code rainbow

Well, it happened again.  My otherness was showing.  Or, I got caught with my otherness out.  Or something like that.  I confess I haven’t seen “The Green Book” (I haven’t seen any movie since God was a child) though in complete honesty I did see the first 10 minutes of the movie (Emily and I had a date night and got a sitter.  Literally 10 minutes into the movie both our phones started blowing up.  The babysitter letting us know that Ruby was throwing up.  That ended that)  So while I know the premise of the movie, I don’t know details.  And apparently, according to those I’ve chatted with recently, the premise of the movie is similar to what I’m proposing here.  And my very sketchy understanding of the movie is that the proposition in the movie was met with mixed reviews at best.

But I should back up and catch you all up.  Otherwise you’ll have no idea what I’m talking about.  I was in a rural town in Vermont recently for a few days.  The phone reception was quite spotty and my phone battery was depleting rapidly because it was constantly searching for network access (or so I, in my extremely limited understanding of anything technical, assume).  One early evening I was heading somewhere and noticed my battery percentage was under 10%.  I needed my GPS for directions as I had no idea how to get where I was going (never mind where I was).  So I pulled over on the side of the road, turned the ignition to auxiliary (do they even call it that anymore) and sat in my car to let my phone charge.  Anyone with half a brain knows at this point that of course I drained the car battery.   After about a half hour I noticed that the lights on the dashboard were no longer lit and the phone was no longer charging.  So, even though the phone battery had only gotten to 17%, I had to call AAA.

And, don’t get me wrong, while I’m grateful on all sorts of levels that I have AAA in addition to the privileges that allow me to have AAA, there is a huge amount of shame that comes from, well, that comes from being me (presenting as I present in the world) and having to put myself out there and ask strangers for help.  I can full stop there.  But the combination of my presentation in conjunction with who (in general) tow-truck drivers are increase my shame exponentially.  Actually, it is a fear and shame combo platter.  And while this may be a gross generalization (about tow-truck drivers), and while many would say to me, “oh don’t be silly”, it has ever been my experience to be judged and deemed offensive, defective, wrong, yucky, whatever in these situations.

The AAA answering service was polite and efficient.  They would send someone my way as soon as possible.  The woman told me to please keep my phone on and near me.  She also asked if I was in a safe place and if I felt I was in any danger.  My anticipatory shame over the truck driver’s potential reaction to me on top of my dwindling phone battery got me off the phone with alacrity.  I sat in my car fighting off waves of panic and anxiety.

My phone, at 12% battery, rang with an unknown Vermont number after about 45 minutes.  The driver was on his way.  He was extremely sweet and solicitous on the phone, promising to find me (because I honestly had no idea where I was) and joking about how well he knew the back roads of the area and his ability to find a needle in a proverbial haystack.  He described his flatbed truck and asked for details of what kind of car I was in and what I saw around me.  He was a calming presence; kind and attentive.

Until he got to me 20 minutes later.  He pulled up behind me and as we each got out of our vehicles, I swear I saw his face harden right before my eyes.  A burly bearded man in plaid, he asked me to pop the trunk without a single word of greeting.  He walked around my open front door in what felt like an exaggerated effort to stay clear of me.  Writing this, even weeks later, safe in my house, my stomach is doing flip-flops just remembering.

With his head under my hood, I tried to make small talk.  Which he either ignored or didn’t hear.  As he passed by me on his way back to his truck he again seemed to create a wide berth between us.  He couldn’t actually ignore me as he walked by with the jumper cables, though he did avoid eye contact, as he said with strained neutrality, “You drained the battery.  These cars have such small batteries all it takes is 10 minutes or so.  Next time have the car running.”  I responded, intentionally engagingly, that I was, “just trying to save the planet” or something like that.  To no response.

With my car running again, he closed up the hood,  wiped his hands and stashed the cables in his cab.  As he got into his vehicle he said, “you should drive around for a little while before turning it off again to give the battery time to recharge.”  And with that, he drove off.

I sat in my car, fairly close to tears, shaking a bit with anger, shame, fear, I’m not even sure which.  The mirror held out to me by such people hurts.  Over and over again.  And clearly stays with me long after the actual encounter.  Maybe I’m more susceptible and sensitive to the pain and shame of seeing myself through the eyes of less-accepting others because I don’t recall having the foundational experience that most people have of seeing themselves through the eyes of a deeply loving mother.  The way I look at my children I know was never the way my mother looked at me.  At best I was the thing that took her own mother’s attention away from her.  At worst I was the most ungrateful, uncontrollable, infuriating extension of herself(sic).  That lack of fundamental formation doesn’t seem to allow me to fight off or even withstand the enmity of others.  Or maybe it’s not all my mother’s fault and I’m just a thin-skinned wimp.

I did some deep breathing into the experience and put myself back together.  Perhaps he wasn’t racing away from me at all, but racing home to his family and dinner.  Whatever the case, I calmed myself and drove around a bit as he’d suggested.  I started thinking about my initial call to AAA and wondering whether there was a way to circumvent such experiences.  I mean, not like having the AAA answering service ask, “Are you in a safe place? Are you in any danger? Are you in any way offensive to others?”  I would have waited another half hour (at least) if I could have requested someone kind, open-minded, welcoming.  Perhaps when requesting AAA assistance one could flag themselves by saying, “Code Rainbow”.  Or something equally fun, engaging, fantastic and gay.  I know those in opposition to this idea (like the green book) would say that everyone should be welcoming and kind etc.  Of course I agree with that.  But the reality on the ground is not quite so nirvanaic (yes, I just made up that word. Don’t bother to look it up).  I’d rather give the haters a pass than have to suffer their displeasure.  If you don’t want to deal with us, perhaps we shouldn’t have to deal with you.  Send someone else.

 

 

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Posted in everyday stuff, feelings, no man's land | 1 Comment

windows and billboards

Last week at work a guy I hardly know motioned me over and asked, “Can I ask you a question?”  Being at work, I assumed it would be some basic question about Judaism.  Though to be sure, every so often at work I get asked a deeper more obscure question about Judaism, often under the backdrop of “why is God doing this (parenthetically, to me)?”  So I wasn’t glib in accepting his request.  He leaned toward me conspiratorially across the serving counter in the cafeteria (which happened to have been teeming with people at the time) and said, “Are you transitioning?”

I did not see that coming.

While I think about being transgender much of the time and while being transgender is the lens through which I experience the world around me and while I write about being transgender – the very reason I began this blog, and while I am always at least vaguely aware of being transgender in my waking hours, rarely do I actually engage in conversation about it with others.  I never bring up the topic myself.  And even when close friends broach the subject, my instantaneous reaction is to fill with deep-seated shame and  quickly change the subject.  There is only one exception and that is my friend J (more on that another time perhaps).  Never do I even remotely consider engaging in a conversation about being transgender with others, especially someone I scarcely know.

 

Interestingly enough though, I can more easily imagine myself talking with a total stranger rather than someone I have even minimal connection with about being transgender.  If I had to.   I get irritated by some of the people who sign up to be *experts* or even *spokespeople* for or about *other-ness*, who are not *other* themselves.  Even though I won’t put myself – as an *other* – out there to do so.  I roll my eyes loudly at work where the people on the LGBTQ task-force (yes I know we are lucky to have one) are not L, G, B, T or Q themselves (never mind the fact that most of them have zero knowledge or understanding of LGBTQ issues and are woefully misinformed).  Still, I’m not volunteering to be on the committee myself.  I should have no right to complain.

