31 December 2011

Happy New Year!

I hope that the end of this year brings you fulfillment and that the coming year brings you hope, and that you will always find peace and happiness.  Thanks for reading!  (I can't believe this blog is almost three and a half years old already!)

23 December 2011

Another Holiday--With Rest and Relaxation, I Hope

At Mom and Dad's again, for Christmas.  This year, I'm not staying until the New Year, as I did when I came last Christmas.  But it might be tempting to stay longer:  Today's weather--and ocean temperature--were reminiscent of summer at the Jersey shore.  It's not that I love warm weather in winter, or  hate the cold:  Staying may just give me some more time bike riding, or outdoors generally.  The only thing is that the bike I'll ride isn't my own, and, save for Mom and Dad, nothing else about this place is mine.

I wonder, too, whether this stay will lower my blood pressure.  It's been high enough that my doctor recommended medication, which I hate.  He said my condition might be the result of various stresses in my life.  I answered some  work-related e-mails just before I started writing; maybe I should put any new ones on "hold" until the New Year.  I mean, there's not much I can do about work-related stuff right now, anyway.

Plus, another situation I mentioned in an earlier post couldn't have been helping matters.  If he's so affected my health, that's reason enough not to have him in my life.  My new life wasn't supposed to be so dominated by his abuse and harassment.

Enough about him.  I hope the rest of you have a restful and fulfilling (Are they contradictory?) holiday!

07 December 2011

Dow Down, Rape Up

Some of my students at York College are social work majors.  Others work for City agencies, including the Department of Education and the Office of Human Resources. Ever since the  city and country have tumbled through a recession and into a depression, they have been telling me that there has been more domestic violence.  It's not hard to see what they mean:  I have heard more and more stories about it from acquaintances and through various grapevines.

Now, it seems, the level of violence against women (which is what most of those domestic violence cases are) has escalated.  Instead of conducting it behind closed doors, more and more of it is happening on the streets and in other public areas.  None of the female students I talk to, especially those who enter or leave the campus after dark, feels safe.  Several have told me about men who tried to sexually attack them; others have told me about people they know who were attacked.  And, if my experience is any indication of anything, I think at least a couple of those women are telling "proxy" stories, if you will:  They themselves may have been attacked, or have somehow escaped an attempted attack but, for a variety of reasons, didn't want to say that they were so victimized.  Also, nearly every researcher in this area reports that sexual assault is one of the most under-reported crimes.

Now I've found out that in an area not far from where I live, a young woman was raped by three young men as she walked home from work in the wee hours of Sunday morning.   They dragged her into a parking lot in an industrial area of Long Island City, in the shadow of the Queensborough Bridge.  The particular spot where she was attacked is all but deserted most nights and weekends after workers go home, but the area around it is developing into a trendy residential area.  It is closer to Manhattan's East Side and Midtown than any place outside Manhattan, and the neighborhood offers unparalleled views of the UN, Empire State Building and other landmarks.  I sometimes ride or walk down that way for those reasons; also PS 1, a well-known art exhibition space located in a former public school, is just steps away.

What angers--but, unfortunately, doesn't surprise--me is the way some have responded to it.  Some have expressed and given support to the victims, but others--mainly in comments left in response to online stories of the incident--say, in essence, that she "had it coming to her."  Some insinuated that any woman walking through that area at the hour she was attacked must have been a prostitute, or was breaking the law in some other way.  Just from the standpoint of logic, such a response is offensive:  After all, do people say that people who drive too fast, sell marijuana or commit other kinds of low-level crime "deserve" to be the victims of violent sexual assault? Of course, the assumption that the young woman was a "street walker" is equally offensive.  News reports said that she lived and worked nearby; my guess is that she was a waitress in one of the bars or diners within blocks of the site or, perhaps, was dancing in one of the clubs.  People who do those kinds of work often are going home at three, four or five in the morning. (In fact, I've had students who came from such jobs to morning classes I taught!)  

The thing is, getting raped--or simply living a life that is, in various ways, shaped by the threat of such crimes--has absolutely nothing to do with one's age, physical attractiveness or actual or perceived economic status.  It's all a  matter of domination and control.  Since my transition, and especially since my surgery, I can see that some men see women's bodies and wills as things to be controlled and dominated--or broken, if we won't submit.  When such men lose whatever "grip" they have on the world--for example, when they lose their jobs--or when they never had that "grip" in the first place, they get angry.  And they turn that anger on women, gays, transgenders, members of races or nationalities or religions other than their own, or anyone whom they feel is not in his or her "place."

Of course, one of the problems with acting on such (mis-) perceptions is that the people such men attack are, as often as not, little if any better off than they are.  If the young woman who was attacked was walking home from a job as a waitress or dancer, she probably wasn't making very much money and wasn't much, if at all, in a better social or economic position than those young men.  Furthermore, whatever she has, she didn't get by taking anything away from those guys.  They never would have gotten whatever job she was working; even if they could have had it, they probably wouldn't have taken it, or wouldn't have lasted more than a week in it.  (I've worked in a coffee shop and know how frustrating it can be to deal with customers!)  

Naturally, I feel sympathy for the young woman who was attacked.  I also feel very, very worried, for I can't help but to think "there's more where that came from."  I hope that there isn't, but if economic conditions continue to deteriorate, I don't know what will stop the tide of violence against women from swelling.  Meantime, I advise my female students, co-workers and friends to be very, very careful. Then again, I don't think most of them need to be told that.

05 December 2011

Alan Sues

As you may have heard by now, Alan Sues has died.  

Like many other people, I first learned of him from his performances on Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In."  My family and I watched it every week.  I was a very young child then, so I didn't "get" a lot of the jokes or the visual or other kinds of humor that was in some of the show's rapid-fire sketches.  However, I found myself liking Alan Sues, and some of the other performers on the show, even if I didn't quite understand their characters.  It may have been the first time I had such a reaction to a TV program.

