based on that willingness to be who one is.   I've come to it much later in life than she did; therefore, I will most likely never accomplish some of the things she might have been able to do had she lived.   The same could probably have been said for Gwen and for Yusuf.  Still, I can't help but to feel that I have at least one opportunity that they never had.   I have no idea as to why I was given this chance at the life I'd always dreamt about, but here I am.  

24 April 2010

From Protest To Empathy: St. Vincent's Hospital and Amanda Gonzalez-Andujar

Today I participated in the rally for St.Vincent's Hospital and the vigil for Amanda Gonzalez-Andujar.  As I expected, they presented a study in contrasts, though to an even greater degree than I expected.

By the time I arrived at 25th Street and Ninth Avenue, the march to St.Vincent's was already underway. So I walked along windswept yet sun-drenched Chelsea and West Village Streets to the hospital, where about a hundred people gathered around a podium where various community activists and politicians spoke.  I could immediately feel the tense anger that grew more intense when Tom Duane, the chair of the New York State Senate Health Committee, took the microphone.

Duane, at times barely audible even though he used a microphone, said what others had already said:  that the people were angry and that the hospital's closure is an injustice that will lead to deaths and other tragedies and disasters.  Probably anyone chosen at random from the crowd could have said exactly the same things, verbatim.  Chants of "What are you going to do?" filled the air.  One mustachioed man very loudly reminded him that he's up for re-election in November.  That man, I'd guess, voted for him not only in the most recent State Senate election, but in earlier contests, including the one that made Duane one of the first two openly gay candidates (Antonio Pagan was the other.) to be elected to the New York City Council.   I would guess that a lot of other people in that crowd voted for Duane every time he ran for office.  Now they, like that man, were feeling some combination of disappointment and betrayal.

I recalled the time I met Duane in Albany.  That was about seven years ago, during the time I was going to my job as Nick but socializing--and working as an advocate and volunteer--as Justine. Only a few weeks before that, the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act (SONDA), which Duane sponsored, became law--about thirty years after it was first proposed.  Some of us were disappointed and even upset because there was no language to protect transgenders or others whose gender identity and expression do not fit into societal expectations.  We thought that perhaps SONDA would at least open the door a crack so that a more inclusive law could pass.  However, meeting him made me less hopeful that would happen.  Though I never met him before that day, I had the sense that the fight for SONDA took a lot out of him; today I had the sense that he still has not recovered from it.   And his sense of fatigue seemed to fuel the anger and hostility of the crowd.

On the other hand, if anyone at the vigil for Amanda Gonzalez-Andujar was there to express rage, I didn't notice.  It seemed that the atmosphere was the inverse of that of the St. Vincent's rally:  There was a profound sense of grief, even among those of us who had never met Amanda, that unexpectedly (at least to me) found expression as empathy.  Even if I weren't a trans woman, I would have been able, in some way, to identify with others who attended.  Many of them knew her and were lamenting the loss of a "dear friend" and "beautiful soul." Nearly all of us has lost someone dear to us; a few of those deaths were horrific, as Amanda's was.  

Now I am thinking of all of those times someone has endured a particularly violent, tragic, painful or simply protracted process of dying, and after that person died, someone said, "She's in a better place now."  I certainly hope that's true for Amanda.  Now I'm realizing why such a wish might seem banal to some people, and why some might deem me a simpleton or worse for echoing it:  That vigil, whatever anyone may want to say about it, was probably a better "place" than any she had experienced in this life.   

Perhaps her spirit was guiding us. The proceedings were free of rancor and hostility.  Those of us who had never met her could feel a connection to her, and even the cops who were there seemed, if not benevolent, at least less like the ones who aid and abet the harassment and violence that too many of us experience. In fact, someone even praised their work, even though the cops we saw weren't directly involved with the capture of the man who is charged with killing her.  Elizabeth Maria Rivera, who organized the vigil, said that she was orignally going to hold a protest on the steps of the local (104th) precinct house.  But, upon learning that the man charged with murdering Amanda had been captured and returned to New York, she changed plans.   She and I exchanged e-mail addresses and phone numbers; I did the same with a few other people there.  Perhaps I will meet her, and some of the others, again some day.

23 April 2010

Another Fine Spring Day

Just did some cleaning up and I'm feeling sleepy again.  And Charlie and Max are curled up by my sides.

