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

whipping boi

Sung to the tune of “no good deed goes unpunished”.  I’m not your whipping boi.  And I’m trying not to be a total douchenozzle – you know, being the white, overly defensive whining asshole.  In general, I try very hard (ok, maybe not my very best every minute of every day or anything like that, but still…) to be a decent human being.  I really do.  As I said I would back in July, I have been educating myself and identifying myself as someone wanting to help.  I have replaced no fewer than 4 Black Lives Matter signs on my property, which have been repeatedly pulled from their wire stands and thrown to the ground as well as stomped on and outright stolen.  I now have one hanging from my second floor porch (as well as one on my car).  I have been reading voraciously.  And I have joined groups that help combat injustice and spoken with our local police department.  I seriously have our state governor on speed-dial and have been calling him (sometimes several times) daily to voice my complaints and opinions for how to make the world a better, safer, less bigoted and hate-filled place.

I’m far from perfect.  I know that better than anyone else.  In addition to not being perfect, I also know (or at least have an inkling) how much I don’t know.  But I am trying, learning, growing, and on any given day doing the best I can.  And I do take issue with being reprimanded for not doing enough, not being helpful enough, doing the wrong kind of help (at what feels like every turn).  I have the queasy sensation that I’m about to enter politically incorrect territory; alarm bells going off in my head and “Danger, Will Robinson” ringing in my ears as my hand on the mouse hovers anxiously over the *delete post* button.  But I do my best *thinking* in my writing here, so I’m going to continue even at the risk of sounding like the stupid jerk I may very well be.

Last week I wrote part of the story about Joita running back to stand up to the bigger girls who were picking on another kid on the playground.  But I stopped the story just shy of the ending.  And that ending was that as the older girls stared at Joita in disbelief, dumbstruck that she was standing up to them, stopping them momentarily from teasing the other girl, that other girl smugly sauntered over toward Joita and spit at her (sort of a raspberry tongue sticking out spitting) and then walked past me and did the same to me.  Sometimes Joita’s oblivious nature serves her well – she didn’t even notice.

But I did.  Here my kid was putting herself on the line sticking up for this kid and what does she get in return?  A kick in the pants, that’s what.  A big fat raspberry.  And I’m not asking for accolades or even acknowledgement.  But there is certainly a wide chasm between encomium and expectoration!?  And, like Joita, but perhaps not to the extent of Joita, I’ve got enough shit on my own plate without sticking my neck out for others.  Especially when the response is going to be sputum.  I’m blatantly gender-non-conforming and I’m Jewish (and I wear a kippah/yarmulke all the time).  Let’s just say I stand out as *one of these things is not like the other* in a not good way.  In some respects, I’m a walking target myself.  So I’ve got my own struggles.  As I have alluded to in other posts, I find it easier and more preferable to speak up for others.  Unless I get spit at or yelled at for my efforts.

Before the election I’d been added to a “queer mamas” group on Facebook.  The group shared stories, asked questions and brainstormed answers to issues only LGBTQ parents face.  I didn’t post at all, but I did enjoy reading along.  The growing numbers of the group helped me feel a sense of community and camaraderie.  Many of the stories were amusing and lots were situations I could relate to.  And then someone’s partner quit the group (announced by the remaining partner) because there wasn’t enough support for people of color and white folks were not doing enough and/or talking too much.  And then 30,000 white queers immediately self-flagellated and begged forgiveness – though most had no idea what for.  And then someone pointed out that the Black Lives Matter movement had actually gotten quite a bit of engagement within the group.  And then someone else pointed out that it was all the white folks who were doing all the talking and not listening to the people of color.  Specifically, the queer mamas of color felt that “putting a stupid sign up in your yard” wasn’t even close to enough.  And then some white people were like, “I’m doing the best I can here”.  And then some people of color decided to break off from the group and form their own “queer mamas of color” group.  And then a few people of color said that the others didn’t speak for them and that they did feel supported.  But then some of the white folks were angry about the split-off.  And then the people of color who were trying to keep connection got angry.  And then the remaining people of color who were not totally frustrated by the whole thing tried to explain (for the gazillionth time) that white people will never truly understand what it’s like to be a person of color in America.  And I was really missing the photos of toddlers and tantrums during meal times. True story.

