29 July 2010

The Choice: Intellectual, Not Academic

I'm still thinking about the conversation I had last night with the "invisible man."  He said it was one of the most intelligent conversations he's had in a long time, and he is about my age.  He is certainly a very intelligent person who, lately, has had to answer a lot of questions for himself.  That's the key, I think:  He's had to answer them for himself.  No one else could have given him the answers he found for himself; without aggrandizing myself, I can say I understand what an excruciating process that can be.  I am lucky in that sometimes it has been exhiliarating, or at least a relief, to have come up with the answers I've found, or at least to have found my own way, wherever it might lead.

Now I am starting to understand why, although I often enjoy teaching, I find myself hating the academic world and, even more, its institutions.  I can say, in all honesty, that every year I have taught has left me hating the military/industrial/educational complex even more than I did the year before.  And, during the past few years, I wondered how in the world anybody could want to become a gender studies professor--or, for that matter, a professor in almost any area called "studies."   

What I am realizing is this: I had assumed that I could never fit into the academic world because I'm not an intellectual.  At least, I was loath to call myself one.  Isn't that ironic?  For so long, I was completely unwilling to acknowledge that in my heart of hearts, I am not a straight male.  Actually, I didn't have to acknowlege or indulge it; it was simply a fact of my life, just as the sun rising and setting are facts of this world.  And how foolish would anyone look in denying them?

Now I realize that, in some way, I had no other choice but to be an intellectual.  I can no more deny or suppress that than I could my femaleness.  All of us, even those of us who have been considered "stupid" or otherwise "less than," have had to think our way through some situation or another when our physical abilities, no matter how great they were, would not have been enough--or simply would have been useless or unusable.  When your body fails, or is just inadequate, you have no have no choice but to become a creature, and creation, of your mind.

That is not the same as living in your head.  That is what many in the academic world do.  That is why there are so many petty, pointless arguments in meetings of almost any department or office you can think of.  There is seldom any discussion or even fighting about actual ideas.  The latter is something you do when you are really looking for answers; you fight over procedures and "stuff" to score points, which can feed only your ego rather than your mind.  That's just as dangerous as eating Twinkies when your body is crying out for vegetables and fruit.

In other words, when your life depends on it, you're looking for answers.  Whether or not you find them, the search will keep you going.  The problem with that is that when you're doing something because your life depends on it, those who don't have that sense of urgency and peril can't understand why you're thinking and testing everything they say.  

Now I understand why I have never wanted this site, or anything else I write, to be academic.  It's exactly the same reason why I hope I will challenge, or at least stimulate, people mentally.  And most important of all, I want to continue learning. 

 Really, I have no other choice.  I can no more pretend that I can live in a non-intellectual way than I could pretend that I could live as a man.

28 July 2010

Invisible In The Same Fight?

This is a first for me:  I haven't posted on this blog for four days.  The bike ride (which you can read about in my other blog, Mid-Life Cycling) is part of the reason why:  I focused on that, and on cycling generally.  

But something else is going on.  You might say that now there's less to write about my transition, or my gender identity generally.  Frankly, I simply don't find myself thinking about it much unless someone brings it up in conversation.  That's probably a good sign.  At least, I'm happy about it:  I don't want to spend all of my time thinking and talking about it.   And why should I, really?  After all, I just took a bike trip and even when I was grungy and sweaty, and not wearing any makeup, I was taken for the woman I am.  

It's not just about other people's perceptions, though.  In previous posts, I've mentioned that whenever I think of an event from my past--specifically, one that I experienced  "as" Nick--I see myself as Justine in that event. I did nothing to alter my thought processes:  I've simply come to see myself as always having been Justine.  I must admit, though, it is rather strange to think of Justine as a Boy Scout or altar boy!  

In some weird way, I've been rendered invisible.  In some not-so-weird way, I'm happy about that.  At least some of my physical safety is predicated on that; so is the courtesy and respect I experience.  

What's odd about my invisibility, and my satisfaction with it, is the way it contrasts with the invisibility of a man I talked with last night.  All right, I didn't talk to an invisible man:  It's been at least twenty-five years since I've taken any substances that would give me the ability to do that!   What I mean is that the man in question feels that he has become an invisible man, like the one Ralph Ellison depicted in his novel by that same name. 

(By the way, I just happen to think it's one of the best novels written by an American.)

He made a very interesting comment to the effect that after 9/11, it seemed that white men and women retained their dominant status in American culture, but that Asian women joined them.  Black men , he said, fell by the wayside and it seemed that Asian men were simply forgotten.  He has a Korean girlfriend and says that "all the Asian women are going out with or marrying white men--or, if they're very young, they might "go for a Rastafarian, or at least some young guy who looks like one."