I pedalled the Raleigh three-speed into Union Square and Soho today.  In the former neighborhood is my gastrointestinologist's office; in the latter, Bruce works and he and I had lunch.  From the doctor, I had to pick up a copy of a prescription  and instructions I lost.   With Bruce, I found that the take-out places had even longer wait times than some exclusive restaurants, and that almost every outdoor space in which one could conceivably sit and eat was occupied.  So we went into a rather cozy and cute Japanese restaurant with food that is definitely mediocre.   At least he seems to have gotten over the bout of the flu he had last week.

It really was a bright spring day.  Lots of people were out, walking, shopping and such.  And, it seemed that everywhere I turned, someone was looking at me as I pedalled my bike.  Both men and women smiled approvingly and, somewhere in Midtown, construction workers' heads followed my movement down the streets.  A woman who was working in an office next to the internist's said that I looked "very stylish and chic," like a woman cycling the streets of Paris or Milan.  I was wearing a long navy cardigan over a periwinkle-lavender scoop-neck top, a silky scarf in a print of blues and purples that draped down from either side of my neck to just above my navel, where I tied the two ends together.  And I wore a navy skirt with a leaf collage print in various shades of blue, from almost green to almost purple, that fell to just above my ankles when I stood up. Actually, I was feeling rather stylish, even if I have a bunch of weight to lose.  At least I'm starting to feel better on the bike.

I'd thought about doing the Five Boro Bike Tour as a "celebration" or "coming out" ride:  It would be my first long group (with a very big group) ride since my surgery.  But I've pretty much decided against it:  That ride is only two weeks away and, while I could probably do it (as it's a slow-paced ride with a lot of stops), I'm not so sure I'm ready to ride in a crowd.  Also, I don't want  to take any chances with my newborn organs.  They're probably ready for such a ride, but I don't want to take any risk, however slight, of injuring or damaging them.

There are other rides to come, and I'll be ready for them.

22 April 2010

Rally for St. Vincent's, Vigil for Amanda. Where Do You Stand?

Is this when I turn into an activist?

What's a girl to do?

On Saturday at 1: 00 pm, there will be a rally for St. Vincent's Hospial.    Then, at four, there will be a vigil for Amanda Gonzalez-Andujar, who was murdered in Ridgewood, Queens.

If you're anywhere near either, I'm urging you to join in.  The rally will be held at 25th Street and 9th Avenue in Manhattan and everyone will proceed to the hospital.  The vigil will assemble in front of the apartment building where she lived, which is near the Fresh Pond Road station of the M line.

On 14 April, Rasheen Everett was arrested in Las Vegas and returned to New York, where he's been charged with killing her.  When the story of Amanda's murder first broke, a lot of people assumed that it was a date gone bad:  He thought he was meeting a "real" woman but found out she was a pre-op tranny.  The police say that it wasn't the case; it was, they believe, a dispute over money.  Perhaps that is the case:  After all, according to witnesses, he left her apartment seventeen hours after arriving and took two full bags (the contents of which included her cell phone) with him.  

However, I can't recall the last time a robbery-murder victim was strangled and then stabbed.  I also can't think of a case in which a thief who, after killing his victim, doused the body in bleach.  And when was the last time you heard of someone settling a financial score by destroying the debtor's Marilyn Monroe memorabilia?

Those rhetorical questions asked, I will say that if Rasheen Everett is indeed Amanda's killer, it will distinguish her case:  In 2005, when I was writing an article about the issue for Women's eNews about the mistreatment transgender women incur from police officers, I found out that, according to Interpol, 92 percent of all killings of transgender people are never solved.  Too many of those cases were simply not pursued with the same zeal investigators bring to their probes of other murders--or are simply not investigated at all.  Too many inside and outside the criminal justice and law enforcement professions believe, on some level, what I read in some of the comments I saw on online news  reports of Amanda's death:  She had it coming to her.  

Well, I just happen to believe that there is no way one human being can justify killing another.  (Paul Fussell, who taught a course I took when I was at Rutgers, voiced exactly that belief.  And he won a Purple Heart for wounds he suffered while fighting in France during World War II.)   But, if you must kill someone, I say do what you need to do to get the job done, and no more.  Why does someone have to strangle someone, then stab her?  Or--as in another case I've read about--beat the person to death, dismember her and leave the body parts in dumpsters? 

A killer does those things only when his or her motive is hate, pure and simple.     A thief who becomes a killer in the course of the crime simply kills; he or she doesn't resort to overkill.  Ditto for someone who murders from just about any other motive, let alone in the heat of the moment.  