At that time, I had no idea of what "gay" or "lesbian" meant, though I had some idea that I wasn't, and never could be, the boy that I was told I was, and was conditioned to be. I also had the sense that I would never grow into a man, at least not one who in any way resembled the ones I saw, whether in person or in the movies or on TV.  As far as I know, the only thing people in my school, neighborhood or any part of my community knew about gender variance was that Christine Jorgensen had the "sex change operation."  (For a long time afterward, that's about all I would know, either.)  To be fair, most people I knew were limited by their experiences, which did not even allow them to conceptualize any other sort of experience but the ones they, their parents and their parents had lived.  It was a blue-collar neighborhood; most of the men left it only to fulfill their military service and many of the women never left it at all.  And their parents and grandparents knew only the "old country" until they came here.  Actually, about all they knew about the "old country" was the neighborhood or village they came from.  When they came to this country, they settled in that neighborhood, among people who came from the same sets of circumstances as theirs.

Although I didn't have a vocabulary, or any other way to articulate it, at the time, I understood that Sues and other "Laugh-In" performers like Lily Tomlin were living as men and women very different from the ones I was accustomed to seeing.  I realized that Sues was not "masculine" or "manly" in the ways, it seemed, that I was expected to grow into and the men were expected to be.  Likewise, although she didn't "come out" for many more years--and I wouldn't have understood what that meant, anyway--I sensed that Lily Tomlin wasn't going to fall in love with some guy, get married and have a bunch of kids.  For that matter, I wouldn't have expected such things of even the show's seemingly-straight performers like Goldie Hawn and Joanne Worley.

As far as I know, Sues never officially "came out," either.  But his "flamboyance" (It seems that everything written about him uses that word in reference to him.) showed me, and other people, that maleness and femaleness--and sexuality--weren't the neat, precise categories that had been presented to us by our families, schools and communities.  Plus, even when I didn't understand the jokes, his sketches and the show were a lot of fun.

30 November 2011

To Continue or Renew--Or Leave?

The Classical Transgender Narrative (Is that pretentious, or what?) says, among other things, that a transsexual is supposed to, not only forget his or her past, but to create, in essence, a fiction about him or her self.  You are supposed to move away from the gender in which you had been living, and all of its trappings and everything you associated with your life in it, and become something new.

The whole idea seems pretty creepy to me, especially now. I mean, why would someone want to induce amnesia in him or her self.  Ever since I undertook it, the journey from the gender that was imposed on me  to the one I truly am has seemed to be, or at least should be, one toward greater balance rather than the creation of a new imbalance. 

While I am not looking to deny the fact that I lived as male for more than four decades, and did many things that are completely congruent with life as a male,  I am moving away from many aspects of that life.  I have come to realize this because of two people who have seen this blog, and other places online where I'm present, and have contacted me.  Both say they want to be in touch.  One was a classmate (more or less) at Rutgers; the other is a woman with whom I had a relationship.

While there is much about both of those times in my life that I'd just as soon forget--and, in fact, have forgotten--I realize now that those two people are not necessarily embodiments of what I'd like to forget (or, for that matter, remember) about those times.  The classmate was, in fact, a good friend to me at that time in my life.  Perhaps she could be one again.  As for the former paramour, I have no desire to have the kind of relationship we once had.  So, I am asking myself what, if anything, I want to renew, or can be renewed, about our relationship--or whether it's possible to build some sort of new relationship.

And somehow I suspect that my old classmate doesn't have the sort of lurid curiosity others from my past have shown when they found out about my transition.  

27 November 2011

Another Voyage of Discovery

I realize now that I've been cycling for so many years because it's always been a window of sorts.  Sometimes I see interesting things across my handlebars; other times, I have interesting experiences when I get to wherever my bike--on today's ride, Arielle--takes me.

Sometimes I think she has an even better eye than mine for form. It seems that rides with her lead me to pictures like this:

I don't feel that I've "captured" the bird or the fisherman as much as Arielle brought me to them.  Even when I take a ride to some place I've been many times before (in this case, the Canarsie Pier), a scene like this is a discovery. That makes the ride an exploration.  Now you know why I keep on cycling.

26 November 2011

I Never Tried To Become A "Cougar". Honest!

Even though I've been on both sides, if you will, I don't think I'll ever understand sexual attraction.  And, after an experience I had tonight, I'm not sure that I want to.

No, I didn't get date-raped, or raped in any other way.  Fucked, maybe.  Well, I didn't have sex; then again, I wasn't looking for it.  But I  feel that, in some way, I was ambushed by someone's sexual desire or curiosity.

I'd just gotten back from taking a bike ride after the class I taught.  I hadn't showered or changed, so I was kind of sweaty and grimy. (It was unusually warm for this time of year.)  Also, as you can see in the photos I've posted, I'm not a particularly attractive woman and I don't look particularly young for my age.

But I was feeling really good after the ride:  The day was perfect for it, at least by my standards, and I felt even more energized near the end of it than I did when I started.  Maybe that had something to do with the experience I had tonight:  When I stopped during my ride, men were coming up to me to ask for the time of day or to compliment me on my bike.  The latter is plausible, as it is a really nice bike; still, I have to wonder whether all of those men knew enough about bikes or cycling to know how good a bike it is.  And the others came to me because they wanted to know the time of day like all of those fathers who disappeared were "just going out for a pack of cigarettes."

Yes, I was having fun. I've noticed that people respond to that.  As Cyndi Lauper sang, girls wanna have fun.  And guys seem to like girls (even ones my age!) who are having fun.

Still, I have to think that the young supermarket employee who "accidentally" bumped into me must have met other women--at least some of whom had to be younger and much more attractive than I am--who were enjoying themselves.  After all, this is a holiday weekend, so people are under less pressure than they'd normally be.  (At least they are if they don't have kids or other people to take care of!)  And, given the kind of neighborhood this is, I'm sure that some women who fit that description found their way into that supermarket during his shift.

That young man is one year younger than half my age.  In fact, he's younger than the last guy I was involved with and found to be too immature for me.  He's not bad-looking; in fact, I'd say he's kinda cute.  Still, I don't understand why he wants to see me again.  And he was not at all shy about making his feelings known to me.  I guess that's really what's bothering me:  I scarcely know him (I've seen him a few times in the store; he started working there a couple of months ago.)  and, out of the blue, he started hitting on me.  I suppose I should be flattered by that.  All right, I'll admit that I am.  But I still don't want it or, at least, I don't feel the need to be flattered in that way.  Plus, I haven't really gotten over the emotional abuse I experienced in my last two relationships (one fairly long, the other a "fling").  Perhaps I'm still on "high alert," which could be the reason why I see the attention as a kind of mind-fuck, or something that has the potential to become that.

