30 June 2010

Hair and Tatoos

Today I rode the LeTour to work for the first time.   I was running a bit late--or, at least, I left my place a bit later than I'd planned--and forgot to bring my camera with me.  So I have no photos of myself or the bike or the commute.  But I'll tell you a bit about it.

First, fashion:  I feel as if I cheated a bit here.  I didn't ride in a skirt and heels.  Rather, I wore a sundress and my Keen sandals.  In a tote bag I stashed in my rear basket, I carried a short cardigan from a dusty blue twinset.   When I got to work, I slipped it over my dress, which was black with a hibiscus flower print in varying shades of blue.  One of those shades matched the sweater from the twinset, more or less.  And I also brought a pair of somewhat dressy black wedge sandals.  

I was glad to be wearing the sundress, as it was hot (though not as humid as yesterday).  And, of course, the Keen sandals were very comfortable.  

I didn't have any wardrobe malfunctions.  But the bike had a bit of a mishap.  Actually, it wasn't the bike itself; it was the rear rack.  The bolts that fasten the body of the rack to the arms that connect it to the seat stays fell out.  That caused my rack to flip backward and land on my fender.

Fortunately for me, I had just passed a hardware store, where I bought a package of screws and nuts, some lock washers and blue Loctite.  I've stopped there a few times before, as it's along one of my routes to and from work and other places.  Sometimes the guy behind the counter is an oldish Russian Jew who looks the way Alexander Solzhenitsyn (sp?) might have had he shaved.  But today I got this guy who is covered with tatoos and whose yellowing white hair  is longer than mine and beard is longer than mine ever was.  It's really odd to find him in that shop because it's at the corner of Metropolitan and 71st Avenues in Forest Hills, which is possibly the most resolutely bourgeois part of the city.  But he knows his stuff and is very helpful, which is one reason why his shop stays in business.

At one time in my youth, my hair was almost as long as that of the man in the hardware store.  And my beard, while not as long as his, was thick around my jaws and chin.   With all of the anger I felt in those days, I didn't need tatoos (which I've never gotten and probably never will get) or studded jacket to help me project an aura that said, "Stay the ---- away from me!"  I was like a cross between Charles Bronson and a hippie without the charm of either.

One hot day, I was riding my bike to my parents' house.  At the time, I was living in the town where I attended college (New Brunswick, NJ) and my parents were living on the Jersey Shore.  It was a thirty to thirty-five mile ride, depending on which route  I took.

Well, on that day, I peeled off my bike jersey before  I passed through Milltown, after which one of the early sedative drugs was named.  At that time, it was noted in the area for cops that were rumored to have been recruited in Alabama or from the KKK.  

One of those redneck officers actually pulled me over when I was riding along one of the streets.  In those days I didn't carry ID with me; most people didn't. 

"What are you doin' here?"

It took everything I had not to answer him sarcastically. But, fortunately for me, I managed to check that impulse.  

"What are you doin' here?"

"Riding my bicycle, sir."

"To where?"

"My mother's."

"All right.  Have a good day."

I haven't thought about that encounter in more than twenty years.  Now I wonder:  What would it have been like if I were covered with tatoos.

27 June 2010

When You Can't March, You Can Still Follow In Their Footsteps

I'd wanted to go to the Pride March today.  But I got sick:  Something I ate last night didn't agree with me, or with something else I ate.  My condition would have been utterly incompatible with marching.

I feel a little sad about that, mainly because I got a bit of a rush from marching in last year's procession.  Then again, that was a special march, for the LGBT community as well as me personally.  Last year, we marched on the fortieth anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion.  And I was "counting down":  Only nine days stood between me and my surgery.

Maybe it was a good thing, in a way, that I couldn't go this year.  Would  following, or trying to follow,  the footprints of a memory have been a good idea?  Perhaps that works collectively, but for me personally, it usually doesn't work very well.  

Here's a definition of frustration:  I am a person who holds on to, and treasures, memories.  But doing something "for old time's sake" usually has disastrous consequences for me.  Or, at least, it has unintended consequences.

This year is the 40th anniversary of the first march.  I guess that's significant, but it doesn't have quite the same resonance as the anniversary of the rebellion.  Maybe it's because last year's march passed in front of the Stonewall.  Of course, nearly all of us stopped, or at least slowed down, there.  Many marchers, of course, had firsthand memories of the event.  All I had was what I've read about it, and my imagination.  All I could think about was the story, perhaps apocryphal, of Sylvia Rivera tossing out her red patent stiletto-heeled shoe at the cops as they were about to storm the tavern.

