of role models and athletics

Both my high school gym teachers died within the last year or so.  Within a year or so of one another.  I was surprised to learn from their obituaries that they were each only in their early to mid 70s.  Which would have made them a whopping early 30s when I was a student in high school.  I’m laughing because they seemed ancient to me then.  They were like the proverbial little old ladies, ancient bordering on decrepit.  They were two peas in a pod.  I’m not sure either of them topped four feet tall, sporting almost identical bowl haircuts.  They both had square, chunky builds and maintained a nun-like quality that instilled fear in the hearts of teenagers who might have been considering wrong-doing.

Their personalities though were different.  Sally (not her real name) always appeared sunburnt and fresh from the outdoors.  She was gregarious and laughed a lot.  She had charisma and taught with her heart.  She bought a house on the corner of the street (more like the driveway of the school) where the high school was the only other building.  Everyone knew it was Miss R’s house.  And many a summer evening one could find her sitting on her porch sipping lemonade.  She lived and breathed for her students.  We were, very clearly, the family of her heart.  She hung sheets painted with congratulations or “we’ll get ’em next time” encouragement from trees in her front yard to greet buses of athletes returning from away games.  Over the years those signs got more elaborate, creative and solid.  And whether teams were returning at 7PM or midnight, her signs embraced them all and letting them know they were home.  Sally was strict, but loving.  She was kind and in her banter and cajoling were many a life lesson.  Her energy and passion helped move her up the ranks through the years, from gym teacher to athletic director, eventually to dean of students and beyond.  She was much beloved.

Gail (also not her real  name) was quiet and reserved.  She was extremely private and lived (no one knew where) far enough away from the school that she could maintain her existence without bumping into students at the grocery store.  Without the charisma that Sally so naturally exuded, Gail was nurturing and kind in her own ways.  She loved her students and had passion for the field to which she devoted her life.  She wasn’t inspirational in a loud way, but had her quiet following who could be found most lunch periods, sitting in her office listening to her stories.


I don’t know if I ever really gave any conscious thought to whether Sally or Gail were lesbians.  They were, like all the other educators, simply teachers to me.  They didn’t have a life outside of the school as far as we knew or were concerned.  What made me even consider whether they were gay was that they were butch-looking gym teachers.  I came out in my freshman year at the tender age of 14.  In some ways I would have killed for a role model.  Though I’m not sure I would have wanted (even if they were out, which they were most certainly not) either of these two old-fogies as role models.  Joan Armatrading would have been my choice as gym teacher slash role model if I could have chosen.  These two pint-sized puritans didn’t have the makings of what it would have taken to be the kind of role model I needed either personally or athletically.  Heck, I never saw either one of them actually engage in physical activity, never mind break a sweat or pick up a ball now that I think of it.  Still, they were lovely human beings to be sure.  As I have said countless times, I didn’t have role models.  I have no idea how having a specific LGBTorQ role model would have affected my life.  It is beyond my fathoming.  I did the best I could with what I had.

As I have lived my life as a moderately out member of the LGBTQ community I have often thought back to my gym teachers, wondering occasionally if they were gay and whether they were happy or content or even very lonely.  I imagine that for them being out and keeping a job in education was not an option.  The cost of that limitation on their lives and the lives of students who were LGBTorQ is unfathomable.  I don’t know that appreciating the sacrifice of their personal lives or hearts would have been recompense enough.  Sometimes I get angry that they weren’t out.  At least to those of us who were obviously struggling and coming out.  Would it have killed either of them to have reached out?  Would it have changed my life exponentially if they had reached out?  Maybe.  I don’t know.  I guess I will never know the cost or benefit ratio.

Joita goes to a high school where not only are two of her gym teachers out lesbians, they are actually married to one another!  And their children attended the daycare at the high school where they both work.  They are both young and energetic and physically fit.  They both not only coach sports teams, but play sports in their own lives, leading by example.  And neither is very butch looking.  They are, like all the other educators at the school, simply teachers, woven into the fabric of high school life.  Joita and her peers seem to have no idea how extraordinary this is.  This is just the norm to them and they understand it as their due.  They expect no less from the educated liberal society into which they have been born.

Joita is planning to go into education as a career path.  I realized the other day that she also doesn’t have a role model.  While she may have teachers who are Indian, or teachers who are people of color and teachers who are Jewish or Muslim, or even adults she looks up to, she doesn’t have any teachers who are differently able like her.  There are no teachers at the school who use crutches or a wheelchair or have any form of physical difference.  Joita, like many of us, has had to forge a path for herself without the aid of those like her who have gone before her.  She will (and is), whether she wants to or not, be a role model for others, for future generations of differently able people.  I hope she is strong enough to be conscious of this role and responsibility without letting it be a burden.  I hope she can own this status and revel in it.  I hope she can withstand the scrutiny without giving up integrity.  I hope for her that the knowledge and understanding that life is not measured by money or status or power, but by the lives we touch and those we inspire leads to a contented heart and meaningful life.

Posted in blessings, everyday stuff, feelings | Leave a comment

jedi training

I write spectacular blog posts nearly every morning in the shower.  Quippy, witty, ingeniously relevant tweets as well.  Too bad my computer isn’t waterproof.  By the time I’m sitting here at the keyboard I am the quintessential tabla rasa.  Just thought you should know.

This morning’s restroom ruminations were spent (once again) taking stock.  It’s been pretty quiet in my head lately.  Quiet in a good way.  I kind of envision the empty meeting chamber of my mind, devoid of my inner critics, echoing only faintly their old familiar taunts and jibes.  It feels good.  It feels better than good.  It feels powerful.

As I’ve said in past testosterone updates, my anxiety has definitely decreased and I continue to function with a lower and lower level of mental malaise.  The hyper-critical voices in my head, are for the most part, silent.  I do wonder over and over, “Is this how men think and feel all the time?”  Or was this just me?  Is it a symptom of estrogen that women question their every thought and motive and emotion and movement, behavior, appearance, interchange, conversation, etc?  Or was that just me too?  Is it only women who are bedeviled by the sense of inadequacy, plagued by imposter syndrome?  Or again, just me?  And if it isn’t just me, are these afflictions nature or nurture?

But I digress.  Suffice it to say that I’m feeling much more congruent and right in the world since beginning to take testosterone.  That’s not to say I’m living some sublime bliss.  I think Emily is a bit disappointed if truth be told.  Though she may not admit it, I think she expected me to start testosterone and be endlessly insouciant.  Or maybe that’s just what she felt was her due, a sort of consolation prize for having to deal with a transgender spouse.  The reality is that I’m too serious, responsible and anxious to be lighthearted all the time.  And even the most happy-go-lucky human being is still a human being, with all the ups and downs that constitute existence as such.  Whenever I am feeling down or grumpy Emily gives me that look that clearly says, “I thought you’d be happier on t”  I am sorry to disappoint.  But that being said, I’m genuinely and consistently happier now than I have ever been.