So here is the dilemma:  My invisibility helps me, while his hurts him.  It's enough to make me wonder whether being transgendered has anything in common with any other oppressed minority group, save for the fact that we experience prejudice and even violence simply for being who are.

24 July 2010

Locker Room Talk

This morning I did a short ride down to Battery Park and along the greenway that skirts the Hudson on the West Side of Manhattan.  I just wanted to get in a few miles before the heat came--which it did, like a blast from an old furnace. 

En route, I stopped at Bicycle Habitat because I wanted them to check a wheel I want to ride tomorrow when I go to the Delaware Water Gap.   Hal wasn't in, so Raul, who actually worked with me briefly when we were both at Open Road Bicycles in Brooklyn, did the work. 

He and I don't go as far back as I do with Hal, but I'd guess that our paths have crossed for close to twenty-five years.  And he's been respectful yet still friendly about my changes.  He doesn't have a story about a gay family member or some such thing, but he understands that my expereince is not a tragedy or a sin, for he has experience with the former and has his own ideas, shall we say, about what constitutes the latter.

Plus, he--like Sheldon and Hal--have respect for me from the rides that we did together.  When I was in shape, I could keep up with just about anybody, or so it seemed. It was one of the few areas in  my life in which I had any real confidence.

Anyway, when we talk, we fall into a kind of banter that male friends and friendly acquaintances sometimes engage in with me.  It consists of more than a bit of locker room talk, and sometimes contains the kinds of sexual references you might admit.

I mentioned someone we knew back in the day--an old employer of Raul's, as a matter of fact.  That got us to reminiscing about some of the man's quirks and foibles.  Finally, Raul blurted out, "He should have been a girl!"

I squinted.

"He's not a man," Raul explained.  "He has no balls."

Realizing what he said, he turned red.  "I'm sorry.  I didn't mean that.  I feel stupid."

I started to giggle.  He looked even more embarrased.

"I didn't mean to upset you."  My giggle turned into a laugh.

I mean, how else could I have responded?  Not so long ago, I'd laugh when he or someone made such an assessment because I'd probably agree with it.   As a matter of fact, I probably would have said something like it myself.

"I'm really sorry."

"For what?"

I almost told him:  "You're a guy.  You say stuff like that."  But, instead, I said something about having heard it all before.

What's really funny, though, is that if what Raul said were true, I would have been envying his old boss.  What Raul said today reminded me of an encounter I had with the editor of a newspaper I wrote for.  He was like one of those city editors from '40's noir movies:  foulmouthed, cynical, chauvinistic almost to the point of misogyny.  And he smoked and drank way too much.  Had things just been slightly different, he might have been one of the cops or perps we were writing about.

One day, he thought I could have been "tougher" in my questioning of a precinct commander.  "When you're trying to get to the bottom of the matter, you've gotta go after 'em," he yelled.  "Otherwise--I don't mean to offend you--otherwise, people'll think you don't have any balls!"

"If only..." I sighed to myself.

22 July 2010

For Carl Walker-Hoover and Evelyn Hernandez

For the past two days, I was busy with the end of the course I've been teaching.  The nice thing about summer classes, especially the ones in the evening, are the students that take them.  The bad thing is that they're so rushed, especially at the end.

OK, so now I've given you an excuse about why I haven't posted during the last couple of days.  But there's another reason why I haven't posted:  I simply haven't thought much about the sorts of things I write in my posts, at least for this blog.

Today, though, I noticed some news coverage about a girl who'd been bullied and committed suicide.  You've probably heard about Phoebe Prince by now.  Of course, the suicide of any young person, or anyone is tragic and devastating to the people they leave behind. (Trust me, I know:  Two friends and three friendly acquaintances of mine ended their own lives.) But, I have to ask this question:  Why has her death garnered so much attention while comparatively few people have heard about Carl Walker-Hoover?

He lived not far from Phoebe Prince, and he was only eleven years old.  But, for starters, Phoebe looked like the sort of girl that anyone in "flyover country" would want as a daughter, sister, cousin, niece or pupil.  Not only was she pretty, she was--according to whom you believe--bullied for "taking" the boyfriends of other girls in her school.  And, on top of being straight, she was--although an immigrant--white.