With that toss, or whatever else she did that night, she helped to launch the gay rights movement as we know it.  And she became one of its first victims.  Perhaps, in a way, that's not surprising, as rebellions and revolutions have a way of cannibalizing themselves.  

Even though she and other transgendered people played important roles in the Rebellion and the early days of the LGBT rights movements, they were left behind or tossed under the bus, depending on who's narrating the history.  It didn't take long for LGBT organizations--indeed, the entire community--to be dominated by white professional gay men.  Marginalized as they were, they still had much more wealth and influence than lesbians, let alone transgendered people.  

I met Sylvia Rivera once, briefly, not long before her death.  Plenty of people were put off by her, and I could see why.  For one thing, she was very loud and often combative, if not belligerent.  Plus, she lived a hard life and didn't age well:  No one was going to do a fashion shoot with her.

But there was something else, which I have not been able to articulate until now:  She not only used the seductive rhetoric which succesful movements generate in their early days (Think of "Power to the People!"); she helped to make the rhetoric--and, in turn, was shaped by it.  Even after the battles are won or lost, or at least changed, it's hard to give up those slogans and chants of one's youth, even if they are no longer the lingua franca of the people for and by whom revolutions are fought.  

There's a prof in my department who, in that sense, reminds me of her.  He still refers to female students and colleagues as "sistas" and their male counterparts as "brothas."  When he introduced me, at a poetry reading, as "Sista Justine," I was, in a way, flattered.  But at the same time I felt sorry for him (even if he has tenure!).  The battle has not been won; rather, it has moved on and re-formed.  Yet he still talks about people--and movements--as if Huey Newton and Stokey Carmichael were running the show.

Likewise, in some way, Sylvia never moved on from those heady early days.  In one sense, I can understand why:  It could be argued, and I would agree, that the direction the movement took benefited a relatively small part of the community.  Sylvia was not one of those who benefited, just as I would not have been.  

I can't help but to wonder what her role--and, more important, what kind of person she would be now.  Although she was born only seven years earlier than I was, there is more than a generation's remove between us.  When she was igniting the Rebellion, I was unaware of it:  I would not learn of it until many years later.  She was fighting battles that I and others are just beginning to learn how to fight, much less win.  

And, I sometimes feel that she's shadowing me, or that I'm following her shadow:  I met her at the end of her life, and attended her funeral just as I was starting toward the life I lead now.  And, she died at the same age at which I had my surgery.

While I wish I could have marched today, I am still following in her footsteps, and those of other Stonewall veterans.  That, I suppose, is the best homage I can pay to them.

26 June 2010

"You Ride Like A Girl!"

"You throw like a girl!"

Hearing that'll ruin any boy's day.  I heard it again, today, except that it wasn't directed at me.  Then again, I wasn't throwing anything.

If I were to throw anything, would I throw like a girl?

I just got another catalogue from Terry Bicycles.  Some of their products are printed or emblazoned with the logo "Ride Like A Girl!"

That got me to wondering whether one rider in the Tour de France peloton ever told another, "Vous pedale comme une fille!"  What, exactly, would "pedalling like a girl"  look like?

I remember the time a couple of years ago when I passed a couple of guys on Greenpoint Avenue, just after crossing the bridge from Long Island City.  They caught up to me when I stopped for the light at the intersection with Manhattan Avenue.  One of them yelled, "You ride real good for a lady!"

Then, there was the time--not too long ago--when I was riding down Van Sinderen Avenue in East New York.  A bunch of young guys and a couple of slightly-older men looked like they were having a campfire, sans the campfire, on their bikes.  A couple of the younger guys yelled, "Hey, babe."  Another added, "Wanna ride with us?"  As I passed, I heard one guy say, "That's no chick.  She rides too fast!"

So...Fast women aren't supposed to ride bikes?  Hmm...Well, I'm not a fast woman.  First of all, I just ate.  And I am--and always have been-- monogamous, if serially.  

Now let me get this right:  I might ride like a girl because I ride real good for a lady, but I'm too fast of a woman to ride like a chick.  Now, if I can formulate a relevant syllogism from all that, I might get tenure someplace--unless, of course, some student actually understands anything I said.

Besides...How can you be offended to hear "You play like a girl" after you've seen Mia Hamm?  And why would "You ride like a girl" stick in your craw if you've seen Rebecca Twigg or Paola Pezzo on their mounts?

The irony is that all of the time I spent riding with guys so I could ride like them, only better, actually helped me to my current path.  So where will riding like a woman take me?