And it isn’t exactly that I’m complaining.  Merely musing.  I’ve been thinking about it more lately because while I’m pretty comfortable not being a window of opportunity for learning or any other such gay guide or dysphoria docent, I have recently come into contact with the stories of two different transgender teens and their families where it is readily apparent that they might actually want guidance, support, or even just friendship from someone like me.  And while on the one hand I am very much aware of that, on the other hand I feel as though I’m hardly a paradigm of permutation.  I’m a progression without a plan.  What possible help could I be to them?!  I don’t have any wisdom or advice or even a string of witty words worthy of a poignant tweet.  I know several people who eagerly share their opinions and advice readily on any topic, regardless of the fact that they actually have not a shred of knowledge about that topic.  I simply am not one of those people.  Though I do marvel at their audacity.

window of opportunity

I was asked outright by the mutual acquaintance of both me and the family of one teen attempting to navigate the gender journey, if I might reach out to the family.  First of all, this mutual acquaintance is not someone I have ever discussed being transgender with.  She actually has no idea who I am or how I identify.  I believe, from what little she said, that she thinks of me as sort of *gender neutral* or simply *androgynous*.  And what little she told me about the teen in question, it sounds like they are considering hormones (though based on what she thinks she knows of me, she could be completely wrong about this teenager as well).  This “friend” was worried because according to her “hormones are just terrible” and “come at such a high price and with so many risks”(sic).  Since, in addition to all of this serious misinformation, the family and the teen in question have not reached out in any way to me, I have less than no desire to get involved.  Part of me does feel badly because I know, because I’ve heard from more than just this one person, that this family is struggling as their teen attempts to traverse this gender odyssey.  And while I wish I could ease their suffering in even some small way, I feel quite sure it isn’t actually me they need.  It is neither my place nor my expertise and I fear I could do more harm than good if I were to get involved.

Also recently, a friend of Emily’s invited us to their home for Shabbat dinner.  As Emily was reminding me of who this friend was, she also told me about her friend’s family and who was likely to be present, as well as general things going on in the family (in order to help me to be able to make polite conversation).  She mentioned that one of their children had been struggling – in school, at home, etc – and that this teen had recently come out as trans.  She wasn’t sure how the kid would be presenting when we got there and didn’t know many more details than that.  What I remembered of this kid from our last dinner with them was a tall, quietly awkward, girl with long luxurious wavy hair (the kind most people envy).  When we got to the house we were greeted by an exuberant family and their bouncy dog.  The parents were happy to see us and welcomed us with hugs while what appeared to be 3 rambunctious boys tousled and shoved one another playfully.  The boys took our girls (just Nina and Ruby) into the play room and we were left in the kitchen with the mom and dad.  I wanted to say, “wow, your family seems so happy!”  But that was too fraught for too many reasons.  I knew they were struggling.  And just because in this moment of Shabbat peace they were content, I knew better than to take that snapshot as ongoing fact.  The brief silence between us was heavy.  I ticked through potential ice-breaking topics in my head.  I wished I’d asked Emily what, if anything, she had told her friend about me.  I ended up saying something like, “So what pronoun does X prefer?”  There seemed to be the hint of a sigh of relief.  Or maybe I just want that to have been so.  The dad said, “He prefers he, but…” and the mom interrupted, “They. I guess we prefer they.”  And the dad concluded, “We’re messing it up most of the time.  But we’re trying.”  “That’s all you can do” I said, “It’s a process.”  At that point Ruby came skittling back into the room.  There were too many loud boys in there for her and anyway, she wanted to play with the dog.  Her presence fractured the moment and the topic changed.  We weren’t able to get back there.  Everyone gathered around the table for blessings and dinner and singing.  The meal was delicious and easy.  I noted, with a bit of envy, how easily they hosted.  Everything was ready, timed to perfection, still hot, plentiful and delicious.  They had this Shabbat dinner thing down.  Conversation flowed freely between topics of the hottest new toddler song – baby shark – to world events, to homework assignments, peppered with laughter, some good-natured teasing and plenty of good cheer.  The silent agreement to diligently pretend not to notice the gender mishaps was adhered to by everyone.  Through intermittent clenched jaws and weary postures their family members stuttered through, “Sh-HE” and corrected themselves over and over.  The teen in question maintained an appearance of ebullience throughout.  It was fascinating to me and I found it hard not to mention the elephant in the room.  This once reserved almost sullen girl with the flowing hair who barely uttered a word before, was now a jubilant expressive boy with short spiky hair that was partially dyed blue.  And I wanted to acknowledge him, greet him, welcome him, revel in him, celebrate him.  But we were all busy pretending there was nothing to notice, that nothing had changed.

I noted with no small amount of irony that this is exactly what I seem to be doing in my own life.  While I write some of my thoughts and feelings and musings here, that is the extent of my sharing with others about being transgender.  On this topic, I am not engaging or interacting with anyone, even those closest to me, about any of the changes I’m feeling, experiencing or seeing.  Though I now may understand those who are interested in, even eager to perhaps, acknowledge, greet, welcome and celebrate the changes in me that they are witnessing.  Something to think about I suppose.

 

 

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my chinny chin chin

It’s been a while since my last testosterone-tell-all.  8 months in fact.  Part of me wants to write that nothing much has changed.  And that would, for the most part, be true.  The same few hairs that sprouted on the backs of my hands are still there.  Without change over these months, infinitesimal downy hairs visible only to me and only when I am scrutinizing myself in just the right light.  Anything else I might report would be purely hypothetical.

The reality is that other than an inner contentment and relative peace-of-mind previously unknown by me, I don’t see any substantial outward differences.  My voice is still a mess.    That’s true.  But I owe that more to my lifestyle than to hormones I think.  I am often run-down and don’t get enough sleep.  Those are not complaints.  They are simple facts.  I choose to play late-night hockey several nights per week rather than going to bed at a decent hour and getting the beauty sleep that I so clearly need.  During those games I yell and scream at teammates, calling for coverage or for people to move, cheering on the skaters on my team and sometimes taunting opposing players.  Additionally, in the last few months I’ve been going to Joita’s college basketball games.  Where I scream like a lunatic for her team.  As a total aside, a rather humorous moment recently was when, during a particularly intense game, where my cheers bordered on shrieking, another parent asked which player was mine and, after a comic pause I said, “the manager.”  I followed that up with,  “Imagine how loud I’d be if my kid were actually on the court!?”  Anyway, being run-down leaves me with a throaty raspy voice and the increased yelling hasn’t added any melodic or symphonic value.  I sound a bit like a heavy smoker, despite the fact that I gave that vice up decades ago.

Not that anyone but me has probably noticed, but in the last year I have gained close to 15 pounds.  I know this because I’ve developed a little paunch, my clothes sizes are getting bigger and bigger (I now have a larger number in the waist than in the length of my pants) and because I step on the scale most mornings – the vestiges of a lifelong eating disorder.  While this may have sent me into paroxysms of hysterical starvation at an earlier point in my life, I’m more curious than anything about it now.  Sort of like watching oneself age without criticism.  It is just a number after all.  I honestly don’t think my body has changed overmuch in the last several years.  With the distinct exception of aging.  As bodies are wont to do.  As to the weight differential, I wonder whether the testosterone is turning fat to muscle?  Not because of my taut physique, but simply because muscle supposedly weighs more than fat.  Or whether the long hours of hockey are building muscle.  Not that muscle can actually be seen mind you.  Or maybe it is noticeable to more than just me and people have kindly refrained from mentioning it.  Who knows.

There is a growing pronoun predicament that seems to be germinating and rankling me more and more.  While I still sit somewhere in the middle between known genders, and while I have not asked for anyone to use a specific pronoun when speaking about me, I’m beginning to chafe at *she* and some of the specifically female designations.  I was recently at the memorial gathering for a friend’s father when one of the other LGBTQ parents in my kid’s grade, which is literally all I know about her, approached me.  I understand that she was trying very hard to connect with me and make small talk in a rather claudicant way in an already awkward space and time.  I know she has no idea who I am or anything about me, other than that we are both LGBTQ parents.  Still.  She started off by greeting me to the effect of, “Gurrrrl! How are you?!”  She then proceeded to refer to and address me as *girl* and *girlfriend* multiple times in addition to the back-slapping exclamation of “you go girl” when I referenced needing to leave for my hockey game.  Though the interchange was all of 3 minutes long, my skin was crawling by the time I extricated myself from her effeminate entombment.  I could barely breathe.  There was nothing I could, should or would have done differently though.  I barely know this woman.  I have no actual desire to get to know her or to deepen our non-existent connection.  I don’t talk to my friends about being transgender.  I’m certainly not going to open up to and share anything meaningful about being trans with this stranger.  Still, the encounter bothered me.