On the other hand, Carl was taunted by other kids who perceived him as gay.  What many people forget is one doesn't have to be gay, lesbian or transgendered in order to suffer from bigotry and violence; rather, one only has to be perceived as non-heterosexual or non- cisgendred.   On top of his perceived identity, he had the cross of actually being part of another stigmatized group:  He was black.

The disparity between the amount of attention paid to the suicides of Phoebe Prince and Carl Walker-Hoover reminds me of a similar disparity between the coverage of the murders of Laci Peterson and Evelyn Hernandez, which occured only a few miles and months apart.  Both women were killed while pregnant; their bodies later washed up on the shores of San Francisco Bay.  But, while Ms. Peterson was a pretty white (actually, mixed-race, but her facial features were Caucasian) woman who, as a teenager, had been a cheerleader in an upscale San Francisco suburb, Ms. Hernandez was a Salvadorean immigrant who lived and worked in the Outer Mission.

When I think of Carl Walker-Hoover and Evelyn Hernandez, I can't help but to think of just about any non-cisgendered person who was murdered or who, like one friend and one friendly acquaintance of mine, committed suicide over their gender identities.  One almost never hears about them outside of Transgender Day of Remembrance events.  And, too often, when LGBT people--or immigrants from Third-World countries or African-Americans-- are killed, many people believe they "had it coming to them" simply for being who they are--or being perceived as what they're not.  They do not get the sort of sympathy or generate the kind of outrage that Phoebe Prince and Laci Peterson did with their tragic deaths.  

Evelyn Peterson was just as much someone's wife and mother as Laci Peterson was.  Just as Phoebe Prince was someone's beloved child, so was Carl Walker-Hoover.  And so am I and so, I hope, are you.

19 July 2010

Redemption Through Marriage?

Today I saw my cousin again.  He returned from Florida on Friday, where he visited my parents and one of his cousins.  And, my mother gave him a set of pots and pans, as well as a shawl and a bracelet, to bring to me. 

After we had lunch at the Bel Aire Diner (highly recommended!), he asked whether I'd want to take a ride to my  great-aunt's house.  There are two things he really likes to do:  talk and drive.  So, of course, he was completely in his element, and I saw something--not so much a "side" or "dimension" of him as much as his sometimes-contradictory values.

He asked me whether I could marry.  I said that now I could marry a man.  OK, it's not the first time anyone has asked me that.  Then he asked another question I've heard before:  "Do you think you will?"

After I said I probably won't be married, he expressed concern.  "I haven't ruled it out," I explained.  "But I really would have to meet the right person."

"But don't you worry that you'll grow old alone."

"People get married and have kids and still end up alone.  I've seen it."

"Yeah, but if you were to have a few kids, chances are that one of them, at least, will take care of you."

"Well, that's not the best bet to make.  It doesn't seem like a good reason to get married or have kids."

"It's not.  But you should think about marriage."

Now, I should mention that this cousin has religious beliefs that I don't share.  He doesn't quote the Bible directly; he does it second hand, as in, "a man isn't supposed to lie with a man."  Normally, I try to keep myself out of Bible (or religious) discussions:  Unless you totally agree with the other person /people, those discussions  don't turn out amicably.  But I did challenge him on one point:  He said the Bible also said a man shouldn't "change into" a woman.

I'll admit, I'm not a regular Bible reader.  But I don't recall any verse that said that.  

Anyway, I found it very interesting that even though he doesn't approve (because of his religion) of my "sex change," he's giving me the most traditional, even conservative, arguments for getting married to a man. He said that if I were to meet the right man, he would "take care of" me.  It's almost as if he were trying to "redeem" me through the sorts of marriage sanctioned by his church.

17 July 2010

A Dream In Sunset Park

I am going to make the most audacious claim you'll hear for a while.

I am going to show you a photo of a dream:

Here's another photo of that same dream:

Believe it or not, the place in the photo looked more or less as you see it back around 1961.  Yes, it's a place I'd actually been to before today.  This is how I got there today:

OK, so now you know I'm not in some exotic foreign land.  To give you an idea of where I am, here's another shot.

Those of you who are familiar with Brooklyn, NY--or part of it, anyway--now know where I am.  It's Sunset Park, which is on a hill surrounded by the eponymous neighborhood. 

Save for the views, not many people would call it their "dream" park.  But it has become mine, through no choice of my own.

I don't make any great effort to remember my dreams.  Some of them just happen to stick with me, for whatever reasons.  But I know that I have had more than a few dreams in Sunset Park, or some place that looks very much like it.  