Hmm...I wonder how he'd react if he saw me some time during the coming week after a day of work, especially now that I'm coming into one of the more stressful parts of the year at work.  Then again, I'd be cleaned up and dressed better, and would probably be wearing some makeup.  Is he the type who'd like women who are well-dressed and stressed-out.  Maybe he doesn't have any experience with a woman like that.  I'm not so sure I'd want to be the one to give it to him.

Then again, he might not be there the next time I go to that store.  After all, he is young and, hopefully, on the move. Or he might get fired for hitting on one of his co-workers.   On the other hand, his boss is the kind who might not fire him for something like that.  

Sooner or later, I'll need something or other and go back to that store. (It's right on the corner of my block, so I have little reason not to go there.)  If not next time, soon after I'll go in after a bike ride or something else that has me in a really good mood.  What then?

24 November 2011

For Thanksgiving

On this day, I am thankful that I've had the opportunity to live a life I'd envisioned for myself.  Some of the particulars aren't ones I'd planned.  But at least I got the opportunity to become the person I wanted to be.  Too many people, including ones I've known, have never had the opportunity.

I am grateful for myself, and hopeful for them.

23 November 2011

The Day Before Thanksgiving

In the last moment of my life, I saw the day before Thanksgiving...

I'd just pedaled a few strokes around the virage; a bed of wildflowers turned, in an instant, into a glacial field.  The sun was so bright it turned into the kind of liquid haze through which dreams skip and float along with the words that make sense only in those dreams.

It was noon.  We were all lined up--the boys on one side, the girls on the other--to leave school for the day, the next day, and the three days that would follow.  For some reason, when I was a kid, that was always my favorite moment of the year.  Even the seemingly-capricious discipline of the Carmelite nuns who taught in our school could make that moment less happy.   They could cast a pall over the day before Christmas Eve, over Holy Thursday.   Whether or not they loaded us down with homework, they left us in such a mood that Christmas, even if we got the gifts we hoped for, seemed more like a truce, and Easter was just too holy of a day to really consider as a vacation, even if we were home for the week that followed.  

But noon on the day before Thanksgiving always seemed like the most carefree moment of the year.  In most years, it began the last interlude of Fall; the lights of Christmas only accented the darkness that consumed ever-larger parts of the days that would follow.  In that moment, on the day before Thanksgiving, one could still see the last flickerings of the autumnal blaze that burned green leaves into the colors of the sunset.  Somewhere along the way, they turned as yellow and, for a few days, as bright as the sunlight that filled the air around the mountain I was climbing on my bike.

It was just about noon; I would soon be at the peak of le Col du Galibier, one of the most famous climbs on the Tour de France.  From there, I would have a long effortless ride to the valley.  In the meantime, each pedal stroke would become more arduous.  I'd been pedaling all morning, but even more important was the altitude:  I was more than a mile and a half above sea level.  The air is thinner, and even though my breath steamed as I puffed up that mountain on that July morning, the sun burned through the layers of sun screen I'd lathered on my arms and face.  

Bells rang.  Dismissal?  Or the cows in the herd down the mountain?  I stopped for a drink and one of the crepes I'd packed into my bag.  I took a bite and a gulp.  

You're free.  I wasn't sure of whether I was hearing that.  Perhaps I was giddy from the thin mountain air.  Yes, you're free.  But I wasn't hearing it:  It was being told--or, more precisely, communicated--to that child who was being dismissed from school on the day before Thanksgiving.  You can go now.  What are they talking about?  Who's "they"?

You don't have to do this again.  I'd never heard that before, certainly not in those days.  What did that mean?  What won't I have to do again?  Climb this mountain?  Go to school?

Down the Col du Galibier, through the Val de Maurienne, as the eternal winter of that mountaintop turned into the hottest day of summer in the valley, my mind echoed.  What, exactly, wouldn't I have to do again?

Near the end of that day, I reached St. Jean de Maurienne, just a few kilometers from Italy.  There, I would see the stranger who, inadvertently, caused me to see that I could follow no other course but the one that my life has taken since then.  A year later, I would move out of the apartment I'd been sharing with Tammy; about a year after that, I would change my name and begin my treatments.

22 November 2011

For Shelley Hilliard And Her Mother On The Transgender Day Of Remembrance

The other day was the Transgender Day of Remembrance.  Actually, ceremonies and vigils are being held this week in a variety of venues.  But some of the bigger, and longer-running, ones were held on Sunday.  As it happens, I attended one after bike riding with Lakythia and Mildred.

For those of you who are new to this blog, or things having to do with transgenders, the Day of Remembrance began in 1998 after the murder of Rita Hester in the Boston suburb of Allston.  On the Day of Remembrance, we do not only mourn our dead; as the name indicates, we keep the memory alive of those who've been killed for their gender identity or expression.  

Now, some would argue that we're elevating our victims over others who aren't transgendered.  It's true that all murders are horrific tragedies; I would even go as far as to say (actually, to echo someone I deeply respect) that there is no way to justify killing another human being.  Killings are often rationalized, but that is not the same:  Coming up with a logical reason for something does not equal justice.  And, I would argue, if you believe in a supreme being or even a force beyond yourself, you have to come to the conclusion that human beings can't achieve justice.  But I digress.

The reason why we need to remember transgender victims in particular--and treat our murders and beatings as hate crimes--is that when we are killed or beaten to within an inch of our lives, more often than not, our perpetrators have targeted us because we are transgendered.  Because we are so targeted, our murders tend to be particularly gruesome:  It's not unusual for investigators--including those who are Armed Forces combat veterans-- to say that our murders are the most grisly they've ever seen.

Such was the case of a victim whose name I read at the vigil I attended.  Shelley Hilliard was only nineteen years old when she was decapitated and dismembered, and her body burned, in her hometown of Detroit.   Her body was found on 23 October.  The police could not make a positive ID; that task fell to her mother.  

Nearly any mother will tell you that the worst thing she can imagine is losing her child.  It's hard to imagine a much worse way of dying than the one Shelley suffered, so I can only imagine what was going through her mother's mind and spirit when she had to identify her daughter's body.