Then, I was a guest speaker at a local program that teaches kids about community service and giving back to the community etc etc to talk about my bread-making and bread-donating (my *breadscapades* as I like to refer to it).  The leaders of the program are all teachers, a few of them I know on an acquaintanceship level.  But besides that, none of them knows anything beyond what I appear, about me.  In other words, what they think they see is all they know of me.  That said, I was being introduced to a group of about 20 children between the ages of 6 and 12, and the leaders were helping guide me and the kids through a 4 hour workshop.  My unease began with the introduction.  “This is Hali and SHE started baking bread…”  Was it my imagination or did some of the kids look momentarily puzzled?  I think a few looked around as if looking for the person the presenter was talking about.  Several eyes squinted my way as if trying to make sense of the auditory input.  At least it seemed that way to me.  “…and SHE sells HER bread…” I felt clammy and sweaty and yes, ashamed.  I was wearing men’s jeans, a men’s button-down flannel shirt and a Red Sox baseball cap.  I found myself looking down at my shoes (men’s chukka boots) and studiously away from the eager young faces in front of me.  “… and SHE donates HER bread and…”  SHE and HER and HER and SHE until I was in a fug of perturbation.  How many fucking times do they need to gender me for fuck’s sake?!  I tried to keep my agitation in check while simultaneously trying to figure out why I was so worked up and attempting to analyze whether I was being *gendered* excessively or if it was just my own mishugas (craziness).  Either way, it was yet another unpleasant experience and something I’m going to have to figure out and deal with sooner rather than later.

Lastly, I seem to have 3 to 5 rather random stray hairs growing on my face.  While other trans-guys report a peach fuzz developing on their faces, mine seems smooth but for these wiry little fuckers.  Three on my chin, a few on my upper lip, and one on my cheek.  My lifetime training in being a girl is horribly challenged by these rogue hairs as my learned response was to always have tweezers to hand.  These suckers, unlike my girl’s facial hairs, are tough and hurt like heck when you pluck them.  And though I’m trying mightily to not pluck them, I can’t seem to stop touching them and trying to pull at them from between pinched fingers.  Not exactly an attractive public grooming habit.

All in all I think the changes to me physically from testosterone can be summed up in this photo of Daddy Pig from my current favorite children’s cartoon series.  I particularly like this cartoon (Peppa Pig) because at the end of each episode, no matter how many dilemmas they face or how many muddy puddles they encounter, all the characters fall on their backs and laugh hysterically.  Seems like a good response to just about anything.

Posted in no man's land | 1 Comment

towed by the trump train

How dire must the circumstances be before you start to shave the edges off your principles?  In my case, apparently not that dire.  Does it matter if I didn’t go looking for help?  Probably not.

We recently suffered a wild winter storm here in Boston.  Freezing temps on top of torrential rains.  There really wasn’t much anyone could have done with the shit storm it left behind.  Perhaps if I’d gotten out during the actual storm and tried my hand at shoveling or salting or whatever one does in the face of frozen slush by the bucketful.  But I didn’t. So the following day, a holiday-Monday, under eye-wateringly-cold but deeply blue skies, my car was frozen, a solid giant block of ice, right where I’d left it all weekend.  As luck would have it, I had places I absolutely needed to be.  I’d picked Joita up at college at the beginning of the storm (two days prior) because she was slated to have a medical procedure on this Monday.  But as I’ve already said, my car was encased in a good 8 inches of ice and salt from the plows, creating a cement-like tomb of rock-hard mass.  And me without a pick-ax.  My plastic ergonomically correct shovels bent and bounced almost comically off the surface with nary a nick.  No matter how creatively I swore, I was still staring at the same solidity.  I kicked, cursed and cried to no avail.  I hailed a neighbor for help.  He came with his metal spade and together we chipped slowly away, taking turns with the shovel.

After more time than I want to even recall I was able to get into my car.  Tears and snot frozen on my face, creating the worst *ugly cry* ever, I got the engine to turn over.  But it wasn’t the only thing to turn.  My tires spun and spun in their icy caverns, making a sound nearly as unpleasant as a dentist drill, and creating thick black smoke as the rubber literally burned off my brand new tires.  Commence more ugly crying.

Time was ticking and I really needed to get my kid to the doctor.  She actually had two separate medical appointments this day at two different hospitals.  Emily suggested we Uber to the first one.  Man, I’m fucking old.  We actually used Lyft and thank goodness my kid is more tech-savvy than I am.  Because I was looking for the phone number (in an actual Yellow Pages phone book) for a cab company that was a crap shoot in their prime in the 80s.

One appointment down, we Lyfted back home to find my car in exactly the same predicament.  I started whimpering.  All I could think to do was rev the engine and spin the tires more.  I got out and hacked at the ice around the car until I couldn’t feel my fingers and was fairly certain my toes had snapped off in my boots, sliding and clicking around in the toe portion like tiny ice cubes.  With more frozen tears and snot, I was losing my shit and fast.  I’m no Elsa.  I couldn’t even contemplate a Lyft as the second hospital was 35 miles away and there was just too much for me to figure out without adding another moving piece to the puzzle.  As I considered my non-existent options, a large Ford pick-up-truck-plow rumbled down the street.  You know that cat in the Shrek movies?  Yeah, I made that pathetic please-dear-lord-help-me-for-fucks-sake face.  

As the truck headed my way the driver came into focus.

Remember when I wrote about the guy around the corner who had the “Get on board or get run over” Trump train yard sign?  Yeah.  It was him.  I stood there numb.  My other neighbor, the one who had already given me all the help he could by loaning me his spade, was coming out of his house watching the scene unfold.

So there I was, standing frozen in front of my house which is festooned with a giant rainbow peace flag and signs that say things like, “In OUR America” and “Love trumps hate”.  Standing next to my pathetically immovable car with the “Black Lives Matter” and “prays well with others” bumper stickers.  Looking miserable and pathetic and undoubtedly exactly like the inept loser libtard he will describe me as when regaling his friends at a later time.  I couldn’t even meet his eyes.

He drove past me and spun around in the intersection, coming back and screeching to a stop just ahead of my car.  He got out and surveyed the situation while I swallowed all that was left of my pride.   Neither of us made eye contact.  I will give him this… there was not a hint of gloat about him.  “Yeah, seeing a lot of this today.” He said, “Nothing to do but tow.  Got nothing to catch onto.” He walked to the back of his truck and grabbed a tow rope.  He got on his knees and shimmied under my car, mindless of the dirt, snow and sludge getting all over his pants, to tie the rope.  Then, continuing not to look at me, he walked to his truck.  Over his shoulder he said, “Get on in and when the rope tightens give it some gas.”

In less than 90 seconds my car was unstuck, idling unsteadily on the paved road.  I got out of my car as he was pulling himself out from under my car again, having untied his rope but still not wiping off his now filthy pants.  “Thank you.  I mean, thank you so much. I really appreciate your help,” I stammered and gushed simultaneously.  He shrugged, got into his vehicle and left.  I turned around and looked into the smirking eyes of my other neighbor.  “Towed by the Trump train,” he said jokingly, “You are never going to live this one down.”  I hung my head in mock shame.  In the meantime,  I was able to get Joita to the appointment.  And on time.

What was I supposed to do?  Refuse his help because I disagree with his (dumbass) politics?  If the situation had been reversed, and I’d been able to help him (say he was in spiritual distress and needed a prayer), would I have?  I’d like to think I would.  Still, I felt unsettled, maybe a bit of shame, over what I’m not even sure.  All I can say is that *good* was not an emotion I would ascribe to how I felt about the whole interaction.