I was reminded of just how great the potential is for any sort of hate-motivated violence when I read the comments some people left in response to news accounts of Amanda's murder.  (Thankfully, I didn't receive any such comments on this blog.)  The milder ones said she "had it coming to her."  Others contained the sort of jokes that adolescent boys in middle-aged men's bodies make.  And a few others said that, in essence, we deserve to be killed, or whatever other violence or cruelty we experience.

What's interesting--and even more chilling--is that none of the comments had any of the warped religiosity that ostensibly motivates so much anti-gay and -lesbian bigotry and violence.  None of them contained any "God Hates Fags"-type comments; they were all expressions of personal rage or echoes of someone else's hatred.  

One thing that has surprised me (and given me a sort of hope) is that none of the animus or pure and simple meanness to which I've been subjected has come from religious people.   In fact, I have been treated with respect, and even kindness, by people who have strong  religious beliefs.  Millie is active with her church; my mother attends Mass every Sunday and holiday and says she prays that I'll be safe and well.  My cousin says he doesn't "agree" with what I've done because of his religious beliefs, but he wants to be a friend to me--and, of course, I've taken him up on the offer.  And Bruce, who's been a friend for more than twenty-five years, is committed to his Zen practice.

I've also met other people who echo, in one way or another, what my cousin has said.  One woman who is about a decade or so older than I am (or so I would guess) and was a student at LaGuardia Community College when I taught there said, "My religion says that what you're doing is wrong.  But it also says God loves everyone.  And you're a really good person."  

I never thought I'd hear myself say, "Thank God for religion."  But I've found that at least some religious people are willing to entertain the possibility that I am not out to "convert" them, corrupt their children or destroy God's creation.  (Truth be told, doing those things is too much work!)  Or, they simply believe that if God made me as I am and put me on this Earth, He must have had a reason.

On the other hand, I've found that people who simply hate aren't reachable through human interaction or reason.   At least, I haven't found a way to change their minds.  Some of those people, like the ones who left the comments I saw, are "yahoos" or simply cases of arrested development.  But others--and these are the ones that disturb, scare and anger me most of all--are so-called educated people who profess to wanting a more egalitarian world as long as they don't have to deal with it personally.  Perhaps they see me as a threat, for whatever reasons, to whatever position they hold, or perceive themselves as holding, in the world in which live--or simply to whatever image they have of themselves.  In fact, one former longtime friend said, "I know the problem is with me.  But I just can't have you in my life."

In previous posts, I've said that sometimes I feel that other people have changed even more than I have, and that I see more change coming.  Somehow I expect that I'll see examples of one or both if I go to the rally and the vigil. But that, of course, is not the reason I would participate in either one.

20 April 2010

Early Spring Morning

Today I rode to work in vibrant but not overly bright sunlight and a light but very cool breeze.  It's the sort of day on which you can practically feel every pore and orifice of your body opening;  wounds in cold rain are not even memories:  they almost seem not to have happened. 

For some reason, an early spring morning like the one we had today brings me back to very specific moments in my childhood.  Somehow I remember some Easter Sunday as being like today was--one from a time when I may not have even known what was being celebrated on the holiday.  I have, thankfully, a few memories filled with that kind of light.  For a long time I had forgotten that I had ever experienced it; for another long period of time, I denied it because somehow the memory of that light was even more painful than the hurtful things I experienced.  

When I first started my transition, and in my very first days of living full-time as Justine, I found myself going back to those times, and to that light that became them, very often.  Rob, my social worker and a female-to-male, said that it was probably because my gender identity was less of an issue than it would later become.  I recall knowing that I am female--a girl--but it somehow didn't affect my life, or anyone else's, in the way it later would.  

At that age, my world was my parents, grandparents, a few other relatives and a girl who, as I recall, was the daughter of one of my mother's friends whom I'll call Lola. I always liked playing with her; the grown-ups probably thought it was cute that I had a "girlfriend."  I believe that I knew--of course, in a way that I couldn't articulate then--that my mother and grandmother somehow knew otherwise.  Or, at least they didn't mind my playing with Lola if it made me happy and I wasn't causing any trouble.

Then, it seemed, that bright, cool sky had enough room for everybody--including anyone I was, am or could be. 

