29 November 2010

Remembering Dreams And Fantasies That Weren't Mine

After going to the Jersey Shore and having lunch, I didn't feel a sense of nostalgia or deja vu.  You can't really feel those things for people with whom you have a current relationship.  Or maybe it's just me.  All I know is that these days, I don't think that much about my childhood or adolescence when I'm around Mom and Dad.  

It strikes me as odd that, with the people with whom I have my longest relationships, I essentially have no past.   At least, I don't feel as if I have one.  It's as if the person who lived as their son, who fought with his father and cried to (and, at times, with) his mother was somebody else.  In a sense, he is:  I am not living his life now.  Of course, that is what I wanted, and still want.  But it's still strange nonetheless.

So what was so different about me during my teen years, when I lived there?  Or in my early adult years, when Mom and Dad were still living there and I used to visit, at times grudgingly?  Or even my early thirties, before they moved?  

I remember that once I wrote a poem about not having fantasies.  I have it somewhere, if not in digital form.  The fact that I didn't bother to preserve it electronically probably means that it's even worse than my other poetry, or my other writing, for that matter.  (If you've been reading this blog, you know that's saying something!)  I think it was bad because, if I recall, I turned it into a poem for whomever I was involved with at the time:  In essence, I didn't need fantasies because I had that person.

Of course almost nothing could have been further from the truth, but not through any fault of the subject of that poem.  The truth was that I didn't have fantasies--of the sexual, or any other, variety.  For much of my life, I didn't even dream, and when I did, those dreams--the ones I remembered, anyway--were utterly mundane or outright depressing, even more so than my waking life was.

I didn't dream of being an astronaut or pilot, or of making love to Faye Dunaway or anyone else.  I didn't even daydream about any of the girls, or boys, in my classes.  When anyone asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I couldn't tell them.  An astronaut, a doctor, an accountant:  nothing appealed to me.  The things people wanted from me were even less appetizing, for they included such as the aspirations of a career as a military officer that my father and a family friend had for me.

One question I don't ask is whether Dad still thinks about that--in part, because whether or not he does isn't going to change much, for me, him, Mom or anyone else.  Just as I didn't have other dreams, I didn't share his dreams.  And, of course, I couldn't share my mother's dreams, which included my giving her the grandchildren she wanted.  At least my brothers took care of that.

Actually, I had one dream. Of course, I did not reveal it to anyone until long after Mom and Dad had moved, my brothers had kids who were in school and a few people we knew were dead.  I don't think any young person could have revealed such a dream to anyone else in those days, even if he, she or I had the words for it.  

I have learned that language only during the past few years.  That is why I have just begun to have dreams, and why I am just starting to learn about my fantasies.  I suspect that some of them will be fulfilled as I begin to have memories of my own.  One can only have those things in one's own language.

27 November 2010

The Real Jersey Shore

Today I had lunch with Mom and Dad in Jersey.  As it was cold and windy, and they're not used to this sort of weather anymore (and, shall we say, a few years older than I am!), we didn't do much else.  Normally, when they come up for a visit, we go for a walk on or by the beaches, and perhaps shopping.

They spent Thanksgiving with my brother and in-laws.  As I'm not invited there, and Dad doesn't want to drive into the city (for which I can't blame him, frankly), we usually meet as we did today.  Although our meeting wasn't very long, I didn't mind, as I was in a really good mood, as they were. Plus, I'm going to spend Christmas with them.

I've decided, though, that the next time I go out that way, I want to ride my bike.  I used to do that fairly often when Mom and Dad were still living in Jersey and my brother and I still had a relationship. It's about 40 to 45 miles one way, depending on which route I took.  So I would ride out on a Saturday (or Friday, if I had the day off) and ride back on Sunday (or Monday, if it was a holiday).  A couple of times, on summer days with long hours of daylight, I started riding at dawn or earlier and start riding home late in the afternoon.

When Mom and Dad were waiting with me for the bus I would ride home, I noticed something odd.  The place where the bus stops is Airport Plaza in Hazlet.  It was actually an airport, back in the early days of aviation.  Today it's a drab little shopping center that, as merchants come and go and the place undergoes one facelift or another, always manages to look, or at least seem, the same.  I say that from middle age, having seen the place ever since my teen years.

Actually, very little ever seems to change in that part of the Jersey Shore.  It's about ten miles from the ocean at Sandy Hook, but it's less than half a mile from Raritan Bay, which is an inlet of the ocean.  The funny thing is that if one crosses the bay, it's less than fifteen miles to New York.   But the irregularity of the coastline makes an overland journey, even on the Turnpike and Garden State Parkway, three times as long.

Some condos have been built along the bay in Keansburg.  But along the side streets that lead out to Route 36, one finds the same drab-to-shabby houses inhabited by, it seems, the same families who were blue-collar when I was living there and still are if the men still have their jobs.  As often as not, their sons don't have jobs and their daughters have either gotten out of the neighborhood or have had more kids than they could afford.  And, along Route 36, building-supply and furniture stores come and go with ice cream stands that are closed now for the season; between them, scrubby trees gnarl and bend on marshland that was drained and abandoned.

I wish I could have lived my entire life as female.  But I wouldn't have wanted to live it there.  Even the town where my family and I lived during my teen years, which is on the other side of Route 36 and more working-to-middle-class (and from which most of my female classmates went to college), was oppressive enough for any female, whether or not she was living in a body congruent with her gender.  So, for that matter, was the part of Brooklyn in which we had been living before we moved to Jersey.

To indulge in a cliche, those places and people helped to make me who and what I am now.  That is the reason I can return, but only briefly.  And you can return only because you've left.  