I would hope that other parents would support us as allies if for no other reason that they wouldn't want their children to meet such a fate.   And I want to remember Shelley Hilliard for the same reasons I've made it a point to remember Amanda Gonzalez-Andujar, Gwen Araujo and other transgenders who were murdered:  Nobody should die the way they died, for the reasons they died, as young as they died.  If they've gone anywhere after this life, I hope that they'll have the opportunity they didn't have in this life:  I hope they will have the chance to grow into, and with, their beauty.

19 November 2011

Post-Post Op; After An Ex

I suppose it was inevitable that I would stop the practice of posting daily (or nearly daily) I developed during the weeks and months leading up to, and immediately following, my transition. 

But I don't think I ever envisioned going weeks without posting.  Now that I think about it, I never could have predicted the state of mind in which I now find myself.  That is not to say I'm unhappy about it, for it is, I believe, a sign that my life has gone in a direction I'd hoped it would take.

Although once in a while I mention to someone or another that I'm transsexual, and I often encounter people who witnessed parts of my transition or read about it on this blog, I don't think of myself as post-operational anymore.  In fact, I hardly think about the surgery.  I haven't made any effort to forget about it, or my transition--or, for that matter, my life that preceded it.  Rather, I just see them fading into the background, and myself moving onward.  I am a woman living mainly among women, although I am different in many ways--especially in some of my past experiences--from those women.  Although my face and body have feminized to some degree, I look different from them, if for no other reasons than I'm taller and bigger.  

And, although I have become more friendly with the prof I mentioned in a previous post, I don't feel it's entirely a result of my experience as a transwoman.  Yes, I can empathise with her as her body is changing along with some of the ways she deals with her past.  I have great admiration for her partner, who is not only standing by her, but helping her in various ways, through her transition.  Nevertheless, I find myself becoming friendlier with this prof mainly because I am drawn to her intelligence, integrity and generosity of spirit.  And, of course, we can talk about the college and various experiences we've had in it.  Oddly enough, that makes me even less conscious of my trans background.

I also have another reason why I haven't been posting much:  Someone with whom I'd had a relationship is now stalking me electronically.  This person has managed to find out work-related and other information that was supposed to be confidential, and has tracked down the identity of the prof I mentioned.  This ex has threatened to make false accusations against that prof, as he made against me.  I'm talking about the sort of stuff that gets people run out of jobs and homes, and subjects them to violence, whether or not the accusations are in any way factual. 

To that ex, I say, I know you're reading this, and you know that I'm talking about you, and if you don't leave me and that prof alone, I'll reveal your identity on this blog.

07 October 2011

Coming Out From The Cold

Last night, I went out for a cup of tea with a York College prof.  I hadn't done that--or, for that matter, gone to lunch or dinner with a faculty member or any other co-worker from York--in a long time.  What is even more remarkable is the circumstance that led me to the cafe with that prof.

We have been greeting each other in passing practically since the day I started teaching there.  At first, I couldn't understand how someone who was a full professor with tenure, and has been with the college for decades, would want to talk to me.  But I quickly came to suspect that he wanted to offer me something, or needed something from me.  Actually, what he was offering and what he needed were exactly the same thing, which is the reason why I didn't make an effort to build a friendship with him.  

Plus, when I first started working at York, I tried to keep an upbeat attitude and tried not to upset anybody.  I actually succeeded, at least to some degree, at both for the first three years I worked there.  I was labelled the "queen" or "angel" of the department in which I was teaching; people liked me because I was about as close as I've ever been to being inoffensive to almost everybody.  Furthermore, I didn't hang out with any of the "wrong" people.  Somehow I sensed that, in spite of that prof's stature and apparent influence, being seen with him--at least too often or for too long--might not be a good thing for me. He had developed the sort of cynicism I was trying to avoid but, as I've learned, is a means of survival (though at what price!) for a faculty member at York.

Mind you, I rather liked him.  He was clearly more intelligent than most of the other people there (including yours truly!) and I sensed that he was one of those tough people who would use his combat skills, if you will, only for defensive purposes.  Which is to say, of course, that underneath the armor a real, honest heart was beating.

You may have guessed where this story is going.   I quickly realized that he was transitioning from male to female.  During the summer, he sent me e-mails in which he told me that he has been taking hormones and has had hair implants.  He is also making plans for his operation; his female partner has been supporting his transition.  

I am referring to him by male pronouns only because, for the moment, he is still presenting as male and working under his male name.  However, he revealed him nom de femme to me and, between us, I will always refer to him by that name and female pronouns.  He is not adamant about my doing so; it's simply something I want to do for him.

Last night, we greeted each other and parted in exactly the same way:  an embrace.  I did not want to let go; at one point, I sensed that he didn't want me to.  He is, in many ways, stronger--or, at least, tougher-- than I was when I first started my transition.  Plus, he is more knowledgeable about the ways of his workplace and the unspoken prejudices of some of the people in it than I was.  Part of the reason for that, of course, is that he has been there for much longer than I've been.  But, ironically, I think it also has to do with the fact that my parents have been supportive of me in ways that his aren't:  One is dead and he hasn't spoken with the other in about ten years, he says.  Of course, I wouldn't trade the relationship I have with my parents for what he has.  But what he has--essentially, no hope that anyone in the college's administration, not to mention many faculty members, are capable of or willing to have more wisdom or integrity than they have--has undoubtedly helped him to navigate the psychological minefield of that college.

After that opening embrace last night, I felt exactly the same thing as I did the first time I "came out" to anybody: an enormous sense of relief, as if I was finally being honest with somebody.  It's a bit like finding yourself in a tunnel but also finding, at the same moment, your way through, if not out, and knowing that the tunnel is the route to wherever you need to go next.  So you have a sense that, if nothing else, you're going to get there, if not out.

Having talked with that prof last night doesn't make me feel better about the college.  We agreed that the students are fine, that the most homo- and trans-phobic, and all-around-bigoted, people are found in the college's administration and among some sectors of the faculty. We have almost exactly the same impressions of various faculty members and administrators there, and the ones each of us trusts are the same.  (They include, among others, a longtime History prof and, interestingly, most of the Foreign Language faculty.) But we also know just how treacherous and simply mean-spirited some of the others are, and can be.  So, the college is not a safer or better place for me now than it was before, but at least I now know that someone understands, and I understand her.