I haven't seen Lola since I was about five or six years old.  She is one of the few people from my past whom I'd actually like to meet again.  There are a few others about whom I'd like to know where they are and what they're doing now, but whom I have little or no desire to see again.  But I'd like to meet Lola, even though we probably wouldn't recognize each other at first, if at all.

What would she remember from her childhood?  

At least I have a memory that could be echoed in a morning like the one I expereinced today when I was pedalling to work.  There weren't the echoes of thunder muttering through my sleep; there was just the sun and cool wind.  Those things can sustain my through a ride; sometimes they're enough to get me through a day, or a lot more.

19 April 2010

William Anderson: The Defense Is Not Resting

William Anderson, I have discovered, is a sort of soul mate.  No, he's not my new beau:  For starters, he's hundreds of miles away and I don't do long-distance romance.  (Been there, done that!)  What I mean is that he and I are skeptical in similar sorts of ways and have a similar distrust for the same sorts of public figures.  I mean, how could I not love someone who can write an article entitled "Why I Don't Trust Prosecutors" and make a solid case for his mistrust rather than lapsing into just another rant about the dishonesty of lawyers and politicians.

He played a very important role in exposing the dishonesty and hypocrisy of the so-called Duke Date Rape Case.   The young men who were falsely accused of the rape weren't the most sympathetic characters, at least to some people.  But, as Anderson showed, that's hardly a reason to assume their guilt, as too many in the media and elsewehere were all too ready to do.

Now he is cutting through the thickets of chicanery that has ensnared Tonya Craft in a child-abuse witch-hunt reminiscent of the one that ruined Kelly Michaels' life.    Unfortunately, the twenty years or so that have elapsed between Michaels' and Crafts' trial have not been free of such travesties of justice.  The causes and reasons for those "witch hunts" will be debated for decades, and possibly centuries, to come.  But Dorothy Rabinowitz has pointed out that in American society, they are all but inevitable:  every fifty years or so, she says, this country is "affected by some paroxysm of virtue--an orgy of self-cleansing through which evil of one kind or another is cast out." In other words, we have never gotten over our Puritan heritage:  the desire to rid ourselves of such "evil" is so great that too many of us will tolerate the prosecution of innocent people in exchange for some illusion of security.

Why do I care about those cases Anderson has pursued?  Well, having been witness to, and victim of, the dishonesty of some people who had one kind of authority or another over me, I distrust anyone who has both authority and ambition.  Even more important, though, is the fact that I also experienced sexual abuse from a family friend when I was a child.  While I want to see the truly guilty punished, I shudder to think that someone innocent could be accused and worse. It is precisely because I know how terrible it is to suffer such abuse that I know how serious it is to accuse someone of having done it.   As someone whose life was constricted by the shame and fear I felt as a result of the abuse, and the self-loathing I developed as a consequence of not talking about it with anyone for about 25 years after it happened, I know that convicting an innocent person will do nothing to heal the physical and emotional wounds of someone who has been abused or assaulted.  

Furthermore, the prosecution of an innocent person doesn't make everyone else safer.  If the wrong person is charged, it means the real perpetrator is free.  Or, if there is no actual crime, as in the case of those young men at Duke, it means that the criminal justice system is wasting its time and taxpayers' money when it tries, convicts and sentences some innocent person.  If anything, I think that going after anyone for the sake of punishing someone, let alone to further the ambitions of some district attorney,  actually makes it more likely that someone else will fall victim to the crime of which some innocent person has been accused.  After all, if those who are entrusted to uphold the law and apply it fairly are engaging in criminal activities (perjury and such), the disrespect for the rule of law and the sanctity of other human beings such behavior engenders can only send the message that, in essence, there are no de facto or de jure regulations or principles preventing the violation of another person.  What respect can anyone, much less some would-be criminal, have for the law if those who are supposed to enforce and apply it are as likely as those deemed criminal to circumvent it, if  not break or ignore it outright?  And what sort of a message does it send when those who are supposed to be the guardians of law and justice can not only behave in criminal activity, but are not held accountable, in any way, for it?

As someone who actually suffered from some of the acts of which Tonya Craft is accused, and for which Kelly Michaels was imprisoned, I am very happy that William Anderson has taken up their cause.  We need more like him!

18 April 2010

Goodbye To All That? To What?

At this time last year, I was less than three months away from my surgery.  As you might expect, I was, in some ways, saying "good-bye" to being a man--even though for all intents and purposes, I had not lived as one for several years.  I had a very clear sense that  not just a phase, but a life I had once lived, was about to "become history," as people liked to say during my youth.  

