history


When it’s over
and the energy has faded, barely lingering like the faint twilight colors on the encroaching black night sky,
and the tears have dried, leaving little dusty trails on the cheeks and wads of tissue discarded in little piles around the house,
and the feelings have become muted — pale, yellowed pages in an old newspaper that someone saved for a now-unknown reason,
and the clutter of the wreckage has been swept into the gutters and ditches of your consciousness,

Then comes a feeling of detachment and otherworldliness
where this house is no longer recognizable as your home, but just some building that someone inhabits,
and these hands belong to someone else, no longer yours,
and these works — some complete and some barely conceived — are as foreign to you as some dusty book on the library shelf,
and these thoughts, once bubbling and unstoppable, seem out of place like the muffled rantings of delusion at a bus stop.

Is it over?

Dim alien dreams overlay a cloudy native history, rendering all unknowable, unrecognizable.
The past is burned away, leaving a stark landscape of black promise.

Although the bulk of coming-out activities happened for me in February-May last year, and even though it’s the kind of news that one imagines will be on the cover of your hometown newspaper and spread like wildfire, many people did not learn of my transsexual transition in the first wave of coming out. Old school friends, distant cousins, friends of friends, children’s friends’ parents, and professionals with whom I only have contact once a year are among those that fall into this category.

What do I do? I look through my file of coming-out letters that was used so heavily last spring, open a copy, and revise, changing the future tense to past tense, adjusting some of the facts, and toning down the drama. And as I’m doing this, I marvel over what that season was like, how cloak-and-dagger, how carefully (I thought) managed and tracked — it was a big project and there were certain economies of scale at play in coming out to so many people.

By comparison, a “once-in-a-while” coming out is mentally more difficult for several reasons. First, this category of person wasn’t in the first wave because they weren’t in my daily circle, because Mary Jo and I wanted to hold back this news from them, or because I simply wasn’t aware of them. As such, my fear of rejection is much, much lower, and I find that my plaintive rhetoric of the spring is overwrought for these people. Second, coming out is simply not in the list of daily things I do, and it takes some mental effort to return to the project. Third, while I know what sort of questions the recipient is likely to have (they don’t change much through time), I’m in a much different place a year later, and it’s much harder for me to feel the extreme feelings or reactions (real or imagined) in this revelation. My existence feels so mundane to me now that I hardly feel it’s worth coming out any more; in other words, my life is normal to me, but may be extremely abnormal to others. And this is my flaw entirely, the flaw of failing to put myself into my reader’s head and matching my rhetoric with what they need — I’m just saying I find it very difficult. There’s something to be said for mutual exigency in a rhetorical act; if either party fails to feel it, I think the communication may be less successful.

Why come out to this group? When I get a Facebook query from an old high school classmate asking, “I went to school with your brother — where is he?” I feel compelled to explain that I am that person, not because I want to sensationalize my experience, but because it feels dishonest not to disclose my history. When I realize I need to meet with a family attorney or accountant, I know that they absolutely must know the truth if we are to be honest with each other, and I’m certainly not dressing up as George again to appease anyone (even if I could “pass” as him any more). When I feel a hankering to meet with my great-aunt and ask her stories of my grandmother and other family members on the Law side of the family, I realize that my transition is part of that family story, and she and her family need to know what I’ve done so that we can resume being family.

I may not be as effective or efficient at these second-wave disclosures as I was during the first-wave, but I don’t feel I can be wholly myself while maintaining a cloak of misinformation.

As you all know, 2008 was a year of massive changes in my life. It was the year I quit being George and began being Joyce. It was the year I came out to everyone in my life and sat on pins and needles while I waited for their response. It was the year I expected to lose my family, friends, and job, but managed to keep all of them. It was the year I opened my eyes, tossed off the shackles I had been wearing for 47 years, and finally became whole.

[The following meme is something I borrowed from CrunchyGranola].

1. What did you do in 2008 that you’d never done before?
What did I not do that I had never done before? :) I burned all my bridges, threw away my old clothes, began interacting with the world as a whole new person.

2. Did you keep your New Years’ Resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I don’t make ‘em, and thus I don’t keep ‘em.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
no

4. Did anyone close to you die?
Mary Jo’s father died, and the boys and I flew a small plane up to Ohio for the funeral. In some ways, my old self died, although I would prefer to imagine him going on a long cruise, instead.