The next day was Tuesday, my day off, my baking day.  Mr. Trump-voter was still on my mind.  So I set aside some whoopie pies and a few raspberry brambles I’d made.  I packaged them nicely and picked out a “thank you” card from our stash.  Not for the first time I realized I didn’t even know his name.  I went with, “Dear Neighbor”.  I kept the note short and sweet and went to his house.  I could see lights on, thought, in fact, that I could hear a television (“Fox news no doubt” I thought to myself) as I rang the doorbell.  I heard muttering and smelled cigarette smoke.  I saw no one.  I waited on his porch shivering and rang one more time.  Which only resulted in making the dog bark in a higher pitch frenzy.  I  awkwardly opened the storm door, gingerly placed the package between that and the front door and I left.  My relief was enormous, propelling me down his front stairs with such force I missed the last step and almost fell.  When I walked my dog later that evening I noticed that my package was still there.

It was gone the next day and I breathed another sigh of relief, we were even.

Posted in everyday stuff | 3 Comments

don’t step on the cracks

When last I wrote about mother I was feeling contemplative, if not somewhat generous, about her state of unwellbeing.  Convinced, not for the first time in my life, that something was actually wrong with her this time (fool me once, shame on you. fool me dozens of times… well…) I gave in to a modicum of nostalgic sentiment, choosing to forgive if not forget.  When she and her husband returned to Florida, he was sure she was imminently dying (as was I) and signed her up for batteries of medical testing, assuming one would determine the cause of her impending demise.  He dutifully accompanied her to each and every appointment.  I breathed the sigh of relief that her distance always affords me and continued on my merry way.  Toward the end of the summer I got a call from him.

I braced myself a bit before answering his call.  “There is nothing wrong with her!” he literally spat out in breathless exasperation without any sort of preamble.  I was dumbstruck.  I made him repeat it several times.  There… is nothing… medically wrong… with her.  She passed every single medical test with flying colors.  Basically she is healthy as a horse, a fine specimen of 74 years.

I was stymied.  It didn’t make sense.  It so conflicted with the image of the shuffling zombie-like weeping whimpering vacant shell of a human being I’d encountered in July.  How could this be?!  What could this be?!  I spluttered semi-accusatory disbelieving questions at him, ending with, “So, bottom line, she’s been faking?!”  He didn’t know.  He did say that as the doctor shared the results, mother’s glassy vacant eyes began to focus, she sat up a bit straighter and there was practically a skip in her step (as in not a hint of shuffle) by the time they were walking to the car.  He was as bewildered as I was.

I spoke with mother a few days later.  She sounded fairly clear-headed.  But as she talked I noted a distinct edge to her voice.  And I’d heard that edge before.  Like the hiss and rattle of a venomous snake, there is no mistaking the tenor of a Borderline about to strike.  She was adamant that she was not just sickly, but dying, with a capital D.  Her agitation ratcheting up from the doctors all being fucking pissants to the medical profession being staffed by morons to her growing awareness and understanding that she is the only human being with a brain in their head to her conclusion that she is sick and tired of being treated like shit by every asshole with a college degree who thinks they are better than her.  That last part specifically directed at this asshole with a college degree who she believes treats her like shit, because I (mistakenly according to her) think that I am better than she is.  Followed up by a thinly veiled threat that one underestimates her at their own peril.

I made sure to get off the phone quickly before I could get caught too deep in the quagmire, splattered with too much of her acidic sputum.  I made it another few weeks unscathed.  But as the saying goes, you can run, but you cannot hide for long.  She reiterated her insistence that something dreadful was wrong with her.  She was angry that the medical attention she was getting was, according to her, substandard at best, acerbically suggesting she’d be better off going to a veterinarian.

The turnaround to hysteria and blubbering was quicker this time (thankfully).  She was back in bed sleeping days away and crying inconsolably before I knew it.  Followed in rapid-succession by elegiac flamboyant descriptions of her severe medical distresses that are not taken seriously enough by anyone.  The cycles continued unabated, uninterrupted, unrepentant.  The one common thread throughout, the fact that she is a one-stringed harp, strumming singularly, exclusively and repetitively on her one and only note: herself.

At some point in the fall I suggested that perhaps her maladies might be of the psychological rather than medical sort.  She admitted that she had an appointment with a new psychiatrist, but wasn’t overly optimistic given the fact that she’d fired every therapist she’d ever gone to because they didn’t know half the things she did.

Her phone calls, though not frequent, are tedious at best.  Never a single question, comment, thought or even consideration for or about anyone else.  I answered her calls less and less frequently.  Less and less interested in listening to the litany of her personal pandemonium.  To be brutally honest, I don’t have that kind of time in my day to waste.  I’m more than well aware that who her audience is matters little if at all to her.  She’d talk as much to a cardboard cutout.

After not taking her calls for a short while, I picked up out of guilt one day in early December.  She started off weepy about her *condition*.  Back to square one with sleeping all day, crying whenever she wasn’t sleeping and being shaky and anxious all the time.  She began sobbing hysterically about Peter at one point, saying she hadn’t heard from him and when last she had he was planning to move out of the halfway house he was living in to go live with a *great guy* he met on the street.  We all know that story all too well.  But before I could have a response at all she was launching back into her recitation of aches, pains and other malignancies.  As an aside to that catalog, she threw in almost off-handedly, that she was being prescribed medical marijuana by one of the myriad of her physicians.  She paused for dramatic effect and when I didn’t respond she said angrily, “I know exactly what you’re thinking Hali.  And I am NOT a drug addict.”  It’s frightening how she can actually read my mind sometimes.  She went on to snarl at me in dangerously clipped tones that every single one of the dozens of medications she takes daily are *real* medications and prescribed by actual doctors and medical professionals (those self same moronic pissants she knows more than).  “I am not some street trash junkie” she hissed.  I ignored the fact that I had been thinking just that and asked if she had seen the new psychiatrist.  She had in fact.  “I had to fire her too.  Stupid as the day is long.  She didn’t even listen to a word I had to say and wanted to take me off the medications I’m on and try new ones that I used to be on a long time ago.”  Then she was back to whimpering, inconsolable babbling.

She texted later asking why I never talk to her, never call her, don’t care about her.  Her text went on to say that she knew it was because of her “mental condition” and the fact that she always cries whenever she talks to me.  She said she knows her sadness is hard for me because I’m not a very kind or compassionate person.

I know I shouldn’t have, but I wrote back.  “The crying is actually preferable to your meanness”.  Of course this infuriated her, as I knew it would.  She spat back defensiveness every which way from Sunday about how she has no idea what I’m talking about and how she is the kindest person in the history of humankind, not a mean bone in her body, wouldn’t hurt a fly, nicest sweetest woman on the planet, blah blah blah, and calling me all kinds of names.

Last week, walking along a busy city street, my head down to avoid the wintry wind in my face, I watched the sidewalk cracks slip beneath my steps.  “Don’t step on the crack or else you’ll break your mother’s back”, that old childish rhyme taunted in my head.  I didn’t alter my steps one way or the other.  Neither purposely treading on nor evading the sidewalk cracks.  But the cracks are unavoidable, inescapable.  My mother has fallen through the cracks her entire life.  Not sick or dangerous enough in any significant way to ensure treatment, if there was actually any treatment for her malady.  So she has wallowed in the vacuous space of misery of her own making for 74 of the longest years.  I, too, have fallen through the cracks, sometimes in my attempt to side-step them and other times in defiance, deliberately pacing my stride to crush the crack, if even metaphorically.  A dance of missteps I think we are both losing.

 

Posted in family of origin | Leave a comment

hockey harmony

We are well into the hockey season here.  Well, my hockey season anyway.  Two of the three teams I play on are killing it.  Good games, great competition, and plenty of wins.  That third team though, the women’s team, is limping along, with only 1 in the win column so far.  Not that the rest are all losses, mind you.  They aren’t.  We’ve had several ties.  I feel good about how I’ve been playing.  I have not let in more than 2 goals in any game.  Not that I’m absolving myself of responsibility for not winning.  We are a team.  We play and win or lose (or tie) as a team.  I’m simply acknowledging something that used to be much more difficult for me – feeling good about myself.

