response and responsibility

I often know when something is not going to end well, when an idea, even in it’s germinating state, is not a good one.   We all do.  Those are the moments when my inner voice urgently entreats, “no good can come of this“.  Why I don’t heed this voice immediately I will never know.  I must be some kind of special idiot.  After more than a decade of absolutely no contact with my mother, I let her convince me that a teeny tiny bit of contact would be fine because she had seen the error of her ways and had changed.

I have always felt overly responsible.  Whether it was last year’s drought in Somalia or the starving children in Burundi (who somehow were supposed to benefit from me finishing my dinner), things were either my fault or up to me to fix.   That is as much in my genetics as my upbringing.  I am a type-A personality and a Virgo through and through.  But there is certainly more to my obsessive responsibility than nature.

Specifically and in general, I saw my mother’s state of un-well-being as my responsibility, if not my fault.  My mother’s emotional instability ruled our house.  Which meant we all lived in constant readiness (fear), waiting for that ever-present other shoe to drop.  Just about anything could send mother over the proverbial edge.  It was my role in the family to keep her from going over.  If she couldn’t find something she needed, if she stubbed a toe, cut herself, or got a scrape; if there was a spill, unexplained rip, tear or stain; if something didn’t go according to (her) plan, I had better find it, fix it, set it to rights.  Any of life’s little mishaps could set her off into paroxysms of explosive hysteria.  The reality was that my mother was (and is) mentally and emotionally unstable and there was/is no such thing as setting her or anything in her world to rights.  But for some reason I didn’t realize that.  I thought other mothers behaved this way too.  I honestly believed it was both my responsibility and within my power to calibrate her, regulate her, keep mother happy and calm and sane.  Which I only learned in adulthood was a futile, hopeless, impossibility.  Not to mention thankless.

It’s hard to describe, or sometimes even remember the tantrums now.  It’s hard to explain to others how terrifying it was.  An example that stands out in my mind:  One time, she bought herself fancy glycerin soap.  One of her many small indulgences.  The first time she used it in the shower it slipped from her soapy wet grasp.  When she bent to pick it up she banged her head on the faucet.  When the soap slipped from her hand a second time and she bumped her ass on the soap holder jutting out of the tile wall all hell broke loose.  She shrieked a blood-curdling howl that could have easily bested Jamie Lee Curtis.  With the ululation still reverberating in the back of her throat, she tore the glass and mirror sliding-shower-doors from their runner, hurling them across the small bathroom, to shatter on the floor in millions and millions of tiny pieces and shards of razor-sharp glittering glass.  More wailing and bellowing ensued, peppered with foul language that would have made a sailor blush, and palpable vitriol filled the house.  I had to find a way to get her safely across the floor and out of the bathroom.  Never mind having to figure out how to clean up that much glass.  That kind of tantrum-induced destruction and carnage was common.

The tantrums were epic and horrible.  But the constant threat of havoc hanging in the air was just as hellish.  While my father and brother each found ways of physically escaping, I was paralyzed.  I stood dumb, rooted in my place, like drivers on the highway unable to look away from the scene of an accident.  The difference between me and the highway gawkers was that I believed the “accident” was my fault and the clean-up my responsibility.

I felt challenged as well as burdened by the task.  I believed I could best my mother’s demons, saving her and us from the constant cloud of calamity that was ever-present.  I just had to do the right thing, devise the right plan.  I tried to predict, outsmart and head off any potential pitfalls and possible catalysts, that might let loose the impending doom.  I followed and created rules by which to live in order to keep that all hell from breaking loose.  I tried to imagine that the rules would keep me safe.  Yeah, Sisyphus was safe too.  But no matter how hard I tried to be good, to follow the rules, the conniptions came.  I was disappointed in myself every time.  Believing that if I just tried harder, if I were just a little bit smarter, better, faster, more well-behaved, funnier, craftier, I could have distracted her if not prevented it.  It became clear to me that the failure and fault were mine.  If only I’d done something differently…

As an adult I see that I was mistaken.  The peregrination of my adult life has been trying to figure out exactly what is and what is not my responsibility.  And that is a very hard thing.  Especially if you’re me.  As a child I felt both powerless and powerful.  It was all my fault, all my responsibility, but nothing I did was right.  It was so confusing.

In the few months I’ve been back in touch with my mother it has been an interesting game(sic) of who is responsible for what.  I must say that I have handily declined responsibility for her not having a relationship with my children (her grandchildren).  I have calmly reinforced the facts that had she been able to control her behavior or her temper she might have had a relationship with them, but unfortunately for her she had not.  I have calmly and repeatedly stated that I am not responsible for HER behavior or HER losses.  I’m definitely getting better at this.

Then her friend E (her only friend) died.  Now, E became my mother’s friend back when I was in high school when my mother had an affair with E’s husband.  No, I am not kidding you.  As I have said many times, you cannot make this shit up.  So my mother had an affair with E’s husband, which broke up their marriage.  And then subsequently, when my mother broke up with E’s then-ex-husband, she called E to commiserate about what an asshole he was.  This, of course, cemented their friendship (go figure).  And E and my mother have been friends ever since.  Regardless of the fact that my mother ruined her marriage, E was friends with my mother.  Regardless of my mother’s antics and drama, E has been her friend.  Despite my mother’s theatrics, and sometimes because of them (for the sheer entertainment value), E stayed friends with my mother.  Over the last several years they haven’t been as close or in touch as often.  But still, they were friends.

E died a few weeks ago.  I’d seen her a number of times over the last several years as she battled cancer and was in and out of hospitals (including the place I work) as both an old family friend and as a chaplain.  When my mother texted me to tell me E had died I had just found out myself.  A brief text interchange took place.  My mother told me in no uncertain terms that she was devastated.  I thought about calling her all that day or texting to see how she was doing, just to check in.  But I didn’t.

The next day I got a text from mother basically telling me I was a piece of shit.  She said I was a horrible person and a mean rotten daughter to have done nothing – not so much as a stinking text inquiring how she was, knowing she’d lost her only friend in the world.  After all the shit I had dumped on her these last few months (I have no idea what she was referring to, though I can only assume it was the the *burden* of telling her than I am trans), the least I could have done was to attempt to console her.

Well well well where do I even begin?  I know I am not responsible for her feelings.  Nor am I responsible for taking care of her or even comforting her.  But I like to think I am at the very least a decent human being.  Had anyone else lost their only friend in the world I most definitely would have (at the very least) checked in with them, sent condolences, blown them a kiss via text.  I feel badly that I didn’t even do that much.  Not that I am beating myself up for it (which is a big step for me in the right direction).  Instead I sent her a response text saying: I’m sorry you’re in pain and that you lost your friend.  For what it’s worth, I’m sorry I didn’t check in on you yesterday to see how you were.  It would have been kind of me to do so.  I am unclear however, why you need to lash out and spew anger or why you think that is an option.  It is neither an option nor a need.  Please choose another target.

sigh.

 

 

Posted in family of origin, feelings, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

co-ship

We had an interesting discussion with a friend at dinner the other night that sparked some interesting thoughts and feelings for me.  Emily’s friend Annie is a total sweetheart.  She’s a kind and very good-hearted person who has had more than her fair share of tough breaks.  Her partner of many years, with whom she has a child, left their relationship a few years ago.  And then in that same year Annie was diagnosed with breast cancer.  In that time she also lost a job.  Like I said, it hasn’t been easy for Annie.  She seems to be coming out the other side, but the going is still rough for her.  Anyway, she and her daughter (Nina’s age) came for dinner.