I quit the group.  I couldn’t stand that much tension and bickering.  Call me a wimp.  It isn’t that I don’t agree that there is undeniable white privilege.  It isn’t that I don’t see it and, undoubtedly at times, benefit from it.  At least as often as I am discriminated against because of my abstract gender (or my religious head-covering) I am also afforded privilege because of my skin color (or lack thereof).  I get it.  I see it.  And I’m not sure what to do with it or about it.  I try every day to, at the very least, not add to the problem.  I try every day to do something that will set the pendulum of change swinging the other way.  I’m not saying it doesn’t bother me.  It does.  I don’t want to be dismissive of other people’s feelings and experiences.  All the time (in between the running commentary in my head that I am a piece of shit) I’m thinking, could I be doing more?  Should I be doing more?  How?  And what?  For whom?  It’s disheartening to the extreme to realize you are shoveling shit against the tide with a teaspoon. {please pause for a moment to visualize this exceptional metaphor}  And the spittle that gets thrown back at you from the outgoing wave feels a lot like the raspberry that the girl on the playground gave me and Jo.

man-wearing-traditional-kilt-outfit-showing-kilt-pin-and-skean-dhu-ak5t5nThis came up again.  This time in *pantsuit nation* (the secret society of sanity on Facebook).  Someone suggested wearing safety pins on outer clothing as a sign of “safety” for anyone feeling threatened.  Some claimed this was an established underground signal and attributed it to the Dutch resistance to the nazis during WWII.  Others gave credit to punk rockers who have been wearing safety pins in defiance of bourgeois establishment for decades.  At any rate, the safety pin alliance gained momentum.  Crafty pantsuiters started bedazzling the pins and soon there were no safety pins to be bought at local stores.  It was all fun and games until… Until the backlash of rage at what gets defined as *slacktivism* happened.  First, some white (presumably straight, presumably Christian) man wrote an article (mansplaining) saying that the whole safety pin thing was a huge embarrassment and that those wearing them should just take them off because they looked stupid.  Some people felt the safety pin was offensive, patronizing and paternalistic.  Then the vertiginous ridiculous started up again.  Too little too late.  Not enough.  But I’m doing the best I can.  You don’t understand.  Neither do  you.  You’re not helping.  But I’m not making things worse, am I?  And on and fucking on.

I just shook my head.  Wearing a safety pin doesn’t apply to me.  No one is looking at someone of indeterminate gender, wearing a yarmulke as a safe haven.  Another true story.  But as someone who just might be the target of hate, I would welcome a safety pin sign (bedazzled or plain) that someone just might hold a safe space for me in a world that feels scarier by the minute, that I just might not be alone.  If you don’t want to wear one don’t.  But don’t make others feel badly about their small effort.  You have no idea what someone else’s life is like or what they’ve got going on or what they struggle with.  And believe me, (ooh, I just threw up in my mouth a little hearing that in trumpspeak)… but believe me, everyone has something they struggle with.

The thing is, first graders seem so babyish and dumb to sixth graders.  And sixth graders look so puny and stupid to high school freshman.  And… you get the picture.  Everyone has to start somewhere.  I guess that’s my point.  Don’t jump all over folks who are just starting on the (right) path.  Slacktivism might seem utterly worthless to people who are volunteering and marching and speaking out and donating time and money.  But everyone needs to start somewhere.  And who knows where that tiny gesture might lead? Encouragement goes a hell of a lot farther than criticizing in my book.  Thanks for reading and helping me work through this.

Posted in everyday stuff, feelings | 2 Comments

my what a big underbelly you have

It isn’t just because of this election that I have very strong feelings about bullies.  As any of my readers know, my mother herself was/is a bully.  So I’m well acquainted with bullies.  I’ve known them all my life.  There were even times when I feared that the *bully blood* might run through my own veins and that I might become a bully myself one day if I wasn’t careful.  Interestingly, my father’s two life lessons were (1) don’t be mean and (2) don’t lie.  This is how I began to realize that being a bully was a choice.  So I’m not mean.  (I don’t lie either)

I’ve been the unfortunate target of bullies more times than I care to count or recount.  Though a few incidents do stand out in my memory.  In my freshman year in high school I was tormented by a (repeat) 10th grader, ostensibly for being Jewish.  She knocked my books out of my hands any chance she got.  I would calmly stoically pick them up without looking at or addressing her.  She also tossed pennies at me, which I pretended not to notice (not a hard task since she wasn’t a very good shot).  She wrote my name on a “blacklist” on the bathroom wall and then in a large study hall yelled to ask me if I’d seen it.  She proudly crowed for all to hear, “I wrote it”  To which I quietly responded, “You spelled my name wrong”, which elicited uproarious laughter from bystanders, but didn’t actually help the situation any.  I was always better at standing up to someone else’s bullies than I was at standing up to those who picked on me.  I guess feeling like I didn’t deserve to be treated well made it harder for me to speak up for myself.

beeswax

 

As I’ve gotten older, I have found I have less and less tolerance for bullies and their obnoxiousness.  I no longer care to suffer bullies lightly and I have begun to feel it is my responsibility to, at the very least, call them out by speaking the truth.  Or maybe that is just my *bully fatigue* finally kicking in.  When, after my father died, my mother told me I had no business grieving because, quote, “Your father hated you! Why would you grieve for someone who hated you?”  I was able to simply say, “That was mean.”  True or not, her telling me that was mean.  I called her on it.  Which stopped her in her tracks.  Which was all I wanted.  Which is all one can actually do with a bully most of the time, as logic and bullies don’t mix well.