He and I made tentative plans to get together with his partner next weekend.    In the meantime, there's someone else I'd like to talk with.  I've seen him in the hallways at York, but I don't know whether he's seen me.  From what I can see, he's a student--and in the early or middle stages of transitioning to female.  Every time I've seen him, he's been with other students who seem to be friends, or friendly acquaintances.  I hope that his path at the college, for however long he remains there (Only one of the gay or lesbian students I've had in my classes stayed in the college for more than one year!) , is smoother than what the other prof or I have experienced.  

29 September 2011

Returning To Where I Don't Have The Choice of Anonymity

I can't believe so much time has passed since my last post on this blog.  The new semester is already a month old, which means that about a quarter of it has passed.  All of the class sizes increased by 25 percent this year, but it seems that I'm grading twice as many papers as I did last year.  

Apart from the beauty and energy of Prague, another thing I loved about my trip there was that I was utterly anonymous.  I didn't know a soul when I got off the plane there; nobody knew me.  I met some people and disclosed my past to three of them.  Two of them, Martina and Eva (Weird, how that name always seems to pop up in my life!) are a couple and, really, I didn't have to tell them anything; they knew.  And Spencer, the guy at the bike rental shop talked about gay friends and acquaintances and just seemed like a safe person to talk to.

At the Pride March, I didn't tell anyone about myself, but some of them had to have known.  After all, why else would I have marched with them?  To tell you the truth, it really didn't matter there, anyway.  Actually, it didn't really matter anywhere I went in Prague.  The people I met elsewhere extended the same sorts of courtesies to me that they would extend to any middle-aged woman in that city.  Perhaps I was the proverbial old lady in tennis shoes.

But now that I've been back, I'm around lots of people who know that I've transitioned.  Maybe that's why I sometimes feel as if I'm in my past, as if I were in high school, or even junior high school, again.  The difference is that nobody I see every day can be a role model for me.  Actually, nobody in my pubescent and teen years could have done that for me, either, but at least I could still live the illusion that such a thing was possible.  No, that's not quite right--I just did live that illusion, to the degree that I could.  I didn't know, and nobody else could have shown me, any other way at that time.

What this means is that, apart from having a job and whatever satisfaction I can gain from interactions with my students, there really isn't anything else for me on my job.  I cannot rise to any higher a position than the one I now have, and it's not likely that I'm going to teach any different courses or get involved in any different projects from the ones I've already done.  And the idea of going for another degree--at least another academic or a law degree--has absolutely no appeal for me.  Been there, done that.

Here is something I hadn't anticipated:  People who met me during some early or middle stage of my transition are (that is to say, most of my co-workers at York College), I find, far more presumptuous in their dealings with me than those who've met me recently or who knew me when I was still Nick (the ones who are still in my life, anyway).  I find that when I'm among some of the co-workers I met when I first started teaching as Justine, the spectre of my transition still hangs over everything.  Sometimes it's mentioned, though not by me.  

Plus, I notice that a lot of people, particularly in the administration, are imposing their religious beliefs on the life of the school at the same time they're using the students, whom they despise, to help them trump up charges against profs they don't like.  For one thing, I don't know how they're getting away with so much public religiosity in a state-sponsored institution.  For another, as they are behaving in the ways I've described, I can only imagine what else might be going on "behind the scenes."

How do you represent an institution of education, or the institution of education itself, when the people who run it--who are supposedly educated themselves--behave in such ways?  And, oh, should I mention that they're utterly homophobic.  They've stifled every attempt to start an LGBT organization on campus, and they don't want any public discussion of the issue.  I offered to take the "Safe Zone" training, at my own expense if necessary, so that I could make my office space a "safe haven" for students.  They said it was "too controversial;" never mind it's done at every other college in New York City.

Right now I just want to be in some quiet place, not in conferences and seminars, not behind a podium and talking to a bunch of people, not having to flatter people with whom I have absolutely nothing in common and who aren't listening. Better to be anonymous, even invisible.  

16 August 2011

Marching Under Rainbows To A Full Moon

No, I haven't forgotten you, dear reader of this blog.  As you can imagine, being in Prague kept me busy, in good ways.  In the course of eleven days, I saw two rainbows.  Here's one, which I saw from the Prague Castle:

 On my final night in Prague, I saw a full moon.

Even if you don't believe in any sort of mysticism or the supernatural, you know that this trip had to be amazing for those reasons alone.  But there was more!  Among other things, I found myself in the city's first-ever Pride March.  I didn't know that it was going to be held when I booked my trip.  In fact, I didn't know about it until I literally walked into it after returning the bike I'd rented.  

So, I got to see Pride with a European accent.  Although Prague has a deserved reputation as a gay-friendly city, I could see that some of the marchers were leading rather isolated lives.   Perhaps they live in some small village in lower Bohemia, or in some other part of the country.  I could say something similar about the German gays and lesbians I saw, including the ones I marched with. 

Even though I haven't been in Germany in a long time, and speak practically none of their language, I could tell they weren't from Berlin even before they told me as much.  And, even if they were from Berlin, I could understand how they might be isolated:  I see it all the time here in New York, which is supposed to be one of the world's LGBT capitals.  Some live in the "Gay Ghettos" of their cities; others are isolated by being in the closet or by not interacting much with their neighbors.  I see much of the latter among transgender people, particularly those who have careers and families and homes to lose. 

Many others, though, have nothing more to lose than their lives.  And too many do, in too many horrible ways.  I was almost one of them.  The ones who marched could be, or become, one of them, too.  That is the reason we marched--and enjoy Prague.  I hope to go back: to the city, not to much of what preceded it.  I'm sure those with whom I marched feel the same way.

01 August 2011

Leaving Tomorrow

Tomorrow I'm going on my first trip abroad since my surgery.  Actually, it's my first post-surgery trip that's not going to take my to my parents' house.  Not that there was anything wrong with going to my parents' house for the holidays...

Prague, Prague, Prague...

So, you may not hear much from me during the next two weeks.  If you never hear from me again, assume that:  a.) I joined a bunch of cyclists who are riding to Moscow or some place, b.) I got a job teaching English, or c.) I've met some guy named Vaclav--or, perhaps, a girl named Ivanka. ;-)

31 July 2011

Which Box Do You Check?

Today I did something I don't normally do:  I answered a survey.  It was part of another blog, and, I believe, was being used to get a sense of who was reading the blog.  It asked about age, education level and a few other things that seemed like basic market research information.