Now, as an aside and just to give you some background here, I would classify Emily as a *non-dealer*.  This is, of course, just my own classification system and there is no judgement, good or bad or right or wrong intended.  In my system, being a *non-dealer* means that if something is difficult or painful, Emily (in complete harmony with her family of origin) tends to act as if it simply isn’t happening, going about her daily business as if nothing is amiss, until it either goes away or becomes a crisis.  I saw this most clearly when Emily was diagnosed with breast cancer 5 years ago.  She was positively dispassionate.  She showed little connection to her cancer or the treatment.  I mean, the woman could have slept in once or twice or even whined a tiny bit!  She missed work exactly 2 days in two years of pretty grueling intense treatment.  But that’s just who Emily is.  This example is definitely the pro side of *non-dealers*.  *Over-dealers*, on the other hand (at the opposite end in my system), tend toward owning, living and sometimes wallowing in whatever difficulty they are encountering.  Annie tends more toward *over-dealer*.  She clung to her diagnosis and her cancer like a badge of honor.  She joined cancer groups and then survivor groups, going to cancer conferences and retreats.  Pink ribbons and “survivor” t-shirts abound and cancer defines Annie as much as her career, religion or personality.  It’s interesting, to say the least, to see Annie and Emily together.

At any rate, after dinner when the girls had gone off to play, Annie was telling us about the most recent conference for cancer survivors she’d attended with a relatively new girlfriend.  She told us about the workshops, the camaraderie, the spirit and the work of the conference and the many attendees.  She also told us about a new-ish category dubbed “co-survivor”.  Annie’s girlfriend adopted and eagerly owned this role of co-survivor even though she didn’t know Annie when Annie was diagnosed or treated for her cancer.  Annie shared with us her discomfort in a sort of “do I have a right to be irritated” kind of way at what felt like her girlfriend’s appropriation, annexation or perhaps hijacking of the survivor role.

Annie was saying how hard it was for her to listen to (never mind offering support or comfort to) her girlfriend’s sharing the burdens  and pain of co-survivorship with her.  Her girlfriend, who we’ll just call Kate from now on (because it is the first name that came to my mind just now), was wanting (or needing) to share throughout the conference week how difficult and painful it was to be a co-survivor.  And she shared her hard feelings with Annie.  Kate kept talking about her fears and her sadness etc with Annie (to the exclusion of Annie’s feelings as an actual survivor).  And Annie was like, “What the fuck?! I’m the one who had cancer?!”  She didn’t begrudge Kate the feelings she was having.  She just didn’t feel that SHE (Annie) could be the person Kate came to for that support.  Was she wrong for that?!

As Annie talked I found myself not only understanding what she was saying, but also feeling a similar thread beginning to take shape in my own life.  Yes, it was hard to be the partner of someone going through cancer and cancer treatment.  For so many reasons.  It was hard and painful and terrifying and exhausting for me.  Emily got all the cards and good wishes, the best of everyone around us.  And forbye, she gave the best of herself to everyone else.  It was only with me she could let herself fall apart.  With everyone else she was a strong superhero able to leap tall buildings and all that.  Watching her be so upbeat and imperturbable with others while saving the pain and heartbreak for me was hard.  Watching someone I desperately loved go through chemo and radiation and operations was agonizing, especially knowing I could do nothing to make it any better or easier.  Fearing that I would lose my soul’s love to this awful disease was excruciating and terrifying.  But I shared not one whit of any of those feelings with Emily either during her treatment or after.  Don’t get me wrong, I got plenty of support from dear friends during that time.  And I unloaded my burdens on Joyce and Sheila plenty and often during those years.  They listened to me cry and rage and whine and complain.  They laughed with me, cried with me and validated my reality as well as cheering me up and on and never faltering by my side.

But even if I didn’t have friends like them, it was never an option (in my mind) to share any of my difficult feelings about Emily’s cancer with Emily herself.  With Emily I was strong and calm, encouraging and supportive.  I wasn’t wonderful or perfect.  But I do have to admit those were some of my finer hours as a partner.  No matter how scared or depleted I was, I put on a brave face for Emily.  I guess I just figured she had enough on her plate, what with having to deal with actually having cancer.

As Annie was sharing how hard it was to hear and navigate Kate’s pain and difficult feelings about her cancer, I was sure and clear that I had done the right thing by not burdening Emily with mine.  And then something else clicked in me.  I realized that I have been having similar feelings being trans with a partner who is struggling with it.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am NOT comparing being transgender with having cancer.  What I’m saying is that the emotions and their ramifications have some similarities.  It isn’t like I realized I’m transgender and skipped to my lou like a dog with two tails living the damn dream.  This revelation has been painful, shame-filled and earth-shattering for me for several years now (please note the more than 100 whining, cringing, frightened and pain-filled posts on this blog alone!).  I have been wrecked and elated and everything in between.  This epiphany has bordered on apocalypse and rocked me to my very core.  And as I navigate all these minefield emotions myself, I can’t listen to or be supportive or understanding or comforting of the hard feelings Emily is having as a result of my proclamation.  I cannot shoulder the burden of someone else’s hard feelings because of me in addition to navigating my own emotions.  Does that make sense?

I’m not at all saying Emily isn’t entitled to her painful and difficult responses, reactions, pain and suffering in response to my disclosure.  I can imagine it would be staggering to be a lesbian in a lesbian relationship and then to find out who you thought was your female spouse actually identifies as male.  What a mind fuck!?  Her feelings are completely reasonable.  I get that.  And Emily has every right to her hard feelings (even if those feelings were not reasonable).  What I’m saying, similar to what Annie was saying about Kate, is that while Emily is entitled to her feelings, I am not the person she can or should go to in order to share her feelings and get support and or comfort for them.

I’m sure there are other arenas in life in which this dynamic happens.  Divorce for example?  In the meantime, it felt very ataractic to come to this understanding and to set a mental boundary.  There was something liberating, absolving me of my guilt and shame at not being able (or willing?) to be responsible for sorting out and taking care of such multifarious  and complex emotions that complicate my own.  In the event of an emergency, put your own oxygen mask on first before helping others?  Grist for the mill for sure.

 

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

enemy mine

Ever since reading Hillbilly Elegy something has been niggling at me.  It isn’t that I related to the poverty, misery or even the daily life situations of the hillbillies in Appalachia.  What I related to and what bothered me was not even 1% of the book and I would venture to say 99% of people who read the book missed it.  What struck me most was his difficulty (which he only mentions a few times and even then briefly) in forming and maintaining his own significant adult relationship.  Because his upbringing was fraught with adversarial and antagonistic primary relationships, he had no foundation on which to understand and then build a solid adult relationship.  And well, I totally related to that.  Being in a relationship with me is not for the faint of heart.  I know that.  It isn’t that I’m high maintenance necessarily.  It’s more like on any given day I am a piece of work.  I am my own exclusive battlefield.  Live my personal life as if on the front lines.  I am always on the defensive.  I am always postured and prepared for insult.

In many ways, I am my father’s son.  My father was gregarious and charismatic outside the house.  He made friends easily, was funny and fun to be with.  Most everyone liked him, considered him a friend.  At home he could be surly and distant.  He was quiet and kept to himself and had exactly zero patience.  He showed my brother and me a lot of affection but little of his feelings, who he really was inside.  Here’s a hug, ruffle your hair and go play outside kiddo.

