31 May 2010

Ex Cathedra From The Queen of Corona

Here is one of my "dream trips":  I would go to Paris in August.  And there would be no tourists there.  

Barbara, Sue and I experienced something like that today.  None of the streets we cycled will be mistaken for le Boulevard St. Germain, but they were interesting in their own ways.

We rode by the Silvercup Studios in Long Island City.  It used to be the Silvercup Bakery, which used to supply bread to New York City schools as well as any number of tables in Queens and Brooklyn--including, sometimes, those of my immediate and extended family.  As I remember it, it was basic white bread.  But it was just fine for peanut butter and jelly, or other kinds of, sandwiches.

The streets around it were deserted even though they lead into Queens Plaza, which lies at the end of the Queensboro (a.k.a. 59th Street) Bridge.  One of them is even cobblestoned.  So Simon and Garfunkel actually knew what they were talking about in that song!

By the way, their "Queen of Corona" is fictional.  "Corona" means "crown" in Italian, Spanish and Latin, so she would be the "Queen of Crown."  However, there is a "King of Corona"--or, more precisely, a "Lemon Ice King of Corona."  They actually have a right to their self-proclaimed title.  I have tried the eponymous frozen confection, as well as many of the other flavors they offer.  The lemon and other fruit flavors actually have fruit in them.  Ditto vanilla and pistachios in the ices named for them.

But Barbara, Sue and I didn't go there today, as our ride didn't take us that way.  However, we have gone there any number of times before, and we did stop at Gino's Pizzeria on Cross Bay Boulevard, in Howard Beach.  One of the last remaining Italian neighborhoods in New York surrounds Gino's and supports yet another great pizzeria--New Park--a few blocks up and on the other side of the Boulevard.  In both eateries, one usually finds families or older single men.  It's not normal to see three forty- or fifty-ish women together, much less riding bicycles.  But either pizzeria--Gino's if you're on your way to the Rockaways or New Park if you're going the other way--is worth, if not a detour, at least a stop.

We rode to the Rockaways even though we knew the boardwalk would be crowded.  After all, today is Memorial Day and the temperature got up to 85 F (about 29.5 C).  At this time of year, there is even more difference in temperature between the beach and areas only a mile inland than there is in, say, the middle of August:  The water in the ocean is still only about 60F (15C), so the breezes from it can be rather brisk.

Instead of riding the boardwalk, we rode along a road that parallels it.  So we were still treated to the play of the warm sunlight flickering on cool waves and, as our ride progressed, turning into what I like to think of as "sea haze":  It can almost obscure the sun and the blueness of the sky, yet it has its own sort of steely translucence, like the ocean itself.

In all, we rode about thirty miles, as we took a route that meandered through Brooklyn (All right.  Maybe things don't "meander" through Brooklyn!) before returning to Queens in Lindenwood, a neighborhood a bit inland from Howard Beach.  I fiddled with my saddle with a couple of times in the first few miles.  Barbara and Sue were expecting that, as I am riding a new saddle on doctor's orders.  It'll be a while before I know whether it's a "keeper."  

It's a Terry Falcon X saddle.  As I was riding it, I knew it was reminding me of a saddle I rode back in the day, but I wasn't sure of which.  Actually, now that I think of it, I was recalling two saddles:  the Sella Italia Flite, circa 1992, and a French Ideale 2002 I rode about a decade earlier, during my first foray into racing.  I rode that 2002 on my racing bike and I rode the Ideale 90--an all-leather saddle very similar to a Brooks Professional--on my tourer.  Apparently, Ideale went out of business not long after I started riding their saddles. If you find an unused alloy-railed model, you can sell it to some Japanese collector on eBay and retire.

The 2002 was a nylon-based saddle with thin, dense padding and a very nice leather covering.  They were similar to a saddle Cinelli used to make, but were less expensive. And both the 2002 and the 90 seemed to flare more gradually from the tip of the nose to the rear than Brooks or Cinelli saddles. Brooks saddles--at least some models--seem almost T-shaped by comparison.  The Brooks may be somewhat better in quality, but I actually liked the shape of the Ideales somewhat better.  And it's echoed somewhat in my new saddle.  

And the Terry seems to have a flattish top which rises somewhat toward the rear.  That's what was reminding me of the Flite, which is one of the flattest saddles I ever rode.  Vetta used to make a similar model that was even flatter:  They were my favorite for a time, but Vetta had stopped making them by the time mine fell apart.

Of course, the Terry differs in one significant way from those, or any other I've ridden:  It has the "hole" in the middle that the doctor recommended.  I think it will take me a while to see how or whether I like them, or whether the hole is in the right part of the saddle for me.  Another thing that will take at least a few more rides to decide whether I like is the length of the saddle:  It, like most women's-specific saddles, is a bit shorter than most men's saddles.  

All right...Those of you who aren't cyclists are probably still wondering how someone can make such a fuss over a bike seat.  It doesn't make much difference if you ride only around the block.  But on longer rides, and more time spent  on the  saddle, you will notice whether it's right for you.  Plus, I don't want to undo all that nice work Marci did down there!

30 May 2010

Companions on Longtime Journeys

Today I did a brief bike ride along the industrial waterfront of Long Island City and Greenpoint and through back streets almost devoid of vehicular traffic.  One of them--named Rust Street--parallels railroad tracks that cut through silent factories and cling to the banks of Newtown Creek, which has been called the most polluted body of water in the United States.