24 June 2010

Soccer In The Nail Salon

The other day, I was having my nails done at Hannah and Her Sisters, where I usually go.
One of the manicurists, Annie, looks younger than her daughter, who just graduated from a university in Korea. It seems that when I've seen her lately, she hugs me any chance she gets.  I don't mind:  She really seems to be a nice person.  And, I notice, she likes holding on to my hand for as long as she can.  It has me curious.

What was almost as intriguing, though, was her passion for soccer.   Whenever I'm there, the TV is on--usually to NY 1 News or one of the cooking shows that's on the cable channels.  But the other day, they were showing the World Cup soccer match between South Korea--the home country of Hannah, Annie and all of the other manicurists--and Nigeria.

At first, I thought they were tuned into the game merely as a matter of national pride.  There are plenty of people, especially here in the United Staes, who don't pay attention to the sport unless their country's team is playing in the World Cup.

But the women in the shop actually seemed to understand--and care about--soccer itself.  Angela (the women all go by Western names) was criticising one of the Korean players for holding onto the ball too long before shooting--or for not taking shots when they had good opportunities to score.  

I remarked that the Koreans had been playing well-organized, disciplined soccer until that day's match, and that Korea would have been well ahead of  the Nigerians if they continued to play that way.  But, they were playing a surprisingly undisciplined game and not shooting well.  "They have the chances, " I said. "They're just taking too long.

I was getting my pedicure; a woman in the chair next to mine asked whether I'd ever played.  I allowed that I had.  "It shows.  You know more about this than most other women," she remarked.

Down the street, there's a bar that's shown every one of the matches so far.  I couldn't help but to wonder what it would be like if I had the sort of conversation I was having, not in the nail salon, but in that--or any other--sprorts bar.  Of course, I wouldn't go there for a variety of reasons, but mainly for the same reason I generally don't go into bars:  I don't drink alcohol.  Plus, I've discovered that alcohol and testosterone are a very toxic combination.

And to think...I never would have known that Hannah and her sisters were such fans!

22 June 2010

Anniversaries to Come

On my way to class, I bumped into Anne, whom I hadn't seen in months.

She's a geneticist and biology professor who came to the college two years ago.   At an orientation the September before last, she greeted me and recalled something I hadn't:  A couple of months earlier, she was on campus for the first time and was trying to find an office.  I walked with her to that office--human resources, if I recall correctly--and gave her a sort of mini-tour.  

And, not long after that orientation, I saw her again and she mentioned that she'd found this blog.  She really liked it, she said, and admired my courage in my transition and in discussing it publicly.  It's still odd, to me anyway, when people say I have courage for doing what I've done.  I did only what I needed to do.

We met several times during the subsequent year, my last before the surgery.  Ironically, she gave birth around the same time I had my surgery.  She was on leave in the fall and was in only part-time--mainly for her research--in the spring. That's why I haven't seen her.

Now her baby is about to turn one year old at just about the same time as I am.  I would like to mark the occasion with her; we talked about having lunch one day.  

She has said that I was also giving birth--to myself.  I agree with that, but I think the purposes and outcomes of those births are different.  The surgery is already starting to seem less like a point of demarcation than it had  been, or than I thought it would be.  I've had the surgery; I'm continuing and changing my life, and while the surgery has been important, it is really, at least in some way, nothing more than a means to an end.  Some would argue that seeing the surgery in that way, and that it's "fading into the background," as someone else remarked, is a sign that it and my transition were successful.  I would agree with them.

On the other hand,  Anne's child will always be a reminder of her having given birth.  Or so I would expect.  As an event, I'm not sure that it would "fade into the background" because I do not know what purpose, if any, having a child fills--especially for the mother who already has a child.  

I know that many women--including a few I know--had children because they wanted to be mothers.  While I can understand, at least to some degree, wanting that, it seems to me that having a child and becoming a mother are not things most women do in order to fulfill some other purpose.  Instead, giving birth and becoming mothers are things  that women seem to do for their own reasons, possibly to fulfill some inner purpose.  Somehow I don't think they do those things with the expectation that they will think less about them over time.

Anyway:  Anne, if your reading this:  J'en souhaite une bonne anniversaire pour l'enfan--et pour toi.

20 June 2010

Talking To My Father

Today I made it a point of calling my father when my mother was out.   Even though my relationship with my father has improved greatly, I still talk much more, much longer and in more intimate detail with my mother than I do with my father.  Most likely, it will always be that way.  But, because today is Father's Day, I wanted to get into a conversation with my father that wasn't just an afterthought of calling my mother.