26 November 2010

The Truth About The Real Black Friday

On Sunday, two days from today, a year will have passed since the suicide of Mike Penner, a.k.a. Christine Daniels.

I never knew her, but I feel her loss.  Autumn Sandeen has written a brief but moving remembrance of her on "Pam's House Blend."  What makes it so poignant is that Ms. Sandeen describes not only her loss of a friend, but of what too many of us lose simply for being the people we are.  The loss of family, friends and other communities of support can be enough, by themselves, to send plenty of people over the edge.  For someone who needs those supports even more than others, losing them can be nothing less than catastrophic.  I don't know which is worse: losing them or not having them in the first place.  Both scenarios are too common for gender-variant people.

Penner/Daniels lost her most important bond--that with the person to whom she was married--as a result of living as Christine. I know what it's like to lose the love of friends and family members, or at least to lose the illusion of love that some people offered.  But I can't imagine how desolate her being must have been after returning, for whatever reasons, to living as Mike without what she had when she previously lived as Mike.

I also cannot help but to think of Cori and Toni, two gender-variant friends of mine who committed suicide. Both of them described their feelings to me:  Cori was a woman's soul  in a man's body and Toni saw herself as a man in a female form.  While it could be argued that other factors played into Toni's overdose, I will not accept the idea that conflicts over gender identity had nothing to do with it.  And Cori, on the last night of her life (I will always remember her as female even if other people and the state do otherwise.), told me that being at her wits' end over her dilemma made her want to kill herself.

Any time a gender variant person kills him or her self--something we do, depending on which studies we believe, anywhere from four to twenty times as often as everyone else--his or her struggles with gender identity inevitably play a role, whatever the ostensible cause or method of self-destruction may be.  In a sense, it's rather like AIDS, which doesn't actually kill the patient, but leaves him or her vulnerable to other illnesses that kill and to sicknesses that wouldn't kill someone whose immune system wasn't ravaged by AIDS.  

Not being able to live as one truly is, or living with the ostracism and violence that too often follow those of us who are willing and fortunate enough to live by our souls rather than our mere bodies,  makes us more vulnerable to any and all kinds of despair.  And some, like Mike/Christine, lose everything they had in the journeys to themselves and find that there is no way back.

That, I now realize, is one of the real purposes of the Transgender Day of Remembrance.  We not only remember our dead, but also that we are here, that we--by whatever means--are surviving, at least for the time being.  That we are here and they are not and we cannot explain why can be, for some, a source of guilt and despair.  But the fact that we are alive, and can do something about our lives and those others who are still here, is something that we owe, in some way, to those who are gone.  

If, as Voltaire said, we owe the dead nothing but the truth, then we owe those who are gone the truth of our own lives, of our own selves.  And we owe them an even greater debt because, even if they administered themselves the doses, gunshots or whatever else killed them, they are still human beings who were murdered by hateful people.  I feel that way about anyone who feels driven to kill him or her self because it seems like the only alternative to living with the oppression they experience.  They succumbed to the notion of which too many of us are inculcated:  that we are somehow less worthy, and that our lives have less justification, than those of other people.  Those of us who are living know that the truth is something entirely different, and we owe it to those who aren't here to live it. 

That is all we have, and all they could ever have hoped to have.

25 November 2010

Giving Thanks on a Quick Morning Ride

I heard it was going to rain today.  So I tried to sneak in an early ride:  just a few miles on my fixed-gear bike.  It felt about ten degrees colder than it was when I pedaled home last night after teaching in the technical institute.  And yesterday was at least that much colder than the day before.  At least, it seemed that way, for the wind blew hard enough to strip nearly all of the remaining leaves from wizening branches. 

One of the things that amazes me about cycling is that, even after all of these years, I can ride down some street I've pedaled dozens of times before and a moment, an image, will imprint itself in my mind.  Just south of LaGuardia Airport, in East Elmhurst, an elderly black woman stepped, with dignity if not grace, from behind a door on which dark green paint bubbled and the wood splintered and cracked into ashen hues like the ones on her coat, which she expects, or at least hopes, wil get her through another winter.

She is probably thankful for even that.  You might say that I am, too, for being able to ride by and see that, and to be able to ride home, then to Millie's house for Thanksgiving dinner.

I hope yours was at least as good as mine.

23 November 2010

On This Date: The Road Ahead

It was the day after Thanksgiving:  this date, the 23rd. I was fifteen years old. I recall it distinctly for a couple of reasons.  For one, the previous day was also the tenth anniversary of President Kennedy's assassination.  It seemed that everyone on the radio and TV talked about it.

But I have a far more personal reason to remember such an otherwise mundane day and date.  We--my mother, father and brothers--had taken the ride (My father drove) from the Jersey Shore to the far end of Long Island.  

The day started chilly and dreary.  But by the time we were about halfway through Staten Island, rain had begun.  The drops had turned into needles of cold wetness by the time we reached the graves of my grandfathers in the veterans' cemetery.  

Even though the sunset officially came about an hour later--not that anyone could see it--the sky had already grown almost as dark as some of the pavement the car's tires swished and planed on.  Or so it seemed.  Not long after we shuffled into the Ford station wagon (the kind with the imitation wood-grain panels on the sides),  my two youngest brothers were asleep in the back.  Soon, my other brother would nod off next to me and, by the time we were in Brooklyn, my mother would doze off, her head still straight up, next to my father.  Besides him, I was the only one still awake.  And, because we had taken the trip so many times before, my father probably could have gotten us home even if he'd fallen asleep.

All I could do was look at the windshield wipers that couldn't flick away the rain nearly fast enough and out the window to my left, where reflections of head- and street-lights bobbed and floated in the raindrops that never seemed to touch. In the cars that rode by, passed and flagged behind us, walleyed drivers drove tires that swished on pavement as kids fought, played or dozed and wives talked, knitted or fell asleep.