Actually, I had a specific reason for riding that way:  On my way back, I stopped at Russo's bakery in Maspeth, which has--to my tastes, anyway--the best sfogliatelle you can get without taking the next flight to Rome.  I wanted to pick up a small box of the miniature ones and bring them to the barbecue at Millie's house.  Alas, they had only a couple of the larger ones left:  not enough to fill a small pastry dish.  Instead, I bought one and ate it right then and there.  I also purchased a small cheesecake topped with fresh fruit (strawberries, grapes and slices of apple and cantaloupe) drizzled with a light glaze.  Everyone loved it; I thought it was the best cheesecake I'd eaten in a long time.

Millie's friend Catherine came to the barbecue.  I like her very much, but I wouldn't call her a friend simply because I see her only at Millie's barbecues and lunches and dinners.  On the other hand, she and Millie have known each other since they were five years old.  I don't have a friend like that; I met Bruce, my longest-standing friend, during my senior year at Rutgers.  Then we fell out of touch for a couple of years and bumped into each other near Cooper Union late one summer afternoon.  That was in 1984:  I remember that because it was during the first year since my childhood that I was living in New York.  I also recall that I was leaving work, which at that time was at the old American Youth Hostels headquarters on Spring Street.  

Honestly, there are only a couple of non-family members whom I can remember from my early childhood.  Sometimes I wonder what it would have been like to have remained friends with a childhood friend.  I suppose that in one way, at least, it would have been like other longtime relationships:  Knowing that person for so long could have been the very reason why such a person would have remained friends with me--or for wanting nothing to do with me--after I "came out."

Millie and her husband John knew me for less than a year before I started to live full-time as Justine.  Sometimes I think it's the reason why they accepted my change as readily as they did:  After all, they couldn't feel the same sense of loss that some members of my family and other people who knew me for a long time might have felt.  Plus, almost immediately upon meeting me, Millie decided that she liked me, and she tends not to change her mind about that.  

She reminded me that very soon, a year will have passed since my surgery.  Already!  And tomorrow I'm going for another bike ride.  Destination and itinerary are to be determined.

29 May 2010

The Dirt On Their Phobias

One of the wonderful and crazy things about the Internet is that you can find almost anything and everything on it.  You never know what lies only one mouse-click away from the next site you're going to visit.

That was how I found some blogs I now follow and enjoy:  Lovely Bicycle!, 1410 OakWooD and A.E. Brain come to mind.  Ironically, I found Lovely when I was convalescing and couldn't ride my bike.  During that time, I also found 1410 Oakwood because its author found me when we both commented on the Velo Orange blog.  And he sent me a very nice message.

But now, as I near the first anniversary of my surgery, it seems as if I'm finding all the L's and G's who hate trans people.  The author of Joe.My.God is not himself transphobic.  At least, he doesn't seem to be, from the stuff he writes. (How does he post so many times a day?)  But some of the people who comment on his posts  hate us just as much as Fred Phelps thinks God hates "fags."  One in particular seems like a gay version of an Angry White Man.  At any rate, he just seems like some bitter guy in late middle age who just happens to be gay.  He thinks that everyone in the world--including, and especially, trans people, got and have some sort of privilege to which he seems to feel somehow more entitled.    For all I know, he might be Fred Phelps or someone of that ilk posing as a gay man.  That wouldn't be hard to do on a blog.  Then again, somehow I don't think Rev. Phelps would pose as a gay man, no matter how deep the cover.

Then there is the author The dirt from Dirt.  (I assume her nom de web is Dirt.)  She--and most of the commenters on her posts--so hate anything that ever was or could have been male that they have to bash male-to-female transgenders.  We have, ahem, chosen to live as the women we are.  Most don't do what we do in order to uphold the patriarchy and don't have access to the male privilege (which, I know for a fact, exists) she seems to think we have.  If anything, we have to give up that privilege--at least, I know I did.  And lots of women I know--including straight women and ones who make "Dirt" seem like Paris Hilton--have said as much to me.

"Dirt" is one of those people who seems to think that if anyone gets what he or she wants, it's come at her expense.  She might call her way of thinking radical feminism or butch separatism or some such thing, but her mentality is really no different from that of an Angry White Male, or almost any Tea Bagger or anyone on the Far Left. They all have the mentality of a kid who just saw his or her parent give a new toy to a younger sibling.

I usually try to keep such people as far away from my life as I can, simply because too much exposure to their bile is toxic.  Now, Dirt has the right to hate or resent me or anyone else for whatever reasons she deems appropriate.  The thing is, she's completely unwilling to let anyone else have that right. So, for that matter, is the bitter old queen who comments on Joe's posts.   Maybe some of us act and dress the way we do because it fits who we are and allows us to move about in the world as we need to.  And, given that I'm probably not applying for any job they'd want, I don't see how I'm keeping them from getting one they want.  

I don't mean to imply that only bitter butches and querulous queens have such hatred and resentment.  A former friend of mine accused me of changing gender, in essence, so that I could get the jobs and have the men she felt she deserved.  I'll grant her that she deserves those jobs more than I do. But then again, I'm not applying for them.  As for the men:  Her belief that I am, or could be, competing with her in that area is one of the silliest notions any person of my acquaintance has ever held.  Most men consider her more far more physically attractive than I am (and, truth be told, I agree with them) and she makes more of an effort to get dates with them than I ever did.  She defines herself by her ability to attract men to a degree that I don't think I ever could, even if I wanted to.  (For that matter, I never so defined myself by my ability to attract women, either.)  Plus, for me it's not about getting a man or woman; it's about getting a companion. On top of those things, my taste in men is completely different from hers.

That woman holds a PhD in Comparative Literature with a certificate in Gender Studies.  Now you know why I'm not impressed with such things.  Hmm...She did have a female lover once.  Perhaps she'll go that way again.  Then, she could hook up with Dirt--and they'll make only two people, instead of four, miserable.

It's not as if I didn't know there are transphobic G's and L's--and liberal academicians.  I just never knew how vicious they can be simply because of their irrational fears and hatreds.  I should be as powerful as they must think I am if they fear me so!