He was apologetic about the fact that my mother wasn't there.  Of course, it made no sense:  After all, he didn't tell her to go shopping.  But, given our history, I can understand why he'd still think I was calling to talk to my mother and that I was talking to him only because he happened to answer the phone.

Sometimes I wish I could've had a different relationship from the one I had with him when I was growing up.  Then again, I could say that about nearly all of the relationships I had.  In fact, I could say that I wish many other things had been different.  But, of course, that would have meant my being--or, at least, living as--a different person from the one I had been.  I think he understands that now.  I know my mother does.  Sometimes she berates herself for not knowing--about me, about her own life and life generally--what she knows now.  And he has wished that he could have been a different sort of father from the one he had been to me and my brothers.

Still, even though I  would have liked for him to understand me better than he did--and that I could have spared myself and others, especially my mother, all sorts of pain--I don't regret any of it.  Perhaps that seems contradictory. But I know that had I not lived the life I lived until my transition, I couldn't have understood, much less helped him or her or anyone else to understand, why I need to live the life I'm living now--which, of course, is to say, to understand that I am the person I am.  

That may have been more difficult for my father to learn because, first of all, we didn't have the kind of relationship that my mother and I have shared.  But, equally important, I, and then he, had to learn that I simply could not be the sort of man he might have hoped I would become because, well, I simply couldn't have become any sort of man at all.  And I think he now understands that I really tried--and, it seems, he respects that, and the fact that I've been doing what I need to do in order to be successful in any sense of the word.

The man has tried.  That's really all I can ask of anybody.  And, I'd say, he's learned and showed me a facet of himself I didn't think he had--or, perhaps, that I couldn't allow myself to see:  that he is a man who's capable of compassion, if not empathy.  Right now, that seems to be working pretty well. 

Perhaps I'll never be able to say, as Cordelia says to Lear, "My love's richer than my tongue."  But if we have more respect and understanding for each other than we did before, then I think he's definitely achieved something.

18 June 2010

A Plea From A Friend of Amanda Gonzalez-Andujar

Under other circumstances, I would be happy that someone left a comment to my post nearly three months after I posted it.  But the comment in question relates to what is probably the saddest and possibly the most terrible thing I've written about on this blog:  the murder of Amanda Gonzalez-Andujar.

To honor her memory, and to help a friend of hers, I am going to post that friend's comment here:

I am a old friend of Amanda's family.I am writing this because it has come to my attention that the district attorney Richard Brown, after stating to the press in April that he was going to charge Rahseen Everett with second degree murder(which carries a sentence of 25 years to life) and tapering with evidence, has changed his mind and is talking about giving him a plea deal for a lesser charge of manslaughter(which means he will be out in less then 8 years).They have all the evidence they need to convict him.There isn't need for a plea. I cant help put wonder:   if it was a woman, a mother, and wife, would the district attorney  be going for 1st degree murder, which carries the death penalty and no less than life in prison.

This isn't justice.When the press was watching Richard Brown to see how he'll deal with the case, he said he will charge him with 2nd degree murder.But now that Amanda is not in the news no more, he no longer cares about getting justice for Amanda and her family.

If you would like to help get justice for Amanda, please email me at delights1@msn.com and put (I want justice for Amanda) as the subtitle. Or email Richard Brown at www.queensda.org and let Richard Brown no that this is unbelievably wrong.That Rasheen Everett should be held to the fullest extent of the law.

There is power in number . And one person can make a difference.Amanda made a difference in my life, the life of her friend, and especially in the life of her family. She was accepted and adored by her friends, her community,and especially her family .She was just as beautiful and amazing, as others have said, but even more so. Please demand justice for Amanda.Her life meant SO SO SO MUCH MORE then 8 years.  Nothing will ever fill the empty place in our heart now that Amanda's gone.But you can help us give her family a peace of mind that justice is being served and the person that took Amanda's life will , be paying for his crime appropriately. If you want to help, email me at delights1@msn.com.

16 June 2010

Asserting Her Womanhood

Last night one of my students told me her husband left her after she'd spent two years in college.  Then a bunch of issues came up and she had to leave school.  Now she's back, and the ex-husband offered to pay for her schooling.  She refused; members of her family are pressuring her to take him up on his offer.  Others want her to quit school and reunite with him.  

I simply cannot imagine her doing such a thing.

I told her that, and she said she'd rather die than not finish school--or  get back with her ex.  She understands that for her, going forward means leaving him behind.  It has also meant leaving, or being left by, friends and members of her family.

She does not regret any of it, she said.  But then, she wondered, "Why do people do things like that?"  