One of those dreams came during my first night in France.  That day, I took the boat from Dover to Calais.   After I'd gone through French customs, I went to a bar.  In those days, Calais was fairly gritty and, being a seaport town, full of sailors, dockworkers and such:  the very kinds of people who were in the bar.  

Every one of them was even more inebriated than I would become.  Given the sort of person I was then--at age twenty-one--that's saying quite a bit.  However, I'm not sure if the libations were lubricating their tongues and making them start conversations with me.  

I wasn't worried about them.  I was, however, worried about this:  The only word I understood of what they were saying was "miss-shyure."  Did I not work hard enough in my French classes?  Was I taught a dialect they didn't speak?  

Anyway, we all got laughs at each other's expense and I managed to ride to Boulogne-sur-mer.   It wasn't very far, but the town had a hostel listed in the Hosteling International guide.  It was clean and relatively quiet.  At least, it was quiet enough for me to fall asleep not long after I had supper.  Or maybe the alcohol had something to do with it--or the dream I would have in Sunset Park.

My grandmother was in that dream.  I spent a lot of time with her and my grandfather when my mother had to go to work. My grandparents lived not far from the park and, very early in my childhood, they used to take me to it.  In those days, it had a garden in the middle of it.  Of course, in my memory, it's one of the most beautiful gardens in the history or horticulture--or, at least, one of the most beautiful gardens I've ever seen.  So is the view I've shown, which--as I've said--is much like the view I have in my memory.  

The following day after my first dream in that park, I cycled into a town called Montreuil-sur-mer.  It's a few kilometres inland from the English Channel, but a few centuries ago, before its harbor silted up,  it was right on the coast and was a fairly major port.  It's the town in which Jean Valjean of Les Miserables becomes one of  les bourgeois and serves as mayor--and where Inspector Jalabert tracks him down.

Nothing quite that dramatic happened to me.  (After all, we're talking about life, not fiction, here!)  However, I did come to a garden in the town that overlooked the sea and gave me a clear view--even on that overcast day--of the coast from which I'd sailed the day before.  And the grayness of the day did nothing to dampen the vibrancy of the colors in that garden:  there were sunrises, sunsets and dusks, and all of the seasons, in it even thought the sky wasn't expressing any of them.  Perhaps the view of the sea had something to do with that.  

Now, remember that I was twenty-one years old when I say what I'm going to say next:  That was the first time I cried during that trip.   At least, it's the first time I recall crying.

That evening, I got to a town called Abbeville and called my grandmother.  Somehow I knew she sounded better than she actually was.   And, without my asking or prompting, she talked about that park, and that we used to go to it.  "You loved to go there."

"Yes, I did.  I always loved going there with you and grandpa." 

"It seems like only yesterday that we used to go there."

I didn't tell her I had indeed been there the night before.

16 July 2010

Out Of The Closet This Summer

First one heat wave, then another.  Now I'm really glad that I had my surgery last, rather than this, year.

According to meteorologist, last summer was wetter than normal.  I didn't notice it, but when it wasn't raining, it never seemed to be terribly hot.  So, while I wasn't able to ride my bike or engage in any outdoor activity but walking, I was able to spend much time outdoors when it wasn't raining.  

If I were recovering this summer, I probably would be indoors more, and I'd probably read and write even more than I did.  

Now I'm thinking about how I used to suppress in my identity in the summer.  In cooler weather, I could cover myself more, and hide some of my more masculine features more readily.  You know which ones I mean!

Plus, it was more difficult to wear makeup, as I would sweat much of it off.

I think that keeping myself in the closet during the summer is one reason why I spent so much time cycling and, to a lesser degree, swimming and in other outdoor sports.  You might say I was channeling my anger over having to be someone I wasn't.  Ironically, my lycra shorts accented my most masculine features!

Now I don't even think about those things.  Today I slouched around in a ratty pair of shorts and a T-shirt, with no makeup.  And two men--one in a store and another who works as a doorman a block away--were flirting with me.  The storeowner was enraptured by---my French.  He's Lebanese.

But, seriously...It's nice to enjoy summer as I am now.  There are plenty of women walking around wearing less than I wore.  And many of them look better than I look.  And, yes, I am one of them...even in the middle of summer.

I'm so glad I had my surgery--last summer.

15 July 2010

Another Year Home

One year ago today, I came home from my surgery.  One of the first things I noticed upon getting off the plane was the humidity.  After spending a week and a half with very little of it when I was away, I was amazed at just how much of it I and most other New Yorkers consider to be normal. 

That flight home was the first--and, so far, only--time I've flown first class.  It will probably be the only time.