This conviction hardened when I became a parent.  Further strengthened and solidified by being the parent of a handicapped child.  Without compunction I have stood up to (literally gotten up in the faces of) people who are being mean to or about my child and called them out on it.  In addition to my father’s life lessons I have added for my own children, (3) speak up when others are mean.  There was a day on the playground when Joita (who was about 5 at the time) was on the swings while two older girls (probably 7 or 8) were making fun of another child on the play structure.  I called to Joita and she scrambled over to me.  But before I could ask what was going on (it wasn’t completely clear to me whether they were being mean, so I was calling her over to ask) she was already saying, “I wasn’t joining them! I wasn’t saying anything.”  To which I explained that neither was she speaking up.  And again, before I could say anything more, having apparently absorbed life lesson number 3 by the tender age of 5, she wobbled back over and said to the two girls, “How about we all get along and play together nicely?  {awkward pause}  Ok?”

After the election, a high school friend on Facebook (remember how I didn’t want to unfriend them?), wrote something positive about Trump and negative about the last 8 years (which, according to her, sucked).  I responded to her post by asking her (in a very sincere way) how she found the last 8 years hard and went on to say that I had actually benefitted in the last 8 years (by having my rights legalized as one example) and that I was frightened of a Trump presidency (because of the threat to those legal rights, as one example).  I really was looking for dialogue.  A friend of hers immediately commented on my comment, saying, “Who is this turd and why do we have to hear this sob story?!”  I responded to this total stranger by saying that her comment was mean and uncalled for.  She responded that I was a cry baby and perhaps she “should of”(sic) thrown me a crying towel.  We went back and forth in this fashion; me suggesting we have an actual conversation, asking her to stop being a bully and calling me names and telling her that she was being mean, continuing to remind her that it was uncalled for; and her calling me names and basically taunting me (using very poor grammar I might add).  In the 20 or so back and forths (which I am sparing you), while she continued to berate me, make fun of me and call me names, not a single person got involved in any way.  Though I’m sure lots of people were following the exchange.  I was disappointed that no one said anything to her in my defense (or even told us both to cut the crap).  I was disappointed in myself because I could feel myself with each response wanting to lash out and verbally bitch-slap her into submission – utilizing my far-superior mental prowess to decimate her stupid-ass…  In other words, I wanted to be mean.

A day or two later, a colleague of mine who happens to be a graduate of Hillary Clinton’s alma mater came to me distraught.  She told me that male students from nearby Babson College went to the Wellesley College campus the day after the election, waving Trump flags and generally taunting and harassing the women there (because we have elected a giant bully to be our president).  She wasn’t asking me to do anything other than listen to her and be with her in her sadness and dismay.  Still, I felt I had to do something.  I wrote a strongly worded letter to the president of Babson College asking her to address the situation.  I also asked her to change the wording on their website (I had done my due diligence and made sure I knew what had happened and what the responses were) which stated, “… our students’ behavior was perceived and experienced as offensive“.  I said that neither the perception nor the experience was the problem and asked them to specifically and directly place blame on the students’ behavior, which was very clearly offensive (a major understatement).  An almost immediate response was that they changed the wording on their website.  I also received no fewer than 3 phone calls from both the president’s office and the dean’s office thanking me for speaking out, assuring me that they were taking the incident very seriously and promising that they would discipline their students accordingly.

Another day later one of the Babson students involved issued an apology, which he included on his Facebook page and made public.  The apology was clear and concise, he took responsibility for being a total jerk (even though he denied being a bigot, racist, homophobe, etc).  He basically said he was stupid and made stupid choices and that he regrets what he did.  He then asked for the opportunity to apologize individually to anyone who might wish to engage in a conversation with him.  He provided his email address as well as his cell phone number.  Look, it wasn’t the most eloquent lovely apology I’ve ever read.  And let’s face it, anyone who would even consider participating in the kind of mean-spirited, intimidating, menacing behavior he did probably wasn’t the *goody-two-shoes-poster-boy* to begin with.  Still, it was something.  The other guy involved in the harassment didn’t say boo.  So, like I said, it was a start.

I was absolutely horrified by the responses he received.  Mountains, torrents, a virtual deluge of hate rained down on this guy.  About one-third of responders accused him of not being sincere, of his apology being too-little-too-late, of having daddy’s lawyers craft this crappy confession.  Another third suggested , not very nicely I might add, he do some physically impossible things with his unacceptable poor excuse for an apology, and calling him vicious horrible names.  And the last third of respondents threatened him with bodily harm and, in some cases, death, for his inexcusable actions as well as his parody of penitence.

