It wouldn’t be summer without my annual kvetch and grumbling about my body. First world problems to be sure. Still, this dysphoria thing is real. I mean, I always knew it was real, even before I had a word for it. But the pain? The frustration? The loathing? The crazy?! The depression?!?! Yeah, this shit is legit.
I never went to camp as a kid. Well, that’s not entirely true. I went to camp as a very young child (I recall it for some reason, as being a pre-school day camp, where I wasn’t more than 4… at least that is my recollection). I was psyched to go initially because I was going with my best friend Jonathan. I was psyched that is, until I got to camp. And nearly immediately upon arrival they separated us (I experienced this viscerally, almost violently, being ripped away from not only Jonathan, but as being punished for being a girl) by gender. Boys went one way and girls the other. And one group didn’t see the other until the very end of the day. I experienced the whole camp, each and every day, all day long, as gestapo-like ruthlessness. I cried my little eyes out from the minute I got off the bus in the morning until I settled back on the bus in the afternoon to go home. Each morning when we arrived at camp, for the 2 minutes before we were torn apart, Jonathan would stand shoulder to shoulder with me, his deep brown eyes silently pleading with me not to cry. I let him down every day. The strange thing to me then and more-so now, was that no one even attempted to comfort me (other than Jonathan). My tears elicited only irritation and wrath from the staff and indifference at best from the other campers. That singular experience shaped much of my future actually. My compassion for the pain of others and my conviction to always acknowledge it and reach out toward it and not turn away, stems largely from this preschool experience.
Understandably, I never went back to a camp. By the time I was a tweeny-bopper we had a huge in-ground swimming pool in our own back yard. In exchange for not having to go to camp, I took care of our pool. I skimmed it with the long net daily, removing dead bugs, the occasional salamander, leaves and other detritus. I vacuumed it weekly (or more if it needed it). And I loved every minute of it. In my racerback Speedo and a pair of 70s running shorts with the white piping around the edges, in my mind, I was the pool boy. I was living the dream. I swam daily, constantly, unceasingly. I don’t remember the water ever being too cold. Our back yard with that oasis was my sanctuary, my happy place. Neither of my parents swam (it’s not just that they didn’t swim, neither actually could swim) and so generally it was just me or me and Peter enjoying the pool. My mother lounged in the sun. My father drove his ride-on mower around the front and side yard. I didn’t think about my body. Very much.
My uncle and aunt also put a pool in their back yard in the next town over from us. And they still own their house and that pool. Long after my childhood house was sold, my cousins grown up and moved to their own houses (one with his own pool), I continued to go to my uncle’s house and enjoy his pool. Because I work Saturdays I have a weekday day off. So I would often avail myself of the quiet peace of their pool and the convenience of their house. When Joita came along, and we began calling my uncle papa, it became lovingly known as papa’s pool. It’s where Jo learned to swim and spent countless hours figuring out how she might jump off a diving board. We spent a lot of time there over the years.
Emily, Nina and Ruby went away for a couple of days and Joita and I had the propitious opportunity of an entire day to ourselves, just the two of us, doing whatever we wanted, all day long.
We packed a lunch and headed out on a glorious 86 degree sunshiny day. We laughed, we talked, we sang, we commiserated, we shared and dreamed and wondered. I know that I am blessed to have this exceptionally close and powerful relationship with my daughter. Especially since she is 17 and still willing to be so clearly close and connected with me. I am exceedingly grateful for our relationship.
At any rate, the day was terrific. We played catch with a football, considered everything from the political environment to slapstick comedy (one topic naturally lending itself to the other). We also swam together. She more than I. Mainly because the water was fucking freezing! I wore swim trunks and two tank tops (one tight and one loose over it). But I did swim. I was less self-conscious than usual coming up out of the water with my clothing sucked tight with saturation’s vacuum to my body. But my discomfort was somehow still there. Before clearing the water from my face and eyes I still reached first to pull the shirt(s) from my chest. But to be clear, still a better summer swimming day than any I’ve had in 10 or more years.
When we went inside the house to change, I removed my agglutinant tank tops, still sopping wet, and wrung them out in the bathroom sink. Wearing only my trunks I proceeded to help Joita with her bathing suit and clothing, rinsing the chlorine from he bathings suit and setting aside dry clothes. As she dried off and got dressed I walked around the basement in a borderline-comical affectation, passing by the mirror, glancing at myself in shiny surfaces as I passed by. Ok ok, I didn’t think anyone was watching, so I was sort of swaggering around, tightening my muscles as I walked, flexing my pecs, widening my shoulders. I told you it was borderline-comical! When I turned to strut back around the room I saw Jo, halfway dressed, stopped mid-movement, attentively considering me. She smiled at my awkward embarrassment. “You look so much more comfortable and well, like yourself like that.” She said. I had to admit, I felt it. She asked if I would ever go out in public like that, or if I’d go to the beach or anything. I said I doubted it. At least the no-shirt thing. But I was also really aware of wanting to capture this elusive body-comfort, wanting to hold onto it, master it, own it. As I was contemplating, trying to explain it even to myself, Joita asked, “Do you think you might take hormones? I mean, would you consider taking hormones?” I was stunned. How did she even know about hormones?! Apparently, in one of her teen drama shows on television there was a FTM transgender character. I stammered and stuttered. I had not imagined having this conversation with her. Especially not brought up by her. I admitted that I have, indeed, considered taking hormones. I asked what she thought and how she felt about the idea. She hardly paused as she resumed dressing, “If it makes you feel more comfortable with yourself I’d say just do it,” she shrugged. No big deal. She is one amazing person. Just one of a gazillion reasons I love her so very much.