At the far end of Brooklyn--in or near Brighton Beach, if I recall correctly--Dad steered the station wagon into the neon flood of a parking lot of some restaurant.  Actually, it was more of a hot dog stand, like Nathan's, except that the hot dogs were even bigger.  None of us could remember the last time we went there, but Mom managed to keep everyone else from whining about having to make this trip when she promised my brothers that we'd stop for those hot dogs.  At one time, they would have worked as a bribe on me, too.  But by that day, I was past bribery, not because I'd become more virtuous, but rather because I didn't care, or at least believed I didn't, and was stupid enough to think that somehow made me more of an adult.

The truth was, I only wanted to seem like an adult, just so everyone would leave me alone.  Just a few weeks earlier, I'd begun my junior year in high school and everyone wanted to know what college I wanted to attend and what career I'd prepare myself for when I was there.  That is, except for the adults who'd decided which college and which career I should go into.

I knew of a couple of careers and a few schools I definitely didn't want.  But I really didn't care about the rest of it:  Whatever I did, adulthood would mean only another life I didn't want and a career in something that would matter to everyone but me.  

Behind us was the cemetery.  Ahead, there was only hard rain and a pitch-black sky.  And, in the moment, there were just foot-long hot dogs.

22 November 2010

Even They--And We--Get The Pronouns Wrong Sometimes

Today, I stepped into a store on my way from lunch with Bruce to an appointment with my opthamologist.  (Dr. Noah Klein, one of the best in the business)  I can't even remember the name of the store, or why I stopped in it.  All I remember is something I saw on the TV behind the counter.

Someone was interviewing Cher, apparently for one of the TV news magazines.  She was talking about her son Chaz, ne her daughter Chastity.  It was hard not to admire her, as she admitted that it wasn't easy for her to take when Chastity said she was going to become Chaz. Coming from someone who, as she said, knew that something was "different" about her child long before she came out, and who's been an advocate of gay rights, that's quite an admission.  But what I found just as revealing was when she called Chaz "she," caught herself and said, "I'm still having trouble with the pronouns."

Next time I talk to my mother, I'm going to ask whether she saw that.  I remember how, early in my transition, she was almost aplogetic:  "I'm really trying!"  To which I replied, "I know." 

I've told her that if I've been lucky about nothing else in my life, I've been "lucky in the mom department."  Of course such declarations cannot fully convey the way I feel about the love she has always shown.  But that interview with Cher reminded me, whether or not I needed it, of how good a mother I have.  And, I suspect, Chaz Bono has a good mother, too.

Even the best of them--and us--slip up on pronouns.  There are certainly worse things.

21 November 2010

Moving Forward, Again

I feel better after taking a ride today.  Still, I am thinking about Janine and  something both my mother and Millie said yesterday:  "A lot of people have been dying lately."  They have never met each other, but they said, verbatim, the same thing.  That in itself is a little strange.

Then again, they're both, shall we say, a few years older than I am.  And my mother lives in Florida.  So I think that they're both going to see more people dying around them than I could expect to see.

And, yes, it is the very end of fall.  So some living things are supposed to die, or be in the process of dying, now.  

I guess that I could see those deaths as part of a cycle of change.  It's been going on since, well, there have been living beings and seasons.  I'd rather that no one else in my circle dies any time soon.  And that may well come to pass.  But change is unavoidable.  And I've known, ever since I started my transition, and have understood more fully since my surgery, that more is to come.  

Someone with whom I had to break off relations lamented, "Why can't things go back to the way they were before?"  Of course the person who said that is male:  Everyone who's ever said that to me, or whom I've known to say that, was of that gender.

That question, paradoxically, makes two seemingly contradictory traits make sense, and seem entirely congruent with each other.  On one hand, men are said, or expected, to be more decisive and to move headlong in important actions.  On the other, they have a harder time making and keeping emotional commitments.  When you believe that you can return your (or the) past, whether the way it actually was or the way you wish it had been--and perhaps even feel entitled to do so--it's easy easier to take risks about things, but harder to do the same for people.

Women have never been able to "own" the past in the same way as men.  Until recently, they had to relinquish their own names--and most still do--upon uniting with a man.  And while men have typically experienced changes that affected their circumstances (a job lost or gained, for example), women have undergone more changes that fundamentally affect the way they see the world.  For example, most women give, or are at least capable of giving, birth.  And our bodies are more easily traumatized through sexual and other forms of violence.

It seems that for women, the only choices have been to move forward, or to live in the present or the Eternal Present.  Many who settle into lives as Mrs. Man end up doing the latter.  That's not likely to happen to me.  But the present, whatever that means, is also not an option, for it is gone as soon as it happens.  That leaves only the future, and I am just starting to see it now.

20 November 2010

Transgender Day of Remembrance: For The Truth About Amanda Gonzalez-Andujar

Today is Transgender Day of Remembrance.  For those of you who are just learning about it, this day commemorates those who met violent deaths on account of their actual or perceived gender identity and expression.  It commemorates the 1998 murder of Rita Hester in the Boston suburb of Allston.  

Like so many murders of transgenders--and that of Matthew Shepard, which preceded hers by a few weeks--it was notable for its gruesome overkill.  For all of those who think that we're trying to make our deaths, and the ways in which we are victimized, seem more important than crimes against everyone else, I want to say just a couple of things.