The physical changes are brewing if not beginning.  Small hairs are sprouting on the backs of my hands and arms where there has not been hair in the past.  They are small (infinitesimal really) fine, tiny hairs.  No one would notice them except someone who was microscopically searching for them.  Which apparently I am.  I’m finding myself fighting the urge to pluck the recalcitrant wiry hairs as they grow sticking straight up from formerly smooth hairless places.  I can’t seem to let go of the mindset notion of *beauty* that was drilled into me all my life.  There’s a new hair growing out of my chin.  One hair.  My fingers twitch for the tweezers.  That’s how you get rid of it.  And getting rid of it was ever the only solution.  Now I’m suddenly supposed to leave that sucker alone?!  You’re going to tell me that the hairs on my knuckles and tops of my feet BELONG there?!  Weird.  Then there is the, some might say adorable, tegument of downy fuzz on my belly.  Too bad Emily did not find it nearly as adorable as I did.  Also kind of too bad, it is jet-black.

I don’t see any muscle growth or change, but boy can I feel it.  I didn’t connect the dots at first.  I didn’t connect the dots until after I diagnosed myself with a rare and terminal illness.  Fortunately, I did make the connection (before I succumbed) that the intense, albeit random, muscle aches, spasms and pains were actually consequentially related to the testosterone.  Episodes of griping discomfort have not been that frequent, but they have been shocking.  Especially in the middle of the night when contractions have awakened me from a sound sleep.  It is easy to understand given the circumstances, that I might think I was dying.  Either that or I’m just your average run-of-the-mill hypochondriac.  Now that I know the muscle pains are from the testosterone, I’m waiting to see some results.  I expect any day now to wake up with six-pack abs.

I can’t tell if I look or appear or *seem* different to anyone other than myself.  I know I feel very different in my self and in my world.  I know I am navigating the space within me and the space around me differently than I ever have.  But I can’t describe exactly how.  I sense that I carry myself differently, feel differently and see the world through different lenses.  I can’t tell if the people with whom I interact on a regular basis see or feel or experience me as any different since I started on testosterone.  Those I have asked directly have said simply, “You’re just you to me”.  Though honestly, I haven’t asked many people and no one has offered any opinions on their own.  Though one dear friend and colleague told me recently that while she experiences me as me, she has found herself unconsciously (or is it subconsciously) changing pronouns for me.  Whoa.

Recently at work I had two strange but very similar experiences.  Both involved people who have not seen or interacted with me in the last 3 to 5 years.  A colleague of mine texted me to let me know a former family member (a family member of a former resident) was in our short term unit and was asking for me.  I remembered him immediately.  A devoted spouse who came to visit his wife every single day for the last years of her life.  He was gentle and kind and a faithful loving spouse who cared for her in so many little ways each and every day.  He was amazing and we all had a soft spot for him.  Of course he has had no reason to come back in the handful of years since his wife’s death.  But I know I’m not the only one who has thought of him with so much fondness often over these years.  Anyway, I was touched that he remembered me and thought to ask after me.  I went over to the unit where he was and found my way to his room.  I presented myself in his doorway and knocked lightly as I said his name.  He was sitting in a chair next to the bed and looked up at me with curiosity if not mild confusion.  “Can I help you?” he asked.  I walked further into his room assuming he wasn’t seeing me well and repeated his name.  Still, he looked at me without recognition and said, “That’s me. How can I help you?”  I said, “It’s me, Hali.  You asked the rabbi about me.” His face lightened and he said, “Oh yes, I asked about her.  She still works here huh?”  Confused myself, I said, “Mr. So-and-so, it’s me. Hali.”  His brow furrowed in utter incomprehension and he began to stammer confusedly, “No, I mean Hali.  She used to…. knew my wife…. she was…”  I may have tried a time or two more to explain who I was, but I could see I was causing this lovely gentleman distress, so I defaulted to a pastoral visit, asking about his convalescence and his spirit.

I chalked that interchange up to an elderly man, already compromised by illness and in a strange setting, being a bit befuddled.  But then a few weeks later that same colleague called to tell me another of her short-term patients was asking for me.  This one, the brother of a woman I worked with a few years ago.  I introduced myself  and as he turned to look at me a distinct look of unfamiliarity graced his countenance.  I said my name a second time and while he looked at me without even a pretense of recognition he responded, “Yes.  I wanted to let her know that my sister passed away.”  I was so taken aback at the news, the entire conversation shifted.  No longer about me or who I was, we talked about his sister and her family, shared stories and laughed with nostalgic sentiment at her eccentricities that endeared her to so many.  He wiped his eyes on a threadbare handkerchief as I said goodbye.  Halfway out the door I heard him say, “Don’t forget to tell Hali.”

Nina’s sense of humor

Looking for that one chin hair

How I see myself

Posted in no man's land | 2 Comments

oh brother

The last time I wrote about my brother was also the last time I saw him.  That was back in August when he came for ice cream.  Since then I have attempted to stay in semi-regular contact with him via text messages or Facebook messenger.  Either of which he is only sporadically connected to.  I knew that the building he was living in had been, according to him, *sold*.  Though I’m pretty sure that *sold* is code for *condemned*.  The *great guy* who rented him that fine abode now resides under a bench in a local park.  Peter worries about him.  The few times we have actually spoken (when he has minutes on whatever phone he is using at the time) he has wondered out loud in a strange sort of self-talking stream of consciousness how he could possibly help him.  I have had to remind him repeatedly that he can barely help himself, never mind helping someone else.  This is one of the things I do appreciate about my brother.  He has a good heart.

I’m not clear what he is doing or where he is living himself.  He has given me varied and sometimes conflicting information.  Conversations with him are fraught with half stories and half sentences of tangential superficiality, fairly devoid of substance and without even a reasonable facsimile of reality.  They are, thankfully, brief.  But they do not help with figuring out where he is or what he’s doing.

My best understanding is that he has been staying at a “sober house” somewhere in a rather unsavory area of Brockton.  Though it sounds like *sober* in this case refers only to alcohol.  Which has never been Peter’s self-medication of choice.  He complained repeatedly about the distance he needed to travel from this sober house to get his dose of methadone daily.  In earlier conversations I questioned his ongoing need for the methadone.  My limited understanding of the utilization of methadone is that it was supposed to be a short term fix, a substitute for opioids that was supposed to be titrated down over a short span of time.  Not the 15 plus years Peter has been getting daily doses of it.  But those questions always got met with anger and lashing out in an accusatory I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I sort of way, and never led anywhere good, never-mind an answer.  So I stopped asking.  The last time I spoke with him I simply listened and suggested he call his case-worker to see if there was perhaps another clinic closer by.  Turns out that he qualified for a free ride to and from the clinic daily.  Our tax dollars at work.

My recent attempts to reach Peter have either been ignored entirely or, in the case of the most recent few, he has simply texted that he is busy and will call when he has a free minute.  I try not to get angry with him.  I try to remind myself who he is and how he has gotten this way.  But for some reason I got aggravated this time.  I sent him a message saying basically, “I have 2 jobs, 3 kids, a dog, a house, etc etc.  And I’m not too busy for you.  What the fuck are you so busy with?!”

He timorously called me, stammering and stuttering excuses about losing track of time and having appointments and needing to take care of business.  Mostly he was apologetic for not being in better touch.  I don’t know why I push for contact with him.  I must be some special kind of stupid.  Because I’m disappointed every time.  The conversation was carbon copy of most of our conversations with the one exception that it was a more convenient time for me than his usual phone calls are.  It’s actually frighteningly similar to listening to Trump speak now that I think of it.  Everyone else is a loser, in his way, tripping him up and not letting him succeed.  He’s doing great, working on great things, if only people understood how great he really is.  His next big break is right around the corner, bound to happen any day, he’s on the verge of greatness.  It’s hard to interrupt with sensible questions like “Where are you living?” because that interposes a reality that doesn’t necessarily work with his gestalt.  In other words, I learned nothing new.