28 May 2010


I didn't go to commencement after all.  I wasn't feeling welll when I woke up today.  It wasn't dread or anxiety:  It was an actual physical ailment.  To be precise, I felt woozy, even a little tipsy.  It seems that I have had a low-grade infection in my left ear:  the one in which my eardrum ruptured from another infection some years back. Since the infection is viral rather than bacterial, the doctor couldn't prescribe an antibiotic.  Even if he could have, he might have been reluctant (and I wouldn't have been thrilled, either), as I just finished a round of antibiotics for my vaginal infection, which has cleared up very nicely.

I wish I could have gone, if only because some of my students were scheduled to graduate.  On one hand, I'm happy to see them ascend to the podium, especially because some of them had to take such hard roads there.  Many of them are the first in their families to earn degrees.  I can well understand how they and their families feel, because I was the first in my family to earn a degree.  

On the other hand, though, I'm sad to see them leave.  Of course, there always comes the day when one must leave, for whatever reasons. Still, it's hard not to feel a little sad when someone with whom you've developed a relationship in which you and that person feed off each other, at least intellectually, is leaving.  And, of course, I always hope that they'll be safe and well, especially if they've confided something or another to me.

If any of you want to teach at any level, listen to what I am about to say:  Students are the only reason to do it.  Any satisfaction you derive will be from what you and your students contribute to each other.  Everything else about being an educator, from the condition of most facilities to the low (at least in proportion to what you must do, and the time and resources you expend, to get the position) salaries, is very unattractive.  

Sometimes, though, I wonder what I am accomplishing when I teach.  I occasionally get the feeling that I'm helping to form personalities rather than to develop minds.  Sometimes I think that's the real goal of education.  Why else is there so much emphasis on class participation and group activity?  My current department chair, and others I've had before, have said that I should mandate participation by making it twenty percent (or some other significant portion) of the student's final grade.    

I actually did that for a time.  The result was always the same:  some chatterbox would make comments, no matter how irrelevant they were to the subject at hand, and expect to receive credit. 

Worst of all is that such a system is unfair to shy students.  What the powers-that-be want us to do is to make those shy kids talk more.  I am willing to help them, and any other students, achieve their goals.  

On the other hand, I think of that shy young man whom i mentioned in a previous post. What if I were to make him--or any other shy person--more ebullient.  What about the equally shy young woman in another of my classes?  I have not heard her in all the time I've known her.  But she is one of the most perceptive readers and most engaging writers I've seen. Would she lose some of that if she were to become a more outgoing person?

Oh well.  I probably won't get to see how either of them progresses.   But it's nice to know that they're graduating and moving on to other things.

27 May 2010

What Did We, And Will They, Graduate Into?

As you may have noticed, I haven't had a whole lot to tell over the past few days.  I haven't had much of a life outside of work:  I have just barely had any time to post anything, and when I have, I've been ready to go horizontal.  

Commencement (what most people call "graduation") is tomorrow.  The first time I attended one, it was rather exciting:  I was still relatively new at the college and was still meeting various faculty and staff members for the first time.  It was also the first time I was present for any graduation since I walked up to the podium to shake hands with some administrator I had never before met and to take my degree out of the hand of some other administrator whose name I didn't know (and who didn't know my name, I'm sure).  I think it was more exciting for my family than it was for me:  By that time, I'd spent sixteen years in school and wanted out.  The last things I wanted to do were to enroll in another school and enter another classroom.  I'm sure a lot of students who are graduating tomorrow feel the same way.

Three years ago, I told a prof who was sitting next to me, "They're lucky.  They're the last lucky graduates we're going to see for a long time."  Now, I don't claim to be clairvoyant or anything like that.  Truth be told, I'm not so sure that I'd want to be.  But I knew then--in 2007--that within a couple of years the world was going to be a very different place.  I had some inkling of what changes were going to take place, but I couldn't describe the specifics.

The Class of 2007 was probably the last class of this generation, and possibly for some time to come, that could count on getting a job that paid well, or at least one that offered them some sort of opportunity for growth and advancement.  I don't know when another class will be able to enter the wider world with such confidence.

But that is not the only sea-change that I could foresee.  In some way, that class reminded me a bit of my own.  The funny thing about history is that it doesn't always proceed and change according to the labels and boundaries we place on periods of time.  As an example, some (like Paul Fussell, who was one of my professors at Rutgers) have said or implied that the Twentieth Century--at least, as most people think of it--really didn't begin until 1914.  I would say that what most people mean when they say "The Seventies" began around 1973 and lasted until 1982 or 1983.  So, while some would argue that I graduated at the end of the Seventies or the beginning of the Eighties, I would say that we were still in the thick of the former decade.  

What was it like to be young in the Seventies?  Well, you grew up with less lofty expectations than what young people would have in the Eighties or Nineties:  You knew that no matter what your major was or how well you did in school, there was a good chance that you weren't going to get a job, much less a good one.  On the other hand, you didn't have as much fear about basic survival:  It really didn't take very much money to get a roof over your head and something to eat.  And, even if you weren't making much, you still had something--however little--left over.  So, something as simple as a night at the movies and something to eat (or drink!) afterwards wasn't a budget-buster or debt-builder. In contrast, people who graduated a few years after I did wouldn't have that same fall-back.  Sure, they could make more money than we ever could ever dream of making.  But they also needed to make all of that money:  It seems as if money-making had become an "all or nothing" proposition in a way that it never was for me or my peers.

