28 August 2010

Pronouns Are A Symptom

I mentioned that last week I met with the chair of an English department at a college other than the one in which I’ve been working.  Well, that has led to my teaching a course there.  I started it the other day, after my regular job.

I had also met with her and others in the department and college on Tuesday.  She said she was impressed with my work and knew she wanted me for a class.  “Just do whatever you’ve been doing,” she said.

Now, getting that class isn’t, in and of itself, a major accomplishment—at least professionally—at this point in my life.  But I am happy about it because, for one thing, it adds to my income.  Even more to the point, though, is that the atmosphere of the place seems so different from that of the college in which I have been working.

I’ve been around long enough to realize that there is a “honeymoon” at the beginning of every (well, at least, almost every) job.  So I am not going to gush about “new beginnings” or the like.  However, at this college, the people I met—faculty members, office assistants and students alike—seem happier and healthier than in my regular college. 

And the department chair seems like a truly educated woman.  I’m not talking only about her degrees or the schools from which she earned them.  One thing I’ve noticed about people who really are educated—that is to say, able to think for themselves—is that they’re not condescending.  That, I believe, is because they are secure, which is entirely the opposite of arrogant.  They can learn something new and not feel threatened by it, even if it negates what they’d learned before. 

That makes them more emotionally mature than those who are merely schooled.   So, they don’t feel as if you’re questioning their competence or integrity when you’re simply asking for information about some issue at hand.

Seeing that, alone, was reason enough to go to this new college.  If nothing else, it helped me to understand why I’ve been unhappy at my regular job.  I’ve never been in any place where people get so defensive when you ask them a question.

Perhaps even more to the point, no one asked me to explain myself.  As far as I know, they don’t know about my past.  Some might have their suspicions, and if anyone asks, I won’t deny what I was.  But I’m hoping that I now have an opportunity to be in a workplace where it won’t garner more attention than my work or how I treat people now.

As I mentioned earlier, I met the chair once, years ago.  I don’t know whether she recalls that encounter.  It was brief, so I would understand if she doesn’t recall.  I rather hope she doesn’t, not because I think she wouldn’t have hired me if she recalled it, but rather because I simply would rather focus on the present, at least in the workplace.

When I met her all those years ago, she’d offered me a class.  The following day, another college—which was a much shorter commute from where I was then living—offered me work, which I took instead.  She said she understood and would have done the same thing.  Perhaps she doesn’t remember that.

If she doesn’t remember that, she also may not remember the person I was in those days.  Or maybe she does, and decided that he’s not relevant now, at least for her.  If that’s the case, I look forward to working under such conditions.

It has to be better than being in a place where someone who’s seen me every day for the past five years insists on calling me “he” because, well, she can.  She also can get away with making up things about me, as she did last year, and get me hauled into the college’s Star Chamber—I mean, Office of Compliance—to explain myself, knowing full well that even when she’s telling the most outrageous lies about me, her words are seen as more credible than mine. 

I have a feeling that the chair at College #2 would not be impressed with the one who can’t get her pronouns right—but not necessarily because she can’t get her pronouns right.  

Unfortunately, the one who won't get her pronouns right is now the department chair.  At least I know they're not all like her, because I'm working for another-- in the present.

25 August 2010

A Phantom Menstrual Cycle?

You may have heard of the "phantom limb" syndrome.  Sometimes, when people lose limbs (or other body parts) by whatever means, they still feel as if the missing appendage is moving with the rest of the body.  Very often, people who suffer from this condition feel pain and other sensations they may have felt in the missing organ when it was attached to his or her body.  It's common among combat veterans and others who do dangerous, physically demanding labor in which there is a high risk for serious injury.

A post-op trans woman I know has told me she experiences a sort of "phantom penis," in which she feels as if she's having an erection.  From what I've read, other post-op trans women have had a similar sensation.  Some might say that the tensing and pulsing in the muscle and tissues under my clitoris, and the tingling I feel around it, are similar, but I don't feel as if the penis I once had is still there.

However, I do feel something that is perhaps the inverse of a "phantom" organ.  It's odd:  I feel as if my body is responding, not to something that's been lost or removed, but to something I've never had--namely, a menstrual cycle.  