In the meantime, I heard from mother.  We have been in minimal contact, mostly through texts and on Facebook.  She also sent the kids chanukah gifts (which I had them call immediately upon receiving to thank her for).  I had ignored her most recent text messages complaining that I never initiate contact with her (she’s correct. I don’t).  This time she asked if we could talk, saying that she had something very important to ask.  I made the mistake of saying yes.

She wanted to tell me that she has reached out to contact a doctor who would assist her in ending her life.  Actually, she was calling to ask if I cared.  I’m surprised she didn’t hear my eyes roll through the phone (or the deeply dramatic sigh of exhaustion that I did nothing to hide).  She went on to explain that she is in constant physical, spiritual, emotional and psychic pain and can no longer tolerate her existence.  Insert awkwardly long uncomfortable pause.  Ok.  Honestly, I have very little to say in response.  What does one say in response to this kind of proclamation anyway?!  As if this was actually a pinnacle of positivity, the conversation spiraled down from there.  She complained that I make no effort to have or maintain a relationship with her.  She complained that she has no relationship with *her grandchildren*.  She complained that (basically) she has been an adoring faithful mother and that I have been nothing but resentful and ungrateful.  She complained that her life is empty, worthless, meaningless.  The awkward silence stretched out.  I said nothing.  What is there to say in response?

Peter called me again a few days later.  Great news(sic).  His free ride to the methadone clinic had an accident with him in the car and now he’s suing them and expecting a big settlement!  I asked if he was hurt.  He told me he’s working with a great lawyer, “like the ones you see advertised on daytime television” he said as if I watch daytime television.  At any rate, he said that the lawyer feels certain there will be a big windfall for him.  I asked again if he was ok.  “Oh, yeah, mostly.  Maybe a little whiplash.  Hurt my neck I think.  Having to go to physical therapy to prove the case.”  He went on to remind me that this is not his first time on this carousel.  He has sued both UPS for a car accident he was in with one of their delivery vans and some big box store for (pretending that) a shelf fell on his head in the past, using the same type of slick (aka: daytime television) lawyer.  He was already counting the money.  Not to mention already spending it.  Typical Peter, he did offer me a loan.

Not being one who is usually at a loss for words, I seem to find myself there whenever I have contact with my family of origin.  Not that it really matters.  While my brother went on and on about suing the car company and living on easy street for the rest of his life I sat on my end of the line wondering how I so badly lost the family lottery.

Once again, unbelievably, the conversation went even further downhill.  In other news in his life, working with his case worker, he was made aware of the fact that included in his state funded disability insurance he has access to dental care.  As I have noted previously, most of his teeth are rotten from either drugs or poor nutrition or both.  I’m sure he has not seen a dentist in his adult life, never mind the fact that he can probably count on one hand the number of times he has brushed his teeth.  So recently, realizing he could get dental care for free, he went to a dentist who apparently deemed his teeth irreparable and pulled most of them with the goal of making a set of dentures.  Peter proudly proclaimed that he has fewer than a handful of teeth in his entire mouth.  Quickly following up by saying he can’t wait to get his new choppers.  Also quickly followed up by inviting me to a steak dinner on him when he gets his teeth and the lawsuit money.  You simply can’t make this shit up.  



Posted in brother's keeper, family of origin | Leave a comment

passing on the past

A person’s past may not define them in any current moment, but it certainly had a hand in shaping them.  The good, the bad and the ugly all began as signposts on the roads not taken, as well as the alleyways we skipped or slithered down.   I can only take credit for the successes once.  After that I need to move on to my next goals.  I can’t change the parts of my past that I am ashamed of or the mistakes I made.  And there are plenty of things that fall into those categories.

I’m not going to bore you with a cartulary almanac of achievements of my earlier days.  And as tempting as it may be, I’m going to fight the urge to spill my guts, air my dirty laundry and regale you with gory details of things that are better left buried in the recesses of my brokenness.  Suffice it to say, in addition to my successes, I was a colorful character in my 20s and I’m grateful beyond measure that there was no social media back then.  By day I was a (semi) respectable teacher.  At night I was a pool-playing musician, a casanova comedian, and every night was a new ride on the party train.  And while my daytime and my nighttime prosopopoeia were kept separate, I exuded a certain amount of clownish charisma such that the two were not exactly mutually exclusive either.  And if you’re a *playa*, people know it.

Most everyone at the school where I taught knew I was mischievous (bordering on sociopathic) and enjoyed hearing the salacious details of my evening exploits.  When my misadventures oozed into my work life, having affairs at work with straight married women, (when I learned the deep meaning of “don’t shit where you eat”), it was time to get the hell out of Dodge.  I left that world altogether (for lots of reasons, not the least of which was to be rid of the taint of the mistakes I’d made and to be able to start fresh), making a clean break.  I’ve grown and learned and changed a lot in these 25 years.  Those changes were fought for and hard won.  A result of finding a spiritual path and good deal of deep soul searching.  And a lot of therapy.

In my current incarnation I rarely think of those days.  They are less than a wisp of smoke of distant memory.  I live an antipodean life now and I’m glad and grateful for that.  But about a year ago, leaving a local restaurant with my family, I bumped into two former colleagues from *those days*.  I was genuinely happy to see them, the joys of youthful carefree times rushing back to me through the rose colored glasses of “the good old days”, and I greeted them with unfeigned enthusiasm and exuberant affection.  They are both deaf, so our conversation was in sign and literally took place in the doorway of the restaurant.  I was aware of how rusty my signing had become as well as the fact that my family was staring dumbly, not following or understanding the conversation at all and we were blocking the door.  The conversation was brief.  Something like this:

me: Hey!  Oh my gosh!  It’s been forever!  How are you?!  What are you up to?  Still teaching?  How are your kids/families?

them:  oh hi.  good.  good.  good.  yeah, we’re good.

me:  do you live around here?

them:  I live here but she (points to other) is in from out of town.

me:  it’s so nice to see you! wow, blast from the past.  we should get together some time.  hang out or something.

them: {pause} yeah.  I live out of town. nice to see you too.

me:  we should exchange phone numbers, right?

I gave them my cell number and the one who lives close by hesitantly gave me hers.  The ten-thousand pounds of awkward slammed into me as we were texting numbers back and forth.  They only know me for the bedlamite lunatic I was, not the respectable human being I have become and they were clearly uninterested in checking to see if I was still a whirlwind of wackiness.  I swallowed my discomfort and shamefacedly said goodbye without making further eye contact.

I spent the next several days wallowing in past-induced shame.  Trying to convince myself that I really have changed and that I am not a sociopath in sheep’s clothing.  Gently prodding the tender brokenness and cracks where {I hoped and prayed} so much healing has taken place.  And finally absolving myself, not for the first time, for my past idiocies and the fact that those who knew me then would be reticent to want to have anything to do with me.

Joita made the school basketball team again this year (hooray!) and the “welcome to basketball” meeting for parents to meet and hear from the coaches was last week.  Joita told me there was a kid on the team with deaf parents and asked if I would interpret the meeting.  Without giving it too much thought I said yes (I’m always happy to help out (even if my signing is rusty) and being a good person in the world in front of my kid is a bonus).  For those of you playing along at home who are quick on the uptake, you guessed it.  The kid’s mother was my old colleague.