In a sense, the Seventies that I've described were an extension of the Sixties, or what people have  heard about that decade.  We may not have had our Woodstock, but we liked our trippy music just as much as the hippies did.  And we got high--well, some of us, anyway--and had as much commitment-free sex as they did.  Well, at least the males of our generation did.  Someone, I forget who, once said that in the so-called Sexual Revolution, men got their freedom but women got screwed. 

Just a few years after I graduated, all of that changed.  The music got louder, faster and--at least to my ears--more repetitive.  Our favorite band members had long hair; the new bands had big hair or dyed manes.  And, while males still were under the same pressure to gain sexual experience, both they and the females were admonished to "be careful."  As the years went on, more of them were:  I noticed that in the first freshman students I taught, in 1991.  At least, it seemed that way from their talk.

Plus, it seemed that women were leading the way in everything from class discussions to starting new enterprises in ways that I never saw during my formative years.  Some say this was a result of enlightenment about gender roles and oppression; I believe that it had more to do with the expectation, at least in some communities, that men wouldn't be there to head households or corporations.  I think now of the seventh-grade class in East New York with whom I conducted poetry workshops back in 1989.  One boy asked, "Mr. Nick (That's what they called me.) how old are you?"  After I revealed that information (something I would never do now!), he exclaimed, "Then you're the oldest man I know."  His teacher pointed out that he was probably right:  Many males in that neighborhood, at that time, weren't making it past 18, much less 29.  I understand things are still that way in some parts of this city, and other American cities.

By that time, a man didn't have to live in a place like East New York to have a shorter life expectancy than a man in Bangladesh or Somalia.  He could also have been around the intersection of West 12th Street and Greenwich Avenue, just a block away from St. Vincent's.  I knew four people who lived within a couple of blocks of that junction and died from AIDS-related illnesses.  And I knew others--and women--who died that way in the East Village, on the Upper West Side and in Connecticut.

I doubt that any of my classmates could have foreseen any of that.  I didn't.  Neither did two classmates whom I knew--and who died the same way.

Then again, I didn't foresee the changes I've made and the fulfillment I've experienced from them.  Back then, I could only hope and wish for them, to the extent that I could envision them at all.  At least I have the results of them now.

26 May 2010

Memorial Heat

Today was one of those very hot days that, in some years, comes at this time of year:  at or near Memorial Day. When it's this hot earlier in the spring, you still know it was spring, even if you don't look at the calendar:  even the heat passes with the evanescence--almost a kind of delicacy or fragility, really--of the cherry blossoms, lilacs and other flowers with gossamer-like petals.  But now the heat, like the flora and fauna, have grown fuller--and heavier.  Between now and September, if we get a chilly, rainy day--as often happens just before the official start of summer--it will be merely an interlude, a passage in the hazy chamber of summer heat.

Now there is summer:  It could be a time of joy, a time of reflection or a time of death.  Last summer was certainly a time for the first two; in some sense, there had always been death and there would be more death.  I recall one year--so long ago now!--that this time of May began, literally, a season of death--and a prolonged one at that.  It seemed that lives could be submerged in the steamy, almost viscous heat of a season like that one.  James Baldwin has described that air--like an electrically-charged sky right before a summer storm that could just as easily become the strangest and most intense dream, one about which the dreamer can do nothing--filling  Southern summer nights and veiling the darkness in which lives are drowned and no one hears the scream.

Before that summer night of my life would end--after enveloping the months from Memorial Day until Christmas that year--six people who had been in my life before it began would be gone.   One would be murdered; the other five would die from AIDS-related illnesses.  Yes, I know, I am still affected by them, still grieving them, if I am still talking about them.  Why wouldn't I?  I have a chance at life, my own life, that they never had.  

In one sense, one might say that I died in a way, too, during that time:  After all, I was not the same afterward.  And, I also died in giving birth to myself.  No one is ever the same after giving birth as he or she was before.  Of course, for me, that was the point of it:  Why would I have gone through changing my gender and the surgery if it weren't?  That meant, of course death to the old person who lived through the body I had.  

A few hundred students--including a few of mine--will graduate on Friday.  Some speaker or another is going to talk at them about the challenges they'll face in the future.  I don't remember exactly what the speakers at my graduation said ours would be.  But I don't think any has ever said that real challenges would be dying and giving birth to one's self, as well as others, again and again.

If I ever had a chance of being anyone's commencement speaker, I probably blew it just now  Oh well.  I didn't want to do that anyway.  

24 May 2010

The Homestretch, If Not a Homecoming

Now it's the last week of the semester. Two of my classes had their final exams; one more will have theirs tomorrow.  And now I have a new pile of essays that will grow.  Somehow, they'll all get read and the students will get their grades.  A few of them will graduate at the end of this week; another few will transfer to other schools; a few more will drop out or leave temporarily and a whole bunch more will be back next semester.

The ones who are graduating, or leaving in one way or another, I envy somewhat.  Some, I know, have uncertain futures:  The job market isn't too promising for them, at least right now.  Eventually, they'll find their way.  I think of myself when I graduated.  This year is one of those "milestone" anniversaries.  My college is having a reunion: I was tempted, for a moment, to go to it.  But then I realized that any desire I had to attend was motivated by the same thing that would motivate most of my classmates to talk to me, if they were so inclined:  curiosity.  I'm not talking about the scientific kind; rather, I'm thinking of possibly-salacious desire to find out information that confirms the suspicions, fears and fantasies that someone has about someone else.  Really, why else would some of them want to see me after not seeing me since we graduated?

Plus, my undergraduate years were by far the unhappiest ones of my life.  My high-school years were pretty bad, but somehow I felt the burden of expectations that I would be, or pretend to be, someone I wasn't in order to "fit in."  