Sometimes I feel as if I've gained or lost ten pounds from one day to the next.  Now, nobody will say that I'm skinny, but at times it seems that I don't have the "muffin top" around my waist.  But, a day or two later, I look like the female version of the Michelin Tire mascot.  

I also notice dramatic changes in the size of my breasts.  At least, they seem to change from one day to the next.  I never wanted to have very large breasts because all of the big-busted women I've known have complained about their "assets."  But I wanted some that were at least noticeable.  

Well, on some days, I feel like Dolly Parton. Yet, a couple of days later, my breasts might seem flatter than my jokes fall during my lectures.  Some might say it's a matter of my perception, but the changes I see don't have any relation to my mood.  I could swear that they really do go from A-- to DD and back within a week.

Could my body really be responding to something that never happened to it?  

Interestingly, Eva and Tammy claimed that I had a "male menstrual cycle."  They--who, as far as I know, never met--both believed that my moods swung through an arc that lasted a month or so. If I was (relatively) happy, they knew that within two weeks or so, I would get into one of those depressions that nothing and nobody could pull me out of.  Other women--and men--I've dated have noticed the same thing, or at least something similar.

Maybe I had a phantom menstrual cycle all along.  According to what some of my female friends and acquaintances have told me, I should be very happy that it's phantom.

23 August 2010

Not Eager To Go Back

Yesterday I had breakfast with Millie.  She's old-school and the wife of a retired blue-collar guy, so she doesn't do brunch.  That's one of the reasons why she feels like family to me.

Anyway, she asked whether I was looking forward to starting classes this week.  I'm not; she was surprised and almost a little hurt to hear that.  She said she never cared much for school, but she always liked the fact that I teach and have something resembling an education. In a way, that's not such a surprise:  She is knowledgeable about things that surprised me when I first knew her but don't now.

Why, she asked, am I not so eager to go back to school?  Well, I explained, I'm glad to be teaching again, but I'm not especially anxious to deal with some of the faculty and administrators.  Not all of them, mind you, but some.  And among them there just happen to be people I have to deal with regularly.

As I mentioned in some posts a while back, on a typical workday, I felt anxious and sometimes sick from the time I walked out of my apartment door until I set foot in the classroom.  I felt the greatest tension in my body when I was in a campus building but had not yet entered the classroom in which I was scheduled to teach.  My pre-classroom tension and nausea weren't quite as intense when I rode my bike to school:  At least on those days, pedaling relieved the tension for the time I was on the bike. But once I was parked,  my entrails felt even more tense and tightly wound together than the strands of the cables on the Verrazano Bridge.

I now realize that last year, when the semester was about to begin, I was just a few weeks removed from my surgery.  I was feeling ecstatic and as if I were learning a million things every second.  At times I was positively giddy.  When you feel that way, you overlook a few things, to put it mildly.

But the colleagues and supervisors who had been speaking to me condescendingly and treating me as if I were born the day before yesterday (Give them credit:  They didn't treat me as if I were born yesterday!) had not changed their attitudes or ways.  Being educators--at least in the sense I don't like--they are accustomed to dealing with people by exploiting their insecurities.  They assume that students and instructors with lower ranks than theirs--or people they perceive in any way to be less than themselves--are confused and unsure of themselves.  Contrary what they like to believe, they had a role in creating those fears and uncertainties.

Now I am everything they can't deal with.  I know who and what I am, and am still learning.  I give my best (which, in some areas, is pretty good, if I do say so myself) and go far beyond the written requirements of the job and the unspoken expectations of anyone who does it.  I'm not saying that I can't do more or better, I am saying that I'm not a slacker and, more often than not, I get the job done and I get better at it.  However, they still don't believe that a person like me is supposed to be capable of doing what I do.  

After what I've experienced, I can easily understand why Letitia left the college's Office of Students with Disabilities for its counterpart at another college.  I can also understand why someone who used to direct a campus office told me, "The day I turned in my ID and backed out of the college parking lot for the last time was the best day of my life. "  And, no, she hasn't retired.

They are examples of something I heard once:  Great spirits are the targets of mediocre minds.  

18 August 2010

I Guess I Really Am A Woman Now

Yesterday I went to my gynecologist.  Over the weekend, I felt a few twinges and noticed a yeasty smell.  So I called her office on Monday and yesterday she confirmed what I thought.

“A yeast infection?  I guess I’m really a woman now,” I quipped.