As for fitting in and belonging?  Well, that always takes time, doesn’t it?  On this team we’re all just getting used to each other.  I’m still the newcomer.  The other 10 or so players have been playing together for between 1 and 5 years and they all gel as a team already.  They have their shared experiences, shared history, private jokes and camaraderie that have all developed over time.  I’m new to them and they are new to me and we’re all just getting to know one another.  I’m not trying to rush it.  I’m simply acknowledging and noticing.  Sometimes it’s awkward, I find myself quietly sneaking out of the locker room more quickly than I probably should after games.  I’m not good at small talk or inserting myself into group chatter and banter.  I haven’t been invited out for after game drinks or appetizers yet, even though I know they have their favorite *watering holes* as it were.  Not that I’d probably join so soon anyway.

There is no question of *belonging* on the men’s teams I play on.  I don’t.  I’m not sure there is any one specific reason, as there are actually a million reasons.  And I’m just coming to accept that for what it is.  Whatever modicum of connection I do find there is lovely, but I’m not tearing myself apart grasping for it.  More on that another time though.

I think my issues with belonging are different (not better, worse or harder, just different) than other people.  Most people begin life already belonging in some ways.  To begin with, babies belong to their own body.  Whatever trauma, transition, experience birth and babyhood are, children encounter life in the presence and comfort of their physical being.  This isn’t necessarily the case for trans-people.  At least it wasn’t for me.  I never felt like I belonged to or in my own body.  From as early as I can remember my body felt wrong, too tight, clenching, irritating, uncomfortable.  I felt like two separate beings somehow – a body and a being.  And my being felt claustrophobically crammed inside my ill-fitting body.  That discordance from the very beginning was always part of me and my experience, an emptiness, a yearning, an aphoristic discomfort and disconnection.  As it turns out, I have always looked outside myself to fill this vacuity.  Now though, as I become more aware and aligned with who I actually am, I am beginning to coalesce with an integrity that is more self-sustaining.  It isn’t that I necessarily feel connected with, like or identify with my body now, I just seem to feel more congruent.  There doesn’t seem to be the constant chafing.  That recipe is definitely part acknowledgement, part acceptance and part testosterone.  And while it still may not be pretty, easy or smooth, I am glorying in this newfound peace.

When last I wrote about the women’s hockey team I had just told my two teammate acquaintances that I am transgender.  Though they had no qualms about having me on the team, and they didn’t think other members of the team would have any issues with me being on the team, they hesitantly asked if I planned on setting out that admission as my entry to the team.  When I said I wasn’t planning on it, they both seemed to sigh with relief and admitted they thought it was probably a better idea to keep my gender status under wraps for now.  One of them offered to anonymously call the league offices and ask if there was an actual policy, and if so, what it is, for clarification sake.

She reported back to me that there is no definitive or written policy for the league and that the person in charge she spoke with suggested, rather off-handedly, “self-identification” as a measure of belonging in the league.  If I identify as a woman, I could play.  Or something along those lines.  I mean, not to put too fine a point on it, it is called a Women’s League.  I get that, but at the same time I found myself feeling a bit let down.  I think what disappointed me was the lack of thought put into the non-answer and the ready acceptance of it.  I guess I’m just used to women and women’s sports being a bit more capacious, thoughtful and inclusive when it comes to addressing and processing new and unusual situations.  I was hoping also that the criteria might be a bit more expansive.  Not that the rule is actually a rule or that it is enforced in any way.  It’s all very theoretical and esoteric.  Not unlike my gender identity as it turns out.  I’m not sure what to do with the fact that I now know I don’t actually meet the supposed criteria for participation.  I suppose I’ll keep playing and see how things feel.

And participation notwithstanding, I do feel a small sense of beginning belonging on this team.  At the very least and on the very concrete surface level; we share similar hockey-playing skills (ie: we are not very good), are of similar physical stature (not big enough to take a hit from someone over 5’7″), are similar ages (read that: OLD), came to the sport at similar times in our lives (not to be repetitive, but to reiterate: OLD) and all of us have a similar passion (bordering on obsession) for the game.  It’s a good start.

 

Posted in everyday stuff, no man's land | 1 Comment

of celebration and service

I know it’s been a long time since I’ve written here.  Months in fact.  I’m sure I’ll come up with some viable excuses at some point.  It isn’t that I don’t want to write or that I don’t have anything to write about.  I think about writing every day (pretty much).  Some days I even sit down and begin two or three different posts.  But for some reason I can’t seem to write more than a few sentences.  I go through periods where I feel, well, for lack of a better word, unqualified to write a blog about my life.  I know that may sound ridiculous.  Who is more qualified to write about my life than me?!  Maybe *unqualified* is the wrong word.  What seems to be preventing me from writing right now (and this feeling has happened in the past when I’ve gone long stretches without writing) is a pervasive feeling of insecurity that borders on self-enmity.  Stemming from a deep-seated fear of leaning toward a narcissism that might be hereditary.  I am so terrified of becoming the narcissistic blabbermouth that is my mother, I’d rather not write at all.  And even were it not to be considered narcissistic, pedantic people get on my nerves.  And goodness knows I don’t want to be one of them either.  As I find myself telling Nina frequently, “No one likes a know-it-all.”  And really, no one does.  Who do I think I am, some kind of life-expert, to be dispensing some kind of faux-fortune-cookie wisdom?!  I am so inexpert at living my own life it is laughable to think I should write about it or that anyone would want to read about it.  What could I possibly have to say about my own unskilled, in some ways rather pedestrian life that won’t make me cringe the next time I read it?  And if I’m writing for others, what is it about my bungling maladroit misadventures that is even compelling?!  I don’t know.  

Still I feel directed if not destined to write, and even with all that said, I begin again.  I’ve passed another *Kaleidoscope Life Anniversary*.  Which neatly coincides with another anniversary of my birth.  I may not be getting better at celebrating my birthday, but I am finding I’m getting better at being authentic about it, having a modicum of integrity with it.  As it turned out, my birthday this year fell the day after Yom Kippur, a day on which I work a blistering regiment of 7 hours of standing to lead religious services that are sometimes beautiful and sometimes excruciating and even sometimes soulful.  But no matter how meaningful the day is, I am exhausted at the end of it, wrung out and psychically threadbare.  For the first time in 20 years, I had the wherewithal to  follow the insight born of repeated failings, and take the next day off.  Which, as I have already said, was my birthday.

My only intention was to have a quiet calm day.  And to avoid being a big fat disappointment to my family (who always want to joyfully celebrate my birthday even though I always want to evade, deflect, ignore and reject any such offerings or suggestions).  More than that I didn’t plan.  I spent some of the day reading for pleasure and some of the day reading about bread baking.  I coerced Ursula (my sourdough starter) into making a few loaves of bread.  For my birthday, Emily bought me a marble slab specifically for kneading dough on, as well as a professional lame (a bread tool), to make those lovely decorative slashes on the outside of artisan loaves.  Engaging in the creative process was, as always, invigorating.  Like making soap, there is something in the chemistry (or is it alchemy?) of kneading dough that brings on a Zen-like state of being.  The knowledge that this day’s bake was entirely for charity seemed to nourish my soul and elevate my spirit even more.

The evening of my birthday I’d promised one of my besties that I’d help her out.  She’s one of those amazing, gifted teachers who teaches with her heart.  A kid in her class has deaf parents and it was their back-to-school night and my friend wanted to make sure her student’s parents could participate and engage and feel welcomed.  She asked if I’d help with communication.  Sure, why not?  Well, maybe because it’s your birthday and maybe you want to have a celebratory dinner with your beloved family?  I thought about that before I said yes.  And I was afraid Emily would be angry with me for choosing to be elsewhere on my birthday night.  It isn’t that I didn’t want to spend time with Emily and the kids.  And it wasn’t that I was simply avoiding celebrating my birthday (though I’m sure there was some of that involved).  I told Emily that we could have a lovely dinner the following night (which was a Friday and we generally have a lovely and relaxed family dinner for Shabbat anyway).  As it turned out, Emily was fine with my plans.  That night was Nina’s back-to-school picnic (something I can barely tolerate) and Emily felt like it was birthday gift enough to let me not attend.  I love how Emily really knows me 🙂  Anyway, I went and interpreted as best I could.  My rusty signs notwithstanding, the family was incredibly grateful to be able to talk with their daughter’s teachers and take part in the back-to-school night more fully.  Their joy at simply being included was contagious.  I felt buoyed by their happiness as they basked in pride over their daughter’s work-ethic and accomplishments.  All in all it was a perfect way to spend my birthday.  I fell asleep that night happy, trying to put into words the important life-lesson I felt I’d learned.  Something about not being put on this earth to celebrate ourselves, but being on this earth to journey with and be of service to others.  I’ll have to remember that the next time I’m feeling down.