After my experiences, I wonder how some of my students will or won't change in the next five, ten or twenty years.  How many of their changes will come by choice, and how many will be borne of necessity?  And how many will have been coerced?    And how many of them will realize that how much the directions of their lives are determined by a couple of or a few moments--or, more precisely, the decisions and choices they make in those moments?

Whatever the answers are, they're coming more quickly than most students--or people generally--realize.

23 May 2010

A Little Less Than Half An Hour Forward

Today I got on my Mercian fixed-gear bike for a little less than half an hour. I got one of the saddles the doctor recommended.  I know I'll need to fiddle with the position:  That's always the case, at least for me, with a new bike or saddle.  I'm almost entirely sure, though, that I'm going to swap seatposts (the seat is attached to it, and it is inserted in the frame):  the new saddle, a Terry Falcon X, sits further back on the seatpost than my Brooks did.  Consequently, I used a seatpost that angled back a bit rather than the kind that goes straight up.

Whenever I've ridden after a layoff, I feel euphoric to the point that I don't notice the creakiness in my body--at least, for a little while. I didn't ride long enough to lose that feeling; I could have ridden longer, but I didn't want to risk anything.

The point is that I'm on my bike again.  That's what I'm telling myself.  Yes, I've gained weight, and I know it's harder to lose at my age.  But I'll do it--not just for my looks, but for my health.

 I felt good because, well, it simply was nice to be on my bike again.  But I also realize that I'm not thinking about the cyclist I once was.  I never will be that cyclist again. At least, it's not likely that I'll be that kind of cyclist.  Why?  For one thing, I'm older and my body is different.  But, more to the point, I'm not the same person as I was when I raced, worked as a messenger in Manhattan or rode up and down the Alps, Pyrenees, Green Mountains, Adirondacks and Sierra Nevada.  Or when I cycled those long, almost endless days along the ocean in New Jersey, Long Island, Florida and France or along the Mediterranean from Rome to Nice, then up the Rhone to Avignon and Lyon. 

For me, it is not simply the passing of my youth--or, as some might see it, an extended childhood.  Honestly, I probably could not have done much of my riding if I had any more responsibility than I had.  But I the reason I didn't remain married or have children, or embark on one career or another that I could have chosen,  wasn't that I wanted to avoid commitment.   The truth is that the path I took was the only one I could have taken, or at least the only one I knew how to take.  And, I probably did less damage to other people's lives--and possibly to my own--than I might have otherwise.

Whatever distance I rode today--it wasn't much--was, I hope, an integral part of my new journey.  I still haven't the slightest idea of where it might lead or what kind of a cyclist (or woman or anything else) I might become along the way.  Whatever happens, I probably won't be like Paola Pezzo or Rebecca Twigg.  Then again, I don't think I'm going to be like Angelina Jolie, either.

Wherever I go, I have those past rides as memories and resources.  But I cannot go back to them, any more than anyone can go back to any part of  one's youth.  Plenty of people have tried; I know I have.  

After I rode, I went to a new greenmarket that's opened in my neighborhood.  The smell was most enticing when I entered; as I had almost nothing beyond some cereal and cheese in my place, I bought as much as I could carry.    After that, I called Carol Cometto, the manager of The Morning After House, where I stayed before and after my operation.

I immediately detected a note of sadness, or perhaps resignation in her voice.  "I'm closing this place at the end of August."

At that time, she says, Marci Bowers is moving to Palo Alto.  I knew that she'd talked about moving there; she's always liked the Bay Area. However, Carol said she wouldn't go with her.  "I've been in Trinidad all of my life.  I was born in San Rafael"--the hospital in which Marci did my, and many other people's, surgery--"and everyone I know is here."  

I feel bad for Carol, but I can't say that I'm surprised.  I love them both, but they were a bit of an odd couple, to say the least.  Part of the reason for that is their differing histories and styles.  It's not odd to find Carol in a place like Trinidad: being soft-butch/grown-up tomboy is not at all incompatible with being a sort of modern-day pioneer woman.  Carol has worked on the railroad and performed other jobs that required her to endure extreme weather and other kinds of conditions.  In a way, she reminded me of the narrator of Stone Butch Blues, who--like the other "butches" around her--were able to find work and fashion lives for themselves in the factories of Buffalo during the 1950's and 1960's.  Years later, after the factories closed, those same women could find work only in the supermarkets and department stores, if they could find work at all.  Some of them even married men.

That leads to an interesting question that some academician might want to research:  What would happen to people like Carol if places like Trinidad, Colorado (which has never really recovered from the steep decline in coal mining) and the surrounding ranch and desert areas were to become, say, a new corporate headquarters?  What would become of a middle-aged butch whose work was mostly physical and done mostly outdoors?

Anyway...I realized, after talking to Carol that the whole Trinidad experience, as wonderful as it was, is past for more reasons than simply my own experience.  In a funny way, it reinforces what I sometimes feel:  that everything and everyone else in my life is changing even more than I am.    And, it seems, the only constants have been my writing, teaching--and gender identity--and bike riding.

22 May 2010

One Wait Ends; I Extend Another

I went back to Dr. Ronica yesterday. Would she allow me to get back on my bike? 

I'm going to make you wait until the end of this post to find out, Dear Reader.

The culture samples came back.  I had a staph infection, she said.  It could have come from any number of things, but the tear, slight as it was, in my vaginal wall gave it a place to take root.  

Infections aren't fun.  Actually, this one was more inconvenient than anything else.  It didn't make me feel ill; it's just kept me off my bike and ruined some undies.  

Dr. Ronica and I were talking about one thing and another and I mentioned that I haven't been sexually active, and that I haven't been in a relationship since my surgery. Although I've met a few people who interested me in that way, I decided that I really didn't want to be involved, and that I wasn't in a hurry to become sexually active. 