There was a long pause.  She seemed to be waiting for an answer to a question that she had been waiting for the right person to ask.   At that moment, I realized that I didn't want to--actually, couldn't--talk to her as her professor.  She really wanted an answer to that question.

"Some people are threatened by people who know who they are and what they need and want."  Her eyes widened.  "Especially if those people are women."

"Yes!  That's so true!  Why is that?"

"Well, girls are trained to be people-pleasers.  That's what's expected of them, not only by the males in their lives, but by the women, too."

"Wow!  You're right.  That's especially true in my culture."

She is Guyanese, of Indian-Muslim descent.  I have known a few Indian-Guyanese women and have, for some reason, gotten along very well with them.  They were all very strong and independent-minded women.  Now, I wonder:  Are women, especially in those cultures, taught to be subservient because their female elders and the men know they're independent?  Or do they become that way because people try to beat them down?

That student and I talked a bit more, and something made sense:  From the first night of class, she almost seemed to be awestruck by, and studying, me at the same time.  Until we talked, I didn't understand why.  Did she see me as some sort of role model?  Or was she looking at me and wishing I could have remained a man?  I have met a few women like that.  But then I realized that she didn't want a man, or a woman.  She wanted someone who understood.

Now, I'm not sure that I understand what she thinks I understand.  But she definitely trusted what I was saying to her--and, even more important, that I was listening to her.  So, she was less surprised than I was at what I said next:  "They want us to be strong, but then they beat us down for it."

"You've experienced that?"

I explained that I came to understand what I've told her because of my transition.  "You see, I wasn't raised with that same expectation that I would be a people-pleaser.  Obedient, yes, at least when I was young.  But people wanted me to be more of a 'take charge' person than I was."

"You're very fortunate."

"When I was a man, yes, that served me well.  But now it gets me in trouble sometimes--especially on the job.  They really don't like women who speak up or take it upon themselves to do what needs doing."

I really wasn't expecting what she said next:  "But that's exactly the reason why you had to become a woman."

"You're right.  I had to take a stand on my own life, on who I am.   I simply couldn't have continued to live any other way."

"So you're in the same dilemma as us.  That's why you're one of us.  That's what I like about you."

I didn't tell her about the people I lost along the way:  I really didn't want her to pity me.  Besides, I think she understands that anyone who has decided to be his or her own person and has decided to live his or her own life has paid a price for it.  And, once you have paid that price, you have no choice but to move forward, in this moment.  

It seems that she couldn't do anything else now, even if she wanted to.  Nor can I.

14 June 2010

Where Are The Women?

I don't know whether it's possible to be an urban cyclist without having or developing some sort of interest in architecture. One of the wonderful things about New York and some other cities is that you can find a gem where you weren't expecting it.

This beauty is right across the street from the new Yankee Stadium:

I hadn't been in that part of town in a long time, so I don't know whether or how recently the building was renovated.  I suspect that it was fixed up as the new stadium was built, but I also suspect that it hadn't deteriorated very much, as so much of the neighborhood around the old stadium (which was next to where the current stadium stands) had for so long.

If people couldn't tell that I hadn't spent much time in the neighborhood just by looking at me, they had to have known once I started taking photos.  Then again, maybe some architecture lovers have trekked up that way.

Wouldn't you love to live in a building with this over the entrance?:

Or this by your window?

For a moment, I wondered whether someone might get upset with me for pointing my camera at his or her window. But building residents may be used to that sort of thing.

So, how did I end up there?  Well, I just hopped on Tosca (my Mercian fixie) and pedalled across the Queensboro (a.k.a. 59th Street) Bridge.  After descending the ramp on the Manhattan side, I found myself riding past Sloan Kettering, Rockefeller University and lots of dimpled blonde toddlers escorted by nannies or au pairs who were much darker than them.    As I rode further uptown, the kids got darker and didn't have au pairs or nannies.   None of it was new to me, but something would be after I passed the building in the photos.

In Manhattan, almost everything above Columbia University is commonly referred to as "Harlem," and in the Bronx, almost everything below Fordham Road is called the South Bronx.  As it happened, I pedalled through the places that are, technically, Harlem and the South Bronx.  But I also passed through a number of other neighborhoods that consist almost entirely of people of color, most of whom are poor and whose neighborhoods are lumped in with Harlem and the South Bronx.

I ride in those places because there are some interesting sights and good cycling.  But today I noticed something in those neighborhoods that, I now realize, makes them not only different neighborhoods, but different worlds, from Astoria, where I now live, and Park Slope, where I lived before moving here--not to mention neighborhoods like the Upper East Side and Yorkville, which I also rode through today.