It wasn’t nearly as awkward this time.  Last year when I bumped into her I had not yet started taking testosterone.  So I’m sure that factors into my current composure.  Also, not being taken so much by  surprise, I didn’t have the surge of feelings through the glory of yesteryear lens.  But probably more-so the testosterone.  I could feel the calm confidence emanating from me.  I chatted with her briefly enough to say hello, congratulate her on her daughter having made the team and to ask where she preferred I stand.  I interpreted for her (as best as I could) and I said goodbye.  I wasn’t unfriendly, but neither was I *chatty Cathy* and effusive in my engagement.  My own self-assurance and tranquility allowed me the benefit of not needing to seek her approval or prove to her (or myself) that I had changed.  Change is in the being, not in the telling anyway.  I don’t know if I will see her again, nor is it important.  I’m not naive enough to think I’ve completely made peace with my past.  But small steps are still to be celebrated.  And passing on shame (rather than passing it on) is one of those steps.  


Posted in everyday stuff, feelings, my own worst enemy | Leave a comment

deal with the devil

I like music as much as the next guy, maybe even a little bit more.  I have often wished I had more musical talent.  And truthfully, I’m not sure whether I *have* the talent or not.  It’s more that I’m too tightly wound and controlled (as well as controlling, self critical, insecure… ) to be able to let go and let music move me in the way that it needs to in order to let creativity and talent flow.  I know that.  My dad had that innate capacity to engage music.  And he wasn’t self-conscious or rigid like I am.  He could just pick up any instrument nearby and just start jamming, his voice like cool water harmony gliding through and suffusing the Universe.  It was balm for the soul to listen to him.  I did inherit my dad’s ability to carry a tune and I have his ear for music (which is a blessing and a curse as I can hear all too clearly when someone is singing off key even slightly).  I’ve always been shy of my own voice.  Partly because I can hear every missed note and every flat or sharp, and partly because I have always been a soprano.  I’ve never liked the girly high-pitch that comes out of my mouth.  The funny thing is that my dad had a much higher singing voice (within the *girly* range) than speaking voice and he wasn’t at all self-conscious about it.  And he sounded fantastic and not one bit incongruent with the man he was.  At any rate, I’ve been told my voice sounds fine to others.  Nothing to write home about.  I’m no next contestant on The Voice.  But my ability to carry a tune and the relative pleasant nature of my vocal tone has always been imperfectly lovely.

Singing is actually a fairly significant part of my job.  Lucky for me the people listening to me sing at work all suffer some degree of presbycusis (hearing loss associated with age).  Not to mention dementia.  In other words, I sound great to them 🙂  After 20 years I’m no longer shy or embarrassed about singing in front of them.  They’re my peeps.  In addition to those two other things.  And mainly I am singing with my soul and not only my voice.  I’m leading religious services, singing spirituals and chanting age-old hallowed words.  I may be singing, but my heart is praying and I believe that is what comes through.

I did enough research (an understatement) on taking testosterone and the effects it might, could or would have on me emotionally, spiritually and physically.  I knew my voice would change.  I knew the easy intonation and timbre that has always been my voice was going to transform and shift even as other parts of my being were doing the same thing.  I assumed the pitch of my voice would change.  But I wasn’t sure how else it would alter.  The conversation in my head went something like this: “I may lose my voice, my ability to sing.”  “I know.”  “Am I still willing to do this?”  “What about the other changes? The changes I want?”  “Are they more important than singing?”  “I think so. Yes.”  “Even if I lose the ability altogether?”  “Yes.”

So, armed with what I considered a modicum of acceptance, I starting taking T.  In the first month or so I don’t think there was any real or even imagined changes with my voice.  As time went on my voice did begin to change, as I documented here back in October, the very beginning infinitesimal changes.  In the last month or so, though, my voice has changed significantly.  Even I can hear it.  If I focus and push myself I can talk in a tone fairly close to my *regular* voice.  But it is taking effort to do that.  By the same token, if I concentrate, I can also make my voice sound lower and more in the *normal male range*.  If I do not put my mind to it and am just talking like a normal person, it now comes out stridulous and with that horrid helium quality.   Like it’s coming from somewhere between my nasal passages and my ears.  I experience my voice as heavier, lower, originating from deeper within me.  But I don’t seem to be accessing my voice from that place.  Which is why it’s coming out nasal.

To make a long story somewhat shorter and to cut to the chase, my singing voice seems gone completely.  It isn’t that my voice is simply lower or deeper.  My voice is now in a totally different key.  A key I’m not at all used to or even familiar with.  My voice is in a place I do not know and I have no idea how to access it wherever it is.  In a word, my singing voice is gone.  It’s surreal to have my heart, soul and mind swell with song and then open my mouth and have something completely foreign come out.  Surreal like bucket of ice water over the head.  The people listening (ie: the old folks) don’t seem to notice.  {see above explanations of why}  While the folks singing with me are giving me the gimlet eye in sidelong glances.

I have news for them, it’s just as jarring for me.  I’m used to feeling the music inside me and simply letting the tune come out.  I have never given singing more thought than that.  What have I done?!  Clearly I have always taken for granted this rather natural gift.  I guess I assumed that my ability to carry a tune would not change, that only my voice would change, the sound or the key, but not the ability to put notes one after the other.  Simple as falling off the proverbial log.  I assumed (obviously incorrectly) that my voice might start on a different note, but that I’d be able to naturally (magically) start on that given note and make melody from there like I always have been able to.  Like transposing music, as simple as adding a capo.  But it isn’t.  And I don’t know what to do.

placid waters on the horizon

The reality is that it is too early to actually do anything right now.  Because of the low level dose of testosterone I’m on and because it has been so short a time, I’m in store for many more changes.  My voice is likely to continue to change over time.  So no need to incite and inflame my over-active anxiety or self-flagellation just yet either.  I’ve done a bit of research – mostly on the internet and in trans-forums and trans-groups I’m in.  All is not lost.  Lots of trans-guys end up being able to sing when all is said and done.  It takes time and effort.  Some guys work with a voice coach who specializes in transgender voices and I know we have someone like that here in Boston because my primary care doc mentioned it to me before I started T.  I’m also engaging in some spiritual practices that foster tranquility, patience, understanding, and maybe ultimately harmony.



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

learn your lessons well

In a recent blog post I wondered if perhaps I might be *growing up*.  I’ve been wondering that a lot lately actually, whether things are changing for me (via either some inside or outside force) or whether I might just be responding to things with slightly more maturity and perspective.  Or, maybe the world is so batshit crazy right now that I just seem more evolved and *together* in comparison.  I’d like to think there is at least some small amount of deliberate intention in these changes, even if the majority of the reason for them is some intangible uncontrollable force.  I am 52 years old and that really is high time to be putting on the big boy undies.

I started this blog as a way to write about being transgender as one part of the life I live, a thread woven through and into the fabric of my life as a whole.  I also meant to include the other things in my life that make me who I am in the world.  In addition to being a spouse and a parent, I play sports and I cook and I love to take photographs and play music.  And lots of other things I dabble in.  If I’ve learned anything from the old folks I work with it’s the importance of continuing to learn new things.  And I’m very serious about the pursuit of new learning in my life.