I am a lot like my father.  I am gregarious and superficially friendly out and about, but prefer to be alone, quiet and keep to myself at home.  I love my family very much.  I am demonstrative with my children, but I do not share my deeper self with them or anyone else.  When I get home from a long day of constant and forced relating to others, the things I want to do most are crawl into a globulous amorphous cocoon of sweats, hunker down, and knit or read.  Preferably without interruption.

I’m just beginning to understand these behaviors as problematic; that just as much as I hate being interrupted out of my silent swaddle, my family hates my distance.  They genuinely want a piece of me, a real piece of me.  Which, for some reason doesn’t make any sense to me.  I’m hoping that it is through learning and nurture that I developed these poor habits slash defense mechanisms and not via inherent nature that I’m like this.  I understand that I’m not all that pleasant (to put it mildly) to be around at home.  I know this, because that’s how I felt about my own father.  I’d like to do something to change.  But change is hard when behaviors are based in fear and necessity, having developed for good reasons.

I learned to be like this, to protect myself, especially from those closest to me.  My mother is intrusive and without boundaries.  She is competitive, compulsive and critical.  She is also mean.  She is the epitome of a child mid-tantrum – saying or doing whatever they think will hurt others the most.  Her mentality of – anything I could do she could do better – only worked when she could outdo me.  If she couldn’t she would shame me into not wanting to do whatever it was I could actually do better.  I learned very early on that anything I said could and would be used against me.  If I shared a secret or a yearning I could be guaranteed it would be thrown back in my face as a reproach or to belittle me.  Being no dope I learned to keep myself secret.  My inner army always poised against breach.

My father was only slightly better in that at least he wasn’t mean or petty.  But his distance was palpable, painful, and told me in no uncertain terms that I was a bother most of the time.  He came from a home and culture that believed in “toughening kids up” by teasing and irritating and intentionally trying to aggravate them — albeit playfully(sic).  I believe the theory behind this was to learn how to deal with adversity at home from the people who supposedly loved you before having to face it in the harsh cruel world.  Not sure how well that worked.  Really, we didn’t do feelings as a family at all.  As kids if we were happy and joyous we were loud and obnoxious and told to simmer down.  If we were sad, we were told “don’t cry, it makes mommy sad”.  We were diverted from disappointment and distracted from difficulty.  Feelings just weren’t in the curriculum in our house.

My parents’ marriage was like a sparring match for half-desired dominance.  They weren’t a team.  They weren’t friends.  Gibes and digs, snipes and sarcasm made up the bulk of their relating.  Often it was done “in jest” and honestly they could be quite funny sometimes.  But as Shakespeare and others have told us more than once, many a true word is spoken in jest.

That playful bickering was also inherent in certain social strata of the times.  Lucy and Ricky were always going at it in just that same way.  The Brady Bunch was a constant battle of the sexes.  Actually, Nina recently stumbled upon a Brady Bunch episode and rolled with laughter.  I watched next to her horrified.  There was a scene in it where Mike and Carol realize they have to share a closet.  They set a hook in the exact middle of the closet so that each gets half.  They then spend the entire episode sneaking, first one then the other, into the bedroom to move the hook so that they get more room.  Of course it ends with Carol in tears because she needs more room for her *pretties* and when Mike gives in Carol looks duplicitously into the camera to show she’s actually played him like a fiddle.  It made my skin crawl.

The lessons I learned from my parents’ relationship?  Never let down your guard.  Even at home.  Any slight is intentional.  Especially at home.  There’s a weird kind of comfort zone when we experience as adults the environments we grew up in.  Even when they are toxic.  I’d feel more comfortable, confident, know how to respond if Emily would be snarky and mean to me.  When she is nice to me I am just suspicious and feel off balance.  When she goes out of her way for me, instead of “thank you” I respond “why”.

The best things Emily can say to me (and she probably has to say them far too often for her liking) are: I didn’t do it on purpose and It wasn’t intentional.  I’m open to the idea that she is telling the truth.  Or, at least to give her the benefit of the doubt.  Recently she found a soup slash chili recipe that I loved – healthy, delicious, veggie happiness.  I expected her to never make it again once I told her how much I liked it.  But she did make it again.  The third time she made it she used roasted corn (which I hate) and it completely ruined the soup for me.  I was sure she’d done it on purpose.  I know it’s stupid and petty and ridiculous and I’m embarrassed to admit it.  But there it is.  That’s how I expect to be treated.  In addition to Emily telling me that she didn’t do it on purpose or with any intent at all (it was all we had in the house), she went out the following day and bought all new ingredients to make the soup.  Just for me.

It’s going to take a lot of deep breaths and reprogramming, but I’m determined to try.  It is going to take a lot more effort, energy and intentionality than I am used to.  I’m going to have to choose to hear and experience things differently, to not believe the worst, to not let an insult fall into the rut of my brain that says ON PURPOSE.  I am choosing to do this because it is important to me and my family.  And because I believe I can change.

 

 

Posted in family of origin, feelings, my own worst enemy, relationship | 3 Comments

fevered writing

Excerpts from a letter to Tracy and thoughts of a fevered mind:

I’m home sick.  Sick again or even sick still.  I’m not sure which.  Nor do I even care at this point.  I do know that I’m quite sick of being sick.  Clearly my immune system has shit the bed, given up the ghost, left the building, without a word or backward glance.  So long sucker.  I need something beyond the gimmick of gummy vitamins that promise to “boost your immune system!”  I ate an orange.  What more must I do?!  Though I will say, in a small (embarrassing) act of rebellion I bought a large bottle of One A Day daily vitamins – FOR MEN, about 8 months ago.  Every time I would take them for a few days in a row (I kept forgetting to take them….not being used to taking daily vitamins, being ashamed that I bought men’s vitamins, who the fuck knows why else) I got strep throat.  I had strep 3-4 times in the last year.  Damn those men’s vitamins!

And it hasn’t been just strep.  Three weeks ago the stomach bug blew through our house like vomit dominoes.  I could have at least lost a little weight for all my misery.  As someone at work likes to quip, “I’m just one bout of the flu away from my goal weight”  The only one not affected was Joita, who was able to escape to M’s house while we all writhed in our own nausea-induced agony.  The baby (thankfully) slept for long periods of time, clearly worn out from the puking (ours? Hers? Who knows!).

So Friday I had a little throat slash chest tickle.  I ignored it and went about my business.  By Saturday afternoon I was coughing like the heavy smoker I used to be.  I couldn’t breathe and my lungs felt like they were on fire.  By Sunday my fever was 102.7.  I took Advil cold and cough but it did nothing.  I took Tylenol.  Nothing.  Delsym cough syrup.  Nothing.  I did call the on call doctor because I was afraid of having a fever so high.  The internet reports, you know, that fevers in adults between 102 and 103 could be dangerous.  No more dangerous than Emily’s concoctions of elderberry syrup, honey lemon hot water, or hot toddies, bless her heart.  But the doctor on call said it sounded viral and I should wait it out, drinking and resting as much as possible, alternating Tylenol and Advil by turns.

So while I’m thankful that I didn’t have to go into the city to see someone,  I’m home unhappily “waiting it out”, trying not to lose my mind, contemplating my demise, and trying not to get involved in the chaos happening downstairs – Emily burning popcorn and Nina having a tantrum or Ruby demanding in a high-pitched whine to listen to Philadelphia Freedom for the millionth time.  I slept so much yesterday I’m not that tired today.  I’m not good at waiting.