In neighborhoods like Harlem and the ones I saw in the Bronx, one generally doesn't see as many adults, especially young ones, cycling.  And, as one might expect, the bikes one sees are likely to have been cobbled together.  I'm not talking about the kinds of bikes one can buy used from any number of bike shops or the ones available from Recycle-a-Cycle and other places like it. Rather, I'm talking about bikes that look like they were spliced together from bits and pieces that were tossed out or found lying abandoned somewhere or another.  

As often as not, the bikes and parts don't go together.  I'm not talking only about aesthetics:  Sometimes parts that aren't made to fit each other are jammed together and held together by little more than the rider's lack of knowledge about the issue. 

It was usually poor men of a certain age who were riding the kinds of bikes I've described.  Younger men might ride them, too, but they are more likely to be found on cheap mountain bikes, some of which came from department stores.  A few are the lower-end or, more rarely, mid-range models of brands that are sold in bicycle shops.  Those bikes were probably acquired in one degree or another of having been used; none of them looked as if they were purchased new.

But the most striking thing I noticed is this:  I did not see a single female of any age on a bike in those neighborhoods.  It make me think back to other times I've been in those parts of town and I realized --if my memory was serving me well--that I never saw a woman, or even a girl, on a bike.  

I started to have those realizations after I stopped at an intersection a few blocks north of the stadium.  A very thin black man was crossing the street.  He approached me and, in a tone of consternation, said, "You're riding a bike?"  For a split-second--until I realized why he was asking the question--I thought it was strange and ignored him.  But he persisted: "You ride a lot?"

I nodded.  

"Be safe.  I don't want a nice lady like you to get hurt."

"I will.  Thank you.  Have a nice day."

I realized that I may well have been the first woman he, or many other people in that neighborhood, had seen on a bike.     

How would his life be different if he saw more women on bikes? And, even more to the point, how might the lives of some of those women be different if they rode bikes?  And, finally, I wondered, how might those neighborhoods be different?

13 June 2010

They Ask About "It"

My birthday's about three weeks away.  The anniversary of my surgery is three days after that, and the anniversary of my name change (and a couple of other things) is a week after that.

Maybe I'm turning into a proverbial (or not-so-proverbial) old fart, but none of those things seems so monumental right now.  When you get to my age, you've experienced a bunch of birthdays already, so it's no more of an event, really, than having your morning cup of coffee (or tea).  As you get older, time passes more quickly, so events come and go at a faster pace.  Paradoxically, learning that has been teaching me to ( in the words of someone who's much wiser than I am) live in the moment, not for it.  You do what you can in this moment precisely because it will be gone before you can even begin to think about it.  

What's got me onto another ramble into two-bit philosophy?  Well, today I bumped into someone I haven't seen in two years, or close to it.  Kyra was a tutor in biology and chemistry when I was in charge of the tutoring center at the college.  She was a good tutor for the main reason she's good at most of the things she's good at:   She has a warm, inviting personality and relates well to people.   

Today she was visiting a friend who just happens to live near me.  We got to talking about one thing in another; she's trying to decide whether to go to graduate school; of course I'd give her a recommendation--for that, or a job or whatever else she wants to do, I promised.  

Then, she asked me, "How did it go?"  I knew what she meant by "it."  She wasn't being coy; she just knew that I knew what she was talking about.  I told her that I experienced no pain and that my life got crazy for a while but it didn't have to do with "it;" now it seems almost inconceivable that I lived as long as I did before taking my trip to Trinidad.  

Everything I said was true.  But what I didn't tell her was that, in some way, the question seemed odd to me.  Or, more exactly, not quite relevant.  I felt the same way on Thursday when I bumped into Diane, who had been a student of mine at the same time I was running the tutoring center.  The last time either of us could recall having seen the other was at her graduation a year ago.  That was about five weeks before "it."  

And, yes, she asked me that same question about "it."  So did Sharon, who was a student in the last class I taught before "it."  I encountered her in the hallway during Finals Week; it was the first time I'd seen her since that class. After taking that class (Intro to Literature), she was inspired to change her major to English, she said.  She also asked how "it" went.

I was happy to see all of them.  And I appreciate their interest in my situation.  However, it seemed strange that they should ask about my surgery or its aftermath.  That it went well and I'm happy with it seems as normal and routine to me as brushing my teeth in the morning.  The surgery seems like just another event in my life now.  Yes, it changed, in some way, how I see and feel about myself.  And the years before my surgery, not to mention before my transition,  seem as far in the past as the Paleozoic Era.  