First of all, murders of transgender (and other gender-variant people) have some of the lowest "solve" rates.  When I wrote an article about the issue five years ago,  92 percent of such murders committed during the previous 30 years hadn't been solved, according to Interpol. That has much to do with the fact that they are not taken seriously by authorities in many places; among those in law enforcement and criminal justice, there is too often the attitude that we "had it coming" or that no one will miss us.  The latter notion is, too often, true, for many of us have been cast aside by the families into which we were born or the ones we made.  (In that sense, I am luckier than most, as my parents have been supportive even though they don't entirely approve of what I've done.)

Second, as I've mentioned, our deaths are some of the most gratuitously violent.  In those cases in which investigators actually investigate our deaths, much less take those investigations seriously, police officers and coroners as often as not say that our murders are the most horrible they'd seen.  As an example, just two weeks ago, a cross-dresser and a eunuch were tortured--Their eyes and nails were removed--and burned beyond recognition.  

You might be tempted--as I would have been, not so long ago--to say, "Well, that's Pakistan.  Things like that happen there."  Indeed it is a conservative Muslim country.  But there, as in India, there is a class of people--of which the two murder victims may have been part--called the hijra. They have been tolerated if not afforded equal status, but they have been increasingly marginalized, and even stigmatized, during the past sixty years or so.  Still, the fact that they were even tolerated--if only for their usefulness as sex workers--makes them without parallel in most of the Western world.

(Ironically, "Hijra" is also the migration of the prophet Mohamed and his followers to the city of Medina in C.E. 622.  Most Americans and Europeans know of that journey by its Latinized name, "Hegira." )

To his credit, the Police Superintendent Syed Amin Bukhari has actually formed separate investigative teams for each murder.  And while some people still seem to think that they brought it on themselves by "bringing misery to the streets," as one commentor said, others have lamented the brutality of those slayings.  

However, to find any of those attitudes expressed, or to know how brutal the murder of a gender-variant person can be, one needn't go to Pakistan.  At least, I don't need to.  All I have to do is ride my bike about half an hour from my apartment to Ridgewood, Queens, where Amanda Gonzalez-Andujar lived and died in March.  Hers is one of the (too) many names being read at Transgender Day of Remembrance events this year.   

Somehow, I don't think this will be the last time I mention her name.  I know that there are others--some of whom I saw at the vigil held in front of her apartment--who will also keep her name, and thus her memory alive, for themselves and in the minds of those who investigated her killing.  Even though they made an arrest and are to be commended for their work, I don't want them to forget, for her sake as well as that of anyone else who meets a fate as terrible as hers.  

And I want to remember, and be sure they remember, her and the others because of what Voltaire said:  On doit egards aux vivants; on ne doit aux morts que la verite:  To the living we owe respect; to the dead, we owe nothing but the truth.

19 November 2010

Until We Meet Again: The Weight of This Day

Am I projecting onto the rest of the world?

It seemed that everywhere I looked, people were ready to hibernate.  Windy, chilly, overcast days will do that to people, and to other living beings.  

In the ladies' room at my main job, I saw Debra, who has a job of some sort in the administrative offices.  I don't mean to disparage her or her work; I simply forget what, exactly, what her title is or what she does.  Then again, she's not the only one I've so mistreated in my memory.

Anyway, she said she noticed the weariness, too.  "I think people are feeling the weight of the world," she suggested.  "You know, with the economy and all of the other things that are happening, people are stressed out."

I thought about it.  "Well," I mused, "now we know why the 1930's are referred to as 'The Great Depression.'"

She tapped her chin.  "I never thought about that before."

"I didn't, either, until now."

In addition to the weight of the world, everyone seemed to have his or her personal burdens to a greater degree than usual.  Again, I might be projecting:  Having just lost a friend, I feel the weight of time and the even heavier load of ephemerality.  

Today Josette, one of Janine's sisters--whom I never before met-- wrote an e-mail to me.  I had written my feelings and impressions of Janine, and sent them to Marie-Jeanne and Diana, who sent them to Josette.  She told me that she read my message to at the service held for Janine in Pere Lachaise and everyone, including her, was moved by it.  That surprises me; after all, I was just expressing my feeling for two mutual friends.  And I was worried about how they'd take it, as I wrote it in French.  

I am fluent, or at least competent, in the language.  However, there are still some nuances and subtleties that I haven't got down, and possibly never will.  But I wrote my memory of Janine in French because, for one, she was so quintessentially French, in the most exasperating and delightful ways.  Even more to the point, at least for me, is that in my mind she represents France itself, or at least my experience of it.  Plus, I owe a good part of the skill I have in the language to her.

On some level--a selfish and solipsistic one, perhaps--I wonder whether I am going to "lose" France and Paris now that I've lost Janine.  I expect to go back some day, but of course it won't be the same.

Here is what I wrote:

Janine en fait le hereusement pour beaucoup des gens, incluis moi.  Elle en portait une force vitale de vie, et elle etait toujours genereuse.  Ma vie est meilleur apres j'en fait la conaissance de Nine.

Aujour d'hui, je suis tres desolee.  Et je veux faire une consolation pour tu, pour vous, pour tout les amis et famille de Janine.

Je n'en puis oublier la journee a Brighton Beach avec Nine, Marie Jeanne, Diana et Michelle.  C'etait une jour de hereusement pour moi.  Ma vie en fait changer, et Janine m'aider comprend beaucoup des choses.

J'espere reconnaitre (ou connaitre) bientot.  Jusqu'a cet temps, je veux faire assistance pour vous, si vous desirez.

Here's a rough translation:

{Janine brought much happiness to many people, including me.  She was a life force and was always generous.  My life is better for having met Nine. ("Nine" is her nickname, it's pronounced like "Nina.")

Today I am sorrowful.  And I want to console you, and all of Janine's family and friends.

I will not forget the day Nine, Marie Jeanne, Diana, Michele and I went to Brighton Beach. It was a very happy day for me.  My life was changing, and Janine was helping me to understand many things.