I was excited though, surprisingly, not very nervous.  (When Marci Bowers called my mother just after my surgery, she remarked on how calm I was.)  In one way I was almost overprepared, as I had been going to support groups and therapy, and had lived full-time as a woman for almost six years.  But, at the same time, I had no idea of what to expect.  I recall that various women I knew--and I-- compared that time to the later stages of a pregnancy, for I was about to "give birth to myself."

Now more than nine months have passed since my surgery and I can't help but to think that some change or another is going to happen in my life.  I'm not sure of what it might be, but I get the sense that it will be major, or at least relatively so.  

I have talked about my job and workplace.  Perhaps one or both will change.  Sometimes I wish I had started a new job after my surgery,  but I realize that being in the place in which I'd worked the previous four years was probably good for me:  I'm not sure that making another major change at that time in my life would have been beneficial.  It's was probably good, in terms of my physical healing as well as my emotional state, that I didn't have to adjust to yet another transition.  

However, in one of my life's more perverse ironies, some of the people with whom I used to share lunch, and sometimes confidences, feel like strangers to me now.  I suppose that might have happened anyway; after all, most friendships (at least in my own life and those of people I know) have lifespans of their own.  Some simply stop working after a certain amount of time, or after whatever the friends had in common is no longer, for whatever reasons, a part of the relationship.   Or one friend simply "outgrows" the other:  I first  noticed that the only time I revisited my high school after I graduated. 

Julian, an adjunct instructor who's about ten years older than I am, even said--without my asking or prompting--that I have "outgrown" a lot of the people at the college, and possibly the college itself.  He became an instructor after technology rendered obsolete the business he used to own.  Like me, he earned a Master of Fine Arts, which is supposed to be a "terminal" degree.  However, he (also like me) doesn't want to pursue a PhD, for a variety of reasons, some of which are like mine.   Somehow I think he's outgrown more than a few people and situations along the way.

I'm thinking now of Belle, who was in charge of the office of academic advisement when I was an advisor.  She left, she said, because the college in which I work is a place where "people go to die."  I'm coming to see what she meant, and why she's urged me to get out of that college.  

Making a major change in your life can make a stagnant, stultifying place even more so.  I guess that's the lesson I'm supposed to learn from my current experience.

Then again, the change might not be in my workplace or job.  Could it be in my love life?  Or will I get my book published?   Or will it be something else wonderful or terrible or both?  I guess I'll find out in the coming months.

17 April 2010

Learning The Laws Of Their Languages

Today I did something I normally try not to do:  I went to the post office on a Saturday.  The line was about as long as I expected it to be and, after spending about fifteen minutes on it (actually a bit less than I expected), I was served by the rudest employee in the post office.  At least he was efficient.

As I stood on the queue, a man waited in front of me.  He was rather sexy, in an unshaven, rough-hewn, fatigues-and-field jacket sort of way.  He was also as fidgety as a kid waiting for a meal in a restaurant.  Everything, it seemed, annoyed him--especially customers who spent more than five seconds with a postal clerk.  In a way, I could understand his reactions:  After all, who wants to spend more time than is absolutely necessary to mail a package, especially on Saturday?  He seemed particularly exasperated when an older woman who was indecisive and didn't speak Queens English, much less The Queen's English and spent an inordinate amount of time at one of the windows, which held up those of us who were waiting on line.

He groaned and looked around him for sympathy.  "I don't believe this," he growled.

"Yeah.  Does she have anything better to do with her life?"

"Does she have a life?" he wondered.

Then, for the next few minutes, as the line snaked us toward the clerks' windows, he grumbled and let out sighs.  Finally, he said, "I'm sorry if I seem a little jumpy."

"Oh, that's quite all right," I nearly whispered, with a trace of a simper.

"But I'm not normally like this."  Somehow I knew that he didn't think I believed him.  Not that it mattered, really.  

"I've been really, really jumpy."

"We all have times like that," I tried to reassure him.

"Well, I've been like this for a month now, ever since I stopped smoking."

"Congratulations!  Whatever you're going through now will be worth it."

"I know," he said.  "I feel better already."

"And you'll feel even better...and save a bunch of money."

"Those are the reasons why I quit," he explained. "But it's really tough."

"Yes, people don't realize how addictive nicotine is," I assured him.

"Thank you for understanding."

"Oh, it's no problem.  I lived with someone who was withdrawing from nicotine, so I understand."