It’s so hard to focus when you have a fever this high.  I mean, it’s been a little hard to focus on any one thing.  Like right now I can’t really remember what was so pressing that I had to write you.

Oh, right… So I had my yearly physical last week (that one week when I was actually healthy).  Met my new PCP.  Not sure what happened to the old one.  Moved on I guess.  This new one was fine, though hardly compelling.  I mostly end up seeing the NP who I totally love, so I don’t care that I’m not ga ga over this new person.  She asked about gyn exams and whether I would think about having one (have not had one in 7 years).  Also said it was time for a colonoscopy.  My irritation was building.  I was liking her less and less.  What is the compulsion to stick things in me?!  Is this a test?!

Lastly she brought up hormones and asked if testosterone was still “on the table” for discussion.  This perked me up.  We talked about testosterone in general, a conversation I feel like I’ve had many times with various providers over the last 2 years, with no definitive answer.  I told her that Emily isn’t exactly “on board” with the whole idea.  Actually, it isn’t that Emily has forbidden me or that she is dead set against it.  She says, in a most disgusted way, “Do whatever you need to do Hali”.  Hardly a ringing endorsement to be sure, but not a definite no either really.  Anyway, the doctor suggested testosterone gel/cream as opposed to shots as a sort of compromise.  The Compromise part being that the results are much slower and less obvious for a long time with the cream.  And apparently a lot of guys start with cream for this exact reason – partners who are not exactly on board.  The doctor said that the cream is definitely slower to manifest changes and added that there are, in fact, other reasons the cream is a good choice.  Cream is daily, so the levels tend to be more stable and even.  Shots are weekly to bi-weekly and tend to have definite peaks and lows.  Since one of my concerns is my rather short fuse, this was another point for cream.  The down side of the cream is that I have to be extra careful so that no one else in the house comes into contact with it.  The thought of Ruby with a beard understandably freaks me out.  It was a pretty long visit and I got most of my questions answered.  Once again, the ball is in my court.  Has it ever not been?  I’m not sure why, but I made a follow-up appointment for next month.

I’ve already done the paperwork and blood work.  I’m not sure what I expect to happen in a month or what I think I want from this next appointment.  Perhaps a sign from Above is what I’m hoping for?  In the meantime, Emily noticed that I seemed a bit happier and wondered why.  So I told her.  I said it sounded like there might be a happy medium to our dilemma.  And I explained the gel/cream thing.

It’s so hard.  I mean, I want her to be happy about it and she’s just not going to be.  Kind of like I want her to be interested in my hockey and she just isn’t.  Hockey might be a stupid comparison but in some ways it feels similar to me in that it feels like she is just being spiteful and mean.  Would it kill her to even ask about coming to see me play???  Apparently.  I know when I play she is with the kids.  That isn’t really the point.  If she would just ask, even appear to be interested,  it would make me so happy.  But she won’t.  She doesn’t like sports and clearly sees no redeeming value in them.  And because I so highly value sports her lack of regard for them feels like a direct insult to me.  But I digress.

Anyway, Emily did reluctantly shrug her shoulders and agree that pursuing testosterone cream may not be the end of the world.  Mainly I think she agreed because she is sick of me being depressed.  Still no ringing endorsement, but at least she doesn’t see it as apocalyptic, right?  I am sorry my depression has been so hard on her.  And when I think of that it makes me even more depressed.  It’s not like it has been a real picnic for me either though.  It isn’t like I’m choosing to be depressed on purpose.

At any rate, now that I’ve got the green light (sort of) I’m nervous about starting testosterone.  The first thing I’m worried about is that it won’t make me “happy” or take away my irritating depression.  Then what?!  Sideburns and male pattern baldness will most definitely not buoy my mood any.  Which then just leads me to all the other reasons I’m worried about testosterone.  Who will I be if not me?!  How will I change?  In addition to inside changes, what about outward changes?  I don’t want to look like a fool.  Does anyone actually choose to look like a fool?  The reality is that I never want to look like a fool,  but I fear I look like one regardless.  At least if testosterone made me a happy fool maybe I wouldn’t care quite so much.  No?  Part of me is very excited about the changes t might bring.  The possibility of inner alignment!!  The increase in stamina and energy.  The strength.  The muscle development.  The sideburns.  Ok, maybe not the sideburns.  Just thought I’d try to be positive.

dscn0001

I feel I don’t have anyone to share my excitement and my anxieties with.  But that’s not the truth really.  I have plenty of people I could talk to.  The strange thing is that part of me doesn’t want to talk to anyone about this.  Ostensibly I started this blog to write about these issues specifically.  But now it feels too personal, too private.  I feel shy.  Embarrassed?  Ashamed?  It’s been over a week and I’ve literally only told one person.  I’ve had plenty of opportunities to talk to friends, but I purposely have not.  At the same time, while I’m intentionally not talking about it, I can’t stop thinking about it.  Which means my mind has been on forward, reverse and overdrive.  In my fevered state, I’m thinking and imagining all kinds of scenarios, from exciting to strange to downright freaky.  At once I feel defiant and strong – I’m going to do this.  Then I feel ashamed and scared.  But what if it really does help?  What if I can be happy?  Do I deserve to be happy?  And what if it doesn’t make me happy?   And on and on and on.

This gerbil-wheel rumination leaves me utterly exhausted.  And my fever is still 102.5.  I need a nap.  Thanks for listening.

Posted in no man's land, relationship | 2 Comments

out of the mouths of…

It’s been a while since I’ve posted one of these.  And just as I realized that… one presented itself to me.  So… In another installment of “out of the mouths of”, I find that I am not at all alone, nor am I completely crazy.

Last summer I made the acquaintance of someone I’ll call Clark.  Emily had wanted me to meet her as she is online friends with Clark’s wife Dana, and according to Emily, Clark was beginning to identify as trans-ish or perhaps gender-nonconforming, or queer.  I could read between the lines.  I was quite sure I wasn’t going to like this Clark fellow one bit.  I felt the underlying message behind Emily’s desire for us to connect, that Clark was being trans the *right* way and maybe I could be persuaded.  Anyway, I begrudgingly met this guy and of course we were like twins separated at birth and hit it off immediately.  The reality being, Clark identifies very much the same way I do, so either Clark has soft-coated things for the wife or Clark’s wife has heard what she wants to hear about how Clark identifies.

In any case, one of the things Clark and I talked about was clothing.  Clark attends more formal and social events than I do and actually ended up having a suit made to fit.  Clark said it was one of the best things money could buy.  Clark said the suit fits like a glove and feels *right*.  Not to mention the boost in self esteem and curbing the gender dysphoria craziness.  Make no mistake, this is a men’s suit.  It is simply tailored to fit Clark.  Anyway, Clark changes up the shirt and tie and is good to go.  Clark gave me the name of the company and also suggested less expensive ways of going about getting a decent suit for myself.