I hope that we will meet, or meet again.  Until then, I want to help you in any way I can.}

Josette says that she's planning to come here with Marie-Jeanne and Michele, possibly in the summer, and that she wants to meet me.  

16 November 2010

A Wish At The End

Right now I want to be in Paris.  But not for all of the usual reasons.  Well, all right, I want to pedal along the quais and around the Notre Dame and Sainte Chapelle to the Pont Neuf, and over to the Place des Vosges.  And, of course, to spend time in la Musee Rodin.  And la Musee Picasso.

But I really want to be there for Janine's sisters and friends.  Of course they don't need me.  But we've been exchanging e-mails, and one of her sisters said that she valued reading the things I said about her--especially that my e-mail contained words like genereuse and phrases like une force vitale.  She was especially happy to see that toutes dites comme ca:  People who have never met each other--that would be me and some friends she knew a lot longer than she knew me--were describing her in exactly the same ways, and had the same sorts of wonderful memories of her company and her cooking.

I wish we could have seen more of each other toward the end.  But she went from hospital to nursing home, and some days she barely had the energy to get dressed.  I know there wasn't much I could have done about that. But I wish that I could have spent more time with her in my new life, especially after she took my transition with an attitude that bordered on nonchalance.

Then again, I think she always knew me as Justine, long before I started to go by that name.  We had "girls' nights out" even before the "M's" changed to "F's" on all of my documents.  And she knew, even before I did, that she--to paraphrase Bruce--had befriended a human being, not a gender.  You really can't ask more than that of anybody, which means that you are all you can, or have to, offer or give.  

So, I have no regrets about our relationship, save for the fact that I didn't get to spend more face-to-face time with her toward the end.  I guess everyone who loves and is loved wishes for that. 

15 November 2010

Jay and Janine

Perhaps it's not a coincidence--at least for me, anyway--that Janine died during the workshop I co-led at the Graduate Center on Friday.  

Jay Toole co-led that workship with me.  She was really the first person to whom I "came out", when she was an intake counselor at Center Care.  She was also the first friend I made in the LGBT community in what was, in essence, my new life.  Actually, I sometimes think that my new life started with my "coming out," with her.  

Janine had absolutely nothing in common with Jay save for a determination that can border on, or become, stubborness.  Not much could get between either of them and anything they wanted to accomplish.  But, in her own way, Janine had a role in my entering the life I am now living.  

Just as I was starting to live full-time as Justine, Janine came to town with Marie-Jeanne and Michelle.  They, Diana and I went to Brighton Beach--on a collective whim-- on a bright, breezy late August day.  The night before, they saw me for the first time as Justine when we went, with Diana's husband, to a performance of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo.  She later confessed, "That night, as we were waiting for you, I said to Janine, 'I hope she's pretty.'  And she said, 'Ne t'inquietes pas, ella sera ca.'  And you were, even more than I expected!"

Now, coming from someone who looks as she does and hangs around with women who are at least equally attractive (In my next life, I'm going to have Marie-Jeanne's legs!), that was very generous!

Anyway, we took the train to the beach and, as it turned out, they were all wearing bathing suits under their clothes.  I wasn't:  I didn't even own a women's bathing suit.  Michelle just happened to have a one-piece suit that, with more than a little stretching, fit me. The only problem was that we weren't in France, I reminded them, so there was no way I could change clothes on the beach.  

What followed was a bit of inventiveness that only women could come up with.  They'd brought a blanket with them and surrounded me with it.  They stood, holding it, as I pulled down my long Indian print skirt, pulled off my jewel-neck T-shirt and bra, and pulled on the bathing suit.  For the rest of that afternoon, I was one of a bunch of middle-aged women who were having fun.

Afterward, we went shopping along Brighton Beach Avenue, underneath the elevated train, where many of the stores have signs only in Russian.  It was my first time there as Justine, and men were noticing us.  Janine and Marie-Jeanne pointed out that the men were looking at me.  "Oh no," I thought, "They know about me!"  But, as I would learn on later trips there, I am often taken for a Russian or East European woman.  That was confirmed when one came up to me and asked me if "the beautiful Russian lady"--meaning me--wanted "to have a good time."

Some would argue that it wasn't a real "girl's outing," because none of them were jealous of me.  At least, they didn't seem to be.  Later, Diana would say, "You go, girl"  And Janine gave me one of the best hugs I ever got.

Now she's gone.  I suppose that means I am, whether I want to or not, entering another stage in my life.  I also had that feeling after that workshop I co-led with Jay.  Somehow I believe that my role in the LGBT community (if I indeed had a discernible one) is changing, and so is my relationship to the female world.  Soon I'm going to find out how, I think.

14 November 2010


Janine's going to be cremated on Wednesday.  Of course I'm going to send cards to her other friends and family.  But I wish I could be there with them.

Although everyone has to die sooner or later, I can't help but to wonder:  Why her?  Why now?  After all, she's not even a decade older than I am. And she probably made more people happier than I ever will.

Someone once told me that life is the only response to death.  I guess that means that losing one friend means that I should make a new one.  It also means, I believe, that my life is changing, and will continue to change, in ways that I could not have foreseen.  Strange, though, that this is so hard to accept when there are people who are no longer in my life because they decided they didn't want to be after they learned about my changes.

She accepted; others have, too; I will find yet another.  Or so I hope.  I mean, I have some good friends now.  But it never hurts to have another, does it?  

13 November 2010

R.I.P. Janine

 I should have known that something was even worse than it seemed.  I was in what is possibly my least favorite place in this city: the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.  But I knew that wasn't the only reason why I was feeling so sad, angry and ready to bolt from my chair on the panel.  Every time the panel's moderator asked a question, I had to ask her to repeat it.  Now, they weren't the best thought-out, much less the best-written, questions I've ever heard.  And they certainly weren't personal, at least not for me. Still, I shouldn't have been blocking them as I was--or feeling as resentful as I was of the other panel members, or the audience, such as it was.