Eight or nine years ago I ventured into the world of bread baking.  Well, more like that was when I first dipped a toe into bread baking.  A dear friend at the time gave me a bread machine she wasn’t using and I started with that.  We loved the product, but I wanted more hands-on involvement.  So I swapped a lesson with an acquaintance who was known to be an exceptional baker.  I gave her a lesson in soap-making and she gave me a lesson in bread baking.  What she taught me in our one session was the now-nearly-famous No-Knead-Bread recipe, made famous by food journalist Mark Bittman.  Again, not so hands-on, but more-so than the machine.  And equally fool-proof, I might add.  I went from baking that bread in a cast-iron skillet to baking it in a clay loaf baker Emily bought me as a gift, which made slicing it for sandwiches much easier, even if not exactly uniform.  Around that time I also discovered the King Arthur Flour website.

I played around on the KAF website and tinkered along with some of their bakers and recipes, as well as consulting their online chat feature.  The more in-depth and technical my questions became, the more advanced my breads got.  I began to ask the chat-chefs (repeatedly) when I could quit my day job…

Over these years I landed on and stuck with a specific basic sandwich bread recipe, tweaking it slightly to make it mine.  I bake a loaf every week or so and that has been the sole source of our family’s bread for these last 8-plus years.  I hadn’t realized how much this was the case until 2 years ago when we had our kitchen done, and because we had no stove, we had to buy store-bought bread for the weeks the kitchen was under construction.  When, after the first several days of Nina’s complete sandwich coming back home after school untouched, we asked what the problem was.  Nina said, quite seriously, “I’m afraid of the bread”  Laugh out loud!  The kid had never seen thin, consistent, fixed-slice store-bought bread before.  Parenting points for that.  Fear of uniform store-bought bread?  Minus parenting points.  At least I broke even.

Anyway, it’s now been another few years and I find myself wanting to take my bread baking to a new level.  From function to form, avocation to artistry.  As a frequent flyer at the King Arthur IP address, I learned that they were offering a scholarship to 2 people who wanted to “bring forth bread” so to speak, for the goodness of the world around them.  The scholarship was an all expense paid several day bread and pastry baking intensive at their Vermont location.  Room, board, the class, supplies, everything!  How could I not apply?!  In reality, I knew that I wasn’t actually even remotely qualified to win this prize.  They were asking for home bakers who go beyond their own homes and families.  Home bakers who regularly, or even sporadically, bake fresh bread for local shelters or fire-fighters or families in need.  I mean, I have been known to bake a nice olive oil rosemary bread for a new neighbor or for the caretakers at Ruby’s daycare now and again.  But the degrees of separation from my own home are seriously limited.  The *goodness* I put out being quite contained to my own orbit.

In another time in my life thinking along these lines might have put me in a self-scorning funk, reproaching myself for not being a good enough person, not being kind enough, generous enough.  But I didn’t go there this time.  That hyper-critical voice in my head has been torpid, lethargic, unenthusiastic as of late (definitely the T), and I am exceedingly grateful for that.

I didn’t get down on myself, but I also didn’t want to simply give up.  Rather than writing the scholarship essay about all the ways I was already “baking for good”, I wrote an essay about the ways I wanted to bring my baking into that realm.  I wrote what I considered a thoughtful, decent essay.  I sent my regular recipes and photos of my baking (requirements).  I was even a bit amused (if not completely self-satisfied or smug) that one photo of me baking included a bag of King Arthur Flour surreptitiously in the background.  With everything together in a neat virtual folder, I hit *apply*.

Uncharacteristically, I told friends that I’d applied.  And even though most of my being knew I would not get one of those precious two slots, there was a tiny piece of me that held out hope.  I was excited.  Not only by the slim chance of winning, but with pride at having taken that chance.  Something I definitely would not have done in the past.

I heard not long after, via a quite lovely email from KAF, that I wasn’t chosen.  I’m sure the letter was a form letter sent to each of the nearly 500 applicants.  Still it was nice (like the letter I received from Hilary Clinton in response to the letter I’d sent her after the fiasco of an election last year) and regardless of the fact that it was not a specifically special letter, I felt happy to have been acknowledged.  KAF also sent me a 5 dollar coupon for the effort of having applied.

I wasn’t shattered that I didn’t win.  For one, I didn’t expect to.  And for another, this seems to be the new imperturbable me, this is how I roll now I guess.  How cool is that?!  But I didn’t want it to end there.  I still had this desire to take my bread to a new level.  I checked out the KAF website to see their course list and schedule.  Vermont isn’t so far, I reasoned, and perhaps there was a one-day class that was inexpensive enough to splurge on.  I found, in addition to lots of learning opportunities at the King Arthur baking school, a host of on-line classes offered by KAF!  Not only was there no travel involved, the costs were dirt cheap!  After a bit of researching and my obligatory check ins with the chat-chef, I chose a class on sandwich breads.

sliced pain de mie

I’ve been making my way slowly through the class, enhanced by taking books out of the library, and learning *baker’s math*.  I am loving every minute.  My spouse and children are impressed and enthusiastic about my new breads and my pain de mie is being gobbled up almost as fast as I can make it!







This still doesn’t address the other desire that was sparked by the KAF scholarship, however, to put more goodness into the world.  Now that we’ve entered a new year, I’d like to take my newly developing bread skills a bit further.  Further, at least, from my own hearth.  I live, as I’ve said in the past, in a fairly affluent city.  It’s going to take me slightly more effort to find a recipient of regularly home-made bread.  But that’s my January New Year’s resolution.  I’m going to bake for good!




Posted in blessings, everyday stuff, foodstuff | 9 Comments

honest mistakes

Well, we made our annual pilgrimage to St. Louis for Thanksgiving this year.  I was more anxious than usual because of being on testosterone and not knowing what, if anything, Emily’s family members might notice.  Now, I say more anxious than usual because while America may run on Dunkin’, I run on anxiety.  And while my anxiety has substantially decreased since starting testosterone, that much anxiety doesn’t simply disappear overnight.  I still have a fair amount of anxious energy coursing through me most of the time.  Add to that the nervousness that comes with traveling (heightened by being transgender) and the pressure of traveling at the absolute most traveled time of the year in America, and my increased apprehension is not at all surprising.

As per usual, Emily traveled early with the “littles” as we like to refer to the younger children in our family, since missing school or daycare is no big deal for them.  Joita and I travel fast and furious (sort of) at the last possible second, ensuring the absolute least amount of school missed and enough rest and calm before basketball tryouts guaranteed on the return trip home.  It’s interesting to note that I actually feel less self-conscious traveling with Jo.  If she isn’t using her wheelchair (which she avoids like the plague actually), she’s using her forearm crutches to get around.  Since both of her hands are otherwise occupied, I am responsible for helping her navigate the crowds and carrying our luggage.  In general, people (those that are not staring stupidly at her) are more solicitous of Joita because she has a visible disability and she’s freaking adorable (said with no ironic parental bias).  And because, in general, most people are not assholes.  The bottom line is that we are all more focused on Joita and not on me.

It’s always a small shit-show getting her through TSA screenings (except that one time when Emily took care of things and called the airport to get us pre-screened and have TSA ready for Jo – but I’m clearly not that organized).  Joita can’t stand without crutches, never mind with her arms over her head.  The crutches need to be wiped down with special cloths and tested for chemicals (the year Emily was undergoing cancer treatment, when we all traveled together, there were traces of chemo on Jo’s crutches and that set off all kinds of alarms and we very nearly missed our flight) and her braces need to be removed and treated similarly.  She requires a “female assist” – a female TSA agent to give her a pat-down.  We’re all so focused on helping Joita through all of this with as little embarrassment and as much dignity as possible, there is little room left for me to worry about myself being odd.