Last week I received an email from Clark.  Clark and Dana were invited to a friend’s wedding (two women).  Clark was to be peripherally “in” the wedding and talked to the friend getting married about wearing the suit.  The friend was completely fine with it.  Clark and Dana went and Clark was awkwardly surprised to be one of the only clearly *queer* looking people in attendance.  Clark’s email said, “I felt like I stood out like a sore thumb. All the guys and kids were staring at me not knowing what to make of me.”  Sound familiar??  It got worse for poor Clark though.  After the ceremony, during the passed appetizers, a man approached Clark, complimented the suit and then said, “So, what do they call that? A gender bender or something?”  Clark was stunned and of course completely shamed.  Clark’s email went on to describe a spiral into shame and self-loathing I know only too well.  I almost cried reading the email.

It wasn’t surprising to me.  Actually it quite validated my own feelings and experiences.  I don’t think anyone intends to be mean when questioning us.  At least I really hope the intent is simple curiosity.  But the question always comes out a bit like one asking, “Why is your dog in a baby carriage?”  With the distinct air of curled-nostril condescension and repugnance.  And the truth of the matter is that we are judging those people with their dogs in strollers.  Well, at least I am pretty sure I am (though let’s be perfectly honest… I would never ask).  And I know that if I were to simply respond, “I like how I feel and look dressed like this”, the judgment might be (at least momentarily) dispelled and the questioner, who was probably only curious and not judgmental to begin with, would simply shrug and move on.  Although as I play this through in my head I realize that quite often the person doesn’t let it end there, but pushes presumptuously ahead by explaining (with the thinly veiled irritation of one explaining to a child why they cannot do something clearly stupid) that it is a MENS suit.  The problem is that I rarely have the wherewithal to not care what others think.  The question, even the hint of judgment, rattles me.  I have felt so wrong for so long, perhaps I’m not qualified to judge myself feeling right?  I’m really going to have to work on that.

 

Posted in no man's land | Leave a comment

reflections of…

I officiated at a funeral the other day.  The mother of a long-time-family-friend died.  The family is close and loving, but not part of a larger spiritual or religious cohort and therefore was feeling stuck about funeral arrangements.  I was happy to help out and genuinely like the role of providing open, welcoming and meaningful religious ritual for unaffiliated folks.  I didn’t know the mom, but knew one of her sons very well (the best friend of my uncle since grade school and someone I idolized when I was a kid) and knew that at least some of the family members were non-practicing Christians (in addition to the non-practicing Jews I’d been called in by).  So I focused mostly on making sure the Judaism in the service was accessible and engaging and that the funeral service itself was meaningful and spoke to people of all faiths, any faith or no faith at all.

I worked on the ceremony most of the weekend, but it wasn’t until the morning of the funeral that I realized, with that too familiar apprehensive dread, that I didn’t know what to wear.  I know it seems small and insignificant, and that I whine about it way too much, but not having official formal-wear sucks!  The greatest eulogy ever can go unheard because of a sloppy, ill-dressed officiant.  At least in my book.  And maybe that’s a bit over-dramatic, but I feel like it’s still true.  I also feel like I already stand out so much, I don’t want to make it worse by dressing outside of convention as well.

I chose a nice pair of dress pants, button-down shirt and my Dr Marten wingtips.  While not a suit, or even a sport coat, it wasn’t chinos or a flannel shirt.  I didn’t wear a white t-shirt underneath.  And I buttoned up the shirt to the next-to-last button.  I looked crisp if not formal.

I shouldn’t have worried overmuch.  The deceased’s sons (including my uncle’s friend) were, quite frankly, abominably dressed in ill-fitting suits, and some with sneakers.  My childhood big-brother-uncle-stand-in, now a middle-aged man, stood with an enormous belly flagrantly manifest through his suit jacket that clearly could not have been buttoned if his life depended on it.  His shirt was so tight the buttons screamed in protest and his pants were baggy, belted just under his “waist”.  The whole suit was extremely wrinkled (not to mention extremely unflattering), as if purloined from the back of his closet where it had pooled on the floor unceremoniously since the last formal occasion he attended.  His sneakers, while black, were not even quasi shoes.  His brother and other male relatives were equally poorly dressed in unshapely, wrinkled burlap bags (or the suit equivalent).  Does no one own an iron?  Live near a dry-cleaner?  Know about ZOOTS?!

The women were, as usual, wearing dresses or dress suits, looking sharp and appropriately attired.  There were a few younger men in attendance who were dressed very nicely in stylish suits and handsome ties.  I looked longingly at those.  Not only do I like the look of a suit and tie, I wish one looked normal on me.   Not dressing nicely enough or formally enough can be distracting, eliciting questions and invoking comments, taking attention away from the reason we are all there.  But so would me wearing a suit.  Instead of people being focused on my inappropriately informal clothing, they would be wondering, “Is that a woman wearing a men’s suit?” or “Why is a woman wearing a men’s suit?”  I don’t like either option.  I calmed myself by reminding myself that the reality is that I stand behind a large podium that covers much of me anyway.  And once I begin, asking everyone to breathe deeply and focus on the sacred task at hand, I’m in my zone.  I want people to concentrate and contemplate the solemnity of the moment, the life that is no longer, the bereaved and the ethereal realm where concepts of death abide, not my clothes.  But still, clearly, the whole dilemma rankles me.

After the service as we milled about in the funeral home waiting to get into cars for the motorcade going to the cemetery I noticed two young men huddled together, crying and comforting one another.  I first noticed them I think because they looked sharp in their stunning suits and fashionable shoes, handsome with their close-cropped hair and beards and goatees.  I think they caught my attention initially because they were very close to what I see when I look at myself through my mind’s eye.  Ok ok, maybe not the young part.

But as I took in the distance between us and really looked at them, I noticed something more about them.  Both men were actually also quite effeminate, clearly gay.  To be clear, it was their maleness that I see in myself, not their gayness.  At any rate, I’m not sure whether they were grandsons of the deceased and either cousins or brothers, or perhaps only one was and the other was a boyfriend or a partner.  They looked back at me with equal significance, and as we got on coats and fished in pockets for car keys they approached me to comment on the service and thank me.

I'll never grow up to be like them

I’ll never grow up to be like them

I'll never grow up to be like them

I’ll never grow up to be like them

In the privacy of my own car in the funeral procession, I thought a lot about those young men.  I wondered what it was like for them to see something of themselves (even if for them it was just the gay thing) mirrored in the person of authority, the officiant, at this poignant moment in their lives.  I realized that I never saw myself modeled in any adults in my life growing up.  No teachers or physicians, no firefighters, police officers, rabbis or bank tellers.  How sad.  And lonely.  And confusing to have no one mirror back to you what you might some day be.  No wonder I’m so confused, or that I don’t even know what to wear.  No one ever modeled for me how to be me in the world!  I never saw another me anywhere.

The realization was startling.  And at the same time, the confirmation of that comprehension also afforded me a modicum of compassion for myself.  Charting new territory can be exciting and liberating.  But it can also be lonely and arduous, a herculean task that is inexorable at times.  The tenderness toward myself has been immensely comforting, opening me up to new awareness I want to keep exploring.