I'm not sure that it's because I have changed so much as a result of the transition or the surgery.  Perhaps it's simply a matter of moving on with my life--and, in my case, being fortunate enough to be moving on with a life that I had envisioned for myself.  Some people have told me they've seen a change in me;  I can see something different in the photos Bruce as well as a couple of complete strangers took of me.  The simplest explanation I have of it consists of a confidence and peace with myself that I never had before.  When you feel those things, it almost seems redundant to talk about them. People who know you see them; sometimes other people respond to them.   And, when such serenity and joy become normal--that is to say, when you carry them within you even when day-to-day situations are exasperating or annoying--they become the reason and means for what you do, and whatever event brought you to them starts to seem like just another moment, albeit a very good one.

So, while the surgery was a happy occasion for me, and seeing my newly-formed parts of my body (and spirit) developing has been wonderful, it seems strange that anyone else--even someone who hasn't seen me in a while--would express interest in them.  It's a bit like asking an experienced doctor how her licensing exam went.  We've made it through those events in our lives; there is only this moment.

Maybe that was the whole point of having the surgery.  It was an event I anticipated for a long time and dreamed (and despaired) of for much, much longer.  And why?  So that it wouldn't be an event to anticipate or enshrine---so that I could live as a woman.  

Still, I am glad that they asked, even if the answer doesn't seem so relevant now. And I'm glad they're progressing with their lives.

11 June 2010

When The Transwoman Becomes A Stranger

I guess I shouldn't be surprised.  The very title of this blog is starting to seem strange, almost alien, to me.

Maybe that was the whole point of everything I've done for the past eight years (almost).  I'm having a harder and harder time thinking of myself as anything with the prefix "trans" on it.

The funny thing is that I've come to this point partly because of two unlikely influences who would probably hate each other. Actually,  one would hate the other.  The other might just keep a kind of clinical distance.

One of the people I've mentioned is the author of "The Dirt From Dirt."  No, I didn't meet her, and have no wish to do so.  She is a "butch," which I respect as being a particular kind of woman.  (Some people would say the same thing about me.  I wouldn't disagree with them.)  That is probably the only point on which I agree with her: I don't see "butches" as women who want to be men but won't, for whatever reasons, go through the transition.

To her, biology is destiny.  If you were born with XY chromosomes, or just happened to end up with an "M" on your birth certificate because the doctor decided that you were one, well, then, you're male.  She hates and resents them because of their privilege, yadda yadda yadda.  While I know that male privilege exists, I've learned that you don't hate someone for having privilege they did nothing to get.  If you're going to hate, save your animus for those who use their power to unfairly take advantage of other people.

What she hates even more than biological males are transmen, especially if they lived as butches or simply lesbians before making his transition  She sees them as traitors who, in their treachery, support the hetero-normative gender binary.  (Say that three times fast.)  To her, they're impersonating men and people like me are impersonating  women.  Worse still, in her eyes, is that we're imitating what she sees as the most exaggerated behaviors attributed to the gender in which we're living.

I can honestly say that she's not describing me.  I'm not one of those trans women who shrieks and demands that men hold doors open for her as she's tottering on four-inch heels.  On the other hand, I do some things that most people wouldn't regard as terribly feminine, and I make no apologies for doing so.

My other influence on my thinking is a woman who doesn't want to be identified in my writings or anywhere else.  She's married and has dated only men in life.  Yet she won't call herself "straight" or "heterosexual."  Instead, she simply sees herself as a sexual being and calls her sexuality "fluid," as I call mine. She says that "homosexual" and "heterosexual" are descriptions of behavior rather than names for identity and that people use those terms, as well as "bisexual" as ways of fitting people into boxes.  And, really, the reason why I've done what I've done is that I never could fit into the boxes.  (With the weight I've gained, there are a lot of things I don't  fit into!)

So, the woman I won't name is the polar opposite of Dirt:  She does not rail against the gender binary, yet she won't reinforce it.  (She also seems to recognize the notions of homo-, hetero- and bi-sexuality are extensions of it.)  On the other hand, Dirt claims to hate male privilege, yet she unflinchingly supports the very thing that allows it to exist:  Rigid definitions of gender and sexuality.

Now I've come to realize that if any trans label ever applied to me, it's "transgendered," the adjective, not "transgender," the noun.  But even "transgendered" and "transwoman" are not completely accurate descriptions of me, or many other people to whom they're applied--any more than homo, hetero and bi are.

As I told the woman whose name I won't divulge, I have used the term "bisexual" only as one of convenience to describe myself.  Or, more accurately, it's the only term most people understand in anything like the way I've ever understood it that even remotely applies to me.  And, I would say the same thing about "transwoman" and my gender identity.