"You are very kind."

"No, just..."

"NEXT!"  The clerk called him to the window.  He mailed his package and left as I was walking up to the next available window.  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him leaving; he waved to me.

Ever since I started my transition, I've had more and more encounters with strangers who revealed one thing or another to me, or who hugged me or cried on my shoulder.  I always wonder what they're seeing in me.  

I think that man knew that I found him attractive.  And the young woman who did my nails last week must have known that I was, shall we say, persuadable.  I'm certainly not upset that he talked to me or that she propped her head on my shoulder, any more than either of them seemed to mind the attention I was giving them.  But, even though I can "read" their intentions and desires, I still feel as if I'm learning how to act around people who share moments with me the way they did.  It seems that the rules for these encounters are somehow different from the ones that governed the interactions I used to have.  

Give me another fifty years and I'll figure it all out.

16 April 2010

When Was The Past?

I must admit:  Today I didn't do much besides my laundry and cleaning.  It seems that I spend more and more of my days off recovering from work.  I went to bed and woke up late, and it started to the day's intermittent rain began not long after I had my cup of tea.  So I didn't have much incentive to go out, especially since Bruce was too sick to do lunch, as we had planned.

I don't know whether it has to do with  my gender change, or simply getting older (or sober)--or, for that matter, whether it has to do with anything at all--but "back in the day" Bruce and I would drink together.  Now we do lunch.  If you want to take that as a dissertation topic, be my guest. All I know is that one of the reasons why we're still friends is that we were able to make that transition from drinking buddies to friends who share lunch.

Lately I find myself thinking more and more about my previous expereinces, rather than merely my past.  What is the difference between them?  It seems that I don't learn much from the past.  Then again, most people don't, or so it seems.  On the other hand, experiences (as opposed to Experience with a capital E) are really the only teachers we have.  Or so it seems to me.

The past is always a sort of grab bag or potpourri.  There are some treasures in it, but there are also things that lose their relevance and usefulness.  Those things might outlive their obsolescence, but only because someone holds on to, and perpetuates, them--sometimes unconsciously.  I know I've done plenty of that.

Some of those things that lose their pertinence are the reactions to, or other ways of coping with,  things we may have experienced at one time but do not not encounter now.  I think now of so much of the anger I used to carry with me.  It helped me to survive, among other things, sexual molestation and attacks.  I may very well not be alive now were it not for the rage that roiled in me for so long.

But what happens when all you have are survival skills and you're in a situation when your survival is more certain but all you have are those survival mechanisms and responses?    That sounds like a script for becoming one of those perpetually angry people you run into sometimes.  I guess that's how manipulative people become manipulative, too.   Some of those people may have grown up in--much as it pains me to use this term--dysfunctional homes or other situations.  

In other words, they are living in their pasts.  And, for them, the present is nothing but an endless repetition of the past.  They have never learned any new ways of responding to new people and situations. Instead, they yell and throw tantrums because they came from homes where everybody did that and therefore learned no other way of getting what they want.  Or they knew they could get what they wanted by sneaking around people, and they think that nobody means what he or she says; when someone says "no," there's always a way around it.  I've had more than a few students who were like that:  They didn't believe that a professor would actually drop them from his or her class, or that they would fail, for not attending classes and doing assignments.

What people in situations very often don't realize is that whoever called their bluff or wouldn't negotiate with them may actually have something to offer that they want and could never have found in their pasts.  I think now of a time when I was upset with a class full of freshmen.  They had been a good group of young people until the day we had a library information session.  The librarian who conducted the session has rubbed more than a few people the wrong way, so I could understand why they didn't like the way she talked to them.  However, I pointed out, that is no reason to be disrespectful. 

When I paused one wide-eyed young woman exclaimed, "Wow!  You weren't yelling at us. You didn't raise your voice at all."

At that moment, I would have loved to have known what her home life or previous schooling were like.  What was interesting was that after that day, she regularly came to talk to me about situations she'd encountered in the college, her boyfriend and any number of other dilemmas a young person faces. Along the way, I could see her becoming more confident about herself.

I get the feeling that I'm going through a similar process myself.  That's one reason why I think of a change in workplace scenery.  I realize that I'm in a place where I react to dysfunction rather than respond to appeals to reason and sensibility as well as sensitivity.  That's not how I want to spend my life.  I now realize that, for me,  living in the past in such a way is not a cause of, or recipe for, depression:  It is depression.  Trust me on that one:  By every clinical and medical definition, I was depressed for the majority of my life before I started my transition.

