26 September 2010

Finding The Address

I know: I haven't been writing much on this blog lately.  I've been writing mainly on my other blog, Mid-Life Cycling.  A year and more than two months after my surgery, and more than seven years after I started my transition, there aren't many milestones to report, at least in regards to my gender change or life since then.

But there is another change that's going on.  As I am not any sort of clinician or scientist, I don't have a name for what I'm experiencing, or whether there is one.  So, if you'll bear with me, I'll describe it as best I can, through incidents and phenomena as well as my own impressions.

Maybe I'll do better to start with how I feel about it:  In a way, it feels the way "passing" did when I first began to go out publicly in women's clothing.   Of course, the thrill in that is long gone, as it should be.  But the satisfaction I experienced as a result has remained with me.  Better yet, I think that what I've been experiencing is what I'd hoped for in those early forays into the world in which I would live and from which I had been exiled until then.

I first noticed the experience I am going to describe last week, when a woman whom I guessed to be my age, but who was actually a bit younger, was trying to get into the course I was teaching.  Somehow she ended up in a class she wasn't supposed to take, and, as the deadline for changing had passed, she needed signatures to get into my or someone else's class.

Back when I was the prof with a beard and corduroy smoking jacket (though I have never smoked), female students would sometimes flirt to entice me to help them in situations like the one I faced with that student last week.  However, that student was trying to appeal to me as one woman would to another.  Part of it was her body language:  Fluid rather than merely languorous, and done in a context of trust that another woman would understand how she feels rather than hoping someone would simply take pity on her without understanding her.

Actually, in that moment, I don't think that I could have been so condescending toward her, even if I had wanted or tried to do such a thing.  She is very thin and even more wrinkled than I am (which were what made her seem older at first), speaks with a mid-Queens accent that would make even "The Nanny" wince and doesn't look as if she's worn anything but jeans and sleeveless tops for about the past thirty years.  So, at first glance, she could hardly have seemed more different from me.  Yet I felt, of all things, that I was looking at myself.

She had that same combination of nervousness, fear, anger and vulnerability that I feel in having to deal with anyone who has any sort of authority over me--especially if that person is a woman who has, or simply feels that she has, reason to see herself being from a higher stratum of society, or simply made of better stuff, than I am.  My main job is precisely the sort of atmosphere that brings that--which is to say the worst--out in women who feel superior to me, even if only because some of the things that have happened to me don't happen to them.  They think the fact that they never had to answer some of the questions I've had to face makes them better somehow than me. And those same sorts of  women who treat women like the student I'm talking about as if she were an unwelcome guest think they are better than her because they've completed degrees and gotten nice jobs and married good men while she has been raising kids by herself on the money she makes as a paraprofessional (what used to be called a "teacher's aide") and trying to earn credits so that she can increase her salary and complete a degree.

In spite of what I've just described, I could not imagine her going to a man for help--in anything.  I don't believe that she is a lesbian, or even bisexual.  Rather, I just think that men have not been part of life for a very long time, if they ever were.

My circumstances may be different from hers, but I could just tell that she has felt so much of what I've felt, as I've described it.  Plus, I could tell that she is sensitive and vulnerable in the same ways I am, and that she is therefore hurt in the same ways and for the same reasons.  Yet she has developed strengths that are familiar to me  in ways that I recognized as easily as the blocks I ride or walk to my apartment.

How do I know these things?  The real question is:  How could those things not be so?  She practically exudes them from every pore and orifice of her being.  I could see it all in her eyes.  Yes, all of it.  How could I not?

Those eyes are...my eyes.  It actually scares me to recall how much her eyes look like mine.  I'm not talking only about the colors and shape of them, which bear a more than uncanny resemblance to mine, but also the way light is refracted into the memories that she holds, whether or not she wants to.

She was in my class this week.  On my way to it on Thursday, I had another experience that is part of the change I've noticed.  I was leaving my primary job to take the bus.  Seven different bus lines stop at the station where I had to catch the one I was taking. There, two young women and one who was a bit older, though younger than me, waited.  The older one stood between her suitcase and what looked like a large laundry bag and, even though she was at least forty pounds overweight, seemed wizened.

"Excuse me, miss."    Getting my attention, she asked which bus line she needed to take to a terminal.  I told her there were two lines she could take.   She thanked me and explained that at that terminal, she had to take another bus to where she was going: a shelter for battered women.  And, she added, she was going there from another shelter for battered women.

All I could do was to listen.

She said that she'd been married to her husband for three years and that he had been beating her almost from the beginning.  "I just decided I wasn't going to take it any more."

"How long have you been away from him?"

"Since June," she said.  She hoped he would change, but some family members advised her he wouldn't.  At the same time, she said, some people other people in her family, and in her church--all of them women, including the pastor's wife--told her that she should stand by her man; that was her duty as a Christian woman, they said.   She did not talk to any men, including the pastor, about it.

At one time in my life, I could not have felt anything more than pity for either woman.  Of course:  How could anyone not feel it?  But I notice that I had another feeling.  It wasn't anger, for them or at anyone else:  If I wasn't beyond that emotion, I had no need for it. And, of course, any rage on my part would have been completely useless to them.

What I did feel was something that might be described as a kind of solidarity.   Both of those women were alone when I met them, and were moving forward because they had no choice but to do anything else.  They were experiencing a kind of solitude that only women of a certain age can experience.  Men, I believe, experience that level of solitude only by choice:  Monks and widows both live alone, but that is where the similarity between them ends.  And if you find yourself living by yourself as a widow (in fact or effect) would, you cannot be a monk (or nun, for that matter), even if you wanted to.  A widow may have many friends and family members, but she is still alone.  And she is even if she remarries.  

I realize now that I have always lived in that sort of solitude.  The thing is that it almost mutually excludes loneliness, because being alone is better than having malicious, willfully ignorant or otherwise spiritually toxic company.  Those women I met understand that, I'm sure.  And that is the reason why I was willing to help that student and I really wasn't wishing I were somewhere else when that battered woman told me her story.

In between those two encounters, I had a job interview.  It was, ironically enough, at a college next door to one where I once taught.  Perhaps even more ironically, during my first days of living as Justine,  I had briefly met the man who was interviewing me.  I don't know whether he recalls that encounter--Really, there is no reason why he should, as it was unremarkable--and I had no inclination to remind him of it.  I had the feeling he didn't, and he actually seemed  impressed with me--or, I should say, my work and my range of skills.  He expressed interest in bringing me on to teach in January and "taking things from there."  First, I have to pass a background check.

As far as I could tell, he saw me as a middle-aged woman who had talents and skills he could put to use.  I think he also responded to my confidence:  From the moment I left my apartment that day, I felt it.  Of course, it didn't hurt that I was steps away from my door when a woman who lives in the apartment building on the corner said, "You look really nice today."  And, along the way, in front of the college where I used to teach, I met a young man who was active in the college's gay-straight alliance when I was there.  Now he's a staff advisor for it.  "I would love it if you could come back. So would a lot of other people."  

Some day, perhaps.  For the moment, I was on my way.  Then I saw the numbers of the address for the college in which I had my interview.