As always we got to the airport super early (Jo isn’t exactly Speedy Gonzales) and we got through the crowd to the terminal relatively smoothly.  Until I stepped through the scanner at the TSA checkpoint and said, “Have a nice holiday” to the screening agent.  He looked momentarily alarmed and then his face turned red.  While his face was undergoing this metamorphosis it registered with me that he’d just said, “You’re all set sir” releasing me from the hands-over-head-machine.  My voice must have given him pause.  He awkwardly scrutinized me and asked me to step back through the machine.  He mumbled something about having screened me “incorrectly”.  I did as asked and went, a bit self-consciously, on my merry way.  There was no more exchange of holiday greetings.  I hadn’t realized or considered that TSA might do a different screening for men than women.

Our few days in St. Louis was a whirlwind of visits and catching up with relatives and friends.  Of course no one said anything to me, so I have no idea if anyone noticed anything different about me.  Emily’s sister Julie is one of those people whose personality is larger than life.  She is funny and loud and quick-witted.  She has often referred to me teasingly as well as ironically as her “brother-in-law” and frequently calls me “uncle Hali” when interacting with her son.  Her manner is silly and playful when she does this.  She’s kind in the extreme (a family trait) and would never, even jokingly, say these things if she thought any of it would hurt me in any way.  As for me, I secretly really like it.  I’ve never said that outright of course.  Like we have never openly discussed my gender status.  Discussing things like this openly is NOT a family trait in Emily’s family.  But I clearly give off a vibe of acceptance if not overt pleasure at being referred to as such.

At Thanksgiving when the house was teeming with 50 or so people, I bumped into Julie who was with two women I had never met.  Julie introduced a co-worker of hers and the co-worker’s wife to me.  Introducing me to them, in turn, as her “brother-in-law”, said with a slight lilt of facetiousness.  There was a second’s hesitation of uncertainty, followed by eye-rolling grin of skepticism before one of the women put out her hand to me in greeting.  As we shook hands and exchanged names Julie added, “or we just call her uncle Hali”.  Immediately the co-worker came to my defense(sic), saying, “Julieeeeee, Stop that!”  Her expression was laughing but it was the “joke taken too far” attitude of mild discomfort that came across clearly.  And I was uncomfortable with her discomfort.  She corrected Julie as if Julie had said something wrong or bad or insulting.  Which made me feel wrong and bad and embarrassed.  Part of me wanted to say something like, “I’m actually fine with it”.  But the maladroit reprimand and the claudicant laughter gave me no room to do so.  It would have made an already uncomfortable situation even more uncomfortable.  So I stood there dumbly while everyone laughed at the ridiculousness of the *joke*, avoided eye contact and changed the subject.  I slunk away as soon as I was able to without attracting any more attention.

The good news is that either the testosterone is doing its job or I am growing up.  By which I mean, neither of these incidents has done any lasting damage.  The discomfort and even the shame I felt in each of those moments, dissipated relatively quickly and I was able to move on.  Whereas in the past these awkward moments would have been played and replayed in my mind, eating me up inside and leaving me feeling contaminated and abhorrent.

I remember watching Ellen when she first came out.  She was doing a live show and taking comments from the audience.  Most of the people were thanking her or telling her how brave and amazing she was for “coming out”.  She called on one person of indeterminate gender and said, “Yes sir, what would you like to say?”  And the person began to answer with a rather high-pitched female voice.  Ellen fell down laughing and apologized as this person tried to say whatever they were prepared to say.  But the general hilarity of the audience (modeled by Ellen) completely drowned out whatever the person was trying to say.  I remember watching it and feeling sick to my stomach, shame of understanding welling up inside me.  I turned the television off before anything had resolved.  The audience still cackling, Ellen still holding her stomach and repeating “Ma’am, I’m sorry. Ma’am”, and the person in question’s face a hot shade of red, trying to get past the farcical burlesque of the moment.  Clearly that episode has stuck with me all these years.  I can still see the shame on that person’s face.  I can still feel how the importance of what someone has to say or who they are can so easily get lost in other people’s inability to listen beyond seeing.  That is slowly beginning to change in and for me.  I hope it is beginning to change in general.

from a dear friend

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

election reflection

I grew up in the early days of “women’s lib”, but I was nowhere near it’s epicenter or even anywhere close to the front.  The trickle down of that movement came to me in the form of slapstick ridiculous comedy via shows like the Brady Bunch, the Dick Van Dyke show (as well as the Mary Tyler Moore show) and I Love Lucy.  Words like “suffragette” were used, intentionally but not obviously as a diminutive rather than the real word, “suffragist”, depriving it of any influence or powerful meaning, and making it instead a subtle joke.  The 1975 Random House Dictionary defined *manly* using 21 adjectives including: strong, virile, resolute, brave and honest.  Where that same dictionary defined *womanly* as “like or befitting a woman; not manly”.  I didn’t know I was transgender, but it isn’t surprising either that I wasn’t proud of being female given the times and the mockery of even a suggestion of women’s equality that bordered on absurd.

I was heartened, albeit briefly, by Geraldine Ferraro and the Susan B. Anthony dollar coin.  But those fizzled out like flashes in the proverbial pan.  Given just enough ostensible attention to appear a serious attempt at progress toward equality while lacking any real substance.  The old bait and switch empty gesture.  Reality was that women were not taken seriously or given any real opportunities in politics, sports, medicine, science or religion (just to name a few areas).

I cried, as an adult, the first time I looked around an arena at so many little girls wearing Mia Hamm jerseys and t-shirts, gathered with their families in a relatively crowded football stadium to watch professional women’s soccer.  Those jerseys, seem so small a gesture and yet the power of little girls having women sports heroes was so powerful I was reduced to tears.  I didn’t have that growing up.  Unless you count Billie Jean King.  And there was no jersey for her.

Anyway, thanks for tripping with me down debby-downer-nostalgia-lane.  My point was actually that I didn’t have any truly powerful, smart, confident, serious women role models even if I had identified as female.  And since I didn’t have any of those, you can be assured I didn’t have any transgender role models.  The name “Renee Richards” was whispered disparagingly at some point in my childhood and though I have that vague recollection, I’m quite sure I didn’t have any connection or identification with her at all.  It amazes me how much things have changed since my childhood.

Though one year ago last week was a very bad day in the history of America (a colossal understatement), we did have a serious, smart, powerful woman candidate representing.  Even though the outcome seemed to validate all of my parents’ conspiracy theories of everything politic being corrupt and fixed.  My mother, in particular, has always been quite sure that votes get sucked into the dark vortex of nihility, the winner already decided by some mastermind politician with chimerical power.  Lots of things, not the least of which is the fact that women and others fought so long and so hard to make sure that everyone has the right to vote, keeps me voting every time there is an opportunity to do so.  Though I admit that I vote with the uncertainty that my vote really counts.  So last week when I went to vote for a woman for mayor of our city, I reminded myself not to be too disappointed if the straight, white, Christian, cis-man running against her beat her.  I mean, he had the backing of the police and firefighters’ unions, loudly proclaiming that everywhere in and around the city.  He was born and raised, something like fifth generation in this very same city, he boasted.  Which to me had the underlying current of “outsiders not welcome”, but perhaps that’s just my jaded experience in the world in which we currently live.  I noted each and every yard sign, poster, banner, flyer with his name on it as I drove through town daily, seemingly so many more than I saw representing her and I didn’t expect the woman to win.  But she did.  I stayed up way too late refreshing my phone screen as results came in and were counted.  The race was exceptionally close.  Decided in the end by only a few hundred votes.  One of which was mine.  I felt heartened and even a bit proud.  Not just because my choice of candidate won, but that hope that our democracy might still actually exist was kindled in me.