And, as much as I dislike being empaneled (like a sheet of wood nailed to a wall?) , I knew even at that moment that it also wasn't a reason why I should have felt so agitated and unwilling to talk.  When the moderator asked whether I wanted to say anything else, I very emphatically replied, "No!"

Actually, the group I facilitated yesterday, and about which I was asked to speak, didn't go well.  People were bickering over their definitions of "queer" and related terms:  exactly the sort of scenario I was trying to avoid.  And someone walked in halfway through it and, in a very confrontational mode, proffered his notions about what it means to be trans, gay or a cross-dresser.  Now I'm disgusted with myself for making it seem as if the group went better than it did when the moderator asked about it.

So I had a dismal experience on a beautiful day.  But that wasn't the worst of it: I felt an all-pervading sense of gloom.

Now I know what may have caused those feelings.  After getting home tonight, I opened an e-mail to find out that my friend Janine had passed.  

I stayed with her for part of my most recent trip to France, six years ago.  I knew then that something wasn't right with her, though I couldn't tell--and she wouldn't tell me--what.  To be fair, she may not yet have known.  But, knowing her, she might not have told anyone even if she had known.

Not long afterward, she was in the hospital, where she would spend much of her time until she ended up in a nursing home last year.  She was feeling pain; a tumor was found and things went downhill from there.  Two years later, she came here, with Marie-Jeanne, and they, Diana, her husband Don and I made the rounds of art galleries and a trip to the Guggenheim.  Janine nearly kept up with us in spite of using a walker and the fact that we were actually following her demand not to slow down for her.  

Probably the best description I could come up with for her was "life force." She was exactly that:  I, and others, felt more full of life itself  when we were around Janine than at just about any other time.  I don't think I've ever met anyone who had her passion for living, and for life, as she did.  Even if she never picked up a camera, pencils or paintbrush, she could not have been anything but an artist:  She simply couldn't not be creative.  

According to Diana, who relayed the news, Janine died "peacefully and without pain."  Of course I'm skeptical whenever anyone  speaks of how someone else felt when dying.  That's not to say I doubt Diana.  I just find it at least ironic that someone can die peacefully after, as Diana put it, "a long and painful saga."  And that a peaceful death can be painful for the survivors.

Janine, je te manquerai!

11 November 2010

To Sleep

Tomorrow's the conference at the CUNY Graduate Center.  I'm leading a group there on Aging and Ageism in the LGBT community.  Nothing like tapping my areas of expertise, right?

I'm so tired.  I hope it doesn't show while I'm there.  I'm going to meet some people I haven't seen in a while as well as some people I've never met.  The funny thing is that it's that, and not the fact that I'm leading a group, that has me a bit nervous.l  

Oh well.  I guess all I can do now is get the sleep I haven't gotten during the past couple of days.  It's not the prospect of leading the group that's been keeping me awake.  It's just the sheer volume of work I've had.

09 November 2010

Weekend Forum, Coming Up

On Friday I'm going to co-lead a forum on aging in the transgender community.  I guess I'm qualified to lead it:  After all, I am transgender and I am, well, aging.

The forum is going to be held at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.   The following day, a larger meeting will be held as part of a conference at the Graduate Center.  

I'm looking forward to it, as it will allow me to see some people I haven't seen in a while, including Jay, the very first person to whom I "came out."  When you become an aging tranny (or an aging anything else), you are amazed at how much time has passed, so quickly, between various landmarks in your life.  However, when I see people like Jay or Tom (the director of SAGE), I feel as if whole eras have passed.  It seems that between encounters with them, I change in some way or another.  And, I feel as if they, too, change.  For me, the reasons are clear:  I am still in an early stage of my new life, only a year and four months removed from my surgery.  But I feel as if Jay, Tom, Pauline and some of the others are also changing.  

08 November 2010

More (!) About the Elections

Much ink has been spilt (and much digital space taken up) talking about the Republican "takeover" or the Tea Party "coup."  The so-called GOP indeed took, by a fairly wide margin, control of the House of Representative. Their candidates also were elected to governorships and other relatively high offices.

Now, I am with the Tea Party in its desire to limit government.  However, supporting them on that basis is a bit like supporting Pat Buchanan because he opposed the invasion of Iraq and opposes other imperialist interventions.   They are right on those issues, but if you go much further with them, you find yourself in a thicket of bigotry.

I'd like to believe that there are other people who feel the same way.  Or, at least, those who oppose what the TP purport to represent, and what the GOP has become, have become more assertive.  Either or both of those possibilities were on display in the results of some local elections which resulted in, among other things, the election of an openly transgendered judge in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Now, of course, most people would say, "Well, that's San Francisco."  Indeed it is.  But, at one time, lots of people thought that gays lived only in San Fran, the Village and a couple of other places.  Now characters on prime-time TV are gay.

Still, Victoria Kowlakowski's victory should no more be seen as a sign that we have "arrived" than Obama's election was a sign that racial equality had been achieved.

At least Kowlakowski seems well-qualified for the position.  That in itself would make her election a positive step, I hope.

07 November 2010

Ending With Daylight Savings: R.I.P Roni

Daylight Savings Time ended today.  It really made the day go by quicker than I expected.  Too quickly, in fact. The coming days will go by even more quickly, at least in the way that something goes by quickly when it's going by you.  That will be the case for the next few weeks, as the days grow shorter.