“Next thing you know, you’re going to have your period.”

“And then I won’t need a turkey baster…”

We both giggled.  But then, I thought aloud, “Well, maybe I’m getting off easy, not having a period or worrying about pregnancy.”

“Don’t ever think that!” she implored.  “You’re just as much of a woman as we are.  In fact, even more so.”
“What do you mean?”

“Well, I was born a woman.  So were most other women. But you had to choose to become one, and work at it.”

Not long ago, I would have debated that point.  But I realized that while I was born with a female essence, mind and spirit, I had to make the choice to be a woman—or, more precisely, to live as one. 

That has meant, of course, changing my body so that it is more congruent with the person I am.  It has also meant a name change and the other logistical changes one normally associates with gender transition and reassignment. 

But it has also meant changes in my milieu.  People who were part of my life before I embarked on this journey are no longer with me.  They include a friend--who, at one time, was the closest I’d had—who has become bitter and resentful of just about everybody.  She extended those feelings toward me because, she believed, I had no right to live as a woman because I never have, and never will, menstruate.  (Should I say “never”?)  She believed that I was living as a woman in order to take advantage of Affirmative Action and take a job that rightfully belongs to a “real” woman.  Actually, she’s not that altruistic:  She thinks I’m going to take a job from her.  That, of course, is ludicrous because she and I have never applied for the same job—or the same anything else. 

Anyway, she and other people aren’t in my life any more.  Others have remained, but I also now have new friends who understand and love me as the person I am.  And those who have remained have changed—or, in some cases, become better versions of what they always were.  I’ve heard some trans people, and people who work with them, say that when someone “changes” gender, the people around them change even more.

The funny thing is that the people who know me best may not see me differently:  They may simply see me more clearly, or in greater depth.  They know, as my mother and Bruce—who have never met each other—have said, that I wasn’t “a typical straight guy.”  And, really, I had no capacity for becoming one.

But even if you have the capacity for becoming something, you have to become it.  That includes becoming a woman or a man.  The vast majority of people who are cisgendered have a head start in becoming the women or men they envision themselves to be. Those of us who are transgendered or intersexed may have to “work at it,” as my gynecologist says.  Or, perhaps, we simply have a longer—and sometimes more serpentine or circuitous—road. 

For everyone, though, it is a road, because—to paraphrase Sylvia Plath—being a woman or man isn’t a destination.  Rather, it’s a country through which our journeys take us.  I didn’t arrive at womanhood when I started taking hormones, changed my name or underwent my operation:  Each of those milestones marks particular stages of the road that I have followed on my journey into womanhood.

Does that make me more of a woman, as Ronica says, or less of one, as others claim?  Frankly, I don’t think it matters:  This is where I am now, the day after my first (and, I hope—if unrealistically—last) yeast infection.

16 August 2010

Whose Side Are You On?

Tonight my cousin asked me an interesting question:  Whose side am I on?
He told me that a female friend is indecisive.  “Typical female,” he sighed.

“Hey, watch it!” I said, only partly in jest.

“Oh, I’m sorry. But you know what I mean…”

I did.  I understand why he would see his friend, or us, as unable to make up our minds.  But, I must admit, I was like that even before I took my first doses of Premarin and Spironolactone.

And I understand how he, or any other male, could see us as indecisive.  I know it’s dangerous to generalize about either gender, but I have come to see that women and men have different perceptions of time and the fixedness of any decision or action.  I also believe that women have more fluid perceptions about time—specifically, about what constitutes the past and present—than men have.

What that means is that a woman’s perceptions—and the conclusions she reaches—about time and events, and about a specific time and event, can change much more quickly and readily than a man’s.  Men tend to hold to whatever view they have or specific incidents or their world generally more steadfastly, and for longer, than women will hold to theirs.  That, I think, is the reason why men have a harder time with the end of, or any unexpected change in, their careers than women have.

I used to think that these differences had to do with the way males and females were acculturated.  Men are inculcated with the idea that changing their minds is indecision, which is a form of weakness.  And, supposedly, women want their men to be strong. On the other hand, women learn that in being confident in their observations and the opinions they form from them, they are being too aggressive and therefore not nurturing—which makes them undesirable to men.