The following morning over coffee I perused the national election results.  On Tuesday November 7, 2017, in elections throughout the United States, there were 7 trans people elected into political offices.  I was stupefied, rendered speechless, overcome with emotion.  I had to read the articles several times each.  Where there have, in the history of America, not ever been even one openly or known transgender person elected to serve in a public office, in one election there were suddenly SEVEN.

The 7 transgender Americans who won in their elections were detailed in a blog post on the Human Rights Campaign website….

Andrea Jenkins, Minnesota (Minneapolis City Council)
Voters elected Jenkins to the Minneapolis City Council as the first openly transgender woman of color elected to public office in the U.S.

Danica Roem, Virginia (Virginia House of Delegates)
Roem unseated anti-LGBTQ Delegate Bob Marshall, and her electoral victory will make her Virginia’s first out transgender public official and the nation’s only out transgender state representative.

Gerri Cannon, New Hampshire (Somersworth School Board)
Cannon joined the Somersworth School Board yesterday. According to her LinkedIn page, she is planning on running for New Hampshire State Representative.

Lisa Middleton, California (Palm Springs City Council)
Middleton’s victory in the Palm Springs City Council election made her the first openly transgender person elected to a non-judicial office in the state of California.

Stephe Koontz, Georgia (Doraville City Council)
Koontz won a spot on her hometown city council, becoming her city’s first openly transgender elected official.

Tyler Titus, Pennsylvania (Erie School Board)
Titus’s win makes him the first out transgender person elected to office in Pennsylvania after a successful write-in campaign to join the ballot.

Phillipe Cunningham, Minnesota (Minneapolis City Council)
Cunningham earned a spot on the Minneapolis City Council. He is the first transgender man elected to a major city’s council in the U.S.

And I could not say it any better than HRC, “These candidates represent not only regional voters, but the 1.4 million transgender Americans across the country.”

“For trans youth across the country, Danica Roem’s election isn’t just a headline or even history,” HRC National Press Secretary Sarah McBride told The New York Times. “It’s hope. Hope for a better tomorrow.”

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

all changes great and small

I guess now is as good a time as any to do a quick check-in and update.  While I’m still on the lowest possible dose of testosterone, and while it has only been a few short months, and while the changes are teeny-tiny-eensy-weensy, there are some changes beginning to emerge.

That is, of course, in addition to the cerebral congruence and overall eudaemonia (that one is just for you Kris!) I have been experiencing since the first dose.  I really do wish I could adequately describe the inner changes.  It isn’t that I was an emotional disaster before or that I’m ecstatic or blissful now.  The inner changes have been both subtle as a warm breeze and simultaneously shocking as a bucket of ice water.  I feel an inner peace and calm I have not been able to sustain before.  Yes, of course I have felt glimmers of it.  But those feelings have been flashes, glimpses, shadows.  Now I feel *right* inside, grounded in an imprecise, but definitely positive way.  It isn’t exactly happiness or even confidence and certainly not euphoria.  It is more ethereal, harmonious and placid, a contentment and overall tranquility.  And the feeling is panoptic, prevailing.  More the underlying lens of how I am and how I experience things.  It isn’t that I don’t still have reactions to things in my life that are difficult, painful or frustrating.  Or even joyful or effervescent.  It’s as if I’ve always experienced living using only one lung or one eye or even had grey-lensed glasses on and now, *poof* I can see with both eyes, breathe with both lungs, see without the film of grey.  It isn’t that the air is always sweet or the view always beautiful.  But I can experience all of it with a sense of rightness and tranquility that has always been elusive to me before now.  I know I’ve said similar things in other posts trying to explain.  And I’m sorry for the repetition.  But I also feel committed to trying to describe this most indescribable metamorphosis as I’m experiencing it.

As for physical changes, those are still nearly non-existent.  I see no significant outer changes.  I look closely at specific things that I know can change with testosterone, like the shape of my body or my jawline.  And so far, I see no change at all.  I’m also closely watching, with suppressed breath, my hair.  No change so far as far as I can tell.  The hair on my legs has evened out.  Though I wouldn’t call it “thick”, nor would I consider myself hairy.  But I don’t think hairiness runs in my family either.  It’s been almost 20 years since my dad died, and I never really noticed whether or not the hair on his arms or legs was more or less than other men.  He could grow a good beard and mustache though.  And that’s as far as I care to go in considering my male relatives and their hairiness, because I keep coming back to the fact that most are bald.

Aaanywaaaaay…. on other hair fronts… As I said above, the hair on my legs is evening out.  Whereas before starting testosterone the hair on my calves was patchy and scraggly and in general ridiculous looking.  I still have no hair evident on my thighs or upper legs.  There is no hair (except the singular wiry one that grows from the mole) on my face.  When I am driving and I look at my arms stretched before me toward the steering wheel, with the sun shining on them through both the window and windshield, I sometimes notice faint, translucent peach fuzz.  Was it there before?  I never looked.  I never noticed.  And in the time it takes me to ponder, either my attention is drawn back to driving or the sunshine changes ever so slightly and the noticing changes and I’m left wondering if my eyes were playing tricks on me or if it was my imagination.  Also in the arena of “am I making this shit up” is that I’m beginning to feel a bit stronger physically.  Nothing major, but I noticed last week that I was much more easily able to carry 5 bags of groceries up the stairs without straining. (heaven forbid I should have to make more than one trip)  Again, I don’t know if I AM any stronger or if it is a mind-over-matter or wishful thinking.  Just that things don’t seem quite as heavy to me as they used to.

The side effects of testosterone that are definitely real begin with the area close to where I rub the gel (my shoulders and upper arms) as well as the hairline at the back of my head, both festering with blotches of acne.  And it seems to be getting worse.  It’s gross.  Perhaps along the lines of TMI (too much information), I’ve always been a *picker*.  I’ve always liked popping zits (when I’ve had them), picking scabs and peeling dried sunburnt skin.  This acne is different than any pimple I have previously had experience with though.  There is no *popping* the small red dots with white middles.  Pressing, squeezing or dragging a thumbnail across them only makes them angry and red as well as painful and sore.  So I’m washing more.  While we have not had to buy soap since I started making it about 7 years ago, I’ve taken to using more astringent drying store-bought soaps because mine is too moisturizing.  Whenever I have the opportunity I’m also wiping those areas and my face with rubbing alcohol.  I guess it’s pretty well-managed, and probably not-so-noticeable to the casual observer, but I am very much aware of it.  It feels revolting to me and regardless of whether others notice it, I can see and feel it.