Posted in almost off the grid, blessings, everyday stuff, in the spiritual realm | 7 Comments

saw her standing there – another long one

My mother has lived 1500 miles away for over 20 years.  She comes to Boston once a year, a few weeks in the summer, and stays too far away to be convenient for visits.  Convenience being a relative term of course.  I think I saw her once two summers ago.  I’m not sure I saw her at all last summer – her visit having been interrupted by one of her tantrums, after a fight with the one friend she still had (an old high school boyfriend she likes to torment every so often), after which she ended up changing her flight (for an exorbitant amount of money) and flying home early.  Usually she flies, her husband and the dogs trailing behind in the car, arriving a few days after her.  This trip though she rode in the car, her husband deeming she was not quite fit to fly alone.

I have minimal contact with my mother for lots and lots and lots of reasons.  Since our 12 years of no contact, I’d say we now speak by phone once a month or so.  I have certainly pieced together in the last year and a half the fact that she is *not well*.  Though what that actually means in real life is harder to pin down than mercury.

In addition to having mental illness, my mother has always been a fairly creative and agile hypochondriac.  Her hypochondriasis has intensified in recent years as both her anxiety and her age have risen proportionately.  I have learned from a life lived with her to discount at least three quarters of her somatic complaints out of hand, knowing they are phantasms of one kind or another.  With the last quarter being exaggerated magnifications of microscopic ailments (papercuts being referred to as gaping wounds).  But I have no idea at this point what is real, what is imagined, what is fear or what is intentionally contrived for attention and dramatic effect.  Our last 3 or 4 phone calls have been strange, though not completely out of character.  She has simply cried inconsolably, babbling like an overtired child on her end of the phone as she recounts various calamities she has endured.  She claims to fall down whole flights of stairs, breaking ribs, toes and wrists, at least weekly.

What I do know for fact is that she sleeps.  A lot.  I know she cries a lot.  I know her husband has hired *caregivers* to be with her while he is at work.  I don’t know what these *caregivers* actually do or who they are.  She has referred to them as her babysitters.  She has referred to them as her friends.  She has also referred to them as her maids.  Without being in more frequent contact with her, I have no idea what is really going on.  And I’m not willing to be in more frequent contact with her.  As I’ve said, to nauseating extremes, contact with her is not for the weak.  Even texting with her is an exercise in frustration.  I am no longer surprised by text messages from her that are strings of indecipherable gibberish, a line of nonsense letters.  I stopped calling after receiving those texts because every time I did she swore she had no recollection of sending me a text.  When I would direct her to look at her phone (offering incontrovertible proof) she would burst into a stream of sobbing psychosis, claiming to have blacked out.

I received several of these nonsensical texts as they drove up the coast.  I ignored them.  She finally texted three days in, “Took an Uber home. Delirious.”  With an eye-rolling sigh, I texted her husband to ask what was up and if he and the dogs were ok.  Mother called me 25 seconds later.  “Why are you checking up on me with my husband?!” she chided.  When my response was a steely reference to her text, she sighed dramatically and said, “I was joking for Christ’s sake.  You have absolutely no sense of humor.  You never have.”  But then she launched into a discursive description about how she’d gotten a temporary crown on one of her teeth before leaving and how in the course of the 3 day car ride both that crown and another temporary bridge both broke, fell out, snapped in half, she swallowed one, half choked to death on the other and was now in excruciating pain and missing a good half the teeth in her mouth.  “Ok,” I said, “See you when you get here.”

I didn’t hear from her for several more days and when she finally did call she sounded groggy and drugged.  Again, not out of character, but.  She said she “desperately” wanted to see me, but explained that she took a “major fall” out of the car when they arrived and her “entire body was bloody and beaten and bruised.”  She also claimed to have knocked several teeth out in that fall.  “In addition to the broken crown and bridge?!” I asked incredulously.  She hesitated.  Clearly forgetting the details of the story she’d told me.  She decided to ignore the blip, telling me that she’d been in town a few days and had been sleeping since her arrival.  She asked what the children were dressing as for Halloween, bursting into tears when I pointed out that it was July.  And she ended the conversation by telling me how exhausted she was,  that she needed to sleep and that she’d call me in a few days when she felt better.

She called a few days later asking if she could see me and the kids.  She still sounded a bit befuddled, but better than she had in the last phone call.  I told her directly but nicely that I was hesitant to let her see my children before I’d had the chance to spend time with her myself, explaining that her rather erratic and dramatic behaviors were not something I was comfortable exposing my children to.  She reluctantly acquiesced.

I wasn’t prepared for what greeted me.  Shuffling what appeared to be dropsy feet, she approached me as I got off the elevator.  Her skin seemed loose, wrinkled and grayish in pallor.  Even her hair and nails seemed straw-like, dry and brittle.  Could this be the fierce tornado-esque woman who ruled in chaos and spread fear in the hearts of those who knew her?  This certainly was the oldest 74 year old I had ever encountered.  Frail and fragile, she barely reached out to hug me as if afraid of unbalancing herself.  Her feet did not leave the carpet as she led me at a glacial pace down the hall to the apartment where she was staying.  She literally walked as if there was lead in her several-sizes-too-big shoes.  Her arms tucked in to her sides at the elbow, her hands held limply out in front of her.  “What’s with the walk?” I asked.  “I don’t know,” she said, “Jerry says I’m shuffling, but I don’t think I am.”

She screamed at her dogs as she opened the door, “Get the fuck away from me you son-of-a-bitching assholes!” She swatted at them with unsteady hands.  “Now that’s more like it,” I thought to myself.  She gingerly lowered herself onto the couch, telling me, without much affect, about her poor health, her falls, her visit with Peter.  There was very little emotion and even less liveliness in her being as she talked, in run-on non-stop sentences, without taking a breath.  She looked to me like she was mummified, corpse-like, rotting from the inside.

I spent less than an hour with her.  Thankfully her husband Jerry was there to take up the slack in the conversation.  For long periods she would space out, staring off blankly, devoid of even a hint of either intellectual functioning or vitality.  When she did join the conversation it was to ask for clarification, offer something totally random and irrelevant or to ask the most basic questions (my children’s names, ages, birthdays).  She apologized to Jerry for “missing his birthday” and promised to get him a gift soon.  His birthday, the same date as her beloved mother’s birthday, is in January.

I left with very mixed feelings.  It was so strange to see this once all-powerful emotional giant weakened, withered, wasted.  In moments I felt pity.  I also felt sadness.  For her, for me, for whom I wasn’t sure.  There were also, though I am ashamed to admit it, flashes of “what goes around comes around”, shrugging at the karmic consequences she has laid out for herself.  I felt somewhat disconnected, unaffected, like watching a faraway scene of impending expiration.

She slept for 3 more days before calling and asking if she could see my children.  I suggested a brief, early dinner at a restaurant and reminded her she needed to behave without antics or hysterics.

I only brought the older girls, leaving Emily home with Ruby.  Again I found her to be vacant and shuffling dully, zombie-like and lifeless.  She followed conversations with troubled eyes clouded by confusion.  She asked repeatedly if people – us, the waitress, people at other tables – were talking about or laughing at her.  She took only 2 small bites of her shrimp before crying out in pain and grabbing her mouth with both hands.  Through clenched jaw and gritted teeth she claimed to have broken (yet another) tooth.  She began to whimper pathetically, rocking in her chair and muttering to herself.  The girls looked to me for guidance.  “She’ll be fine” I said noncommittally.  With her teeth awkwardly clamped, making her look and sound like a caricature of Marlon Brando, she said, “Yesh, I’ll be fine.”  She sat quietly without eating through the rest of dinner.