So what's the difference between now and then?  Well, it seems that ever since I've gotten back, Charlie and Max simply can't get enough of me.  They're still treating me as if I just got back.  Both of them have always been very affectionate; they seem to have become even more so.  I always had a feeling they liked women better than men.  Hmm...I wonder what they would have thought of me before my transition.

If I felt as if a layer of skin had been stripped away a couple of months after I started taking hormones, I felt I shed another layer after my surgery.  So much affects me,and sometimes I feel as if I can look directly into people.  The nice thing about that is that the people I love, I now love even more.  But the other side of this is that I am less tolerant of bullshit than I used to be.  That accounts for some of my ranting about my job and about a particular person who's not in my life anymore.  

And somehow my perceptions about time--at least as it relates to my own life--have also changed.  As I've said, much of my recent past seems so distant now:  Things that happened two years ago could just as well have happned two centuries ago.  And the future seems so much more immediate.

What would the past year--not to mention my life--have been had I not had the surgery?

14 July 2010

Anniversaries and Revolutions

Today is le quatorze juillet or le jour de Bastille.  I don't think I did anything revolutionary today.  I hadn't planned to.  Then again, what revolution is ever planned? 

 The word "revolution" comes from the word "volute," which is the spiral scroll on Doric columns.  "Volute" in turn comes from the Latin "voluta," which is the feminine of "volutus," the past participle of "volvere," which means "to roll."

So "revolution" means "turning again."  In other words, they happen as part of some cycle or another.  Nobody can plan that.

That's why nobody can plan on making any radical change one needs to make in one's life.   At least, I never could have planned on making the most important changes I had to make in my own life, or the ones that were made for me.

Three important changes--at least two of them revolutionary, at least in the context of my life--happened on this date.  At least they happened on this date in different years.  Can you imagine what I'd be like if they happened on the same date in the same year?

On this date in 2003, my name officially changed from Nick (Nicholas) to Justine.  I had filed for the change a little less than a month earlier; the court order was issued on the 14th.  On that date, I got the right to be known as Justine Valinotti a.k.a. Justine Nicholas.  I would use the latter name in writings that I published as well as in some other professional capacities.  Five years later, on the very same date, I would officially become Justine Nicholas Valinotti.

In 1986, on the fourteenth of July, I spent my first day clean and sober.  Actually, I had made three earlier tries of it; none of them lasted more than a week.  But twenty-four years ago today, I spent my first day of my adult life without alcohol or drugs and haven't gone back.

And on this date in 1980, I was discharged from the US Armed Forces.  Officially, I was a US Army Reservist.  In reality, I was an ROTC cadet at Rutgers who did some training exercises and got paid--not much, but paid nonetheless.  Actually, I had been set loose a couple of months earlier; the papers weren't signed and notarized until the 14th of July.  However, I wouldn't know that until much later, when I finally saw the papers.  Ironically enough, I was in France when the US Army cut its ties with me.

And, yes, it was an honorable discharge.  Basically, I kept myself out of trouble, which was about the best I could do.  I did not distinguish myself in any way as a soldier.  Then again, I didn't have any real opportunity to do that.  Then again, I'm not so sure I would have wanted such an opportunity.

So why was I discharged?  Well, a clerk discovered that I hadn't had a medical examination in more than two years.  On my records was a report of tendinitis and traumatic arthritis in my right knee.  The doctor (or medical assistant:  I'm not sure what he was) cranked my leg, heard a low noise, shook his head and sent me to the end of the line where a clerk rubber-stamped my papers.

Leave me to my own devices, and I start to ask the "what if?" questions.  In my case, I can answer the ones related to this anniversary.  The short answer is that if none of those things happened, I wouldn't be who or what I am today.  In fact, if I hadn't gotten clean and sober, I might not be at all today:  I probably would have died years ago.

Ditto if I'd remained in the Army and had been sent off to some exotic foreign place to meet interesting people and kill them.  If you are sent somewhere to kill--or if you go off to kill on your own volition--you run as much risk of being killed as you have of killing someone.  How do I know shit like this? I dunno; I just know.

And what if I hadn't changed my name?  Well, the real question is what if I hadn't done the other things that prompted my name change?  But it was certainly one of those milestones--along with my "coming out," my first day at work as Justine and my surgery--along the road to the life I have now as a woman named Justine.