Later, I would come to believe that female “indecisiveness” was bred in their bones—or, at least, a result of their anatomy.  Specifically, I thought it might have to do with women’s menstrual cycles.  After all, when one is at the mercy of a function of one’s body for a few days of each month, I could see how one would see life as dictated by caprice, and would not see much as dependable.

But now I feel that the female conception of the space-time continuum, and of the events within it, is controlled at least somewhat by the big “E”.  Yes, our willingness and sometimes compulsion to change our minds is a biochemical reality.  As to why that might be, I don’t know. 

I have done no formal research into what I’ve just described.  I’m not any sort of scientist, and I am just barely an intellectual of any kind—if indeed I am one.  So, I have nothing to confirm my claims but my own observations and experiences.

But, back to my cousin’s question.  I told him that while I have always felt like a female, and was more willing and able to sympathise with the points of view other women held.  On the other hand, I may still better understand the ways and thought patterns of men, simply because I lived as one for so long.  That is not to say that I agree with men’s views, much less like some of the things they do to each other and to women.  I just understand them a little better, I think—perhaps as a result of my experiences with and as a man.

13 August 2010

Love Now?

I know I haven't been posting much in TT lately.  But I haven't forgotten about this blog, or any of you who are reading this.

Probably the most interesting thing I can say right now, at least in regards to my new life, is that I'm starting to think about love again.  Let me amend that:  I didn't stop thinking about love.  But at the time of my surgery, I decided that finding, getting or keeping a partner was not a priority.  If someone came along, that might have been nice.  However, I realized that the days and months that followed my surgery would be focused--without any intention on my part, really--first on healing, then on starting and developing my new life. 

I knew that the way I felt about many people and things would change.  It was a bit like the early days of my sobriety, and that is the reason why people in twelve-step programs advise newcomers not to start new relationships or to break up existing ones (unless they're abusive) during the first year.  It's one of the better pieces of advice they give, even if it's the one people are most likely to go against.

Now, a year and a month after my surgery, I am thinking I might like a companion.  This time, I'll probably seek someone close to my own age, spiritually and mentally as well as chronologically.  One thing I've learned is that you can't teach someone your life experience, and no matter how well you can describe and explain, a person who's significantly younger just isn't going to understand why you do and don't one thing (or person!) or another.

10 August 2010

Understanding His Girlfriend

Today, I went to Bicycle Habitat again to bring Hal some small parts for the bike I’m building.  Hal, whom I’ve known for a long while, is putting it together.  Raul, another mechanic whom I haven’t known quite as long, but with whom I worked briefly in a Brooklyn shop, was putting together a not-bad but not-quite-as-nice bike.  We chatted about one thing and another, and he started to talk about his girlfriend.

He’s about my age, and his girlfriend is “a few years younger,” he said.  “She gets weird sometimes,” he added.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, sometimes she doesn’t want me to touch her breasts.  And sometimes she doesn’t want me to touch her at all.”


“Yeah…but this is the weird part:  She says, ‘It’s not your fault.  It’s not about you.’”

“Well, listen to her,” I said.

From the expression on his face, I could tell what he was thinking:  “She’s
really gone over to the other side!”—or something like that.

“It probably isn’t about you,” I started to explain.

“You’re right,” he said.  “And I know why she’s that way.”

I anticipated, verbatim, what he said next:  “She was abused, by her ex-husband and by her family."

“That’s terrible.  And it takes a lot of time to get over it.”

“But she should get over it.”

Now, I am a layperson.  But I might know a bit more than the average layperson about the kind of trauma his girlfriend is suffering.  So I felt confident in saying what I said next:

“She needs to heal at whatever pace she needs to heal.  It’s not about you; all you can do is to be supportive.”

For an instant, his eyes narrowed and his jaw slackened.  On one hand, he seemed to be thinking, “She’s really gone over to the other side.”  But he also seemed to want to hear more.

“It won’t be easy.  You probably have seen that already.  But just remember…She’s not rejecting you.  She’s fighting something that won’t leave her so easily.”

He sighed.  “You’re right.”  Then, after thinking some more, he said, “You really understand this.”

“Well…” I said. After a very long pause, I continued, “I know something about these things from experience.”

“What do you mean?” 

I had an instant debate with myself.  It ended when I decided that I had nothing to lose by saying what I said next: “I was abused, too. I understand how she feels.”