 

 

Posted in everyday stuff, no man's land | 3 Comments

fine line

fine-line2I so very often feel as though I am traversing that proverbial fine line, shambling awkwardly in a zig zag over and across it: the fine line between right and wrong; good and bad; honest and deceitful; joking and sarcastic; real or imagined; feeling or fact.   We all navigate, with greater or lesser success, those very fine lines in our own lives.   I’m struggling as I have only ever struggled once before in my life, with trying to figure out how to tread this fine line; the one between hope and despair.  How can I blog about my insignificant life with it’s Lilliputian trials and tribulations when the world as we know it is on the brink of actual disaster?!  When a narcissistic mean bully who outright lies and who engenders hate has just become the most powerful person on earth, how can I focus on and go on writing about such minutia as my teeny tiny thoughts and feelings?!  I just want to fade to black and hide in the darkness until it is all over.

trump-trainAs we turned the corner in our neighborhood one day last week driving to school, and saw the sign in a neighbor’s yard with a picture of a freight train with TRUMP written on it, with the sign proclaiming, “Get on board or get run over”, Joita asked me why our side (democrats, liberals, progressives, whatever you call *us*) were continuing on our seemingly losing strategy of being, as she put it, “nicey nice”.  There *they* are threatening to bash our heads in if we don’t “get on board” and here *we* are spouting rainbows and unicorns ( I would have said farting rainbows but Emily hates that).  The whole “when they go low we go high” slogan doesn’t seem (even to a 17 year old) to be cutting it.  The worst presidential nomination in the history of America has literally bulldozed over us and we’re sitting in circles weaving flowers in our hair and singing kumbaya.  Joita asked, “why are we not fighting fire with fire”?!  Because two wrongs don’t make a right honey.  At least I think that’s why.

And in the meantime, as this all takes place on the U.S. slash World stage, I’ve still got to live my stupid little life!  I still need to get up each morning and go to work, do my job, take care of my family, house, pet, car, yard.  I still need to pay my stupid bills and taxes, shovel my driveway, do the laundry, grocery shop and prepare meals and other kinds of nourishment for my family.  And yet, the whole chicken-little-time, the fucking sky is falling!  It is a totally surreal mind-fuck.

I mean, these old folks are not going to take care of themselves you know.  The bread in our family is not going to bake itself.  And I’m still transgender and wrestling with whether or not I want to take testosterone.  Which feels insignificant and monumental all at the same time.  I remember when Nina was about 2.  She came running into our room in the middle of the night, excitement coursing through her, practically illuminating her skin with electricity, she was exuberant with adrenaline, the look of a scientist holding a colossal breakthrough.  She woke me up and breathlessly said, “Mommie, mommie! Joita is YOUR daughter and MY sister!  At. The. SAME. Time!”

It was hard for her to believe that she could hold both those realities.  That both of those realities could exist, be real, in the same universe at the same time.  It stretched her mind, her sense of actuality.  I’m feeling that same stretch right now.  Which is the real reality? Are we on the brink of catastrophe?  Or am I getting worked up over nothing that is going to actually affect my day to day life in any real way?  And what about the lives of others?  What about the progress we’ve made?  Is it all going to be flushed down the toilet because petty little white, straight, Christian, cis-men are busy throwing hissy-fits?  Or will the works just be perpetually gummed up by those same petty motherfuckers on each side trying to bitch-slap the other side into submission?

I went to the Women’s march in Boston this past weekend.  It was amazing and up-lifting.  Until they played “I am woman” by Helen Reddy.  Those of us old enough to remember stopped walking and dazedly sang along.  (I couldn’t believe I remembered all the words)  Until we realized we were very near literally back in 1973 fighting for the same fucking things.  From euphoria of the 175,000 estimated marchers singing, chanting and supporting one another, to the depths of despair.  Within hours the new regime provided us with “alternative facts” of what we thought we had just witnessed and experienced.  Something to the effect of “3 fat women with an ugly baby were spotted wandering aimlessly around the center of a small town in Idaho complaining about something or other. Nothing to see here”.   Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.  We will tell you what the truth is.  The march was small, insignificant, “not really against anything” they said.  The inauguration was huge, at least a million and a half people exuberantly welcoming in the new president – despite photographic evidence to the contrary.

And I think that’s the hardest piece for me right now.  The abject lying rejection of what I know (and can see with my own eyes) to be the truth.  I spent too much of my life struggling to recognize truth and accept and embrace my reality, fighting against this gaslighting bullshit.  I won’t go back now.  I will not go back in the closet.  I will not force myself to fit into the binary gender defined by others.  And I will continue to be proudly Jewish.  To the extent that I can stand up for others and speak their truth with them I will.  I guess in some ways I’ve answered my own question (as often happens when I write – even though I’m struggling to write right now).  My life is not so insignificant, even in the banalities, because as the song goes… like a small boat on the ocean, sending big waves into motion, like how a single word can make a heart open, I might only have one match, but I can make an explosion….

 I will end with my version of a serenity prayer:
Grant me the wisdom to see the truth, the courage to speak the truth, and the patience to repeat myself.  May I have the strength of conviction that allows me to continue even when I feel like I am shoveling shit against the tide.  And may serenity come in the form of understanding the fact that every drop in the ocean creates ripples.

fine-line1

Posted in everyday stuff, feelings | Leave a comment

neither fish nor fowl

I will cut to the chase.  I have come to the conclusion that I am attempting to live above my station.  And I am just realizing that that is where too many of my troubles stem from.

I just finished reading “Hillbilly Elegy”.  At its most basic level, it is a memoir by a guy who made it out of Appalachia and up the social class ladder, going to college and becoming a lawyer.  He describes his upbringing and the intricacies of the culture of the very poor, deeply uneducated white south.  It was highly recommended to anyone wanting to understand the current crisis in our country today and the support for someone like Trump.  The book was decent.

In many ways I got a glimpse into a locality and population I have no connection with.  In many ways it was interesting as well as deeply troubling.  In some ways it was eye-opening.  And in more ways than I wish to admit, there were things I could relate to.  For this reason, I was unsettled and what I had come to understand as the foundation of my inner world was rocked.

I’ll start by saying that my understanding of my social standing in the world was based almost entirely on what my family-of-origin told me.  And what I now understand was a myth.  Or a lie.  I was led to believe that we were upper middle class.  We had money.  Not a ton, but enough to not have to worry.  Enough to have whatever material things we desired.  Enough to be able to partake of meals at restaurants, go bowling, to movies, mini-golf and the like.  We lived in a small then-undeveloped town that boasted the potential to one day be affluent, with better schools than neighboring towns.  Or so said the glossy brochures.  We didn’t vacation because we had the pool in the back yard and who needed to go further than one’s own yard anyway when you live in Shangri La?!  My maternal grandparents owned a small jewelry store that supported the family.  We were comfortable.

I always knew my father’s family was *low class*.  I knew this because my mother told me so and we were not allowed to socialize overmuch with them.  And because on the rare occasions when we did, they used words like “yous” and counted “one, two, tree”.  And they weren’t joking.  They lived “in the city” in run-down, dilapidated, too-small apartments in the North End of Boston, a predominantly Italian neighborhood.  They didn’t own cars or *stuff*.  They were harsh-spoken, brash and loud.  And there were so many of them!  My father had 9 siblings.  And each of them had several children in turn.

gumbas

think of them as sopranos flunkies

After my parents divorced, my father gravitated more toward his own family of origin.  But it wasn’t until after my father died that I really got to know his family.  They welcomed me guilelessly with open hearts and arms into their fold.  It was a culture shock for them as well as me.  But, like his death and funeral, his family and I seemed to navigate well together with much grace, humor and growing love despite our differences (including religious observances: I being a religious Jew and them being religious Catholics) .  Their love and loyalty were fierce.  It was like being welcomed into a ferociously loving band of thieves with an us against the harsh world mentality and bond.  My father’s family was filled with a completely unreasonable, yet unashamed, and at the same time infectious hopefulness and optimism where my mother’s family seemed always filled with dread, anticipating disaster at every turn.  My dad’s family was demonstrative in ways my mother’s family was not; unafraid to hug, kiss, cry or show deep emotion.  They most definitely loved out loud.  And parameters were clear and consistent.  Punishment was without malice, sometimes harsh, but forgiveness was axiomatic, absolute and swift.