Some people have told me that such a life is revolutionary.  The funny thing is that it feels anything but, and I didn't undertake it because I was trying to change the world.  I don't mean to compare myself to real revoulutionaries, but I don't think any of them ever set out to become such significant historical figures.  Rosa Parks just wanted a seat on the bus after a long day of work; Lech Walesa just wanted to be sure that he and his fellow workers could afford to feed their families and themselves after long days of work.  I don't think Ms. Parks ever envisioned herself as a founder of the Civil Rights Movement:  Given the place and time in which she grew up, I'm not sure she could even have imagined anything like the Civil Rights Movement.  Likewise, I don't think Mr. Walesa thought that he would start a movement that would help to bring down one of the most powerful empires in history.

Me?  I'm just happy that I was able to lead the life I've always wanted, even if I had to wait until fairly late in the middle part of my life to start living it.  So what can I say?  En bas...to what?  En vive.. Justine!  Hmm...Some might say it's grandiose.  But I think it has a rather nice ring to it.

13 July 2010

Someone Else's Decision

Yesterday I was talking to a young man--a former student of  mine--who'd gotten a young woman pregnant.  I told him the sorts of things an older, and presumably wiser, person is supposed to say:  Having the baby, or not, is a serious decision, and whatever they do will have an effect on him, not to mention her.  I also advised him to get some really good counseling because, while he might make a good father, he still needs to work through some of the issues his own family left him.  

A part of me wanted to admonish him for getting the woman pregnant. But I knew that doing that would have been pointless.   I think that, on some level, he wanted to impregnate her, or some woman, because he's talked about having a child.  But he also knows that he doesn't have the sort of job or finances he wants; if he has the child, those won't improve for a while, and going for his master's degree, which he brought up the last time I talked with him, would be all but out of the question for a long time.

But most of all, I don't think he's ready to commit.  Part of me wants to say, "Typical guy!" But I also know that browbeating him into a commitment wouldn't do him, the woman, the baby or anyone else any good.  I have never believed the conventional wisdom that having a child "steadies" a man and makes him realize that it's time to "settle down."  I've seen too many men in whom the exact opposite happened:  They equated committing themselves to, if not marrying, the mother of the child and the expectation that they will help to raise, or at least support that child, as the proverbial "ball and chain."  They became even more reckless than they were before the birth of the child, or they simply spent most of the money they made on themselves.  

Now, lest you think I'm man-bashing, remember my history.  Yes, I have felt the same kind of fear and revulsion so many young men feel at the prospect of giving up their "freedom."  Interestingly, those feelings are not at all incongruous with wanting to have a child:  Many men see, in child's play, the very kind of freedom they want to keep.  I've heard more than one man say that he didn't like being married but he loved having kids.

I think the young man in question also wants kids more than he wants marriage--or a woman, for that matter.  Having been on his side of the fence, so to speak, I can see his point of view.  I could also understand his dilemma in one other way:  I've also gotten a young woman pregnant.  In fact, I did that twice.  One time my family knew about:  I was in my early twenties, if I remember correctly, and the young woman and I had talked about marriage.  But I knew, even before the tests were positive, that I was not suited to be a husband or father--for a variety of reasons.  Most of those reasons are still valid, at least for me.  

So the young woman had the abortion.  Our relationship didn't last very long after that.  Even then, I wasn't surprised, any more than I was the first time I got a young woman pregnant.  No one in my family  knows about it--unless they are reading this.  I was in high school and working a part-time job so that I could save money for college.   I usually gave my mother the money, who deposited it for me.  So of course she noticed when I wasn't giving her money. 

I don't remember what excuse I gave.  Whatever it was, it was better,or at least easier to tell, than the truth.  

I don't know who, if anyone, else that young man has told about his situation.  Whether or not he's told anyone, I can understand why.  Still, I firmly advised him to at least talk to a counselor.  

As I write about that encounter with him, it seems even stranger than it did when it was unfolding.  Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I was giving him advice based on my experience, but not necessarily my own life. 

11 July 2010

Getting Used to Me

The other night, I was talking to an uncle of mine.  Actually, he's the last surviving uncle I have.  And he happens to be my godfather.

I haven't seen him in about a dozen years or so.  So, of course, he has not seen me since I began my transition, much less since my surgery. He's only heard about those things, from me and probably from other members of my family.  

Once during our conversation, he referred to me by my old name.  And, when my aunt called him for something or another, he told her, "Wait until I get off the phone with him."  He apologized; I told him not to worry and not to apologize ever again. "If I saw more of you, I could get used to it," he explained.

I understand what he means, but it seems so odd to me now that anyone would have to "get used to" the fact that I'm a woman named Justine.  I have always known myself to be female, and about a year or so into my current life, I stopped thinking of my old name in connection with myself in my past.  In other words, I would think about the day Justine, not Nick, split up with Tammy or about the bike tours Justine took in France.