And the remedy for that is not to live in this moment, or any that will follow, as if it were the past.  In a way, I can't, anyway, because when I think about it, that past wasn't really mine.  Only my experiences were.  It seems that a good part of living involves knowing which ones are useful.  And the ones that aren't have to be gotten rid of like those undergarments I no longer had use for after my surgery.

15 April 2010

Riding Home

I rode to work again today.  I must be regaining my form, or  something, because men were slowing down their cars as they passed me.  Three different guys complimented my legs.  And a woman in a BMW said she liked my skirt.

All right.  I'm making small steps toward one of my goals:  that of becoming the best and most stylish cyclist in the world. Both are terribly subjective judgments, I know.  But just about everything I do is based on, or evaluated by, subjective judgment.  What would my life be like if more of it were measurable in ways that could be rendered into statistics?

Let's see:  I rode about ten miles to work and another nine to get home--on my 1968 Raleigh Sports women's bike.  It's a 21 inch frame on 26 inch wheels, with three speeds in a Sturmey Archer rear hub.  My skirt--I won't tell you what size it is!  Now I'll be merely factual:  It's a skirt made up of three tiers of a crepe polyester material that's covered with a pretty interloc print in shades of purple/magenta, coral/peach, brown and a shade that's somewhere between cream and gray.  The bottom of each tier is ruffled. When I wear it, as I did today, with my deep pink jewel-neck top and purple overshirt with three-quarter sleeves, people say that I look as if I'd lost weight.    But that's not the only reason I wear that outfit.

I left work at 6:46 this evening.  I took a slightly shorter route than I did in going to work because I wanted to get home before it got dark--or rained.  I did feel a couple of drops as I pedalled from Jackson Heights into Woodside, about a mile from my place.  The drops turned into a sprinkle by the time I crossed underneath the Amtrak line near Northern Bouleard, then stopped just before I crossed underneath the elevated tracks for the "N" and "W" lines.   On the other side of those tracks--on 31st Street and Broadway in Astoria--is Parisi's Bakery, where I bought a small "twist" loaf.   It's only three blocks from my apartment, so I was no longer worried about getting caught in the rain.

The ride home gave me an odd sense of deja vu that had nothing to do with my familiarity with the route.  Rather, I found myself recalling rides in which I'd dodged, or remained one or two steps ahead of, rain. I've done plenty of those in coastal areas in which I've lived, and I've also done them on the multiday (and multiweek) bike trips I've taken in France and other places.

Now I shudder (or, on occasion, laugh) when I recall how much time I spent "playing chicken" with, or simply dodging, one thing or another.  In those days, I was running from, even when I was going home, wherever and whatever happened to me along the way.  

Tonight, at least I made it home, even if I had been finishing something that someone else started on a bike that I didn't have last year.  Even though the fit still isn't perfect, it felt just fine.

It's Not Because You're A ....

I didn't ride my bike yesterday:  I didn't have enough time to get to the doctor after finishing work.  The sad thing is that I almost didn't make the appointment because I almost didn't get out of work at the time I'm supposed to.

And I fully expect that someone went looking for me long after my appointed hours, didn't find me and will make--or has already made--a complaint about me.  Then my department chair, the provost or the legal compliance officer will give me a lecture, if not a dressing-down.  And the fact that I've stayed until nearly midnight on days when my commitments ended at 4 pm will be conveniently forgotten.

Heaven forbid that I should leave workplace when I'm done with whatever work I had to do, whether or not said work was in my job description.

I work all those hours and go well above all expectations explicit and implicit expectations, yet I make less than a bus driver.  And people from whom one normally believe an account of current weather conditions suddenly have more credibility than the Pope once had among Catholics when they make a complaint about me.  The powers-that-be insist that it has nothing to do with my being transgender.  Uh-huh, and Hemingway accidentally shot himself while cleaning his gun.

Is it any wonder that I'm always tired, or seem to be?  Wait a minute:  I didn't feel as tired after riding as I do now.  And, after pedalling there and bike, I don't have the kind of anger I've been expressing.  Could it be that I'm having "withdrawal" symptoms--from missing one day of riding after riding two days in a row? 

On the other hand, a lot of other profs and employees at the college feel the way I feel--or so they've told me, without my prompting or asking.   So maybe it really isn't about being trans, after all.  It's great to know that I'm in such an egalitarian place.