"Why should you be?," she said.  "You've given yourself time to develop and to get used to the changes in your body.  I think that's really smart."

I am certainly curious to find out what sex will feel like.  It doesn't take any great perception to realize that a female orgasm has to feel different from a male one.  But how, exactly, I wonder.  I also want to see whether these changes in my body will affect, not only the way I have sex, but in what other ways I might relate to the next person who hooks up with me.  Will it affect, not only the physical sensations, but the emotional and mental aspects of my relationship?  

If my first meeting with any of the people with whom I was involved before my surgery were to take place now, rather than back in the day, I somehow don't think I'd even have an affair, much less enter a long-term relationship, with them.  Granted, I sometimes look back fondly on things I did with Tammy, and even some moments I had with Eva.  But I was a different person in those days.  The funny thing is that I don't see myself so differently, at least in some ways,  from how I saw myself when I knew them.  After all, I knew at least something about myself that I was trying to hide from Eva and hoping to integrate, somehow, into life with Tammy.  

Yes, I am still "getting used to" my physical changes, as the doctor and other people have suggested.  However, I am also how I have--and haven't--changed, mentally and emotionally.  

Dr. Ronica seems to understand that.  And, yes, she told me I could ride again.  Just change my saddles and proceed with caution, for now, she said.

20 May 2010

Bikeless Blues

Today was one of  those drop-dead gorgeous days when I wanted to be on my bike.  Tomorrow I go to the gynecologist again.  Please, Dr. Ronica, say yes.  Tell me it's OK to get back on the bike.  

And what was I doing today?  Giving an exam, grading more papers...You get the idea.  Just like yesterday, except that today had sunshine and warm weather that I couldn't enjoy.

Yesterday it was chilly and rainy until the evening.  Then, a warm breeze swept through the darkened sky and seemed to break up the clouds.  I purposely got off the subway a stop earlier than I usually do just so I could walk a bit more.  

Tonight I was talking to another prof who's been teaching about as long as I've been.  We concurred that this indeed has been a stressful semester. "Usually, I feel burnt out during the last week or two of the semester.  But this time, I felt that way about five weeks before it ended." The difference between me and him, I said, is that I think I started to feel spent, used up or whatever you want to call it even earlier than that.  I realize now that we came to drag ourselves through significant parts of this semester for essentially the same reasons:  our workload and class sizes increased, we're getting older and the atmosphere in the college and department is not a happy one.  And I think that the negative energy in there wore on me even more than it did before mainly because I noticed it more.  Actually, I didn't notice it so much as I felt as if I no longer had a filter against it, as I seem not to have some of the other filters I used to have.  Whether that's a consequence of my operation or anything related to it, I don't know.

18 May 2010

Georgia On My Mind in The Salt Mines

"Another day in the salt mines."  That is what one prof says every time we are about to begin a workday.  He said that today, too, even though most of us didn't have classes.  We have been meeting with students, a few of whom begged us to accept assignments that were due weeks or even months ago.  In between, we're reading and grading said assignments and doing various end-of-semester paperwork.

I feel fat, ugly and tired.  Well, how does that saying go?  "Misery loves company."  Others here at the college would probably say the feel one, all or some combination of those things.

At this point of every semester, I think of what it must have been like to be in one of Hitler's bunkers.  We're in a very institutional setting in a post-industrial landscape.  That's a fancy way of saying the college is in a blue-collar neighborhood without the jobs.  This part of Queens has the highest foreclosure rate in the city, and, according to one report, the greatest concentration of foreclosures outside of  Florida, Arizona or Las Vegas.  Maybe it's not quite as grim as, say, Elkhart, Indiana, or what the media would have us believe about it.  I've never been there, so I wouldn't know for sure how it really is.

When I was checking my e-mail (Students have been sending me assignments that way.), I saw a link for a listing of faculty openings at a place called Georgia Highlands College.  It's in a town called Rome and has satellites in other nearby towns.  Now, I know about as much about that area as I do about Indiana.  I couldn't tell you where in Georgia Rome is.  I've been in the state of Georgia only once since I was about six months old. Dad was stationed in Albany, in the southwestern part of the state, with the Air Force,  and as a consequence, I was born there.  Halfway through my first year of life, or thereabouts, they returned to Brooklyn.  And, of course, I went with them. 

So, let's see:  If we'd remained there, and I had been born with two X chromosomes, I could be a Southern Belle.  How would my life have been different?  Somehow I get the feeling I would've been very, very bored.  Then again, I might've been one of those Southern country girls.  If I became an educator of any sort, I probably would've been an elementary school teacher.  And, if I wrote, would I have been like Eudora Welty?  Carson McCullers?  Or, perhaps, I'd've had a bunch of kids, and the males would've played football.

I wonder what it would be like to move to Georgia.  No one who doesn't work for the Office of Vital Records would know that I'd been born there unless I mentioned it.  So I'd be "going stealth" in more ways than one!

If I could get to do some more cycling, and writing, it just might be worthwhile.  A Southern Belle Biker Chick?  Hmm....

17 May 2010

The End of the Semester: From the Shy Young Man to Dr. Klein

It's the time in the semester when students who haven't done their work all semester try to do it all.  And, most of the time, what they submit is predictably bad.  Thankfully, only a few students have tried that this semester.  However, I'm not looking forward to having to deal with them when they learn of their grades.

After work, I went to my appointment with Dr. Noah Klein, my opthamologist.  I've been going to him for six years:  When we were reviewing some of my records, he mentioned it.  The funny thing is that he actually seems younger to me now.  He doesn't look any different from the way he looked back then, and his demeanor hasn't changed.  And I don't mean that he's less mature or more boyish.  I guess he seems younger simply because he seems not to have aged and time has passed.  And, I'm told, I've changed.  I remain skeptical about that.  Then again, I'm skeptical about lots of things people take for granted.  If I were a scientist, I'd probably be skeptical about the law of gravity until I tested it for myself.