I guess the best way as I could describe myself would go something like this:  I am a woman who came to be who I am through different experiences and other means than other women have come into themselves.  However, it is in part because of those experiences that I am a woman:  I was in the world of maleness, but I am not of it and was not fully part of it.  And, partly because I am a woman, my sexuality is fluid, for I think that a woman's sexuality is inherently more fluid than a man's.  That is not to say that women are more likely to be gay or bi or whatever, but that heterosexuality, as most people understand it, is not as integral to women who live as straight women as it is to straight men.  (Actually, I think that no one more staunchly believes in the gender binary and traditional notions of hetero- and homo-sexuality  than a man who's on the "down-low.")

So...Am I going to change the title of this blog?  End it?  "No" to both questions.  I have used this blog to talk about my experiences during a time of transition in my life.  I was, when I started this blog, living as a woman but was still making my transition to femaleness.  And I am still learning what it means to actually overtly live as a person whom I could be only within myself for much of my life.  I cannot forget any of those experiences:  They have made me what I am.  And I hope that someone has been learning from, or even entertained by, them.

Therefore, even though I'm continuing this blog, I probably won't post in it as frequently.   I probably will write more in my Mid-Life Cycling blog, which, in some ways, is another chapter of this one.

09 June 2010

I Rode That Way Then Because This Is How I Ride Now

"Velouria" wrote about me and this blog on her "Lovely Bicycle!" blog.  

She made me blush.  I may not know much, but I know this:  The only thing better than a man who can make a woman blush is another woman who can make another woman blush!

Part of me wonders whether I deserve such a wonderful write-up. First of all, look at the photo at the top of her blog and the one at the top of this one.  Not only is she (or whoever took that photo) a better photographer than I'll ever be, she's also more beautiful and stylish.   Take a look another look at that photo:  Do you really think I can compete with that?

Also, look at the layout and design of Lovely Bicycle!  I wouldn't have a clue as to how to do anything like that. And, finally, read her writing and compare it to my ragged prose.

But, hey, what can I say?  I'll take the compliments.  Besides, she's right definitely right about the fact that I've experienced two completely different aspects of cycling, and I'm one of the very few people who's experienced both of them.  

The funny thing is that I was the "lycra-wearing, hard-training, fast-spinning, Alps-conquering roadie...named Nick" precisely because I wanted to be "the woman who cycles to work in a skirt and heels."  Or, more precisely, I was the hard-riding guy precisely because I always knew that, deep down, I was, and was meant to be, that woman cycling to work, to the marketplace and down a country lane to the sea.

So why did I live and cycle as I did?  Well, I have to admit, I enjoyed competitive riding, whether or not it was sanctioned in a race, and the camaraderie that accompanied and followed it.  But I now realize that I wanted to ride as hard and as long as I did because I had so much anger in me.  By now, you probably realize what forged much of that anger:  the cauldron of rage that roiled from the fires of my unfulfilled desire--to live as the woman that I always knew myself to be.

Some guys' worst nightmare is finding out that the girl for whom they've fallen was once a guy--and probably even more of a guy than any of them ever were!  Of course, I don't mean to make light of that:  Too many of us have been killed over that. But, it's hard not to see the irony in it, and to apply it to my cycling life:  What if some of those guys I used to ride with and against were to meet me today?  

Actually, one of those guys has.  And he's taken it very well.  He has an even stronger sense of himself than I ever imagined he did.  What am I saying?  Back in the day, I wasn't even thinking about whether he or anyone else was secure within his own skin.  There was simply no way I--as I was in those days-- could have thought about that. 

But as for the other guys...well, I'll tell you about one of them.  He would have utterly despised me, as I am now.  Or, at least, he would not have been seen with me, whether or not either of us was on a bike.  But I know for a fact that if no one else were watching, I am the very first person he would have come to, for love, advice or just about anything else.  He would have--if he were honest with himself--spent the night with me rather than with his wife or any girlfriend he ever had--or, for that matter, almost any other woman and absolutely any man.  He would have gone for rides with me for the same reasons he would have gone to museums, poetry readings and stores, and walked the streets of Paris, San Francisco, Rome and Boston with me.  

Actually, he wouldn't have done any of those things with me.  He did those things with me.  What's more, he did them with me, and in the presence of his wife and girlfriends.

By now, you've probably figured out who that man was.  Yes, he was me.  And he was who he was--including that "lycra-wearing, hard-training, fast-spinning, Alps-conquering roadie"--because he was me:  the "woman who cycles to work in skirts and heels."