It isn’t that I am lacking for vocabulary choices, but the words what. the. actual. fuck. really do seem to describe things best right now.  My disappointment in the human race is bone deep.  Why is it so hard to be nice and seemingly so easy to be mean?  Has it always been this way?  How have we gotten here?  And how do we turn back?  Was there ever a “back” to turn to?  I’ve actually written another letter to the Babson president.  This time sharing my outrage and concern for the very student I complained about last week.  With the rapid responses I received I had been momentarily heartened, thinking that perhaps we had reached one bully, helped him see the error of his ways, changed him, given him a valuable experience with which to go forward on a better path.  Instead, we have attacked him, threatened him, humiliated him and given him absolutely no reason to apologize ever again.  We have just added to the conflagration that is angry white men.  And truthfully, I am at a loss.  I simply want to go back to bed.  In the words of Susan Powter (who I honestly never thought I’d quote quite as often as I do), somebody, “Stop the insanity!” because I sure as shit can’t seem to.

stop-sign

Posted in everyday stuff, feelings | 3 Comments

the actual fuck

 

Well that didn’t go at all as planned.

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I am both at a loss for words and flooded with them.  I have colloquy gushing from every pore and orifice in my body, clogging my brain and choking my heart.  And none of it is coherent.  I am wrecked.  Wracked with pain and sadness, completely overwhelmed with despair.  I am terrified.  I cannot focus.  And though I am exhausted, I cannot sleep.  I lie wakeful in the night planning the escape I fear will be necessary for me and my family, identifying who might shelter us, stand up for us, until we can get away.  Who will come for us?  How will I protect my children?  Particularly Joita.   By day I am distracted with daydreams of formulating and reformulating responses to my outrage, sadness and fear.  I am bombarded by incidents of outright and shameful hate that I can neither un-see nor do anything about.  I am a walking (barely) breathing raw flayed nerve in the middle of a full-blown panic attack.

Of course this is a gross over-reaction and I should just cut the shit and get over it all.  Don’t be a baby just because your candidate lost.  Jesus Hali, this is a bit overblown on the disappointment scale don’t you think?  Paranoid much?!

I am, quite frankly, shocked by how utterly shattered I am.  And it is not just the damage of disappointment.  That I get.  I put a lot of hope into Hillary as the most qualified and first woman president.  Having her lose was a tough blow, a bitter pill to swallow.  I can see that.  Though even that is fraught with layer upon layer of difficulty for me, much more complicated than meets the eye I daresay.  First, working with frail elderly (predominantly) women, I am holding their palpable grief – that now none of them will actually live to see the day we elect a woman president.  In reality, it can hardly be said that I am holding that grief.  More like I’m buried under a avalanche of it.  Second, I don’t actually identify as a woman (never have); but I have lived as one, been socialized as one and been treated as one all my life.  So on some level I don’t feel entitled to the disappointment women are feeling right now even though I am feeling it.  But there’s so much more than just my being a sore loser.

The fact that she lost to an absolutely despicable shitbag takes disappointment to a whole new level.  What’s astounding is that the fact that he is completely unqualified for the job isn’t even in my top 10 reasons for being upset.  I care more that he is a blatant, open and proud predator and bully who inspires and encourages hate and then sits back and visibly (creepily) enjoys the fruits of his influence and provocation (which he claims he has no awareness of).  He is a very sick human being.

In his defense, he clearly suffers (and therefore anyone whose path he crosses suffers) from a personality disorder/mental illness that he cannot seem to overcome (not that he has shown one iota of interest in doing so).  The fact that he has so many ardent followers makes me question the rationality of those who voted for him.  Or conversely, the fact that I seem to see so clearly the danger of this man makes me question my own sanity.  To be honest, I’m questioning my mental health anyway right now.

My friend’s husband is a strident republican and he graciously offered to talk to me about my fears and “talk me off the ledge”.  Now, I adore this guy.  He is salt of the earth and one of the most likable, kindest and gentlest human beings I know.  He’s also really smart.  And he walks the walk.  He wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth.  He worked for everything he has and he works hard.  And he stands up to bullies and protects those who need protection every chance he gets.  He is also a straight, white, cis-man.  He put the election results into a framework for me that this wasn’t about candidates per se, as much as it was a thundering calling out of the political elite by the masses, a demand for drastic change.  He genuinely doesn’t believe that Trump will have the desire or the power to hurt me or those like me.

I felt safe just being on the phone with him.  If Trump does anything to hurt me or my family my friend’s husband will personally kick his ass.  I need this guy to live in my pocket  for the next 4 years (which would be awkward in so many ways… not the least of which he is quite a beefcake and wouldn’t fit in any of my pockets).