I remember one Christmas Eve celebration with them.  The room was smokey and loud and cacophonic.  Children were playing.  Teens screaming to television karaoke.  Adults drinking, singing, cooking, laughing.  And then one of the toddlers, overstimulated and overtired, began to whine.  Like a crash of thunder at least 5 of the adults sitting around the main table slammed meaty hands open-palms down and yelled, “HEY! Shut the fuck up!”  The room quieted for brief seconds while the toddler’s head swiveled in the direction of the displeased adults.  He looked to the oldest uncle who shook his head and firmly said, “Stop. Your. Whining.”  Which the child (astonishingly to me) did, as he wobbled his way to a nearby adult lap and settled down quietly in its voluminous warmth.  Happy commotion resumed throughout the house.  My girlfriend at the time was horrified that they would speak to a small child like that.  Honestly, I found it almost refreshing.  Not the harshness or the swearing necessarily.  But the blunt honesty of it.  I had always found it exasperating, not to mention exhausting, trying to ascertain my mother’s moods or the reasons behind them.  She would give me the gimlet eye and it was left to me to figure out what I had done wrong.  My father’s family was simple.  Cut and dried.  You knew what you’d done wrong and how to fix it.  And then find comfort in a loving embrace.  No grudges held.

I loved spending time with my father’s family for the simplicity of connection and interaction.  They were everything my mother’s family was not.  Aside from extremely poor, they were uninhibited, unabashed, unanxious, unashamed, unself-conscious.  Every single one of them was grossly overweight.  Every single one of them smoked cigarettes.  They ate what they wanted, wore whatever fit them and didn’t trouble to explain themselves to anyone outside the family.  An oft-repeated refrain in response to the interference of outsiders was a simple, “fuck them!”  They shared what they had freely and without strings.  And there was little, if any, judgment.

real-peopleBut they were not educated.  They were not even smart.  Everyone had some serious medical condition (a direct result of poor food choices, obesity or general lack of self care).  They cut corners to make ends meet and sometimes that meant breaking the law (selling food stamps to buy cigarettes for example).  The younger generation (because they weren’t spending time in school) had plenty of time to be involved in misbehavior, including petty crime and drugs.  As much time was spent with one another at medical appointments as they were at court appointments.  But together they were.  My cousin M packed a large styrofoam cooler filled with sanguiches (sometimes called spuckies) nearly every morning (those victuals went just as well at court as they did fishing or at the hospital… hey, everyone’s got to eat).  I think, of my countless cousins, only my cousin Bobby actually held a job.  He is a carpenter.  The rest worked hard at avoiding work (probably harder than they’d have had to work at an actual job).  Several took what they laughingly referred to as “the pre-planned fall”.  Which meant that within a short time of attaining employment they unaccidentally slipped and fell and went out on worker’s compensation.  Discussions around how to do this and whose fall was most dramatic were endless and peppered with absolute hilarity as my cousins and aunts and uncles would either replay their own fall or mimic someone else’s.  Even though I disagreed with the preplanned fall in theory, I couldn’t help but laugh at their exuberance regarding it.

I was the first person on either side of my family to attend college.  I got exactly no help either looking for or applying to colleges as neither of my parents had experience, opinions or, it seemed, even interest.  My parents and my uncle on my mother’s side worked in the family store, which required no actual preparation, certification or degree.  My grandmother on my mother’s side desperately wanted me to go to college, though she never said why it was so important to her.  And she didn’t care where I went.  She just wanted me to go.  I chose BU because they had so many sports’ opportunities (including women’s rugby).  I may as well have chosen them for the selection in their vending machines.  I had to beg (quite literally) to get in (I maintained, at best, a C average in high school).  But I showed a lot of chutzpah and initiative and begged audience with a dean and was able to convince him to take a chance on me.

I was ill-prepared for university life, as much as I now realize I have been ill-prepared in many arenas throughout my life as an adult.  I have used the same tactics I used to get into college – that is equal parts boldness, humility, humor and supplication – to get through adulting.  But I have never felt like there was anywhere that I actually belonged, where I felt comfortable enough to breathe a sigh of relief at being myself, where I was able to not feel like a complete and total fraud.

I didn’t feel exactly fraudulent in my family of origin, but neither did I belong.  I was not like them.  Being transgender pretty much assured my sense of wrongness and not fitting in.  I felt most comfortable with my dad’s family, more myself, but I had the innate yearning to be and do more in the world than the other members of anyone on either side of my family.  Not to mention the external pressure from my maternal grandmother (for whom I would have walked through hell coated in oil) offering me the opportunity (she paid for my bachelor’s degree).  I didn’t belong at university because I had no notion of what education was all about.  It wasn’t a value esteemed in my family and I had very little aptitude or understanding of it.

Keeping up with my studies took all (and then some) of my concentration.  I was so busy trying to keep my grades in the passing range that I had no time to even consider any of the opportunities the university offered (beyond one semester of rugby).  Being a fraud and not fitting in didn’t make the list of my top 100 demands for attention.  I got through with sheer grit, but without a shred of connection to anyone and a deep sense that I’d scraped my way through without internalizing anything I’d learned.

I’d like to think I’ve grown since my college days.  For certain I have spent my life trying to do better, to be better.  And while I have never felt quite content, as if I belong, I have never given up hope (in the true fashion of my father’s clan) of finding my place.  This bit of knowledge about myself is a game-changer only in that I now understand another reason why I have ever always felt like I have been shoveling shit against the proverbial tide of belonging.  It is a piece of my puzzle.

I’ve gone on (and on and on) too long in this post.  There is clearly more to explore, but I will end here for now.  With an aspiration for anyone trying to figure out where you might belong, and for myself.

May all illusions of separation be removed.  May I find harmony between my soul and my life.  May there be kindness in my gaze when I look within.  May I surrender to the knowing that home is right here, right now, in this single moment.   And may kinship, peace and tranquility gather me, mind me and embrace me in belonging.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in family of origin, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

old dog, new tricks

img_3613Here we are again at the end of another calendar year.  I feel lucky, as I may have said before, about having two distinct *new years* each year (one Jewish and one secular) that remind me and give me the ability to stop, breathe, review and begin again.  Having just done my regular running around sprint of necessities (getting the car inspected), here’s what I’ve been pondering:

When I was a kid I gave very little thought to what I wanted to *be* when I grew up.  I wasn’t exposed to very many jobs outside my day to day life experiences (teachers, nurses, bank tellers, the family business).  Neither of my parents had a hobby or any real interests beyond our home.  We didn’t go to museums, fairs, shows, movies or live performances.  We didn’t travel, participate in community activities or engage in anything even remotely political (my mother with her conspiracy theories being sure it was all corrupt and fixed anyway).  We were Jew-ish, meaning that aside from one High Holy Day service once a year we were not involved in a religious community.  My parents did not cook, knit, sew, draw, paint, take photographs or garden recreationally.  As a result, neither did my brother and I.  Though I did watch a fair amount of Gilligan’s Island and Lost In Space.  Neither of which offered any real-life career options, unless one pursued a life of struggle to find home (which I have pretty much mastered actually).  In addition to my limited exposure, I was so busy trying not to go insane, (between suppressing the knowledge that I was really a boy and navigating my mother’s mental illness) I didn’t really have the leisure time or imagination to consider my future occupational opportunities or what real-life skills I might possess.