But the most interesting question is the one that, at one time in my life, would have been the most mundane:  Sex.  No, not the "yes," "no", "four times a week" or "not before 5 pm" variety.  I'm talking about the "M" or "F" variety--or what politically correct types (How could I ever be one of those?) call "gender."

What made it interesting was that in addition to "M" and "F", there was a third category:  "transgender".  Well, at one time in my life, I would have jumped for joy upon seeing that. Today, however, I found myself wishing that it was further broken down into "male to female" and "female to male."  I also found myself wishing there were other categories.  After all, I think there are lots of other forms of gender identity and expression, not to mention sexuality, that haven't yet been identified and named, at least not officially.  

Another dilemma I encountered is that I really don't identify myself as transgender anymore.  As far as the law, official records and most people are concerned, I am a woman.  And that's how I see myself, although I cannot forget my heritage, if you will.

So, while I was tempted to check off "transgender" just to create a presence for trans people, I checked off "F."  But I am glad there was a "transgender" category for those who so identified, even though, as I said, I wish the category had been further broken down.

30 July 2011

My First Swim

It's odd to be writing, two years after my surgery, about another "first."  But today I took my first swim since then.

Of course, two summers ago, I was healing from my surgery, which was in July.  I couldn't have gone for a swim until November.  And, of course, I would have swum then only if I had taken a trip to a warm climate or gone to an indoor pool.  And I much prefer swimming in an ocean, lake, stream or some other body of water that's a geographical feature.

Last summer, I didn't swim.  I told myself I didn't want to swim because an infection I had in the spring had just healed and I didn't want to endanger my recovery.  The truth was that I felt fat and didn't want to put on a bathing suit, even if both of the bathing suits I own are one-piece affairs.  

But today I rode with a friend to Rockaway Beach.  It's not anyone's idea of an ideal beach, but it is on the Atlantic and, actually, not bad.  If I wait for a "better" beach, with bluer or warmer water, who knows when I would have been able to swim again?

Some things don't change:  I felt the same sort of release--a catharsis, a liberation and an opening outward--I always feel when I spread my arms and legs in waves of water.  But, I had two other, seemingly contradictory, sensations:  On one hand, I felt like a new dolphin just released into the sea, while, on the other, I felt I was continuing an old dream.  Actually, in terms of my current life, that dream is old:  I experienced it two nights after my surgery.  But it is new, in part because two years ago is really not long ago (unless you are in the fashion or high-technology industries), but also because it was new in the way renewals always are.

Today I came out of the water to a Lakythia, friend who accompanied me there.  I didn't know her when I had the surgery, or the night I had that dream. In fact, I didn't know her until about two months ago.  But we got on our bikes, and everything felt familiar as it always does when you meet it again.

28 July 2011

What You Weren't Expecting, When And From Whom You Weren't Expecting It

Today, I went to a bank branch I occasionally use.  There, I saw Roger, one of the workers I hadn't seen in a while.  He just turned thirty, he told me, but he still gets carded in bars and clubs.  (I told him that had I met him on the street, I'd have thought he was seventeen or eighteen.)  And, he said, he's going back to school in the Fall.  "Teacher's College!," he announced with pride.

After doing one thing and another, he said, he's decided to become a teacher.  Then we got to talking about how the routes that get us to where we are in our lives are often circuitous, to say the least.  He got his undergraduate degree in film and got to do some small-scale production work--which, he accurately pointed out, is more than most people with film degrees work in their field.  Then, he did some writing, though not enough to pay the bills.  He continues to write, he says, but now he's doing more of his own creative work.  His job, while not enriching him financially (Ironic, isn't it, that he works in a bank?), at least gives him that luxury.

And, in another one of those unexpected turns we sometimes experience in our lives, it was his current job that led to his decision.  During a training session, he explained something to another employee.  His supervisor, who caught the exchange from the corner of his eye and ear, said, "You know, you'd be a really good teacher."

"That was my 'aha!' moment," Roger said.

I think he would be good at it, for he deals with people patiently and communicates well.  And, in my dealings with him, I have seen how he can come up with creative solutions to problems.  

Our exchange got me to thinking about how the most important realizations I've had in my life have come from whom, and in situations, I hadn't anticipated.  Of course, the biggest one of all came around this time ten years ago, when I pedaled into Saint Jean de Maurienne, France as people were going home from work.  When I stopped at a traffic light, I saw one of those people--a woman a few years older than I was and seemingly unexceptional--and realized that I had to move through the world as she did.

And, years before that, there was a woman with whom I'd become friendly and whom I thought I'd want to date.  Because she was very attractive, she could have had (and, actually, did have) and number of men.  Still, her rejection surprised me.  "I like you a lot," she said.

"All right.  What don't you like about me."

She hesitated.  "Give it to me straight," I said.  "I'd really like to know."  I would have thought it had to do with my looks or relative poverty; she had dated surgeons and airline pilots, back when the latter job still paid well and had some prestige.  I didn't expect her to admit those things, and I thought she might talk about how our priorities were different, or some such thing.  

However, what she said was more incisive, and therefore more surprising:  "I think you're a wonderful person.  But I want to be a man.  You're manly--on the surface.  But underneath it all, you're a woman."

"W-what do you mean?" 

"To you, everything is about emotions and refinement.  That's how you see the world--even when you're working out, playing sports, and doing the 'guy' stuff."

I couldn't protest, cry, lash out, thank her--I couldn't, and didn't, respond at all.   I sat, in stunned silence, in the booth of the coffee shop where we'd met.  In fact, I don't remember how we parted:  Did she simply leave?  Did we argue; did either of us say "goodbye?"  All I know is that I never saw her again.  

What would she think if she saw me now?  What would that woman in Saint Jean de Maurienne think if she realized what happened the one and only time I saw her?  And what will Roger's supervisor think if they should meet again after Roger has been teaching for a few years?

25 July 2011

Meeting My Brother

Today I saw Mom, Dad and Mike.  They were all understandably tired:  The last couple of days have been busy for them and the weather had been oppressive.  Mom said that she doesn't think she can make any more trips from Florida to New York/New Jersey, mainly because of her age and the health problems that have come with it.  Dad feels the same way, but I think he was dreading the drive back to Florida even more than any prospective future trips.  That, too, is understandable.