I’m not sure what to make of it all.  I’m not sure how to feel.  Jerry called me to say that he thinks she has Alzheimer’s.  I’m leaning more toward either Parkinson’s or medication toxicity.  But that doesn’t address how I feel about watching the significant and pitiable decline of a once malicious and mean-spirited parent.  While I don’t feel obliged to get involved or help in any concrete way, I do feel compelled to be kind and gentle with her.  My anger seems to have evaporated over these many years I have spent creating my own life.  It will undoubtedly be interesting going as this plays out.  Glad I have you (readers) journeying with me.

Posted in family of origin, feelings | Leave a comment

half-hearted-half-measures

“Don’t do it.  Don’t do it.  Do NOT hit the reply button.  Hali, just don’t.” the little voice whispers inside my head as I scroll through Facebook and see random Trump-sympathizers’ comments.  The cacoethes is familiar.  The urge to explain reality to a fabulist too reminiscent of attempting to argue with mother.  There are no facts.  There is no foundation on which to base anything.  The target is phantasmagoric, like trying to hold smoke between pinched fingers.  I am so weary of fighting the *good fight*.  I am tired, exhausted, by it actually.  I do not expect (or even want) everyone to believe and think as I do.  But I would like a civilized dialogue and a modicum of accountability for certain realities.

I heard back from our city’s LGBTQ liaison regarding the city pool.  She wrote to say that she’d met with the head of parks and rec and that they were, quote, totally up on the city and state ordinances.  She went on to say that she had plans to tour the pool herself and said she’d get back to me after that.  True to her word, she wrote back a few weeks later, happily reporting that she’d seen the facility, spoken with the manager and provided a training for the pool staff.  Aaannnd we’re all set, she said.  I can simply sign in at the front desk as usual and then use a side entrance – telling the people at the desk that I have “Tom’s permission” to do so.  Easy as pie.  Right?

Well, I guess so, I mean, er, I think, well, actually, ahem, um, “we” are not all that set though really.  I mean, it appears that “I” might be “all set” perhaps, but what about other people?  There must be others who do not fall so neatly into the gender binary, who don’t know that they have “Tom’s permission” (if in fact they do).  What about them? What should they do?  And how will they know what to do?  And well, not to be too dismissive or ungrateful, but what, exactly, has really changed?  I mean, other than the fact that I don’t have to explain myself in technicolor detail repeatedly?  I can simply use the password, “Tom sent me” or, “I’m a friend of Bill’s” or “abracadabara”.  At first glance here, I’m sorry to report that it doesn’t actually seem that the pool has gotten any more welcoming for *people like me*.  But perhaps once again or still I am asking for too much, going beyond the endurance of others’ tolerance, asking for more than I deserve.  Isn’t it enough to be permitted?!  Must I be acknowledged and welcomed as well?!

 

As it turns out, I actually went to the pool with my older girls recently.  It was a hot and sunny Tuesday (my day off) and they were both itching to cool off in the pool, so I sucked it up and took them.  I had no intention of swimming with them, glad to know they would entertain themselves and each other while I sat poolside looking pretty.  I hadn’t ever noticed before that there are rules for pool attire that are clearly stated: No street clothes. No t-shirts.  Appropriate swim attire (which is entirely subject to management discernment).  I felt reasonably comfortable with my prepared defense that I wouldn’t be actually swimming.  And I mostly doubted that I’d be called out for my shorts and t-shirt apparel.  I decided to skip the coded authorization and simply walk with the girls through the women’s side.  There was a gaggle of teenie-boppers behind the desk playfully posturing and romping in cheerful camaraderie.  I didn’t want to bring down the lighthearted mood.  Read that: I was too ashamed to call attention to myself or give them something to make fun of once I turned the corner to use my special side-entrance.

I walked quickly, head down, through the locker-room, leaving the girls to change into swimsuits, promising to scope out a bench.  It wasn’t nearly as bad as I’d recalled from previous visits.  I felt, in all honesty, a bit dramatic for having complained.  I found a bench poolside in dappled sunlight and plopped myself down with the towels and goggles.  There was a woman at the end of the bench also wearing street clothes and I felt an affinity toward her.  She looked to be in her 30s, with a pleasant demeanor and air of joyful energy about her.  She wore fashionable shorts, a white cotton blouse and extra large sunglasses that made her look a bit anime and fun.  Her hair was thinning and her skin was a flawless coffee color.  Her jewelry was stunning and she had lots of it.  I’m an admitted chatty charlie, so of course I struck up a conversation with her.

We began talking about the weather and the heat, moving on to our mutual disinterest in public pool swimming – both confessing to be somewhat germaphobic and referring to the pool as a petri-dish.  She laughingly, self-consciously, referred to her rapidly thinning hair, jokingly blaming the responsibility of parenting rambunctious boys.

Our conversation was interrupted by several shrieking whistles heralding a *pool announcement*.  The speakers crackled with the proclamation, “Sun-Camp swim is now over.  All campers please leave the pool and meet your counselors under the clock.  God bless America.”  For half a heartbeat I thought they said, “God bless America”.  That’s strange.  I must have been mistaken.  A bit jerkily, my new friend and I resumed our conversation.

 

Not even a half hour later the whistles blared again.  “Anyone wishing to take the ‘deep end’ swim test, please report to the ladder area. God bless America.”  There it was again.  I felt my face contort into something like a confused sneer.  I watched as others went about their business, conversing and moving about as if nothing odd had happened.  I cocked my head like the RCA dog and said out-loud but sort of to myself, “What’s up with the God bless America thing?”  Patricia (my new friend) said, “Yeah, creepy right?  But don’t ask me.  I’m new here.”

Bolstered by her agreement, I turned to ask the person on my other side if they always add the *tag-line* “God bless America” to every announcement and she said they did.  She shrugged her disapproval while saying it was a longstanding tradition at the pool and she had no idea why.  “But no one questions it?” I asked.  While one woman not too far away gave me the *stink-eye* as loudly as she could (we know on what side her opinions fall), someone walking by overhearing the disbelief in my voice piped in, “Yeah, it’s their ‘thing’. They always do it.  Kinda weird, but whatever.”  I.  Was.  Stunned.

Kinda weird but whatever!?  Am I living in a different country than these people?!  Do they not see the problem with this blind, weird, creepy, tag-line patriotism, given the current political climate in this country and the veritable war on immigrants declared by our quasi-fascist government on a daily basis?!  The children removed from their parents and placed in cages?!  Do they not have any concept of the required separation of church and state!?! The child of someone sitting near me came over to me and said, “Why do you think it’s stupid?”  To which stink-eye-lady gave me a smug, “HA! even a child can see you’re an idiot!” look.

I was still quite disturbed later that night after I’d gotten home.  I posted something about it on Facebook.  A dozen people responded pretty immediately that it was gross and not appropriate.  Even a republican friend (yes I have one) said it was out of line.  “Once a day I can see” he wrote, “Thank God no one drowned! God bless America! But after EVERY announcement?!”  A friend living in Georgia wrote that it would be “odd” even there in the conservative South.  She smartly suggested I write or call and simply be curious, asking what the history of saying, “God bless America” after every announcement was and how it came to be.  So I did that.

religious liberty

I got no response to my gentle curious email.  In the meantime, I visited the pool with the kids again.  I approached a teen-aged lifeguard on break.  I asked about the tag-line-prayer and she smiled enthusiastically as she told me it’s “just a thing” that they do.  As if it were some cute “May the force be with you” kind of jingle.  I asked if she knew when, where and how it originated and she didn’t.  She said something like, “Sweet right?”  And I couldn’t help but say no.  I explained that I found it problematic.  And before I could proceed I could see her tense.  I didn’t bother to explain myself.  She wasn’t listening.  And anyway, she was on break.  There were only 4 announcements that day.  And yes, they said it after each one.

A friend suggested I call City Hall, so I did.  Even though I was beginning to feel like an asshat for making such a big deal out of something so seemingly trivial.  The gentleman who answered the phone at city hall was lovely.  He sounded gay, if one can *sound* gay.  He was extremely receptive and clearly surprised.  He asked if I’d called parks and rec, telling me that while he will pass on my complaint, he would suggest I call them directly as this is in their purview.  Before I got off the phone with him, I tried to explain that I wasn’t simply complaining.  That I really was questioning, wanting to dialogue, wanting to hear and be heard.

I called parks and rec and got a much less amenable reception.  The woman who answered the phone could not understand, and therefore asked me repeatedly, WHAT the PROBLEM was.  I asked what the origin of the tradition was and she suggested I contact the pool manager directly myself.  I asked if she knew why they continued to add, “God bless America” after every single announcement and she said, “Because they’ve always done it.”  I tried to explain that “we’ve always done it” was an extremely poor argument.  She asked why, and I asked if her doctor still used leeches.  She put me through to her boss.

Her boss’ eyes rolled so loudly that I could hear them.  “What seems to be the problem” was the kindest opener she could muster.  She also used the “we’ve always done it” excuse.  But when I wasn’t having it, she changed to “The courts responded to the complaint we had last year and found that the recitation of the prayer was not in violation or infringement of anyone’s rights and therefore they are allowed to say it.”  I was so stunned I was speechless.  In my momentary silence she offered to send me a copy of the court documents, asked if there was anything else she could help(sic) me with, and said, “Have a nice day” as she hung up.

Well I’m glad we got that cleared up.  I sat, phone in hand, staring dumbly into space.  I know I am not alone in thinking this was creepy and not ok.  But am I the only one who thinks it heralds something more sinister?  Am I just a crazy apocalypse-prophesying hysteric?  Or is it truly one of those slippery slopes that begins by normalizing abnormal little things and before you know it you’re in full fascist mode?  Fintan O’Toole wrote an interesting article about this on a much larger scale.  I’ll leave you with his words.  I’m sure I’ll come back to this, but for now I am WAY over my self-imposed 1200 word limit.  Once again, thanks for reading.

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part of me

I’m sitting with some depression right now.  Sometimes I say I’m *struggling with*.  But in my current state, I am simply sitting with it, watching, observing it.  And I’m not completely sure whether it is dulling my mind or actually slowing it down enough to clarify.  I’m learning about myself (none too quickly I might add) that depression comes and goes.  It is simply a part of my makeup, who I am, who I have always been.  In whatever incarnation of me I’ve been, depression has always been there (alongside my other friend and constant companion, anxiety).  So I’m trying to just be with it rather than struggle against it.

I’m at an interesting point in my journey.  Somewhere between neither here nor there.  I’m surprised to admit that I actually feel just fine with that.  I’m appreciating, if not always enjoying, being in the moment more.  I’m ok with not rushing to be any specific person, place or thing.  Or however that saying might go in reference to me.

It’s too bad not everyone in my life is finding my current state quite as copacetic as I am.  Being on the in between side of neither here nor there seems to be disconcerting to some folks.  And I’m not quite sure how to respond to their discomfort.  Of course, part of me wishes to ease their distress.  That part of me wants to alleviate the suffering of those around me.  Especially the suffering seemingly caused by me.  That part of me wants to comfort and soothe, with context, explanation, confession and elucidation.  That part of me wonders what has taken me so long and what I am waiting for and why I haven’t already addressed the elephant in the room of *what is going on with me*.  Would it kill me to clue people in?  Share a little bit of myself?  Be more transparent?  Be more open?  Help calm everyone’s fucking nerves?

But then there is another part of me that feels like I don’t actually owe anyone anything.  This part of me, protective of me first, wonders why I have to explain myself as a way of comforting others’ discomfort with me.  Why should I feel the need to explain myself, as if having to make myself more palatable, to anyone?  This part of me wonders why it is my problem that others are uncomfortable with who I am or am not and why it is my responsibility to fix it.  This part of me doesn’t really give a fuck whether or not I fit into someone else’s boxes or, clearly narrow, limited and limiting definitions of who I am or can be.

But I don’t like making people feel uncomfortable.  I feel badly to be causing others unease.  I am ashamed to be such an antagonist, wreaking perplexity and discomfiture in my wake, anathema to people’s status quo.  I don’t want to cause people angst, leaving them feeling awkward.

But I’m not causing shit!  If people are incommoded by my being, that is their own narrow-mindedness.  These people need to get over themselves, if they can’t get over me.  My being is not offensive.  I am kind and considerate and well-groomed.

Oh for fuck’s sake.  Is this what it comes down to?!

Twice at work in the last month I have contended with or otherwise endured incidents of others’ distress – allegedly because of me.  One happened when the person thought I was out of earshot, when she said (what I considered snarkily and sarcastically), “Whatever gender we’re going with these days” to someone else.  That comment hurt.  It stung.  It was shaming.  And I felt ashamed.  Much later in the day, once I had gained a modicum of confidence back, when I’d shirked off the self-loathing to some extent, I asked (via text) for clarification of why she might have said such a thing.  She responded that she meant no harm, no hurt feelings.  She said she was simply acknowledging the fact that she wasn’t entirely sure what pronoun to use when referring to me and that she was trying to be respectful by addressing it head-on.  I didn’t exactly experience it as respectful as it turns out.  Nor have I ever asked her or anyone else to refer to me by any specific pronoun.  I’ve taken a *choose your own adventure* kind of posture when it comes to how others address or refer to me.  I have never requested nor have I corrected anyone’s pronoun reference to me – he, she, they or otherwise.  So this dilemma of hers was of her own making.  Not mine.  Part of me felt like her comment was uncalled for, simply mean.  Part of me wondered why the incident had happened at all.  Why was my gender orientation even in question to begin with?  But part of me understood the awkwardness of my current non-state of gender.  Why am I not providing some guidance for others so that they are not stuck in the not-knowing-discomfort?

On the other such occasion, a member of our team sought out and asked someone from another department, who happens to be an acquaintance of mine, whether I was taking hormones.  This co-worker said she’d noticed a difference in the tenor of my voice and thought that might be the case.  When my acquaintance-friend demurred, shrugging and saying she had no idea, this person persisted.  Three times did she ask whether this other person knew if I was taking hormones.  Three times did the person have to say, “I dunno”.  This friend-colleague-acquaintance came to me shaken and upset.  She wanted to know if I wanted her to go to human resources to report the person.  I sighed heavily.  Having added two more to the list of angst-ridden wounded on my account.

Part of me wanted to go find the questioner and just tell her myself.  What does it matter who knows what?  Part of me does understand that as I change, people are curious about what is going on.  Sometimes because they care and sometimes because they are curious.  Part of me also understands that not everyone is questioning my status because they are mean or nosey jerks.  Perhaps people want to know what’s going on so that they can simply support me and be on the same page and not make mistakes that might cause me distress.  But the other part of me doesn’t understand why I have to explain anything.  I’m not asking people to change the way they interact with me.  I’m not asking for additional support.  I’m not asking anyone to use different pronouns, to be or say or do anything differently or out of the ordinary.

The understanding part of me understands the well-meaning behind noticing changes.  Lots of people notice haircuts or new styles, new clothing or accessories.  Many people comment when they notice a change in someone’s weight (loss mostly, because commenting on someone’s weight gain is considered rude in polite society).  People notice changes in people they care about.

But some *noticing* and commenting is intrusive.  Can you imagine asking someone how much money they earn?  Or what they spend their money on?  How about these:  How often do you have sex?  Do you masturbate?  How often do you move your bowels?  Do you fold or scrunch your toilet paper before using it?

I’ve hit my 1200ish word limit, so I’ll stop for now.  I’m still not at all sure what to do about well-meaning curious folks who are feeling awkward as they notice changes in me.  I’m not up for, nor have I ever been interested in, being other people’s window of opportunity for learning.  I’m no poster-child.  Part of me wants to ignore it altogether and go on living my life.  Let folks have their concerns, questions, queries and discomfort.  I am under no obligation to explain myself.  The other part of me wants to address the curiosity directly by acknowledging people’s inquisitiveness (bordering on intrusiveness) and stating clearly (albeit gently) that it is none of their actual business.  And a third (though much smaller) part of me does feel obligated to explain something.  No guys, you are not going crazy.  I’m not sure which part of me will win out.

 

 

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