And I doubt this decent and loving man, who probably cannot even fathom intentionally hurting someone himself, has ever felt targeted, or hunted, scared or bullied.  I have.  I’ve known bullies all too well.  My mother is and was a bully.  She used shame and threats (as well as physical blows) to teach me lessons that will be forever seared on the surface of my soul.  As someone who doesn’t seamlessly blend into society’s fabric, I have also known my fair share of bullies outside of my family.  I have been heckled and taunted, teased and antagonized.  I have been oppressed and intimidated.  I have been loathed enough to loathe myself.  I have feared for my own safety.  It all becomes sixth sense, with you all the time, a heightened fight or flight response.  And right now I am scared, on alert all the time, fearful and anxious.

But maybe I am over-reacting.  Maybe my fight or flight response is on overdrive.  My anxiety getting the best of me.  It isn’t as if we are living in 1930s Germany after all, where some puffed up mental-case buffoon with crazy hair and funny facial expressions and gestures has been, beyond all sane comprehension, elected to the highest office in the land.   Or that said buffoon has specifically targeted, blamed and threatened one religious group as the root of all evil.  Even Secretary Clinton has asked that we give him a chance to succeed.  And it isn’t as if the KKK and other white supremacist hate groups are celebrating vocally across the country.  And at least he hasn’t appointed blatant hateful assholes like Steve Bannon to be chief strategist and a member of his inner circle cabinet.

Still not going at all as planned.

Posted in feelings, Uncategorized | 9 Comments

unreality

Reality is a relative term.  Clearly everyone has their own, and we can only hope that the Venn diagrams of life’s realities overlap enough, or at least to some extent, to allow us to live peacefully with one another.  I try very hard to find the connections, the overlap, the common ground.  It’s election day in America.  And since the beginning of this election, I’ve been having a hard time finding those commonalities.  I’ve been shocked again and again by the stark differences.   And I’ve been losing heart inch by inch as my own Venn circle seems to shrink protectively around me.

I’m no stranger to mean-spirited fun(sic).  My mother’s middle name and religion are schadenfreude.  Oh how she loves to laugh (cackle) at the misfortunes of others!  And though I loved my father dearly and he was, in my opinion and as evidenced by his own actions, one of the kindest, gentlest, most generous people I ever knew, he thought the three stooges were hysterical, laugh-out-loud, tears-streaming-down-your-face funny.  I get it.  And I admit that I laughed last week when I saw the woman gently (almost lovingly) place her newly-purchased Dunkin’ Donuts coffee on the roof of her car, to free up a hand so she could get in and then promptly forget and drive off, spilling her coffee unceremoniously down her windshield.  I laughed.  But I didn’t wish it on her.  Does that make me any better?

I’ve said for many years now that reality television was the beginning of the ruination of our society.  I have friends who tease me about this conspiracy theory of mine, needling me in good-natured ways about my too tender heart.  But I’m serious.

I don’t know how anyone can watch those reality shows.  My skin crawls at the thought of them.  My anxiety goes through the roof and secondary shame burns my cheeks and makes my pulse race.  They are horrible.  From the very first ones.  They vote people off, put out their flames, pit people against one another, blatantly make fun of people, and are just plain mean.  Just to name a few things they’ve got going for them.  Over the years, as they have tapped into and honed people’s inner bullies, reality television has found ways for people to be covert bullies – so that no one need know that one is mean and no one need feel badly about themselves for being mean.  We can “text” mean things privately, from the comfort of our living rooms and vote people out.  We may laugh in private but the people being made fun of and outcast are being just as publicly shamed, humiliated, demeaned.

I guess before reality tv there were shows like Jerry Springer.  Dirty-laundry airing, chair throwing, laugh-a-minute low-brow fun(sic).  Or maybe it went all the way back to “America’s Funniest Home Videos”.  The funniest ones were always at someone’s expense.  Why is it so compelling to watch (and enjoy) the mishaps of others?  What need or desire does it satisfy?  What strange inner itch does it scratch?

I’m trying to figure out how we got here, with someone like Donald Trump as an actual, for-real presidential candidate.  With his candidacy, the despicable, revolting, execrable, pestiferous underbelly of humanity in this country has been highlighted (and there is a lot more of it than I am prepared to know about).  Like turning over a rock in the garden and exposing all the slimy vermin to the light of day.  The racist, xenophobic, homophobic, misogynist bullying that is being revealed and delighted in has cast a palpable pall over so many of us.