What's ironic is that I think now of how much my uncle must have changed since the last time I saw him.  He sounds about the same over the phone, but I don't expect that he would look as he did twelve years ago.  Also, I wonder what he can and can't do as he did back in those days.  He's had some illnesses and was injured in a car crash.  I don't think those experiences have changed his core being, but I'm sure that they've made him different in ways I couldn't detect over the phone.

I wonder whether I might have to "get used" to him.

09 July 2010

Typical Guy (or Girl)

Today I was talking with a friend of mine.  Let's call her Nell.  Last week, I saw her with her sister, whom I'll call Dolores.  I couldn't help but to notice that Dolores was not a happy camper.  Actually, she's looked that way the past few times I've seen her, going back a few months.  I gently reminded her that she has my phone number and e-mail address, and offered any help she wants.  She thanked me, but I knew that she probably won't take up my offer.

For some time, I've had the sense that Dolores' husband was cheating on her.  I had no specific evidence or reason for my belief:  It was just something I felt strongly.  Perhaps if I were a different sort of woman, I might have said something about that to her.  But a few of my experiences have left me with a strong aversion to getting tangled up in other people's relationship woes.  What good would have come of telling her, anyway?

Well, today Nell confirmed everything I'd suspected.  Dolores' husband indeed cheated on her.  In addition to his regular job, he's a D.J. "on the side."  For a man of his temperament, the DJ's microphone is a bit like the key to the distillery for an alcoholic. 

In any gathering of any size, there's bound to be the sort of woman who preys on weak-willed men.  That, apparently, is what happened.  She probably flattered and pretended to empathise with him.  Perhaps his new paramour saw him as "henpecked."  If she did, she would have been at least partly right:    As much as I like Dolores, I am very happy that I've never had to live with her!   Still, he had no right to yield to whatever temptations the other woman offered.  Call me Puritanical if you like.

The cynic in me snorted, to myself, "Typical!"  More specifically, I sneered, "Typical guy!"  

But later I asked myself, "What is a 'typical' guy?  Do they all cheat on their wives?"   For a long time, I believed that every male was a potential philanderer and worse.    Now I realize that the truth is a bit more complicated than that, to say the least.  The funny thing is that I was less willing to acknowledge that when I was living as a man than I am now.  Dolores soon-to-be-ex is no more representative of the male race than I was.  

That is not to say, of course, that all men are wonderful and supportive.  But it also makes no more sense for me to hate them simply for being men than it would for me to blindly trust all of them, given some of my experiences.

But, even after the experiences of  my previous life, I still can't tell you what a "typical" guy--or girl--is.

08 July 2010

Another Day After: Bumping Into A Former Student

One year and one day after my surgery...All right, I'll stop counting, at least on this blog.  Still, it's hard not to think about the first anniversary of my surgery, which passed yesterday.

Tonight I was riding my bike home from my class.  I was in Jackson Heights, about two and a half miles from my place, when someone called out, "Hello, Professor!"

I recognized the voice, which I hadn't heard in a couple of years.  It belonged to Navendra, who'd been a student of mine.  He did well, and he was one of those students who always seemed happy to see me.  And the feeling has always been mutual.

He's working on his master's degree in accounting in Queens College.  He took a class with me on the recommendation of his friend Sajid, who took three and sent me a "Happy Birthday" e-mail.  Now Sajid is at the Harvard School of Public Policy.  He and Navendra are both the kinds of people who could do anything they set out to do.   I have written letters of reference for both of them and do the same for either of them.  

It's funny that yesterday I was reflecting on how I have changed, and am changing, since my surgery.  But seeing Navendra again, I felt that in some way I hadn't changed at all--and I felt good about it.  Somehow, neither he nor Sajid seemed consigned to my past, as some people with whom I was living, working and simply spending time with not much more than a year ago now seem--not to mention those who decided, for whatever reasons, they wanted no part of me after I  started my transition.

Perhaps my perception of Navendra and Sajid has to do with the fact that they're progressing with their lives. Of course, it hasn't always been a steady progression:  About a year after he graduated (three years ago), Sajid was having a tough time:  Something hadn't worked out as he'd hoped, and he had to re-evaluate some choices he'd made.  But I always have had confidence in him, and I think he knew that.  I'm sure other people did, too. Sometimes I think he was worried that he was letting us down.  Actually, I don't feel let down by anyone who's progressing in whatever way he or she needs to--even if that means taking a step back and re-thinking something.  