He was less surprised than I expected him to be.  “It was a family friend.  That’s why he could do it:  My family trusted him.  So, as a child, I thought speaking against him was an act of betrayal.  That’s why, even though it happened from about the time I was six until I was nine, I didn’t talk about it until I was thirty-four.”

His eyes widened.  “You know, I thought you had a lot of courage.  But I didn’t know how much until now.” 

That, coming from someone against whom I used to race, and with whom I worked.  But it’s still weird to hear things like that.  So I demurred, “Well, you know, I just do what I need to do.  And I only do what I need to do when my back is to the wall, when I have no other choice.”

“Still,” he said, “You’re doing it. Thanks!”

“For what?”

“For helping me to understand.”

The funny thing about getting older is that you end up playing roles you never imagined you could.  What’s even more ironic is that you start relating to people in ways you previously couldn’t when you cross from their side of the street to the other.

09 August 2010

Public or Private?

Here’s a dilemma that’s become familiar to me:  The one of “going stealth” vs. being more public about my identity.

Ironically, taking a long bike ride has made me think about that question.  I think taking that ride alone and feeling good about it further complicated the situation, albeit in a good way. 

When I first started my transition, I wondered whether I’d be able to take solo rides like the ones I used to take.  Don’t get me wrong:  Sometimes I enjoy company when I’m in the saddle.  But you don’t lose your taste for riding alone if you’ve spent weeks or months on your bike in countries other than your own.  Part of it has to do with having the freedom to follow my own whims, which is something cycling has always meant to me. I’ve purchased a plane ticket the day before my flight and packed that evening before going off to France with my bike.

Given the increased levels of so-called security, I don’t know whether I will ever again be able to take off with so little advance planning.  And, I don’t know how I’d bring my bike.  The last time I brought a bike on a plane was just before 11 September in 2001.

But, even more important were my concerns about safety.  I wondered whether that was the reason why I still don’t see very many women riding bikes by themselves.  I also wondered whether I would be self-conscious, as I sometimes am when I eat alone in a restaurant.

Well, so far things have worked out well.  Not only have I not had any problems, so far, with would-be harassers, I have been treated well, and with great courtesy.  People, especially men of a certain age, go out of their way to hold doors open for me and to be helpful in all sorts of ways.  And, of course, a couple have flirted with me.

Maybe I’m seen as someone’s eccentric aunt or grandmother.  Whatever the case, no one seems to suspect or care about my past and, of course, I have no desire to talk about it with most people I meet.

This is a really nice position to be in.  Would I have to compromise it if I continue to advocacy about LGBT issues, or work with organizations that work with the community?  I think now of the panel discussion in which I participated last week.  I enjoyed it, but I was glad to be able to go back to being a “civilian” when it was over.  Even though I know I am “of transgendered experience,” to use the politically correct parlance, I underwent my therapy, hormone treatment and surgery so I could live as the woman I am.  That seems to be working well for me.  It’s nice not to have to explain myself. 

Still, I wonder whether, or how much, I am responsible to educate other people about us and to what degree I am obligated, or want, to advocate for us.

06 August 2010

Passing Showers and Coming Weather

Last night, and for part of today, I felt sadness moving through me like showers that sometimes pass through the afternoons or evenings at this time of year.  In the day, sunshine follows; at night, the sky fills with bright stars and moonlight.  But you know that those showers will pass through again, if not tomorrow, then on another day.

Of course, the pattern of sun and rain and sun, or rain and stars, is simply the meteorological cycle, at least in this part of the world at this time of year.  However, the sadness that follows happy, or at least good, events is somehow less predictable, if just as inevitable as the weather.

What that play between joy and sadness means, I think, is that I’m working something else, whether consciously or not.  About a year after I started to take hormones, and had been experiencing giggle fits and crying jags for a few months, I realized that tears are a means for the psyche—and, sometimes, the body—to cleanse itself.  As with any kind of cleansing, it doesn’t happen all at once, which is why we (or at least I) need the crying spells or giggle fits to repeat themselves.

So what is it that I’m working out?  I suppose it has to do with the time I went to high school in Middletown, New Jersey and the years my parents lived there afterward.  Going to see my parents there—or, at least, a couple of towns over, in an area that was almost as familiar to me—was bound to make me think about a few things. 