5. What countries did you visit?
No countries in 2008, but Mary Jo and I went to Greece at the very end of 2007, if that counts for anything.

6. What would you like to have in 2009 that you lacked in 2008?
body parts :)

7. What date from 2008 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
It was a particularly memorable year with lots and lots of etched dates. Each coming out meeting is forever burned in my memory, the surgery in June is awfully vivid (but not the recovery days after), the July family trip to the Grand Canyon, by birthday party, and a hundred heart-to-hearts with Mary Jo. Honestly, I think this year probably saw big and memorable things happen on at least a third of its days.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Facing, and overcoming, my fear about telling people I was a transsexual.

9. What was your biggest failure?
I failed to soothe my friend Slade sufficiently as he grappled with my news in the spring, and eventually he bailed out on me.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
None, knock on wood. I did have surgery in June to smooth out my Kirk Douglas chin, but that was elective.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
A whole new wardrobe from scratch.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
Mary Jo’s, my kids’, my sister Liz’s, my friends and larger family, my colleagues. It was definitely a year of celebration.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
Prop-8 supporters in California and beyond. I was also disappointed in John McCain, to whom I’ve contributed in the past, in choosing Sarah Palin for his running mate.

14. Where did most of your money go?
Paid down various real estate loans and paid off the mortgage where we live. We also invested in horse and flying training and equipment. Oh, and the new face and new wardrobe.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
The whole big transition. In the last part of the year, I also began to become excited about my scholarly projects again, and in December, I began to plan out their 2009 trajectory.

16. What song will always remind you of 2008?
The Sweeney Todd soundtrack generally, and probably “Johanna” more specifically.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
relieved, much happier, more empowered

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
I wish I had read more to my kids. We kind of go in spurts these days, since they can do their own reading. But we were all reminded just how nice it is to read (and be read to) over the break, when we read Edgar Allan Poe stories on New Year’s Eve while waiting for midnight.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
hand-wringing, self-centered worry

20. How did you spend Christmas?
At home with the boys and Mary Jo. In the evening, we had a community dinner with Milo and Annabelle and some other guests in town.

21. What online users did you meet?
I met Allyson from the “My Husband Betty” boards just before last January, and again in February, Randi and Eileen from the same boards last January, Sirena Bella from the same boards in March or April, and Violet Eggplant from Second Life in January.

22. Did you fall in love in 2008?
Oh yes! I fell madly in love with my partner all over again.

23. What was your favorite TV program?
Project Runway, Top Chef, Cash Cab, Mythbusters

24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
No.

25. What was the best book you read?
I read mostly academic books in 2008, along with bits of Lord of the Rings (which we read aloud in bed). It’s hard to say “best,” but one of the surprises of the year was the publication of a really good reader in argumentation theory that I used as a new textbook in my fall graduate course: Aguayo, Angela, and Timothy Steffensmeier Readings on Argumentation. Strata, 2008.

26. What was your greatest musical discovery?
That I could play guitar and still keep medium-length fingernails.

27. What did you want and get?
A new lease on life.

28. What did you want and not get?
Acceptance by 100% of the people.

29. What was your favorite film of this year?
I didn’t get to see too many grown-up movies this year, so I’ll have to pass. Among kid films, Iron Man was quite good and I liked the Batman movie (but not the Bat Man character himself).

30. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
49 in December, and I had a fabulous birthday. All my faculty friends surprised me at our normal poker party Friday night with gifts for my very first birthday as Joyce, so I got all kinds of girly stuff that was ok for my friends to give and ok for me to receive: nail polish, new girly pajamas and robe, oils, unguents, lotions, relaxing eye-gels and neck pads, earrings, and so on. Truly one of the best birthdays ever.

31.What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
If I had answered this question in March, I would have said that I wanted to fast forward a few months to see how it all turned out, but what I realize now is that it’s the struggle to figure myself out that made 2008 so satisfying. I honestly can’t think of a thing I’d change.

32. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2008?
Pretty big shift this year (for obvious reasons) — but my general fashion idea has been classic looks purchased from Ann Taylor.

33. What kept you sane?
Talking and writing — i.e. communicating with my family and friends, sometimes in this blog, sometimes in correspondence, and sometimes face-to-face.

34. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
“Fancy,” eh? I didn’t really fancy anyone, but I read quite a bit about Obama, McCain, and Palin — I was not interested in Biden at all, and found that I still harbor quite a bit of bias against him for his plagiarism in his presidential campaign of the late 80’s.

35. What political issue stirred you the most?
The presidential election, generally, and marriage equality.

36. Who did you miss?
While I grew closer to my friends in immeasurable ways this year, I found myself wanting to spend face-to-face time with all of my online friends, and schemes all sorts of weird plans to visit them all. I missed my parents terribly, and made several visits to their gravesites to talk about all the massive changes as the year progressed. The most recent visit was on Dec 30th.

37. Who was the best new person you met?
Jane, the president of Bedford Falls’ PFLAG and a woman who reminds me of my mother. I like to imagine that Jane’s relationship with me would be how my mother’s relationship would be with me if she were alive.

38. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2008.
You really can’t engage others with your whole being and you really can’t be truly present if you’re not being authentic and true to yourself.

39. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.
What a long, strange trip it’s been.

I need to tell you some things. Looking back at my development, now that I’m Joyce, I’ve got to admit to you that I’m seeing a lot more details of my old self, details that may have been evident to anyone who knew me, but details that were invisible to me. Take this class picture from 8th grade, for example.

8th Grade

It’s been such a long time that I can’t remember what I must have been thinking when I sat in that school gymnasium for the school picture, having woven my way in the long line of students waiting their turn to sit for 3 seconds in the chair for the flash and the immortality that comes from having the picture printed in a yearbook. It is hard to tell. I recall thinking that I didn’t want to smile, that only goofy people smiled for photographs. Or maybe I thought I was somehow cooler in my aloof intellectual posturing.

But I don’t have to know what I was thinking all those years ago because the look tells it all. Look at those eyes behind those John Denver eyeglasses — that’s not “cool” that I’m projecting, but deep sadness, anger, confusion.

I have seen this photograph 20 times over the years and I never felt it required much attention beyond the glance of familiarity with my past, which is to say that maybe my own adult sadness, confusion, and anger never noticed anything out of the ordinary in that adolescent face. It was simply the way I was — in Jr. High as in adulthood — so why would that face mean anything special to me?

But now.

Now it feels as if someone turned on the light, or maybe the picture was restored in a museum, because the photograph looks completely different. When I see this picture now, it’s heartbreaking. The boy is so angry and twisted up and confused that even though he is a good, cleancut kid making good grades, he feels as if he’s standing utterly outside of sense and meaning and joy.

His eyes are the clencher — I honestly have not studied the eyes until now, or maybe they seemed familiar because they were my own adult eyes. But the squint of anger feels painful. I used to think I could take on an emotionless stone-face, and maybe this picture is how I did it, but this image, this face, is anything but emotionless. This is the face of emotional defiance with a caption that says, “I dare you to try to get inside. I’m smarter than you, more stubborn than you, and I have a wall so thick that you will never get close enough to know my secrets.”

I am aware of the dangers of using an interpretation from 2008 to understand a picture from 1973 — these two versions of me are forever separated, even if each of us was aware of each other at some level. I know that it is intellectually unfair to explain his thoughts via my history and my knowledge of how his life turns out.

But what is much more interesting to me is how my current perceptions have changed so much — and these perceptions aren’t limited to conversations and relationships, but extend to the way I perceive myself, both now and in my past. Maybe it sounds like a split-personality, but I feel that my relationship with myself has changed dramatically these past 6 months.

How many other images or events look radically different in the light of transition? How much more will be revealed about my alienation as I settle into this new life, this new body, this new sense of presence?

Suppressing and repressing your true gender is really hard on your psyche. I have been quite a wreck at different times in my life as I tried to grapple with just who and what I was. When did I know I was different? I knew something around age 4 or 5, but what that ‘something’ was shifted during my life, probably because an understanding of that “something” was confined and constrained by experience, education, and culture. The more I experienced the world, the better I understood what “IT” was.

When I was young, I just thought I was different — I didn’t have a word for what I felt, and thus my self definition was only that I felt weird.

When I found the library, both in high school and in college, I found books on the subject and learned that I was probably a garden-variety crossdresser, and knowing this label actually brought me a degree of comfort since the books and articles had statistics about how prevalent this feeling is, and knowing I wasn’t alone was important to me at the time.