Back to Dr. Klein:  I've always liked him. I am probably the first (and, for all I know, I'm still the only) transgender patient he has ever had.  I remember my first visit with him, when he asked whether I was taking any medications.  First I mentioned Premarin.  He knew about that, probably because many of his female patients are in or past menopause.  He probably assumed that I was, too.  But then I mentioned that, at the time, I was taking Spironolactone.  I no longer take it, as it's an anti-androgen and my body no longer has the capacity for producing male hormones.  They probably didn't mention it when he was in ophthalmology school, so I had to explain what it is and why I was taking it.  He treated it as simply another relevant piece of information:  Neither the Premarin nor the Spironolactone was likely to have any effect on anything for which he might examine or treat me, but it was important for him to know nonetheless.

From that moment on, I knew I could at least trust him professionally.  At that time, it was especially important to me, as I had been living as Justine for less than a year and he was really the first medical-service provider I went to who wasn't part Callen-Lorde.  From then on, I have never been anything but a female patient of a certain age.   And, back in November, when I saw him for the first time since my surgery, I mentioned that I'd had it simply because it's part of my medical history.  He congratulated me but, as with the other things I've disclosed about myself, he treated it as simply another fact about a patient.  

I never expected him to be as warm and embracing of who I am as, say, Dr. Jennifer or Marci Bowers have been.  He has a Magden David and a bas-relief of the Magillah on his door, and every Friday his office closes an hour before sundown.  But, he always has been very respectful:  That, I've found, is how Orthodox Jews are toward educators of just about any sort.  What that means is, among other things, that he's not condescending, even when I ask questions that are sub-elementary.  And, if he's reserved, it's in the way of a shy kid who's grown up rather than someone who's standoffish.

It's easy to imagine one of my students growing up to be like him.  That student is in the first class I taught today--and this semester.  He and an Orthodox friend sit together.  The friend is talkative and rather outgoing; the student in question is shy and rather awkward socially.  But he, like his friend, is very smart and is genuinely interested in learning.  

Even if he doesn't become an ophthalmologist, or any other kind of doctor, he can look forward to seeing them twice a year, as I do now.  I told him that when I mentioned that I was leaving work to go to my appointments.   Unlike most young people (including me at his age), he actually seems to understand that.  What's more, he doesn't seem to mind.

16 May 2010

Getting Out: Anonymity In Chelsea

Another gorgeous spring day when I couldn't ride and all I could do was read a bunch of papers.  So what's a girl to do?

Well, between papers, I did some saddle shopping.  It's scary to have to start over again, trying a whole bunch of different saddles.  Well, I hope I don't have to do that.  I'm looking at the ones with the cutouts:  what are sometimes called the "donut" saddles.  They're what Dr. Ronica recommends.  I want something that fits, but I don't want hideous graphics, either.  That was one nice thing about the Brooks saddles:  They always looked good.

It seemed like everyone in New York was riding bikes today.  Everyone except me, that is.

I took some time off (for good behavior?) to run an errand.  I sold two of my Brooks saddles on eBay and I promised the guys who bought them that I'd ship them tomorrow.  This semester, I've had some time late Monday afternoons when there weren't department or college meetings.  But then I remembered that tomorrow I have an appointment with the ophthalmologist after work.  So, I decided to go to the main post office in Manhattan to mail those saddles.  

That post office is the only one I know of that's open on Sundays.  Besides, it's a beautiful building, and it's right across Eighth Avenue from Penn Station and Madison Square Garden.   All you have to do is walk in any direction from it to find something to amuse, annoy, shock, entertain or endanger you.  

So I strolled down Eighth Avenue toward, then past, the Fashion Institute of Technology.  I taught there one semester--a geological age ago, it seems.  While there, I dated another part-time faculty member who was divorced and about a decade older than me.  Back in those days, I was the "before" photo:  a triangular torso and a shock of a beard along my jawline and chin.  I really fit in!

Anyway, one day, she and I went to an exhibit that was held at FIT.  I forget what, exactly, the theme was, but I recall seeing dresses from 200 years ago or thereabouts in France and England.  I pointed to one.  "That one's beautiful," I exclaimed.  Catching myself, I intoned, "I'd be interested to know how they made it."

"No," Lea said.  "You want to wear it."

That was the only time that my gender identity ever figured, in any way, into any of our conversations.  But, it seemed that it was rearing its head any time I entered or left the campus.  You see, it's near the end of Chelsea.  Because I was in such good shape in those days, I had at least one man approach me for sex any time I walked that stretch of Eighth Avenue.  

And, when I first started to venture out "as" Justine, some guy would hit on me.  Some of those men took me for a drag queen, if not a very glamorous one.  (Wearing lots of glitter never appealed to me.)  I don't think they were the sorts of guys who liked transsexual women:  It's been my experience that such men usually aren't gay.   The guys who were hitting on me in those days thought I was one of them.  I might've spent the night with one or two of them, but in those days I wouldn't simply because I didn't want to see myself as anything but a heterosexual male--albeit one who knew that A-line didn't refer to a segment of the New York City transit system.  

Today I walked down that way for no particular reason except that it's pleasant on a day like today.  (Then again, what isn't?)  I practically brushed elbows with dozens of gay men who were coming as I was going, or vice versa, depending on your point of view.  

Not one of them paid me any mind--at least not that I noticed.  What's really ironic, though, is that it didn't upset me.  At other times, I fret when I think I'm not being noticed, at least a little.  Lots of us go through that when we know we're aging and we don't look the way we once did.  Then again, I don't have a memory of myself as young and pretty.  I wasn't really good-looking as a man; whatever attractiveness I had came from my physical conditioning.