During our conversations, my mother and father talked about some of the mistakes we made and the things we might do differently.  While I was often unhappy —Indeed, I was probably clinically depressed, or in some state close to it, much of the time—I don’t feel that I had a bad childhood or even adolescence.  We didn’t have much, at least materially, and I think we were trying to negotiate relationships with each other, and people outside the family, as well as various other types of situations, without much to guide us.  In my case, there wasn’t much that, or very many people who, could have shown me what I needed to do.

I tried to explain, as I have in some of our other conversations, that I don’t blame them—and, truthfully, I never did blame them, or at least not my mother—for whatever difficulties I might’ve had.  I was trying to deal with things for which I didn’t have names, much less explanations or other ways to portray.  Even if I did have the words and other knowledge that could have helped me to make sense of what I was feeling, I’m not sure that my mother, and I am certain my father, wouldn’t have had the means—whatever they might have been—to understand what I was thinking about, much less a way to deal with it and even less a way to help me with it.

My father had his ideas about the kind of man he wanted me to become and the career—that of a military officer—he wanted me to pursue.  But I don’t even see that as being as much a part of the problem as I once did.  I get the feeling that his own upbringing, and the milieu in which he grew up, didn’t give him very effective tools for understanding his own needs and wants, much less those of anyone else.

My mother, at least, has always been a very, very good listener and had plenty of empathy, at least for me.  I think she understood, at some point, that I really was trying to do the things that my teachers and others expected of me, and the things those people—as well as she and Dad—hoped and wished for me.  I’ll admit that I didn’t want to fulfill some expectations because, at best, they were incongruent with my psyche and at worst they could have destroyed me.  And there were others I didn’t want to fulfill simply because of my own anger.  In some way, Mom understood all of that. 

It may have had to do with the fact that, as she said, she married and had kids at as early an age as she did.  In her time, most young women married and had their first kids at about the same age as my mother did those things, but today almost any parent who’s not some sort of religious fundamentalist would not want his or her kid to marry or have kids at such an age.  She did what was expected of her and, I think, because of that, she knew I was trying to fulfill expectations, too.

I began to understand what those expectations were, at least for me, when I was in high school.  That was also when, I believe, gender roles started to become more rigid and the genders more segregated.  Furthermore, in high school, we were expected, for the first time, to seriously think about onthe course of the rest of our lives.  That would determine, among other things, how much longer we would go to school and what kinds of schools we would attend.

Although there were no rules that said only males could go into certain occupations and that only females should work in others, gender expectations came into play when we were deciding what we wanted to do with the rest of our lives—or even in the immediate future.  For instance, only boys studied auto repair and only girls studied “beauty culture.”  Plus, in high school, many kids start to think about what kind of family life they would or wouldn’t want to make for themselves. 

I often think about what those years might’ve been like if I knew some of what I know now.  And I can’t help to wonder what Mom and Dad might’ve done.  Then again, some things could and would not have been different; others might've passed.

05 August 2010

The Lone Cyclist

Yesterday I took a short and totally un-noteworthy ride locally through some local streets between my place and the World’s Fair Marina.   And I finally got the new phone –and phone plan—I’ve needed. 

Today, ironically, I found myself thinking—and talking—about cycling even though I didn’t ride and I spent the afternoon with my parents, who aren’t cyclists in any way, shape or form.
I met them at a place incongruously called Airport Plaza.  For years, it was the first stop for the bus that runs from the Port Authority Terminal, at the western end of Times Square, to the Jersey Shore.  Airport Plaza is one of those shopping plazas—It’s too old and small to be called a mall—that always looked rather forlorn and even a bit dusty even when business was booming.  It always seems to be filled with stores that started a couple of years too late and seem to hang on for a year or two longer than they should.  The Wetson’s restaurant that anchored one end of the plaza during the first few years my family lived in New Jersey may well have been the last of a chain that lost out to McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s about thirty-five years ago.

When Mom and Dad were living in Middletown, I occasionally took the bus I took today, and got off at Airport Plaza.  Other times, I pedaled to their house and spent a night or weekend with them.  When I was at Rutgers, the ride was about thirty or thirty-five miles, depending on which route I took; from New York, I’d pedal about fifty miles by the time I saw them.

Usually, I’d detour a bit through the areas just on the other side of Route 36 from Airport Plaza.  They were webs of streets that paralleled, skirted or ended at Sandy Hook Bay. 