There is also now the issue of my voice.  Changes there are definitely beginning.  At first I thought I was getting run-down, coming down with a cold.  My throat felt strange and scratchy and my voice was a bit hoarse.  I’d been singing hours and hours a day and speaking more than usual because of the month-long Jewish holiday services I lead.  So I chalked it up to that.  I noticed that my voice has been much much lower first thing in the morning, but by afternoon it gets mostly back in my regular range.  So again, I chalked the changes up to overuse.  And then my good friend Joyce told me, with her usual frankness, that I was getting that *helium voice* that trans-guys get and told me to “knock it off”.  Nothing like breaking it to me gently – LMAO!  But I knew she was right.  And I totally love her for that honesty.  Especially since I clearly can’t tell.  I’d also sworn Joyce and a few others who know to promise to tell me if/when changes became apparent.  The problem with my new helium voice is that I have no idea how to *knock it off*.  My voice is like a ship on a roiling sea, swaying, lurching, pitching.  I don’t have control over it.  I can feel the inner urge to speak lower, from deeper in my throat, down towards my belly.  But I don’t know if that is psychological or physical.  I can feel the connection between the base of my throat/top of my chest and my nasal passages as I speak.  And I’m noticing that it is taking more breath to get sound out than I am used to.  So in addition to the helium effect, I also feel as though I’m not modulating my volume well at all.  This works well for the hard-of-hearing elderly with whom I work.  Not so much for lunch with peers who are wondering why I’m shouting intermittently during casual conversation.  So, not so surprising, I’m very self-conscious.  I find myself wondering if my voice and other changes are obvious, if others are noticing and commenting to one another.  I don’t like feeling like I’m being talked about, but I also understand why people might not ask me directly.  Luckily it is, as I’ve already said, immediately after a month of working overtime and using my voice more, and hopefully most folks (those who do not know and with whom I do not care to discuss) are also assuming changes have to do with that.  In the meantime I remain contentedly somewhere in the middle, at peace with the uncertainty and enjoying the beauty of becoming.

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

your neighbor’s ass

We are told, more than once, in the Torah that if you see your neighbor’s ass gone astray you must do something to help.  Even if you don’t particularly like your neighbor.  Exodus goes as far as to say even if it is your enemy’s ass, you can’t just stand by and do nothing.  Loosely translated: “If the one who hates you’s beast is struggling under a burden, you must help.”

I had just wrapped up a 12 hour day at work.  It was Yom Kippur and I was completely spent, exhausted and slightly fried, having been standing, singing, leading services for more than 6 of those hours.  I literally stumbled to my car and slithered in.  I had driven no more than 3 blocks when some neighborly guy driving by rolled down his window, gesticulating to me that my front passenger-side tire was flat (I was so tired I hadn’t even noticed the uneven lurching of the car).  I limped dispiritedly straight to the nearest gas station (which was just closing and therefore unable slash unwilling to help) where I called AAA.  

On the verge of becoming a complete and total hot mess, I was engaging every contemplative practice I’d ever learned in a rather feeble attempt to not fall apart.  I was tired and hungry and felt like I’d just done a graceless faceplant over the threshold into a new year.  A rather un-auspicious beginning.  The lovely folks at AAA told me I’d have about an hour’s wait.  Good thing I had smarties in my car to stave off starvation.

As the gas station attendant closed doors and turned off lights around me, I sat in the parking lot trying not to feel too bad for myself, making valiant attempts to convince myself that this was not a portent of the way this year was going to be.

As I focused on my deep breathing, meditating and envisioning calming waterfalls, a pickup truck pulled into the parking lot behind me and flashed it’s high beams on the back of my car.  It hadn’t been an hour, but I was hopfully sure it was AAA.  As I got out of my car, the truck screeched into reverse and shrieked into drive, pulling aggressively around my car, skidding to a dusty, fume-ridden, dare-I-say irritated stop in front of me.

A short, burly, kind of dirty-looking guy with a crew-cut and day old stubble on his chin got out of the pickup.  I was taken up short in my advance to introduce myself.  The look he gave me was pure malevolence.  And he took his eyes off me quickly, focusing on the tools in the back of his truck with forced intention.

Now, for full disclosure, the back of my car does say a little bit about me.  I have a Black Lives Matter sticker displayed prominently in the middle of the back of the car.  I also have a bumper sticker with religious symbols and the words “Prays Well With Others”.  These mark me as somewhat “liberal” I suppose, though I would say before this interchange I had not considered the ire those messages might engender in others. Stopping short at his abrupt exclusion, I considered myself for a moment.  In addition to the bumper stickers, I am also more than painfully aware of my appearance and the judgments and/or conclusions others may jump to at first sight of me.  On this particular evening I was wearing all white (my garb for the holiness of the day) and, as always, my large Bukhari-cap-style yarmulke.  Also, as always, I present as of indeterminate gender.  Not that he would have taken in all of that, given the studiousness of his disregard.  Just that had he taken in anything about me, these things might have stood out.  Perhaps I was someone he was not predisposed to like.  Still, I found his brusqueness disquieting.

Having just been engaged in mindfulness techniques and exercises while waiting, I found myself in a relatively calm contemplative place.  So I noted my discomfort at what felt like being shunned.  I noted it, but didn’t feel compelled to act in any certain way as a result.  As I stood watching him work I tried not to let myself jump to conclusions.  Maybe he was just having a bad day.  Perhaps an even worse day than mine.  Or maybe he was a Trump supporter who viewed me with disgust as some crazy progressive bleeding-heart libtard.  I was definitely feeling more of the latter.  So much for not jumping to conclusions.  But you know when you get a vibe from someone.  And I was definitely getting a vibe from this guy.  So I texted Val.  I told her that if I were to disappear, it was likely that I’d been chopped up into tiny pieces and disposed of somewhere in the vicinity of where I currently was.  I described my current circumstances.  I can do that with Val, share my craziness without shame.

In the meantime, I was also keenly aware that typically I revert to a habitual response with men like this in these types of situations.  I tend to default to a rather pitiful, though no less valiant attempt at *damsel in distress*.  Laugh if you must, but it generally has the desired effect of diffusing the aggressive energy of the situation.  Somehow the damsel in distress alleviates any challenge to the authority or, gag, superiority of the person (usually a man) I’m engaging with.  I’m not saying I’m proud of this behavior.  I’m not.  It is a learned response that I think many women regress to in situations like this, whether they admit it or not.

“Not this time”, I thought.  I don’t know whether I was just too tired to play the fair maiden or whether the contemplation of the day and the time meditating in the car while waiting simply grounded me.  Either way, I did not engage in my familiar *womanly*(sic) ways.  I neither asked insipid questions nor chatted away inanely trying to connect.  Nor did I bat a single eyelash.  I simply remained quiet, leaning against the gas station, watching him work with discourteous compendiary efficiency.  He concluded by throwing his heavy tools with unnecessary force into the back of his truck with a loud clang.  As he walked around to his driver’s side door I said, “Thank you”, to which he may or may not have grunted.  And then he was gone.  I breathed a sigh of relief as I got back in my car.

I texted Val.  I told her I was safe and thanked her for being there yet again.  I wasn’t at all sure he hadn’t left the lug nuts intentionally loose and that I wouldn’t still end up skidding unceremoniously off the road into a ditch.  But for the moment, I was safe.  I wondered briefly whether he really was just having a bad day or whether he simply found me so offensive that he refused to engage with me at all.  For some reason, even if it was the latter explanation, I didn’t feel bad.  A new feeling in and of itself.  You know what else I didn’t feel?  Yucky.  And that is exactly how I end up feeling any time I’ve played the damsel in distress.  I feel sullied and stupid, ashamed and pathetic.  I didn’t feel any of that this time.  It was a totally new, positive and uplifting experience.  In more ways than one this total stranger unburdened my ass.



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