But beside Trump and Pence (who I think is even more vile than Trump), loathsome as they are, what has caused me the greatest amount of disappointment and anguish has been the people in my life who have been revealed as Trump supporters.  I expected my family (what little I have) to support him.  They’re republicans who think Reagan was the “best president ever” and whose republican values include, “as long as I’m doing well who cares about anyone else?!” and “suck it up buttercup, go out and work for it!”, just to name a few.  More painful have been the old friends and acquaintances who have proclaimed their Trump intentions loudly and proudly despite his rhetoric and what it actually means.  I grew up in a small town which is now quite affluent.  Though back then it wasn’t so much.  It was just a small farm town when I was growing up there.  I always thought of it as a wonderful, tight-knit, up-and-coming town, with strong community and good schools.  I’ve overlooked the plethora of Facebook friends from my childhood who cannot for the life of them grasp the differences between “their, there and they’re”, or “your and you’re” – always giving them the benefit of the doubt that perhaps they were posting in a hurry, or while driving at high speeds on the interstate.  I’ve ignored the photos of their cheerleader daughters wielding batons or their camo-clad sons brandishing BB guns.  But these people, they’ve all known me all my life, since I was a little kid.  They see who I am, who I have been and who my family is on Facebook.  Every one of them is quick to “like” photos of me or my kids, to post cheers on my wall regarding my hockey escapades or to send me good wishes for every tiny triumph I share.  How do they not see how their support of a candidate that stands for everything that is anti me might be problematic?

The most painful one has been Mackie.  Mackie was probably in her late 20s or early 30s when I came out at 14.  She was like a “gay mother” to me and other young people who were scared and confused and grappling with the realization of being LGBTQ or other.  She was a rock, steady and strong.  She guided us, protected us, kept us out of trouble and listened to us tirelessly without complaint or criticism.  I don’t know how any of us would have survived without her.  And yet, day after day after day she posts horrific propaganda against Hillary and support for “making America great again” through Trump.  I have no idea how to make sense of that!

Lots of people have suggested I simply “unfriend” these people or block them from my Facebook feed.  But it doesn’t feel so easy to me.  Unfriending Mackie or my childhood friends feels like erasing my past.  It’s worse than throwing the baby out with the bath water.  It feels bad and shameful.  Once this day, this election, is over, I won’t be able to just go back to liking the photo of Mackie’s dinner plate, or Kenny’s twirling girls.  I won’t be able to unsee their support of Trump and his hateful rhetoric that would negate me and my family.  Like when a lawyer says something and the judge yells, “Strike that from the record!”, but the jury has already heard it.

Posted in feelings, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

nothing quite like it

Nothing like a good old fashioned yeast infection to challenge my newfound manliness.  Talk about taking the swagger out of my step!? I think the worst part was that I was blindsided by it.  Never saw it coming.  Similar to what happens when I look in the mirror.

In addition to the yeast infection I have strep throat and a urinary tract infection.  A trifecta of torture.  I know I burn the proverbial candle at both proverbial ends.  Working hard during the day, loving hard with my family after work and playing hard at hockey late into the wee hours of the night.  The Jewish Holy Days, especially for those of us in leadership positions, is a 4 week life-affirming, life-enhancing and life-sapping marathon.  Working extra hours, leading extra long services and not having days off, it shouldn’t have been surprising that something had to give.  In some ways, the challenge to my masculinity was the least of my problems.

I’m not good at being sick.  I’m a big fat whiny baby in fact.  A paper-cut sends me into paroxysms of complaining and panic that this just might be “the big one Elizabeth”(reference for older readers).  All bets are off and gauntlets down when I actually have something even remotely resembling medical.  I marvel at people who actually manage some semblance of normalcy in their reaction to their own illness.  Emily is amazing.  She had cancer (big cancer) and sustained more than a year of grueling treatment and surgeries.  And she missed exactly 2 days of work.  She rocked the bald as we said in our house.  Keep in mind that I am missing the same amount of work time for my strep and yeast infections.  Forget about the caterwauling I did over the discomfort of itchy parts and sore throat.   Emily wins hands down.

I am deeply grateful that I have Fenway Community Health as my medical provider though.  Even though it is a good distance from my home (a solid 30 minutes), and “in the city” (which to me means a parking shit-show) – both of which are exacerbated when you don’t feel well –  I cannot imagine how I would have handled this without them.  Actually, I can probably all too well imagine how I would have handled it.  With a prodigious amount of anxiety, peppered with a paralyzing dose of depression.  As it went, I got an afternoon appointment and was seen by a nurse practitioner not on my provider team.  I’ll be honest, even though it was Fenway I was nervous.  A friendly and kind nurse took my vitals, a strep test and urine sample prior to the NP coming in.

faceofmiseryThe NP fit right in to my vision of Fenway.  She looked more like a hippy yuppie (think big green glasses, half long and half short hair with the long part swooping in front of half of her face, button down oxford shirt, aqua colored skinny jeans tight to the ankle and Tom’s type loafers) than a medical provider.  In addition to looking like she was about 13.  Anyway, the first thing she said to me was how sorry she was for the mind fuck that is being transgender and having a vaginal infection.

