20 January 2010

When I Started To Learn What Is Mine

Tonight I got to see Dwayne again. Even though I saw him about two weeks ago, it felt like a reunion all over again. He says that I am a different person from the one he first met about seven and a half years ago, and he loves seeing what I've become, and what I'm becoming.

You may think I'm flattering or aggrandizing myself when I mention that here. Perhaps I am. But I don't really care: What he said is special, and so is seeing him again, because he is the very first person to whom I "came out."

If I've already told this story, could you please indulge me in telling it again? Dwayne was working as an intake counselor at Center Care, the Mental Health Services section of the LGBT Community Center of New York. The day I came in, I knew nobody there and had no idea of whom I would meet. I just knew I had to talk to someone who would understand what I was feeling, or at least steer me to someone who could.

I knew my relationship with Tammy--and the life I was living as a result of it--had been slipping away from me for about a year. Actually, it was already out of my grasp by that day, and I knew that there was no way of getting it back. Nor was there any reason to hold on to it, even if I could. But I would not acknowledge that my previous life was already gone: that, in fact, I never had it in the first place. In other words, it was never mine.

Sometimes I still miss Tammy. We had some very good times together: In fact, the first two years I spent with her were the best time in my pre-transition life. And she shared more of my interests than any other lover, and any but one or two friends, I've ever had. But I also knew, in my heart of hearts, that it couldn't last. I tried to deny that fact to myself: I told myself that I was falling into an old habit of waiting for the other shoe to drop. But, if nothing else, I finally learned why the other shoe would invariably drop. And it had nothing to do with cynicism or bad karma: The shoe dropped because it couldn't stay on my foot--because it didn't fit.

By the day I met Dwayne, the shoe had dropped and hit the floor with a loud thud. So, I knew that trying to put that shoe back on wasn't the solution. Whatever I wore next would have to fit, whether it was a combat boot or a candy-apple red patent stiletto pump--or a bedroom slipper.

I was thinking about all of this as I saw Dwayne, and about the post I wrote yesterday. Now I have, and am finding, what fits me. Of course, I'm talking about the results of my surgery, not to mention the therapy and all of the work I've done on my own. Dwayne helped me to take the very first steps I took in the shoes that fit, along a path that has turned out to be right for me.

And tonight I got to spend time with him after I finally wrote those words yesterday: my vagina. My life. My name. My work. My relationships. My thoughts, my impressions, my observations, all rendered in my language, as ungraceful as it may be. Or, its lack of refinement may just be a reflection of its newness to me, and mine to it.

The funny thing is that because that language was really a part of me all along, it's that much more of a struggle sometimes to learn, just as I'm experiencing the growing pains of my new body parts taking me through a new puberty--one that is entirely my own.

Throughout my life, I've learned all sorts of things as quickly as I could forget them. Sometimes I meet one of my classes in a room in which a math class met the hour before my class. When I arrive, the blackboard is full of equations and other symbols that mean nothing to me now, but that I learned long ago--and forgot the day after the class in which I learned them ended. Likewise, I once learned some German with surprisingly little effort. But whenever I see anything in that language, it's as indecipherable to me as the equations some math prof left on the board of my classroom.

Perhaps learning what is truly mine takes effort simply because it reaches deeper into myself than those other things I learned, including so many of the skills I used to live as a male. Maybe I feel a good kind of tiredness from the work I put into what I'm learning now--and from the way my body and soul are developing--because I am so much more engaged, and learning has become a passionate rather than a passive experience for me. You might say that nothing I'm learning now is theoretical or hypothetical: It's all as concrete and immediate as learning how to walk or use my hands. Except, of course, I'm learning so much more than that!

Dwayne understands that. He saw how it all began for me. Maybe it's true that a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle. But sometimes a woman can use a really good "butch" like Dwayne! --or anyone who can help her learn what is or isn't hers.