Some people grow very depressed at this time of year.  A few years ago, I learned of something called Seasonal Affective Disorder.  Unfortunately for me--and someone else--I didn't learn about it from reading.  

Right around the end of Daylight Savings Time six years ago, Roni overdosed on pills.  Millie told me that she suffered from SAD (what an appropriate acronym!).  I also knew, from talking to Roni herself, that she was not a happy person.  She had no living relatives, or at least none with whom she was still in contact.  And, it seemed to me, her life was full of all sorts of other regrets.

I found out about one of her deepest regrets when I started living full-time as Justine.  At first, she denigrated and taunted me for it and spread rumors about me.  For months after that, I wouldn't acknowledge her on the street.  But, one day, she approached me and apologized.  "I acted as I did because I envy you," she said.

"What do you mean?"

She explained that she felt that she was a man in mind and spirit, but had to live in the body of a woman--in other words, the inverse of me. Making a transition, she said, was out of the question for her because of various medical problems, some of which were induced by her drug and alcohol abuse.  She was sober and had not abused prescription, or used non-prescription, drugs for several years when she met me, but she was still on anti-depressants and painkillers mandated by her doctors.  

Even if she hadn't had such a history, she said  "there's no point to starting a transition now" at her age--about fifteen years older than I was.  In fact, she killed herself just after turning sixty.

Although I can't say that her despair over her gender identity was the sole or main reason for her despondency--or the thing that pushed her over the edge-- I can't help but to think that it was a factor.  And it would loom larger in the chiaroscuro of the lengthening nights of this time of year.

06 November 2010

Moving On At The End Of Daylight Savings Time

Tonight--or, more precisely, at two o'clock tomorrow morning--Daylight Savings Time ends.  That means the clocks are turned back an hour.

That is particularly ironic for me.  As I have described in earlier posts, various parts of my life are moving forward, whether or not as a result of my doing.  And, as I have also described, I do not have the option of going back, even if I wanted to do such a thing.

My working life, if nothing else, is making that abundantly clear.  I am teaching in two places where nobody --at least, nobody who had any authority to interview or schedule me--knew me.  And, save for one prof at the technical institute who knew me from long ago, I have not talked about my past with anyone.  And I didn't talk about my transition with him:  He seemed to know more or less what I did, and he has only a vague memory of the person who once shared a desk with him at John Jay College, where I taught just after I finished graduate school.  So much has passed since then!

Meanwhile, something even stranger is happening at my main job.  It's as if people are moving forward in my life--my previous life, that is--without me in it.  What's even stranger is that I'm not upset with them because, really, I don't have the choice--no, the luxury--of doing so.   Yes, I did suggest that the college could use an LGBT organization (The college is part of a university that includes twenty other colleges and is the only college among them that doesn't have an LGBT organization.)  and volunteered to do the work to organize, and enlist support, for it.  The college's administration thought it "too controversial" (What city are we in?  What century?) and not only nixed the idea, but cast aspersions on me for suggesting it.  Now they're willing to support other profs in doing it, and I really am not interested in it now.  I don't know what I'd say if those profs approached me to work with them on it.  

It's not a matter of "sour grapes."  Rather, I have come to realize that the college is so decidedly un-progressive in its attitude toward LGBT people, and much else.  So, I have to wonder just how much the college administration is willing to support those profs who are talking about starting an organization.  And, quite frankly, my interests and energies are moving in other directions.  I'm finding that there's not much, if anything, I can do about that.

The same holds true about a hip-hop institute I suggested while I was teaching a course in the poetics and rhetoric of that art-form.  Other profs are probably going to run with it; they can have it because, even though I suggested it, I feel that the idea is not mine anymore.  Or, at least, I don't feel as if I have a place in it.

On the other hand, at the technical institute and at the other college, I really don't feel any compulsion--for now, anyway--to do more than to teach and be a supportive presence for whoever may need or want it.  I don't yet know whether there are any "in" or "out" groups in either place, and if there are, I may not need to know, at least not yet.  In contrast, I now realize that at my main job, even though I have been involved in two committees and a number of other activities, and gained respect for my teaching, I was never one of the "cool kids," if you will.  And, what I learned is that it's the sort of place in which that's exactly what you have to be, or become.  You know whether or not that has happened if you are part of a clique.  I'm not, and that's why I actually feel more like an outsider at that college than I did on the day I started there almost six years ago.

As I describe all of those things, they already feel like part of the past and are unchangeable in the same way. You don't grow up by trying to change your childhood; you use what you can from it to help you move forward.  There are times when that college feels like as much a part of my past as junior high school, to which I have compared the college.  (I've also compared it to a juvenile detention center, as the power relationships operate in almost exactly the same way as those among detained adolescents.)  Some people there are proceeding without me; I am moving in the direction in which I need to move.

They say the fall is a time of change.  Indeed it is.  The end of Daylight Savings Time is part of it.

05 November 2010

They're Doing What I Said They Should...Without Me.

At my regular job, I bumped into a prof I used to see regularly but hadn't seen in some time.  Neither of us was avoiding the other (At least, I wasn't avoiding him); we merely have been on incompatible schedules.

As far as I know, he's straight.  However, he is very interested in LGBT issues.  He teaches a class in human sexuality, in which I have guest-lectured.  (Yes, I really am an expert on the subject! ;-) )  His students revere him; I think I would, too, if I were in one of his classes.

We caught up on one thing and another when he mentioned that the college is "throwing its support behind" a group of profs who want to start an LGBT group which would include students as well as faculty members.  

When I proposed the same a while back, the college president said that it would be "too controversial."  And the provost simply didn't want to hear about it.  When I mentioned this to the college's legal and compliance officer (what used to be known as the "affirmative action officer"), she said, with a straight face, "You or anyone else is free to start any organization you wish on this campus."