Those streets wove through the towns of Keyport, Keansburg and a section of Middletown that used to be called East Keansburg, but is now called North Middletown.  They were Bruce Springsteen country before anyone heard of him:  Streets lined with houses that were everything from tidy to shabby, depending on the amount of money and time the blue-collar families that inhabited them could or would devote to their care.  Not even the best of them would have been considered for Architectural Digest; the worst looked like somewhat bigger and better versions of the shacks seen in rural Appalachia.

And, yes, it seemed that at any given moment, at least half of the late-teenaged and young adult males were torquing wrenches or strumming guitars or pounding drums in the garages of those houses.  Then, as now, American flags rolled and spilled in the breeze in front of many of the houses; some also had banners for whichever branch of the military in which the fathers or sons served.  Many of those houses also had boats and trailers parked in their driveways. 

In those days, I used to enjoy pedaling along that stretch of the shoreline because the views were actually quite nice and because, in those houses and the people who lived in them, there was an utter lack of pretention—even though I knew most of those people would disagree with me on just about everything. 

Also, while some of those people would swim, sail or do any number of other things in the water, they did not turn it into a commodity.  There was no status in living closer to the water.  So, riding along it was a calming experience.

Oddly enough, it was during those rides that I could most readily imagine myself living as a girl and, later, a woman.  The artist/romantic in me says it had something to do with the waters of the bay and the billowing sails on the boats.  What’s really strange, though, is that I could feel as I did in an environment that could be fairly called “redneck.” 

Along the shoreline, multistory condo buildings and stores have replaced the older one-and two-story, some of which, in their splintered and peeling condition,  looked as if they’d been left there by the tides.

Mom, Dad and I had lunch in Ye Cottage Inn, a restaurant that, so far, has survived the changes.  But, even though it’s been updated and has some nice views from its windows, I have to wonder whether it will survive the changes I’ve described.  The food was pretty good, if unexciting.

The place was about a third full, which, I guess, isn’t bad for a Thursday.  However, about half the people eating there were part of the same group of senior women who seemed to be having their “girls’ lunch.”  And I was the youngest person eating in that restaurant.

Not that I mind older people.  Back in the days when I was riding down that way, I used to enjoy talking with two of my mother’s friends.  In fact, I preferred them to nearly all of my peers. 

But most of the people one sees in that area are very old or very young.  Those shoreline condos are, I’m sure, full of commuters who are young.  There is a ferry nearby that goes to the Wall Street area, so they probably don’t see much of the town besides their condos and the ferry.  When those young execs and execs-in-training are promoted, decide to have families or have some other life-changing event.  Will they stay?  And when those old people die, who will replace them?

Finally…Will anybody there take up cycling?  Although some of the streets are very cyclable, I cannot recall having seen, besides me,  anyone but very young children on bicycles.

If I pedal down there once again, will I be the Lone Cyclist?

03 August 2010

The Childhood We Always Wanted

The other night, when Pauline and I were scavenging the racks at The Strand bookstore, I found a copy of "Blinded by the Right."  In it, author David Brock tells the story of how he sold out his principles to become the one who wrote "The Real Anita Hill," among other things.  

But what's truly heartbreaking about it is that he was, from his early adolescence onward, a closeted gay male.  His father was even more conservative (in the truest sense of the word) than his colleagues and bosses in the right-wing publications and think tanks for whom he worked.  As he became more and more enmeshed in the world of right-wing punditry (I was tempted to write "puppetry."), he became more and more fearful. As you might imagine, the circles in which he traveled were inhabited mainly by men who wanted to be, well, men, at least by their definitions of the word.  So homophobic and misogynistic epithets were as much a part of their vocabulary as the names of tools are in the language of a construction worker.

At times, Brock says he was trying to gain approval from his father, who never wanted to hear about his boyfriends or any other aspect of his homosexuality after he "came out."  You might say that he was looking for surrogate fathers among his editors, coaches and others who mentored him.  He also felt as if he were always the "outsider" and could operate in no other way. That is the reason why his first political hero was Robert F. Kennedy, but by the time he was a sophomore in college, he was hanging out with the Young Republicans.

Through it all, he felt intense isolation and loneliness, to the point that he couldn't form relationships even if he'd wanted them.  That sounded all too familiar to me.  