Later this year, Mike will have one of those big round-number birthdays.  Given that, he was looking rather good, I thought, and I told him as much.  I think that might have been more of a surprise, for him, than anything else that transpired. It wasn't the sort of thing I would say to him when I was still living as Nick.  I guess it's not the sort of thing male siblings normally say to each other.

Now I realize that I may never have complimented him on anything until today.  Actually, I'm pretty sure that I never complimented him.  I mean, what kind of an older brother would I have been if I did?  ;-)  As if I were ever a model of siblinghood! (Does such a thing exist?)

Over lunch, I sat across from Mike, with Mom and Dad at our sides.  My conversation with Mike was, at first, almost an interview:  He asked about my work, when my summer class was ending, and when the new semester starts. Then we talked about my upcoming trip, his plans and about my nephew. I was glad, really, that the conversation went the way it did:  I felt, in a way, reassured because it's the sort of conversation we might have had even if I hadn't undergone my transition.   It was more or less what I could have expected under any set of circumstances that included not seeing him for about fifteen years.  

As we parted, I said, "Let's not let another fifteen years pass."

"Don't worry.  We won't.  I'll probably be coming this way more often now that Matt is grown."

I hope he's right.  Even though we weren't close--in part because of our difference in age and in part because of our differences in temperament and interests--I don't feel like I want to "make up for lost time."  Really, it's not possible to do that.  I would simply like to get to know him.

24 July 2011

Same-Sex Marriage and Gender Relations

As someone who pays attention to language, I found the modifications made to the marriage ceremonies performed today very interesting.

They may seem minor, as matters of language often seem to many people.  However, a judge couldn't very well pronounce two people of the same sex, "man and wife."  Instead, the judges pronounced the marriages "consummated" and referred to both members of the couple as "spouses."

What a lot of people don't realize is that changing the vows actually makes both members of the couple more like equals than the traditional vows do. Note that the judge, clergyperson or whoever else performs the ceremony usually says, "man and wife."  In that arrangement, the man's status does not change.  However, the woman ceases to be whomever she was before the ceremony; now she is the wife of the man.  In other words, she is now defined by her relationship to the man, while the man is not defined by his relationship to the woman.

So, in modifying the marriage vow and the pronouncement, the judges who married hundreds of same-sex couples today in New York showed something that many of us have long understood:  Gay rights and gender equality go hand-in-hand.  Perhaps this is what some opponents of same-sex marriage, or LGBT rights in general, fear.  It's simply not possible to have same-sex marriages if one member of the couple has to subsume his or her identity and redefine him or herself as an appendage of someone else.  That concept of gender relations and marriage is outmoded, anyway.  

23 July 2011

Tomorrow: What We've Been Waiting For

I can understand how all those gay couples who are getting married tomorrow must feel:  Two years and two weeks ago, I was feeling something very similar, I think.  On the eve of my surgery, I felt the sense of anticipation I imagine those couples are feeling. 
They have done a lot of planning, I’m sure.  Some may have planned to get married in Massachusetts or Canada or some other place where same-sex marriage was legalized before Andrew Cuomo signed it into law in this state. Others may have been waiting to get married here in New York and would not have considered any place else. 

But they all have something in common:  They have been waiting.  Some have been waiting for as long as they can remember, as I had been waiting to live as the person I am.   Others may have never thought about marriage until they heard about other gay couples getting married in other places; they may have, somewhere along the way, given up hope of having the sort of life their parents and most of their friends and peers have had.  They may have lived in long and deep despair, as I did, and will soon see it turn to joy.

And, just as I had faith but still hoped that everything would go well, I am sure most of those couples want everything to be just right, whatever that means for them.  But, I would guess, they know that whatever happens, everything is going to be all right, or at least, they will be living in synch with themselves, living the  lives they, as human beings, have a right to share with other human beings.

When I had my surgery, I felt as if I had, in some way, given birth and had entered into the race of people into which I had always belonged, even if I had lived in a sort of exile from it.  I’m guessing that at least some of those people who are getting married tomorrow will feel their own versions of those senasations.

22 July 2011

Another Family Reunion, Sort Of

Given the amount of time I lived in "transition," and the fact that two years have passed since my surgery, you might think that I wouldn't or shouldn't be fazed by situations like the one I'm about to face.

I've told Millie and Bruce and a couple of other people about it.  They say I'm going to be OK, and everything is going to be OK.  I know they're right:  Even if things don't go the way I hope, I don't think I can experience anything more difficult than anything else from the past few years--or, for that matter, anything that preceded them.

On Monday I'm going to see my parents again.  That's nothing new for me, of course.  I don't even feel anxious about it:  It's been a long time since anything dramatic, let alone cataclysmic, has happened between us.  I guess that has to do with the fact that we're all getting older.  I'm not sure I could shock them at this point in our lives, even if I'd wanted to.  

And, I am simply grateful for the way they've treated me.  Mom has been even more helpful and supportive than I thought she would be (and that's saying something), Dad has been even better than I thought he could be.  The good thing about that is that it allows me to be less worried than I might be about what some other people might think (assuming, of course they might think).  The bad news is that the thought that they will die.  That has been on my mind more since the last time I saw them, back in April.

So, you ask, if I'm not expecting anything new or dramatic when I see them, why am I worrying?

Well, Mike is going to be there, too.  I want to see him; he lives on the other side of the country and it's probably been about fifteen years since I've seen him.   During my first year of my transition, we were supposed to see, but just missed, each other when he came this way.  At that time, I don't think he'd even seen a photo of me as Justine, although we had talked and exchanged e-mails.  

Since then, he's seen not only those photos, but also this blog (or so I imagine), among other things.  We have talked and exchanged more e-mails; he probably has some impression of me based on those things and whatever Mom, Dad and other people have told him.  Even if all of what he's heard is wonderful, I am still a bit anxious because, really, he still doesn't fully know what to expect upon meeting me again, just as, truth be told, I don't know what to expect when I see him.  After all, since the last time I saw him, his son--who was a toddler when I last saw him--has become a young man.  So you can imagine how many other things have changed in our lives since then.  