In the meantime, three professors--two of them long tenured--"came out" to me.  Their identities were not news to me--after all, trannies have "gaydar," too--but I was disturbed when they swore me to secrecy.  Not that I'd want to tell everyone.  Rather, I was disturbed that they all said they "didn't feel safe."  

I wonder if any of those profs are behind the effort to start the new organization.  

Ironically enough, I'm less interested now in starting such an organization.  One reason is that I'm not happy about the way I found out about the initiative, even if the news came from a prof I like and respect.  Another, and perhaps more important reason, is that I simply feel less like I want to become involved in such things.  Maybe I'm falling into a mentality I've seen other trans women fall into after they have their surgeries and settle into their new lives.  That mentality is one borne of a feeling of no longer having such a strong common bond with the L's, the G's, the B's or even the T's who haven't come as far along in their transitions.

Someone warned me that a day like this would come.  On one hand, I cannot deny what I've experienced, especially those ways in which my past differs from that of most women with XX chromosomes.  On the other, I remind myself that I took hormones, had the surgery and made all of the other changes I've made so that I could live as a woman--not as a transgender.

04 November 2010

Drownsiness In The Rain

Today everybody looked sleepy.  I could just barely keep my students awake, probably because I could just barely keep myself awake. About the only thing any of them will remember is a bad joke I made in one class:  As I was leaving my apartment, I saw the weather outside the window.  Then, I saw Charlie and Max curled up on my sofa , and wondered, "Which is the more intelligent species?"

Now they're curled up with me.  And I've been nodding in and out of sleep.  So if this post ends abruptly, you'll know

02 November 2010

Election Day

Well, the election results are coming in.  None of them are surprising.  While people are unhappy with what's going on in this country and who's running it, they didn't vote for some of the scarier candidates.  Yes, they voted for some of the so-called Tea Party candidates, but not as many of them won--and those that won didn't have as large margins--as some of the experts predicted.

Although I have my doubts about whether equality can be achieved through legislation, and about just how friendly some of the so-called LGBT-friendly candidates actually are, I'm glad that at least one homophobe didn't win.  I'm taking about Carl Palladino, who ran for governor against Andrew Cuomo.  While I'm never thrilled about the prospect of a dynasty, Cuomo actually does seem to be the better alternative.  

As the saying goes, time will tell.

01 November 2010

The Elections: I Have No Expectations

Tomorrow's Election Day.

It seems that actual and would-be voters can be more or less divided into the following categories:

  • the ones who aren't happy with the way things are but don't blame the incumbents
  • the ones who aren't happy with the way things are and blame certain incumbents, e.g., Obama
  • the ones who aren't happy with the way things are and blame the incumbents
  • the ones who aren't happy, period.
Now, I can't blame anyone for not being happy about the state of the economy and international relations.  I feel the same way.  I also can't blame anyone who isn't happy with whoever's in power.  That's how I've felt almost continuously since I knew who was in power, or knew what it meant to be in power.

But, I'm also not disappointed.  How could I be, when I had such low expectations.  That's not hard to do when the Presidents under whose rule you lived during your adult life are Carter, Reagan, Bush pere, Clinton, Bush fil and Obama--and the other two Presidents of whom you have any clear memory are Nixon and Ford.  

Clinton was probably the last President--or elected official of any sort--for whom I had any real hope.  Of course, almost anybody looked good after Reagan and Bush I.  But at the time, it seemed that this country just might have a chance at a less invasive and interventionist foreign policy.  And civil liberties might just become part of the public discourse once again, I thought.  Then again, in those days I was still confusing civil rights with civil liberties.  In my own defense, I'll say that most people still confuse the two.

Some people say that Clinton wasn't as effective a President as he might've been because Republicans took over Congress midway through his first term.  If being effective means passing one's own agenda, I think the mid-term election was only so much of an excuse for Clinton's record.  Then again, I'm not sure that anyone knows what Clinton's agenda actually was.  After all, he did support "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and the so-called Defense of Marriage Act before the Republican takeover.

But apres lui, la deluge.  After him, we got Bush the Younger.  If you're reading this, you know how that went.  

The only candidates for whom I had any flicker of enthusiasm in the 2008 election were Hillary, Obama and--as much of a contradiction as this may seem--Ron Paul.  Of them, the latter was the only one who seemed to understand that we were headed for economic trouble that couldn't be headed off or ameliorated by government policy.  And, while he wasn't the most LGBT-friendly candidate, at least he opposed marriage--for everyone.  At least, he didn't think that marriage should be defined by the government.  What that would amount to, in practice, is that every couple, straight or gay, could have a civil union.  And those who wanted their unions sanctioned by whatever God they believed in could find a clergyperson and institution who would wed them.  Finally, he has always endorsed a "humble" foreign policy in which the US wouldn't have military bases all over the globe.

Some of his supporters could be pretty scary, though.

Once he was no longer on the ballot, there were nothing but establishment candidates left.  Hillary is very smart, but I still felt she cared more about her own personal ambitions than about the causes she  claimed to espouse.  And, while I ultimately voted for Obama, the change that I really expected was that he would be in the White House and Bush The Second wouldn't be.

Nearly two years into his administration, about all we ever knew about him was that he was, or was supposed,   to represent "change."  And change he has:  namely, his positions on gay marriage as well as other issues.

The thing is, I don't know what any non-incumbent candidate can offer besides the fact that they're not the incumbents.  Yet that will get more than a few of the so-called "Tea Party" candidates elected to Congress and to a few governorships.  While I'm glad that Carl Palladino has about the same chance of winning as a mango tree has of surviving a Buffalo winter, I have no enthusiasm for Cuomo, much less the minor candidates.