27 September 2010

What Do I Tell Them?

I had just left the allergist's office.  The rain had softened to a drizzle, and I was walking past the booths of some sort of craft fair or market that was set up in Madison Square Park.  I had walked past the last one, and was leaving the park, when someone said, "I've seen you on TV."

I furrowed my brows.  It's been several years since I did a community-access cable program, and I would be surprised to learn that anyone's still watching the show.  After all, I didn't do it for very long and, well, it was a local community access program.

"I know I've seen you before. Are you a lawyer?"

"Not the last time I checked." 

"Well, I've seen you somewhere before.  My name is Reeba."

"Hi. I'm Justine."

"Now I know...I've seen your blog."

She had just come from a session with her therapist she's been seeing for the past four years.  During that time, she began to take hormones and it shows in her breasts and in her facial lines.  But she still has a fair amount of shadow in spite of her electrolysis.

That may be a reason why she hasn't been feeling confident about herself lately.   Also, she said, she feels as if she hasn't "accomplished anything."  If I've learned nothing else, it's that life isn't about milestones; it's about what steps (or pedal strokes or paddles or whatever metaphor you want to use) you are taking on your journey.   So, I told her, the fact that she's taking a class online is worthy of respect.  It's her first class of any sort in decades, and she is looking at what might be a very long-term goal.  But at least she's doing something that will lead her there, or show her that she should take another path.

Still, I wish I could've given her better advice.  The truth is, much of what I've done has been as much a result of circumstance, necessity or luck--good or bad--as it was of any planning on my part. I could have done many things better than I did, and there are all sorts of things I would do differently.  And I will probably feel the same way some years hence, when I look back at some of the situations and choices I'm faced with now.

In thinking of her, I'm also thinking about Stana.  Coincidentally, her post today is about choices she has to make, and which could greatly affect the course of her life.  She's gotten the green light to work as the woman she is; her family is the only thing between her and her life as the woman she is.  On one hand, she believes they're not, and may never be, ready; on the other, she admits that she never asked them.   However, she adds, "Once that cat is out of the bag, there's no way to stuff it back in, so I am keeping that bag tightly shut."

She summed up part of our (I'm thinking of trans people who are deciding how to live, but I am referring to a lot of other people, too.) dilemma very nicely.  We want, we need, and there's no way back.  The thing is, once you make a decision of that magnitude, a multitude of other decisions will follow.   You "come out;" some accept, some reject; everyone is changed because his or her true self is exposed.  And, whether the outcome is happy or not, there is no way back.

My part-time job is offering me more work for next semester.  And I may have other work in another college.  Those of you who've been reading my blog probably know that I like the work I do, but I don't like my primary workplace.  I mean, I'm glad I have the job.  But it hasn't been intellectually or spiritually nourishing for me and, believe me, I seek those things actively.  That is not good for any educator or creative person, and I just happen to be both.  

Now that I think of it, it's not good for anybody.  I see it every day in the faces and bodies of many of the people there.  I think of the guest who, at a reception following a play at the college theatre,  remarked that he had never seen so many overweight people in one place.  And I've never seen so many people develop health problems in a workplace.  They include the former Director of the Office of Academic Advisement, who lost her gallbladder when she was there.  Others have died, in middle age, of the sorts of things usually suffered by older people.  As bad, or worse, are the truncated emotional and spiritual development I see.  One can see it in the duplicity, backstabbing and plain treachery one sees there. I see it in the faculty and administrators who encouraged me to make the effort to educate my students about experiences like mine, and denigrated or even complained to higher-ups when I did.

I wouldn't presume to tell Reeba or Stana what path they should take.  I would only advise them to consider what cats can't be put back in the bag once they're let out, and what kind of life they might live once the "cat" is gone.  While I would do my transition and surgery over again, I think I would do more and different things to prepare for them--including situating myself differently in terms of work and my  living situation, and even the way I "came out."  At least I am here, living with integrity. And I have a job, which is nothing to sneeze at in this economy.

So what do I tell Reeba and Stana?

No comments: