I have been asked, second or third hand mostly but, more and more lately, what pronouns I prefer.  Part of me is fascinated at this growing trend regardless of its personal application.   Unrelated to me, I am aware that in the world in general,  pronouns and the inclusion of “they” (related in a New York Times article that the Merriam-Webster dictionary announced “they” as word of the year) as a singular pronoun reference is more widely considered, known and used.  Related to me, I am wondering if external changes in me are more observable than I acknowledge or am aware of.  I’ve said repeatedly here and other places that the internal changes in me are big but the external changes seem insignificant, infinitesimal.    I look in the mirror daily and see plain old me staring back.  But maybe there are changes and they are more perceptible than I know.  At one dinner party with friends over the winter holidays I was asked 3 times (not directly) what pronoun I wanted used.  Asked three times, in the span of under 3 hours, must be some kind of record.  And the answer is?

In addition to my sentiments of curiosity, I have other feelings that crop up when I’m asked about my pronoun preferences.  Depending on the day, my mood, patience or shame level, I hem, haw, splutter and dodge.  For the most part I avoid engaging in this discussion altogether.

The cynical part of me feels like it’s a setup.  Sure, I’ll play along.  I choose what pronoun I prefer and set that parameter.  Then I have to experience people messing up, forgetting, stumbling and using another pronoun repeatedly.  I’m forced to endure awkward apologies and the discomfort of others which I have seemingly caused by my request.  Sounds like fun.

The shame-filled side of me is, well, not to put too fine a point on it, shame-filled.  By any pronoun to tell the truth.  She has always felt yucky to me.  Always.  It has never felt right.  Now it feels just plain antagonistic.  He has never been mine to have/use, so that feels wrong as well.  I feel fraudulent and dishonest.  Like a sneaky child who might, at any moment, get caught out and exposed.  And they feels so millennial I just can’t even.  I’ve been in conversation with other trans-guys my age who say the same thing.  There is some form of embarrassment in each of the choices.  Nothing feels right, like it fits, like it belongs to me.

The irritated part of me wonders why I have to be the one to decide anyway?!  How hard can it be to simply refer to me as Hali and cut out the pronouns altogether?!  But I know it is not nearly so simple.  I recently edited my brief bio for work and removed all the pronouns and it was a tedious and persnickety project.  It was hard to make it flow smoothly and not sound like a it was written by 12 different people playing mad-libs on several different pages in languages they do not speak.

When I play hockey, and I am standing in net, I often talk to myself.  Don’t judge.  I do this to keep myself focused and my nerves at bay.  I have to say, I keep up a patter of commentary worthy of many a sports commentator.  Sometimes I talk directly to myself; coaching suggestions, feedback, reminders and the like – “come on dude, focus!” or “keep on your edges sister”.  Other times I will do a color commentary of the game being played in front of me.  When commenting on a play coming toward me I will refer to myself in the third person, as just another player on the ice.  “The goalie is in position.  He/She at the front of His/Her crease.”  I play with the pronoun options just to get a feel for each.  No matter which pronoun I use it feels incorrectly applied, weird and silly.  The person I am speaking about is not me.

The sociological dorky, lazy, conflict-avoidant side of me wants to just say, “CYOA” – Choose Your Own Adventure.  Let the speaker choose what pronoun I am gendered with based on their experience of me in that specific moment.  I think, given the work I do and the people I interact with most, I may be able to fathom this slightly more easily than the average person.  Most of my day is spent engaging with people with some level of dementia.  I have had patients gender me he, she and they all in the course of one interchange without so much as batting an eye.  One of the patients a few years ago, talking about a poorly dressed cis-male physician said, “He looks like a rumpled bed!  But you!  Look at you!  You’re a man who knows how to dress.  And you’re a mother and I bet you would never let one of your children out of the house dressed like that.”  People with dementia are not more limited, they are less constrained.

But back to the point… All sarcasm and humor aside, there are other reasons I like the CYOA answer.  One, it takes the onus off both me and the other person with whom I am speaking and lets us simply talk without any weird pressure.  Two, quite frankly, I’m more interested in having a conversation.  The awkward hesitation, pause, focus on my pronoun interrupts the flow of the conversation in a way that is unnecessary and irritating.  I’d rather focus on the topic of conversation than on my pronouns.  Third, If someone uses a pronoun to identify me that doesn’t sound or feel right to them they can simply use another one the next time they are referring to me.  That seems so simple and beautiful.  Not to mention creative.  And it isn’t like there is any single answer that is comfortable for me.

This dilemma seems to be coming up more and more lately.  A combination of social awareness and the changes in me.  I’ve been wondering if people are feeling less comfortable with “she”, which is one of the things making this a dilemma.  So of course it makes sense that I can say, “choose your own adventure” more authentically because more people are on the same page as I am – not entirely sure, not comfortable with either.

So, is it cowardly or a copout to keep avoiding making a decision for myself?  A good friend really pushed me.  Asked me over and over again to really think about it and go deep inside and push away the shame.  If I’m totally truthful, I suppose I prefer he.  “I could get used to he I think”, is how I phrased my response.  But I quickly followed up with a disclaimer.  Except that I don’t want to have to explain myself to anyone listening who might question it because my shame and anxiety would be off the Richter scale every time.  I also don’t want to be the one to set the rule.  She challenged me about letting others set parameters for me, letting others “control” me, define me and make decisions for me.  I hadn’t thought of the pronoun dilemma in quite that way.  That’s something I’m going to have to sit with and contemplate for a while.

For now I’ll just let people choose their (and apparently my) own adventure.


Posted in no man's land | 2 Comments

easy to forget – girl erased

I knew it might happen at some point.  I just didn’t know when.  And what, exactly, I expected, I’m not sure.  But this wasn’t it.  I’ve been at my job, the same job, for 22 years, working in a relatively small community.  I work with the frail elderly and their families.  And having been there so long, I knew the day would come when I would start seeing the children of former patients find their way into my care.  It’s happened a few times in the last few years.  Faces from the past, on slightly different bodies, ambling down the hall in the echoes of familiar step.  So far those few meetings have been homecomings of a sort.  Whispers of the past making their way into new stories.  And no one is at all surprised that I’ve kept their mother’s photo on my bulletin board of beloveds all these years.

So this time the surprise wasn’t in seeing her.  Only the barest traces of her mother, but still I recognized her.  Remembering Esta’s name was easy.  Her daughter’s name, not surprising, nowhere in the recesses of my mind.  It was actually in the context of my second job, helping a colleague with an activity, so I wasn’t leading a religious service or otherwise in my exact work role.  But we were in the building where my full-time job is, where Esta lived the last years of her life.  I approached her daughter and said, “I remember your mom.  She was here.”  She turned, face alight, expectantly, “Yes! Yes she was.”  Her smile faded as she squinted to look at me and I watched her own mind draw a blank.  She asked, “You knew her?”  I said, “Oh yes, who could forget Esta?!  She was quite a dancer.  And her smile was radiant.  She was stunning that woman.”  Her daughter’s face softened, a faraway look in her eyes as she, too, recalled the elegant, regal woman who was her mother.  “But how did YOU know her?” she asked, back from her daydream.  “I’m the chaplain.”  I think I even may have said my name.  Try as she might though, she couldn’t place me, couldn’t  remember.  “There used to be a woman here.” she said.  “I remember her.”  I was happy to see the hint of a smile light her face.  “But I’m sorry,” she said shaking her head and looking at me,  “I don’t remember you.”

There was a story my grandmother used to tell, about my mother when she was a teenager.  My mother begged and begged and begged for the 45 single of the 1950’s classic,  “Am I That Easy To Forget”  My grandmother, ever eager to please her demanding daughter, went to the record store repeating the name of the song over and over so she wouldn’t forget it.  A salesman in the store tapped her on the shoulder and asked if he could help her.  She turned to face him and rather abruptly blurted out, “Am I that easy to forget!”  To which the baffled man said, “I’m sorry ma’am, do I know you?”

cleo remembers me

Posted in blessings, feelings, no man's land | 5 Comments

feeling good in the neighborhood

We had an impromptu family dinner out the other night, which was kind of fun.  While we eat dinner together as a family every night, we rarely go out to restaurants.  Partly because of money, and partly because of instilling certain values in our children and partly because we have a 3 year old with whom dinner at a restaurant is particularly unpleasant.  But the summer was coming to a close and we realized that it would be Joita’s last family dinner at home before heading back to college and, well, we decided to spontaneously splurge.

We went to our favorite local restaurant; a family-friendly authentic Irish pub close to home.  It’s a sweet place with amazing food and decent prices.  Not that I feel overly comfortable there to be honest.  I mean, we all know that I don’t feel particularly comfortable out in public anywhere.  But this is a place frequented by blue-collar workers stopping for a quick drink before heading home after a long day at work (at least at the time we tend to have dinner – remember, 3 year old), so it is more understandable that I feel less comfortable there.  And, not to sound paranoid, but I feel as though I can hear the eye-rolling and sneers when I walk through the bar area to the restaurant.

At any rate, as I said, we don’t go out much and the last time we were at this dining establishment was before their big renovation a year or so ago.  As we walked from home we wondered together about what might be different.  We tried to guess whether they had changed the layout of the dining area and if they had made anything handicap accessible (while Joita can do stairs, the 3 or 4 steps to get in prevented any wheelchair user from eating there and we were aware of that).

When we got to the pub we noticed right away the new signage and the new handicap entrance (even though we went in the front door with the stairs).  The bar, still dimly lit and crowded, didn’t look much different.  The dining area was expanded with better lighting and new posters (mostly for Guinness and Jameson).  They had also gotten new tables and chairs – though still rustic and rather dark.  We took a booth near the kitchen, animatedly discussing the differences in the place, as well as the differences in each of us.  Joita is going into her sophomore year of college.  Nina heading into tweendom.  And Ruby nearly potty trained.

As always, the waitstaff was pleasant and the food was fantastic.  We laughed and shared stories and jokes.  The picture of the perfect family.  As the meals were consumed, Ruby announced she needed to use the potty.  Emily, who’d been parenting her all day already, looked to me with a beleaguered expression and said, “Can you take her?”  My brief hesitation of irritation overtaken by understanding the exhaustion of spending an entire day with a 3 year old.  I get it.  I really do.  3 year old energy is particularly draining.  I know they say “the terrible twos”, but I say fuck that!  Parenting a 3 year old feels a little like being held hostage by a tiny torturer on LSD.  Still, I was irritated.  Even for a moment.  Public bathrooms are so hard for me.  And the place was packed.  I wish Emily would get it even a little, what it’s like to have to use a public bathroom as a trans person.  I tossed my napkin onto the table in defeat.

As I pushed out my chair I internally prepared myself for the awkwardness of people watching me enter the women’s bathroom and absorbing their curious judgments.  There is always a twinge of fear that someone is going to stop me.  Or worse.

So Ruby and I, hand in hand, made our way through the crowded maze of tables.  As we turned the corner into the dimly lit hallway that held the restrooms, I saw that it, too, had been renovated.  Instead of separate “men’s” and “women’s” bathrooms, there was now two “all gender” bathrooms!  The old bathrooms were small and each had a few tiny cubicle-like stalls and a single sink.  The new bathrooms were spacious and lovely and private.  It was not only such a relief as a trans person, but it made dealing with a small child so much easier as there was much more space to move around and be able to help.  I practically skipped back to the table unable to stop smiling.

Ruby didn’t make it much longer at the table.  In fact, she couldn’t even wait for the waitress to bring the check.  So I offered to get a head start walking home with her.  We made our way back through the restaurant through the bar and though there was a line literally out the door, I stopped at the hostess area and asked if I could speak with a manager briefly.

The manager made her way over to me looking nearly as beleaguered as Emily had and asked how she could help me, clearly prepping herself for complaint. “It may not matter to 99% of your customers” I said, “but the fact that you have gender neutral bathrooms means so very much to me.  I just wanted to say thank you.”  Before I finished, her eyes filled with tears and she pulled me into a fierce hug.  She whispered, “I’m so glad.  You made my day.  You are always welcome here.  Thank you.”  I thanked her again and we left.


Posted in blessings, feelings, no man's land | 2 Comments

yet another “out of the mouths…”

Every so often a conversation, or even a snippet of a conversation, poignantly strikes so on the money that I have to pause, reflect and write it down.  And very often even laugh.

So as anyone who knows me knows, I play a recrementitious amount of hockey, a sport I am clearly obsessed with.  I mostly play on men’s or open men’s (meaning they are coed in theory but only men play in reality) leagues.  I’ve written plenty about my experiences in the locker rooms and sometimes even on the ice.  Generally I’m treated like “a great gal” by the guys playing.  Though most probably don’t give a second’s thought to my gender or personage.  We are all there for our love of hockey, the thrill of friendly competition, a good workout, and the need to be able to function at work the next day.  We’re there to play hockey, not have tea, gossip or, truth be told, make friends.  The time on the ice and in the locker-room doesn’t foster chit chat anyway.  Heck, we barely know one another’s names!  I play goal, and most people refer to and address me as “goalie” or “keeper” or simply, “keep”.  As in, “Nice game Keep”

During one of my games last week my defense got taken for a ride, coming up short and in the far zone when the other team’s forwards had a break-away.  I both love and hate breakaways.  I love the exhilaration of one on one competition, facing off against an opponent in single combat.  And I hate it because the odds favor the shooter and not the goalie in those situations.  This time I came out of my crease and faced him directly.  I didn’t back down too early and I followed him the whole way to the net.  I dropped down into a butterfly position just in time to take his shot on my leg pad and stop it.  All you really need to know in this instant is that I blocked the shot.

Loud banging on the boards from my team sitting on the bench ensued.  My defensemen skated up mere seconds after the shot.  One apologized for leaving me hanging.  The other punched my leg pad with his stick and said, “Atta girl”.  He skated in a circle around the net and punched my other leg pad with his stick and said, “Atta boy”.  And skated halfway to the blue line before skating backwards toward me.  When he was nearly close enough to bump into me he said over his shoulder, “I should have just asked. Which do you prefer?”

I.  Was.  Stunned.  At a total loss for words.  I had no idea what to say.  I was so taken aback, so unprepared, I just gaped after him as he skated away.  I found enough wherewithal to say, “thank you for asking”.  I didn’t want it to be as awkward as it was and I didn’t want him regretting having asked or beating himself up for asking and getting only a dumb stare.  I smiled.  But I don’t know if he caught it behind my helmet and cage.  He shrugged and skated off and then the game resumed.  I was a bit embarrassed, but also felt seen, or at least acknowledged.

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sounds of silence

In my house growing up we had a Steinway upright piano that held a sort of sanctified status.  It was drilled into us constantly and repeatedly that this was a musical instrument (of epic proportions) and not a toy.  If we were to even consider approaching it, we were to do so with the reverence one might use when approaching a saintly figure.  We were not to twinkle on it willy-nilly.  We must be engaged in actual lessons and therefore be utilizing it for practice.  Hands were to be clean and no drinks or foods were to be brought within an approximately 5 foot radius.  And placing a drink upon it was a crime so heinous the thought would never have entered our minds.  In its Buddha-like state of Grace, it remained throughout my childhood as I off and on took lessons or otherwise practiced and honed my natural lack of talent.  And it is with a similar obsequiousness that I treat my own piano in my adult home.  I have children and I don’t necessarily want them to be afraid of music or instruments in the same way I was.  But it is indeed a slippery slope.  We have a 9 year old who has begrudgingly taken piano lessons for several years, who sometimes (even fairly often I might say) throws tantrums over forced practice, sometimes resorting to banging harshly on my deified 88.  We have a 3 year old who likes the tintinnabulation of running her hands over the keys as she runs along the keyboard.  Lighthearted but heavy-handed.  One or two of the sharps or flats have succumbed to those youthful endeavors.   I am both proud of the music my children have teased from the keys and horrified at the abuse I have allowed my cherished instrument to bear.  That shame and guilt have prevented me from calling the piano tuner.  And the longer I go without calling, the more the shame and guilt increase and the less likely I am to call.  And the more disrepair my piano falls into.  And so the cycle goes.

It is more than just the power of inertia.  And I hope that by speaking its name, I might dispel some of the shame.  So it is with writing here I think.  Maybe I can kill two proverbial birds with one blog post.

I’ve been thinking about writing a lot lately, but it seems every time I sit down at the computer my mind goes suddenly blank.  Summer is at the halfway point and I have to say I’m appreciating the noticeable albeit still slight reduction in angst over my body and clothing.  Sometimes I still look in the mirror or merely catch a glimpse of my reflection as I pass a pane of glass and am saddened, angered, shamed by what I perceive as a caricature of myself.  But those sometimes are far less frequent than they used to be.  Either I’m not looking so closely, not noticing, or caring less.  I seem to be developing a different relationship with who I am.  A new beginning of sorts.

So life goes inexorably on.  I have clearly made a decision to adopt a *don’t ask don’t tell* approach to my gender and hormonal changes.  No big disclosures or announcements of preferred pronouns as email signature.  No meetings with the human resources department at work, registry of motor vehicles or other such legal documentation of difference.  Basically no one is asking and I’m not telling.  And so it is I don’t even know if anyone notes any changes or differences in me.

Then I had plans to go out of town for a few days and needed someone to watch Cleo.  A doc at work with whom I have been friendly, who has a doggie relative of Cleo’s, offered to take her for the weekend.  I packed up Cleo’s overnight bag and brought her to work with me to drop her off.  I hadn’t seen this person in several months and, in keeping with my don’t ask don’t tell policy have obviously said nothing to her.  I brought Cleo to her office and started to thank her when she jumped up from her seat at her desk with almost theatrical exaggeration and said, “Oh my gosh, are you sick?! What’s wrong with your voice?!”  I stammered a string of syllables and she said with more than a hint of preposterous comedy, “You sound like a MAN!  Are you somehow becoming a man?!”  And then she laughed and laughed as if the thought was so fantastic she’d invented a whole new genre of humor.  I momentarily stopped stammering in my discomfort at being the butt of a joke I was not prepared for and stood silently, face burning.  I couldn’t even muster a companionable grin.  I may have, with a mumbled negative syllable, denied becoming a man.  I’m fairly certain she didn’t even notice her gaff, never mind my awkward lack of response.  Her knee-slapping laughter slowed and she wiped her eyes with the back of her hand as she turned her attention to Cleo.  And with that, the awkward and uncomfortable (for me) encounter was over.  Perhaps people do notice the changes.  I  hope not everyone finds them quite so hilariously farcical.  I know I don’t.

Posted in feelings, no man's land | 3 Comments

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.



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.



Posted in everyday stuff, feelings, no man's land | Leave a comment

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.


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