02 January 2013

The City Of Ladies

Here is another excerpt from the work of fiction I've been writing. In this piece, a trans woman who's about to have surgery has to return to her old neighborhood, which she hasn't seen in many years, for a funeral.  Remember that this is a work of fiction, so I don't want you to try to infer too much from it.

(If you want to read some other excerpts, check out What We Become, Fatigue, At The Beginning and The End  and Stories of Men and Women.)


I'm sure that if I stay on this block after her funeral, after her burial, and someone were to realize who I am, someone'll blame me for mother's death.  People'll say that my absence, through all these years, put too much strain on her heart, her spirit.  (The one is a physical organ, so their accusations would make no sense.  As for the other:  What is it, anyway?)  I'd be accused of selfishness.  I suppose that, in a way, that would be right, if not fair.

I haven't been here for a long time because I've been worried about my own safety, and how mother'd react to me.  Even though she could sense that I'd changed--sometimes she said as much when we talked over the phone--I'd had no idea of how she'd react to my hair, the nails, the new clothes, the changing shape of my body.  And, even though sh'd told me, "Everybody's gone" time and time again, I still wondered whether I'd get off this block alive if I came back.  Until recently, I wasn't entirely confident about my transformation.  When you're not among the community of which you've become a part, whether by birth or choice, whatever image you try to project has to be created and transmitted even more seamlessly than when you're among your own.  When you're not in one of those neighborhoods where people in transition congregate, or are at least accepted or tolerated, it's all the more important to pass--in other words, to be unnoticed.  So, I wondered how I'd navigate the wake, the funeral, the burial. 

I must say that until today, it had been a while since anyone had given me a second glance or stared.  Now only the operation to give me the genitals I should've always had separates me from the next stage of my life, whatever that may hold. Older men--and sometimes younger ones--hold doors open for me and let me pass in front of them.  But once they let you through "their" space, they insist on standing or walking closer to me than they did before I started my transition.  So you've no choice but to walk into them, or to walk away from them.  Either way, you run that they will accuse you of "sending mixed signals" or of inciting their aggression.

In one sense, I'm lucky:  At the end of the day--which, sometimes, is really the end of the morning--I don't have to navigate them.  When I go home--or, more precisely, when I get to wherever I'm going to lay my head for the next few hours--I am alone; I don't have to navigate their hostility.

Most women aren't so fortunate.  Just last week, the woman who's shaped my hair as I've grown it slid the hem of her skirt up her thigh, revealing a scar and two bruises the father of her three-year-old daughter left.  She knew what I was about to tell her.  "As long as I don't set him off, he'll get better,"  she sighed.  

After I was gone a while from this block, mother'd begun to tell me about the brutality of the men there. Although I was well aware of it, I listened as if she were giving me the latest news.  She never mentioned names, but I knew that one of them had to be my father.  All the more reason to find him, to find out about him.  He left her bitter and angry: spent, even though she had to--or, at least, felt that she had to--continue living and working for my sake.  A man hit her, pushed her head against a wall.  And she never could recall what she did next, but the next thing she remembered was seeing him, doubled over with his hands gripping his crotch.  She doesn't know how she could have kicked or punched him after he knocked the wind, and very nearly the light, out of her.  At that moment, she was thinking of me, she said:  She wasn't going to let him to do me what he did to a baby girl--hers?--who supposedly was a "crib death", whatever that is.

I remembered those conversations, and our days in the kitchen with other women, no men anywhere in sight.  And the things mother used to say as if she were instructing me rather than answering a question or making a point.  Mother never wore--in fact, as far as I know, never even owned--any polo or T-shirts, sneakers or any other shoes or articles of clothing she was brought up to believe were men's.  Pants were the exception:  She almost always wore them, long, and only with completely enclosed shoes.  No sleeveless tops, always a jacket, even on warm days.  Only her house slippers had open toes and backs, and sometimes she'd wear something that looked like a cross between a housedress and a smock if she didn't have somewhere to go.  

But one day she put on a black silk dress that skimmed her breasts and curves down to her knees.  I didn't know she owned it, or the black pumps on she slid into.  Though the dress and shoes were out of style--actually, nobody on the block is ever in style; some of the women are simply en vogue--she seemed elegant, even pretty, if a bit severe.  I didn't have to ask.  "A lady wears a dress to a funeral," she intoned.

That was all I needed to know for today.  The fact that I don't have a dark men's suit or even a sportcoat is beside the point.  For that matter, I no longer own any ties, or anything that resembles men's dress shoes.

A lady:  the only kind of person who could attend her funeral.  Mrs. Marland, the woman who seemed not to talk to anybody besides my mother, and the woman whose name I never knew--when my mother talked about them, the were "ladies".  So were other females of a certain age.  As in, "the lady up the street" or "the lady with the black dog".  They were the only ones she talked to, who talked to each other, about each other.  The ladies:  The Crossing Guard Lady, The Redheaded Lady .  "Go to the lady at the newsstand and get  change for this $5 bill."  All my life, as a kid, I was always directed from one lady to another by my mother or some other lady.

So who else could come to see her at the end of her life but other ladies?

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