How I became a teacher is still kind of beyond me.  I never much liked children.  Never babysat as a teen and never went to camp (save for that one disastrous pre-school summer day camp).  But by my 5th semester at B.U. I had to declare a major.   So I chose education.  Not that there’s anything wrong with teaching, mind you.  I learned a lot and mostly enjoyed my time as a teacher.  But sometimes I wonder what else I might have been, where the road not taken might have led me.  But those vague “I could have been a contender” musings only serve to depress me.  Because I wasn’t and so I’m not.  And even with hindsight being what it is – that is to say 20/20 – it doesn’t change where, who and what I am today.

One of the great gifts of working with the elderly is that every single one of them has lived longer and more and is wiser in experience than I may ever be.  And one of the best things I’ve learned from them is that you are never too old to learn or grow or to try something new.  In fact, you should go in search of new things every moment of every day you are here.  And in many ways and instances I now realize, I have learned and lived that message.

It is interesting to me and no small coincidence I believe, that in the years I have been working with the elderly, I have tried my hand at clarinet, guitar and piano.  I have learned and continue to learn to speak Haitian Creole.  I have played new sports, joining outdoor soccer leagues, indoor soccer teams and in the last few years, have found a real passion playing ice hockey.  I have learned to knit (and even learned to unclench my ass enough to enjoy knitting).  I figured out how to make really good bread (and bagels).  So good that our family has not had to buy bread in more than 5 years.

When looking at the list in this way, I realize I have done more (living?) in the last 20 years than I have done in my entire life.  Having permission and role models encouraging me to try new things, to take chances and go toward instead of away from adventure is a life-altering gift.  And it isn’t that I wrote all this to be rodomontade.  I am trying to look toward 2017 with an enthusiasm that 2016 seems to have robbed me of.  As we head into a new and uncertain new year, I’m offering a blessing in the name of all those role models that helped me to achieve those things I never thought possible.

img_3614May the One who blessed our ancestors – Sarah, Rebecca Rachel, Leah, Zilpa and Bilhah; Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Ruth, Harriet, Esther, Yetta, Trudy, Mary, David, Saul, Isaiah, Izzy and all those not named who reside in my heart) – bless us as we enter into this new year.  We must remember that the world was not formed by a single act.  Each and every day God renews the work of creation.  May I open my heart and mind to continuous growth, unexpected change, and the perpetual unsettling, liberating expansion of being alive; may I have the courage to name and sanctify these moments of change that shape my body and soul in the image of the ever-evolving Divine.  Blessed are You, El Shaddai, our God, the Renewing One of the world, who has allowed us to reach this time and embrace transformation.  Amen.img_3612

Posted in blessings, in the spiritual realm | 7 Comments

you make me feel like a natural woman

me and barbie Just prior to the election I was talking with a colleague/friend at work who was deliriously gleeful over what Hillary’s nomination has done for women.  The exposed misogyny, she felt, had been like a rallying cry for women to come together, to speak up, to act, to take charge and demand equality.  The secret group on Facebook went from a few members (there were 2000 members when I was added by a friend – primarily, but not exclusively women) to over 1 million members in a matter of weeks (and is actually now up to something like 4 million).  Women power!  Women pride!  Women, women, women!!   {cue Helen Reddy}

This work friend is someone I positively adore.  I have quietly confided in her, though never have I spoken directly about, the fact that I am transgender.  She has watched over the last few years the changes in my clothing, appearance and mannerisms.  I have hinted at, if not  referred to specifically, in an open-and-shut sort of way that offers absolutely no space for dialogue, that I am transgender.  I trust her enough to have let her know this (even while I am not interested in actually engaging in a discussion with her or anyone else).  She is a remarkable human being – a quintessential chaplain in many ways.  When she looks at people she sees their souls.  She is compassionate, nurturing and above all kind.  She is deeply empathic and as I think about it, I probably couldn’t have hidden from her even if I had wanted to.

glass-doorThat said, as I said, I have never spoken directly with her about me being transgender.   Neither of us has actually said the exact words in precisely the right order that would form the sentences that would allow for or encourage any actual discussion about my transgender being.  So we were sitting in my office and, like I said, she was ebulliently expostulating over “I am woman, hear me roar” et al and she looked at me and very seriously said, “Maybe this changes things for you.  I mean, maybe you can stop, or, erm, ah, maybe you don’t need to, you know, go all the way?” {cue needle scratching off the record}

The awful silence that followed was quite literally physically painful.  Though it was all of 3 seconds.  It had that surreal feeling you get when suddenly plunged into darkness (like when the electricity goes out) and you can’t tell if you’re even breathing or whether your eyes are open or closed.  I both could not believe she said it and hoped that I heard her incorrectly.  But I knew enough to not ask her to repeat herself.  When the lights came back on and the familiar hum of electricity surrounded us again, our conversation resumed like a dvd clicked from pause to play, only edited slightly.  As if the words were never spoken, the suggestion never made, we recovered and continued our conversation from an imperceptibly different place.  And neither of us acknowledged her comment.

Once our familiar connection had resumed I put the gaff out of my mind.  As I drove home later that day I had one part of my brain cringing, fighting shame and uttering my all-too-familiar invective, “what the fuck?!”  While the other parts of my brain were wondering at the abysmal lack of understanding there really is about transgender issues and people.  Even among compassionate, caring, well-educated people.

So clearly, some folks think that being transgender is a wish either to be or not to be a specific gender.  The assumption is that the trans-person doesn’t like being the gender they were assigned at birth for any one of a variety of reasons, one of which might very well be wanting to avoid sustained misogyny.  Though I’d expect many millions more women to identify as transgender if that were the case.  At any rate, regardless of the reason, it seems there are people who equate transgender with desire.  I have been asked too many times, “have you always wanted to be a boy?”  I’ll say again, it isn’t a *want*.  I would *prefer* to have curly hair.  I *am* transgender.  Getting a perm fixes the curly hair preference.  Dressing like or getting a men’s haircut does nothing for my internal dysphoria, the asymmetry between what I feel/know in my heart and what external body I have.  It’s the difference between essence and exterior.

You know those “lord-of-the-flies” social experiments?  I’d like to create one.  I just can’t think of the right scientific set up.  It isn’t a desire, a preference, propensity or even a predilection.  Being transgender is psyche and soul, not body and mind.  Explaining it is hard enough – how can I explain it to others when I can’t even wrap my own mind around it half the time.  Being misunderstood in this way feels humiliating on top of everything else I feel.  It is slap-in-the-face painful.  But I’m at a loss as to how else to explain it.

Several hours into the evening I received a text from my friend/colleague.  It was actually a series/flurry of texts, sent rapid-fire one right after the other.  All of which I heard, in my head, in her voice, deeply apologetic.  Each of which I read with a growing gratitude and serenity in my heart.  Paraphrased, “Can you find it in your heart to forgive my stupidity?! My ridiculous blunder/error/failure?! I didn’t mean what I said, don’t believe the message, can’t believe I even thought it never mind said it.  Basically, I’m an ass.  I’m so sorry.

 

Posted in no man's land | 5 Comments