I nearly flew off the exam table to hug her.  Except I was in no shape for flying.  It was a most unusual, bordering on hypnagogic, medical experience.  I’m not even sure what it is that I’m used to, but this was so vastly different than anything I’ve ever known.  We actually dialogued.  As in I was an integral part of a discussion about what was in my best interests (emotional as well as medical).  She offered me options about my own care.  She gave me lists of pros and cons for each option.  She waited patiently for my answers, talked with me not at me as I contemplated.  She offered to do a pelvic exam, but made it clear that it wasn’t necessary and that it was entirely my choice… and that she understood why and that it was so hard for me.  There was no indirect bullying or the not-so-subtle judgment that I’ve always experienced as an underlying current in all of my medical care.  I’m completely used to not being understood and feeling like that is my own damn fault.  This was so liberating (nearly exhilarating).

I opted for several interventions.  I didn’t cry when she gave me that giant painful shot of mega-dose penicillin.  I didn’t cry when she told me the yeast infection would get worse (because of the antibiotics) before I could take the medication to get rid of it.  I did cry when she told me I couldn’t play hockey that night though.

Posted in blessings, no man's land | 1 Comment

regrets, I’ve had a few

me rearview

This is the time in the Jewish year where we are offered the opportunity to stop, breathe, take stock.  How am I?  Who am I?  How have I been?  Who have I been?  Who and how would I like to be?  This year’s taking stock felt very positive, energized and fruitful to me for some reason.  Less beating my chest with a closed fist and more patting my heart with an open hand.  I’ve been trying to live my life going forward and not looking back.  Trying to focus on what I have and who I am rather than what I don’t have and who I’m not.  Trying to let myself be who and what I am now, knowing what I think I know in this moment and not beating myself up for what I thought I knew in my past (but actually didn’t) or what I truly didn’t know and decisions I made based on that *knowledge* or lack thereof.  It’s easier said than done.  Though, given that lengthy run-on sentence, it apparently isn’t even all that easily said.  At any rate, and in more concrete terms, just like when driving a car, it is impossible (not to mention unwise) to only look forward without so much as a glance back or in any other direction.  Where we have been informs who we are and oftentimes where we are going.  Or at least the course we have set ourselves upon in order to get where we’re going.

This line of *reasoning* could apply to any of a number of topics in life, but for me, in this very moment, I am talking about being transgender.  I mean, I knew on some level when I was 5, probably even when I was 3, that I was a boy. I was called in to the house more times than I care to count for playing outside without a shirt on.  I mostly played with the boys.  Ernie and Billy and I were always searching the neighborhood for bugs or hideouts.  We played spies, army guys and sometimes kickball or hit the bat.  When the neighborhood girls got together, if Ernie wasn’t around to play, I sometimes joined them to play house.  Kathy was always the mom, Maryann and Michelle were her daughters, the dad was traveling on business (despite the fact that none of our actual fathers traveled for business).  And I was *Mike*, Michelle’s boyfriend.  I’d ride up on my bike (without my shirt on), pick her up for a date and we’d ride off together to a pretend drive-in movie.  I never joined the girls for dolls or jumping rope though.  Even if Ernie was not around.  Hey, everyone has their limits.

And while I am trying not to beat myself up over things, I do wonder why I never said anything?  Tell anyone?  DO anything?!  How did I even know to keep my mouth shut?  {of course there is always the theory that I did actually say something and that the response was so traumatic that I buried the whole thing and never spoke of it again}.  I know that it’s easy enough to beat myself up for my cowardice or whatever it was that prevented me from speaking my truth.  I just wish I knew.  And I’m quite sure and quite clear that I did know that truth all along.  I have those distinct memories and I moved away from that neighborhood by the time I was in the second grade.  So I know I knew.

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As I got older, I got better at hiding it and/or denying it.  Looking back I can see, feel, so many whispers like tiny ripples on the surface of my conscious memory.  So many incidents, instances and interactions that said quite clearly that something was not *right*.  There was the time in college, studying for my Bachelor’s degree, when I took a human sexuality course and the professor led us through a guided meditation where we were supposed to envision ourselves as the *opposite gender* or something like that.  I remember being so freaked out at the ease, normalcy and rightness with which I conceptualized myself as a guy that I raced out of class at the end, leaving the friends I typically walked with in the dust, not speaking to anyone and hiding in my dorm room through dinner.  The time not 10 years ago when a new friend said that I was trans (as if it were common knowledge) and I responded (even internally) with absolute, unmitigated bafflement.  As if I’d never even considered that possibility.