So...I walked down eight city blocks and not one man paid attention to me.  Funny, how that, in other circumstances, could be a source of sadness for me or other women.  Or it could cause us to feel relieved, especially if the streets were in a rougher neighborhood or the guys were drunk.  But today I experienced what may be the ultimate irony:  I walked by hundreds of men, and they walked by me without giving me a second glance, or even noticing me in the first place---and I took it as an affirmation of my womanhood.  Who'd've guessed that I could go to Chelsea to be sexually anonymous?!

15 May 2010

Off The Bike, Under the Papers

I really must have been paying for some past misdeed or another.  It's been an utterly gorgeous spring day and I can't ride my bike. Worse yet, I've had to spend most of this day reading papers, and tomorrow it looks like I will do the same.  

Eventually, I won't have to grade any more papers.   Eventually, I'll get back on my bike--or so I hope.   Dr. Jennifer is on a leave of absence, so I saw another gynecologist, Dr. Ronica.  She says to stay off the bike for now, but won't tell me when I can get back on.  Hopefully, I'll do that when my infection heals and, hopefully, it will heal soon.

She is something of a cyclist herself:  She told me she has two bikes and rides every chance she gets.  So, I take her seriously when she says she has seen other cyclists who developed a tear and an infection, as I have.  And I'm listening to another of her recommendations, even though it goes against one of my cardinal beliefs (at least, as pertains to cycling):  that I get one of those saddles that has a hole in the middle--and a softer nose than the ones I've been riding.  So, it looks like that means bye-bye Brooks and hello...Specialized?  Terry?

Oh well.  I used to think that real men rode unpadded leather saddles.  Now I don't have to worry about being a real man--especially now that I know that nothing in this world takes more balls than being a woman.  And that's one of the reasons why I wouldn't trade it for anything--not even to ride a leather saddle with copper rivets again!

Then again, if I never much cared for leather with studs on it, why should I be so focused on a saddle with rivets?

Once those papers are all done, the students have their grades and I'm back on my bike, I can think about other things.  Well, I'm thinking about other things, anyway.  That's pretty much what I've tried to do for the past few months.  Actually, I haven't tried; it's what I have done.  I never knew that would be a consequence of my surgery, or my transition.

Given what a workload I've had this semester, I think my students have done pretty well.  Some would say it's because I've done pretty well.  Maybe that's true, at least to some extent.  I guess I can say I've been a pretty good instructor, at least given the circumstances under which I've worked.   It'll seem better once I start cycling to work again, I'm sure.  I just hope that day comes soon, and that I don't have to miss riding on another day like today.

14 May 2010

Brunch At The End, No Furlough For Now

There's no furlough...at least for now.   A judge issued a restraining order against it, and there will be a hearing on the 26th.

So it was business as usual at the college. Some classes met for the last time yesterday; others will meet for the last time on Monday or Tuesday.  Then the final exams begin.  This is the time of year when students you haven't seen in weeks come out of the woodwork and the stories  grow longer by the second.  Maybe it seems that way because I got so little sleep last night.

Yesterday there was a brunch for the English majors and minors who are graduating.  In a way, it was bittersweet:  I'm happy for them because they're graduating, but I'm also a bit sad the see them go.  One young woman, who was presenting the research she did as her honors project, was a student of mine during her--and my--first semester at the college.  Another student, in talking about the work she did, said that all she would miss about the college are the department and her professors.

Then there was Joan, a Haitian woman who did some fine research on the poetry of Leopold Senghor.  She took the hip-hop course I taught last year.  Last semester, I saw her in the hallway one afternoon, looking exasperated.  "You look upset," I said.

"That man is driving me crazy!"

"Typical guy.  What's his problem?"

"I can't figure him out."

"Well, you know, guys are simple." (Who would know better, right?)  

"Not him"

"Oh, dear."

"So tell me about him."

The man to whom she was referring was William Butler Yeats.  At the end of our conversation, she exclaimed, "I've got to have a talk with that man."

She's been accepted into a master's-Ph.D. program.  I have mixed feelings about that.  She may well have a successful career as an academic.  She has the commitment to scholarship and the intelligence she'll need.  I just hope the experience doesn't destroy her love of literature, as it does to so many other graduate students.   That's one of the things that made the course I took last year such a dreadful experience:  None of those students seemed to have any love of literature.  Most of the young professors I've seen don't have it, either.  In fact, I daresay that some of them, and my fellow students in that class, hate it.

I really wouldn't want to see Joan lose her passion for poetry and other kinds of expressive language.  I also wouldn't want her to become the petty, vindictive kind of person too many academicians are.  You could see some of those kinds of people on display at the brunch.  Predictably, they are parts of cliques, and will remain in them as long as those little, watered-down fraternities and sororities suit their purposes.  

And, I am reluctant to encourage any student, no matter how intelligent or talented, to pursue graduate studies in literature because the job market is so dismal.  Even during the so-called "good times," there have been hundreds or even thousands of applicants for every new position in any English or literature department.  I said as much to Jonathan, who's a bit socially awkward but who is, at least, achieving what he is on his intelligence and talent rather than on subterfuge.  He is quickly becoming one of the exceptions.

Another example of the petty politics that runs the department and college was evident at the beginning of the brunch.  At the department meeting the other day, a new chair was voted in.  She defeated the incumbent chair, who was supposed to host the brunch.  She had a "commitment" develop at the last minute, so the deputy chair stepped in.  

It was a good time and place to be a student.  I hung out with them after the presentations and speeches.  They, and the food--fried chicken and corn on the cob, along with some sides that I skipped--were the best reasons to be at that brunch.