I think of that now when I replay, in my mind, a conversation I had with someone who said that he felt gays were always "throwing their preferences in other people's faces."  Now I wish I had explained this:  When you're straight and cisgender, you don't really need to assert your desires:  People assume that you want to have a relationship--in whatever form it might take--with a member of your opposite gender, and that you want to, in some ways, fit collective notions of how members of your gender comport themselves.  When you don't have the same attractions the majority of the population feels or don't think you are the gender to which you were assigned at birth, you must speak up for yourself, especially if someone thinks he or she can "change" you by finding someone for you.

But this self-repression that so many of us practice, whether we are forced into it or feel as if we are, is inevitably self-destructive.  It leads some of us to abuse substances, and others (or sometimes the same people) into abusive relationships.

Some people, of course, want us to conform to their notions of gender identity and sexuality no matter how much harm it may do us. But there are others who simply don't, through no fault of their own, understand why  you cannot be a part of the gender binary or the heterosexual world.  In other words, they simply don't know how to support us in the ways we need.  

Now, at least there are more people who understand than there were when Brock, Pauline and I were growing up.  But I hope there will be more.

02 August 2010

Can I Stay Out And Move On?

The other night, I was part of a panel discussion that followed a showing of the film Trinidad.  

The other two members of the panel were a trans man and a trans woman, both of whom have much more of a history of activism than I have, and will probably ever have.  The trans woman, Pauline Park, is one of this area's better-known activists and was the Grand Marshal of the New York City Pride March a few years ago.  Jay Kallio, the trans man, has decided that activism and simply speaking up were the best way to "make the most" of the time he has left--which may not be much, given his medical conditions.

I met Pauline during the year when I was going to work as Nick and ducking into the coffee shop bathrooms to make my Clark Kent-to-Lois Lane change before going about the rest of my life.  I met Jay some time after that, when I hadn't been living full-time as Justine for very long.  

When I first met Pauline, I was only a few months away from living full-time as Justine, although I didn't know that.  When I met Jay, I saw the surgery in my future.  But I didn't know how far or near that future would be.

It was odd to realize that the thing to which I was so looking forward--actually, for which I was hoping--when I met Jay is now part of my past.  And the life I'd wanted to have when I first met Pauline is my life now, and when I think of my past, I don't think of Nick as the actor in it; rather, she was and is Justine.

During the discussion, someone in the audience asked us how we define ourselves.  Each of us mentioned an experience that showed us we were not of the sex marked on our birth certificates when we were born.   I said, "But I was a girl, a woman, even before that.  Most people think that I became a woman when I had my surgery and that I became transgendered when I started my process of transition.  But I was always a woman; I just had to live as male for much of my life."

Then, I had a very strange sensation.  On one hand, I was enjoying the talk, and people in the audience were mostly sympathetic.  But, on the other, a part of me was asking myself, "What am I doing here if I am a woman?"  At the same time, I realized that being a woman was the reason why I was there.

This is a dilemma, to say the least.  I can see why some post-op trans women completely leave the world of transgender activism (if they were involved in it) and the other vestiges of the trans community behind them.  Then again, I can see why some remain in a kind of transgender subculture:  We have histories that are different from those of cis-gender women--or men, for that matter.

Marci Bowers didn't approve of the fact that Sabrina Marcus allowed her kids to call her "Dad," even after her transition and surgery.  I can understand that, but at the same time, I wouldn't know what to call a transgendered parent.  As Sabrina's daughter said, she can't call her "Mom" because she already has a mother:  the woman who gave birth to her.  

So, the question is:  How much of a break can or should we make with our pasts?  Marci sees herself as a woman, and that of all the things she is, "transgendered is about eighth."  But everybody knows that she was once a man named Mark.  These days, no matter how much you distance yourself from your past, it's not that difficult for someone else to learn about it.  Even if I'd never written a word about my transition, someone with a little too much time on his or her hands would have  found me out.

Sometimes I am tempted to go to get a new job or to move to some place where nobody knows me.  But, even though I'll probably never be famous, I somehow doubt that I'll be completely anonymous, either:  It's hard to do that when the things you do for a living involve--or are--communication with other people.  And it seems that I'll always be doing that sort of work, whether or not I get paid for it--or whether or not I'm any sort of transgender activist.