Although my parents and I  went through periods when we didn't see much of each other, there was some continuity, at least, in my relationship with them.  Although some of the changes they saw were dramatic, and perhaps even shocking (at least in the beginning), at least they didn't miss long periods of my life.  That is in contrast to what happened with the cousin whom I met again just a few weeks after my surgery, and whom I hadn't seen since my childhood.  And, of course, what they experienced was very different from the experiences of those people who have met me since my I began my transition or those--like Millie--who didn't know me for very long as Nick.  And, I would imagine, that what my parents experienced is very different from what other people who knew me for a long time as Nick (I'm thinking of Bruce, for one.) witnessed.

Seeing Mike again, I expect, will be different from any of those experiences, and from other times I've seen him.  Then again, it might not be so different.  Either way, I'll probably be surprised.  

21 July 2011

They'll Be Married--In New York, Anyway

Who says that marriage is dead?

It seems that every same-sex couple in New York wants to get married on Sunday, which is the first day that same-sex marriage is legal in the state.  In fact, a lottery had to be held in order to decide which couples would be united that day in City Hall.  

I think that people should decide what the age of majority is and allow any two people who are that age or older to get married or live in any other way they agree to. I still believe that governments should not be involved in marriage at all:  Everyone couple should get the equivalent of a civil union, and if they want to be married in a house of worship, they should be free to do that.  However, I don't think that being married by members of the clergy should be a criterion for defining marriage.

On the other hand, I think that, given the system we have, the law that will take effect on Sunday is the best anyone has devised so far.  Same-sex couples have he same tax benefits and other rights as heterosexual couples.  And no religious institution can be forced to perform same-sex marriages. Nor can they be forced to provide benefits to a same-sex spouse of an employee.  So, for example, if I were to marry another woman and I were to get a job at St. John's or Fordham University, they would not have to provide medical insurance for my spouse.  

All of that is fair, and even good--as long as my spouse and I stay in New York.  But what if she were to get a job in San Jose  making twice as much as both of us combined were making here in New York?  Or if it were simply "too good to pass up" for any other reason?  All right, so we would move.  (I won't give up my bikes, cats or books, though!) So far, so good.

Or is it?

You see, California stopped recognizing same-sex marriages after voters in that state voted for Proposition 8 in November of 2008.  So, no marriage performed in New York will be recognized there in spite of the fact that a couple wed in Massachusetts before that date is seen as a married couple.

At least in California, my hypothetical spouse and I would have, in essence, a civil union, which several other states allow.  (Ironically, I was part of a civil union with another woman when I was still living as a man.)  Although it doesn't allow for tax benefits or visitation or inheritance rights, it's still better than what most states have, which is to say no recognition at all for any but heterosexual couples.  

And there is still no federal recognition of same-sex marriage.  So, if one of us were to take a government job, the other wouldn't qualify for benefits.  

Given the realities of today's economy and culture, the scenarios I've described are not merely hypothetical.  Gay men, lesbians and transgender people change jobs and move--possibly even more frequently than heterosexual people do.  These days. people--particularly the young and those in fields like academia and government--move to where the jobs are, or are moved by their employers.  And we all know they're not all hetero!

Still, the prospect of all of those couples getting married on Sunday is exciting.  After all, doesn't every marriage begin with exciting  possibilities and uncertainties, and don't they all, in time, encounter unforeseen circumstances?    In that sense, the marriages into which those same-sex couples will enter on Sunday are no different from the heterosexual couples who will "tie the knot" that same day.

20 July 2011

Worse Than Their Homo- (and Trans-) Phobia

I like to remain optimistic.  Really, I do.  I don't like what I see in the mirror when I become a cynical bitch.

Still, I can't help but to think that there's no idea that's too farfetched, too illogical, too counterintuitive or too just plain wrongheaded to rear its ugly head from time to time.

One of those ideas is the ones that non-heterosexual, non-gender-conforming people can have their "deviance" beaten, shocked, prayed, hugged, drugged, jailed or talked out of them.  It seems that every few years, there's a spate of reports about "reparative" "therapies (something supported by US Presidential candidate Michele Bachmann and practiced by her husband Marcus) ," "healing" "ministries" or some program concocted by the law enforcement/military/government complex in some country or another, that aims to change of us who love whom we're not supposed to love or don't live according to the "M" or "F" on our birth certificates. 

Almost none of those programs or ministries has been started, or is administered or practiced by, anyone with any sort of scientific or clinical background in anything having to do with the study of human behavior.  Such programs are routinely dismissed as "junk science" even by those whose religious or cultural beliefs might be in agreement with those who believe they are, in essence, performing or facilitating exorcisms. 

So why do they proliferate?  I don't think they get their impetus only from those who believe that they can "love the sinner but hate the sin" or from those, like Fred Phelps and his followers, who are pure and simple haters.  Instead, I think that the therapies, ministries and other programs continue, in large part, because of the anxieties too many of us in the LGBT community still have.

Thankfully, for more and more people today, "coming out" is a joyous occasion, or at least a relief.   However, in my youth, realizing that one was not attracted to members of the opposite sex (Yes, that's how we phrased it in those days.), let alone not the person idenitified by the name and sex on the birth certificate, was a cause for anxiety, at best, and more often, pain, loneliness, isolation and depression--which, of course, led too many of us to the bars, the bottle or a bridge.   So many of us didn't "come out"--or did so, and "recanted" later on.  Some of us entered marriages that fooled no one.  Or we pursued careers in the military or law enforcement and engaged in, or became fans of, the most "macho" sports and other endeavors we could find, while others paid extra attention to their hair, makeup and dresses.  

In other words, even if we didn't seek those "reparative" "therapies" or "healing" "ministries", or weren't forced into programs that would punish, if not change, us, many of us did those things to ourselves.  I think of the days when I trained athletically: I pedalled fifty miles a day, every day, lifted weights and did all sorts of other exercises; I pushed my body beyond its seeming limits in an attempt to pound it into submission.  All I managed to do was pull myself further and further away from any chance of meaningful community with anyone else, or myself.

These days, most rational people and those with any sort of empathy recoil at the thought of trying to "cure" homosexuality through electroshock, or even behavior modification or prayer and sermons.  So I don't think the Bachmanns and their ilk are nearly as much a threat to us as the fear and isolation that comes with trying to be "normal" and knowing that one can't.  As long as it's still possible to lose one's job, one's friends, family and community--in short, one's life as he or she knows it--too many of us will remain, and die, in the closet.