And, when I see someone growing and changing, I do not have a stagnant image of him or her.  On the other hand, some people are still in the same places, spiritually and even physically, as they were when I first met them.  I realized that about one former friend of mine, with whom I reunited (albeit briefly) after a long absence.  We were having exactly the same conversations as we'd had when we were college undergraduates--or, more precisely, I was listening to the same monologue as I was listening to back in those days.  I was simply hearing it again in a cafe on the other side of the world.  (It sounds like a dystopian version of Casablanca, if such a thing is possible.)  After that, I was really glad I've never gone to a reunion of any school I ever attended.

I remember telling Marci, only half-jokingly, that I want to be her when I grow up.  I'm starting to think that what you become when you grow up isn't as important as simply growing up--or just growing, period, and surrounding yourself with people who are.

07 July 2010

My Birthday As Myself

I am one year old today!

To be exact, I had my surgery one year ago today.  The time has passed much more quickly than I ever imagined it would.  Somehow that always seems to happen after important events in my life--or, at any rate, events that are important to me.

Some of that, of course, has to do with the fact that we're older after each event, as we are after any sort of passage of time.  The more time spend on this planet, the more quickly the time ahead moves by us.  It's simple arithmetic:  One year is a smaller portion of a 50-year-old's life than of a child who is only five.  But I also think that because major events, for many of us, mark stages of our lives, those events widen the distance between ourselves and our past and bring us closer to our futures.  I think that happens whether the event is a graduation, marriage, divorce, death of a loved one, birth of an offspring, beginning or ending a career, or any number of other things with that can change a person's circumstances.

I also believe my perception of time is shaped, in part, by the knowledge that unless I live longer than 99.9999 percent (or thereabouts) of all people, I will have lived more time as a male than as a female.  That is to say, I will have spent more years as Nick--in the sense that families, friends, co-workers and others knew him, the law defined him and I projected him--than as Justine.  Even though I feel freedom and confidence that I never felt before my changes, I am very acutely aware that I have only a limited amount of time, at least in life as I know it, as the person I have always been in mind and spirit.

What I've just described, I realized for the first time as I was describing it.  I wonder whether other transsexuals feel anything like it.  If they do, it might explain why some change everything, or at least everything they can change, in their lives after their transitions and surgeries.  Some move to new cities, or to or away from cities generally.  A few move to other countries; still others change jobs and careers, whether or not by choice.  Many also get divorced; at least I don't have to worry about that!  Others marry or remarry, or take up with new partners.  

Nearly all--at least the ones I know--re-evaluate something or another in their lives.  It makes sense; after all, that is what each of us has to do at the moment we face the truth about ourselves and begin to think about what we will do about it.  Along with that, of course, we have to re-evaluate our notions about sexuality and gender--our own, and that of others--and some of us have to examine our attitudes toward those whose gender identity or sexuality resembles whatever we were denying in ourselves.  In my case, it meant examining the homo- and trans-phobia I absorbed (sometimes transmitted to me unwittingly)  and cultivated out of sheer desperation.

As you can imagine, you really do find out who your friends--and, equally important, your allies--are.  It also fine-tunes your bullshit detector.   There are some people, particularly in English and other humanities departments, who want you as another token for their collection--butch Filipina bisexual: check; one-armed Native American with learning disability: check;  tranny, check.  Perhaps I should be more understanding and indulgent than I am, but sometimes I really do get tired of listening to people who try to simply must show how much they really do understand and empathise with me after taking a workshop about what I live every day. 

On the other hand, what I've experienced makes the friendships and other relationships that have endured--and the new ones I've made--all the more meaningful and pleasurable.  Even more important, though, is that I am learning to find pleasure in my own company and--now I'm going to say something I never expected to say!--beauty in who and what I am, and what I've become.  Some of that has to do with having a body that more closely reflects the person I always have been.  But it also has to do with the fact that I have had to develop, and draw upon, wells of strength, knowledge, wisdom and beauty I never knew I had, much less that I could develop.  Some people gave me all sorts of reasons--no, I take that back, they tried to intimidate me with their fears about--why I should not undertake the transition I've made, and why it would never work or why it is wrong.  And, when I was in the Morning After House in the days after my surgery, I was among other people who endured such experiences and won similar kinds of wisdom.  For that matter, such a person performed my surgery!

Anyway...One year has passed since my surgery.  It is a year--already!--and it is only a year.  I am a year old, and a year older--and older but a year:  a year past and a year in coming.  And, I hope, another and another and more to come.