The chasm between the 3 year old who knew absolutely and the 50 year old who couldn’t even fathom knowing was stark.  To have not acknowledged, to have kept hidden, to have denied that knowledge, the real me, for close to 50 years feels like a colossal waste of those 50 years.  And I can’t help but have regrets about that.  Now that I know that I am transgender, I can’t help but re-imagine my childhood as a transgender kid – the ones I see now so often being able and encouraged to live their lives as who they really are, loved and supported by loving family from the very beginning.  What choices would I have made for myself if I were allowed to be me?  What career path?  What skills and abilities and life-affirming…

And then I get drawn up short.

Who would I be?  What about my friends and my family and my career!?!?  All these wonderful people and things I have in my life that I have chosen to be part of my life with the utmost care and love!?  As I said above, who we have been informs who we are.  Because I have wrestled with depression, grappled with anxiety, been desperate for belonging, I have developed some very amazing, compassionate, connective and loving qualities.  Would I still have developed those qualities?  I don’t know that I’d want to give those up.   If I were socialized as male, would I be gentle and kind and demonstrative in ways that girls are required to be?  In some ways, and not to sound grossly smarmy, I have been offered the best of both worlds.

I’m grasping at a paradox that defies my attempts to contain and master it.  Part of me is excited to be able to create who and what I am or will be, without the constraints of convention.  Part of me is scared.  Part of me still laments all those lost years.  I guess for now I will say I am looking ahead and allowing myself to be guided (but not stopped) by my past.

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happy birthday kaleidoscope life!

I’ve had Leslie Gore singing in my head…. “It’s my body and I’ll cry if I want to…”  I know it’s “party” not “body”.  “You would cry too if it happened to you” though.  Which may be an obscure reference to my younger readers.  Sorry.  And for my older readers, I apologize for the earwig I just set loose in your head.

I wish I could feel all the time the way I feel when I play hockey.  I am exuberant and overflowing with pride at every save I make.  With each stop of the puck I am responsible for, my whole being is electrified, as copious amounts of glowing rare energy floods through my veins, melting body into soul.  And even every goal that gets by, is fleeting disappointment turned into raw adrenaline and drive to improve.  I am in my body in a way I have never ever been.  Never otherwise am.  For that precious hour on the ice I am content in my being, alive and powerful and energized and strong and limitless and… you get the picture.

I float all the way home, driving as if on skates.  I can’t even explain how wonderful it feels.  By the morning I am back to reality and the solid heaviness of my body.  Trapped and feeling like the proverbial sausage (is there actually a proverb about a sausage?).  The anxiety of having this (wrong) body creates cortisol that flows through me, bloating my stomach to further misshapen misery.

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It’s hard to believe I have been (fairly steadily) keeping this blog for 5 years now.  Harder to believe is that I am still whining about the same things!  I have recently won a veritable coup d’etat in the body misery realm that provides the potential to mitigate even some of my melancholy.  I appealed an insurance denial for masculinization revision to my chest.  And I won.  It was a group effort I can tell you, and I can’t begin to say how grateful I am to the many people (some total strangers) who got involved to help overturn the denial.  It was shaming and painful.  I had to bare my soul (as well as my chest) to complete strangers, some of whom had no actual business having any kind of opinion about me or my body.  I was angry and resentful and basically a grumpy jerk throughout the entire process.  I had to uncharacteristically reach out to people for help.  My physician and the transgender advocate at Fenway put in a lot of time and effort and were with me in the final conference call with my insurance appeal committee.  And, as I said, I won.

I had the surgery in early September here in Boston with a known *top surgery doctor*.  I know lots of guys take weeks to heal and get back on track.  And maybe because this was basically my third go-around with this type of surgery in particular, or maybe just because I am a parent and, as the famous saying goes, “parenting stops for no man”, or maybe because I am one tough son of a bitch, I was back up and in my normal routine within a week.  I looked at myself in the mirror the day after the surgery and for the first time in my life saw (more or less) what I have always wanted to see.  It was bizarre.  And unnerving.  And amazing.  Despite the bruising and the thick gashes of scar and sharpie marker and glue, my chest looked like the image in my head (give or take) of what I assumed in my being my chest was supposed to look like.  The surgeon cut and re-draped the skin of my chest so that it falls in a contour of pectoral muscle rather than breast tissue.  The results are fantastic.  At least to me.

So happy birthday to the new me and to Kaleidoscope Life.  I have much to be grateful for as I enter this new year.  And as Brother David reminds me again and again, it isn’t happy people who are grateful, but grateful people who are happy.  Thank you all for sharing this most amazing journey with me.

Posted in my own worst enemy, no man's land | 5 Comments