However, after meeting cross-dressers, attending support groups and social groups, and wearing the label of “cross-dresser” for a while, it began to dawn on me that I didn’t really feel that I fit in with those girls. They seemed to get a great deal of joy out of wearing a dress as if it were a special Halloween costume, and while I myself also felt a lot of initial excitement about clothing, that feeling wore off quickly, and I realized that I probably really needed to a woman in a more essential way, whatever that might entail, instead of just being happy dressing like a woman.

Bear in mind that I think one can be a perfectly happy cross-dresser — it’s a harmless and healthy activity that channels gender dysphoria into safe and fun places. I would never knock CD’s, believe me — I remember as recently as 9 months ago telling Mary Jo that I wish I were a normal crossdresser, which was a pretty funny utterance when you think of it, but at the time, it seemed as if being a transsexual was so awful that I’d settle for anything else.

In any case, I found I needed a lot more than just clothes, and that’s when it began dawning on me that I probably wasn’t a CD, but something more, or different. I began to hope that maybe I was some kind of socialite trans*person, not quite full TS, but more social/psychological than a CD. I hosted dinner parties as Joyce, went to the theater as Joyce, went for coffee as Joyce, and began telling friends about the new me — and this new self-definition worked for quite a while.

But after marrying Mary Jo, having Lane and Ezra, and changing professions, I put Joyce away (she wasn’t needed, wasn’t even interesting), and my self-definition became something like “a non-dressing transgender person,” which is a little like the idea of the non-drinking alcoholic, a person who is always biologically alcoholic, but who can choose not to drink. And this was a viable self-definition for 11 years, during which time the trans* part of me was safely folded on a shelf like a heavy sweater you know you’ll never need because you live where it hardly ever snows, almost forgotten up there with the other never-worn clothes.

But even this highly-functional self-definition eventually fell apart, and when it did, it was a mighty tumble, everything I’d done and believed simply crumbling around me until all I was left to define myself was “wreckage.” You have read the blog posts and know that I have somehow managed to reclaim a self-definition that combines “transsexual” and “father/parent” and “husband/spouse” and “brother/sister” and “professor” and, much to my surprise, finally “human” again.

I’m not saying my evolution is complete or my self-definition written in permanent ink, but it’s a nice place to be, here in this spot of calm, enjoying life and friendship and work and family.

Liz, my sister, remarked on how good I was at pretending when we were growing up, and was expressing how difficult it must have been for me trying to be somebody I wasn’t and having to be that person for so long. But it wasn’t all bad — it was mostly a case of being constantly confused, which is a lot like cisgendered kids feel as they grow up, as I understand them.

In my case, it wasn’t simply a case of hating my body or my life and feeling desperation all the time. I was torn between some sense of gender dysphoria and also trying to fit into my assigned sex role. So not only did I study girls, envy them, and imagine how I could somehow grow up to be one of them, but I also remember studying guys and trying to figure out how I could be a better boy. However, despite all that scrutiny of boys and girls, men and women, masculinity and femininity, I was unable to come to any conclusions. I found that I was jealous of guys who made being a guy seem effortless and I was jealous of girls because they were girls — and there I was in the middle, left out in the cold, feeling totally clueless about girls, boys, and myself.

I survived by reading, studying my homework, and finding self-worth in things like choir, athletics, and hard ranch work. I fell in love with the world of ideas, so seemingly disembodied from my awkward struggles. Philosophy, poetry, and literature kept my head away from thinking about my body and my fate, and so I think it is entirely possible that my current profession owes something to my juvenile gender identity confusion.

As I grew up and ran with a fairly androgynous group of friends (high school choir buddies and fellow intellectuals), I felt a lot more at home, and was often able to stay one step ahead of gender troubles, but what I learned, and what I’ll write about later, was that even as I got more sophisticated, my gender trouble also got more sophisticated and harder to ignore or thwart.

I ended up in a long distance race with me and my wits on one team and the specter of gender trouble on the other team, the former determined to pull away from the latter, which was equally determined to catch up. And even though I often pulled far ahead of the other team, leaving it broken down on the side of the dusty course, the race was very long with lots of surprises, and we know how it turned out, don’t we?

In dealing with my hometown, my family, and my friends, I often ask myself the questions that I imagine everyone else is asking: What would your parents think? What about Elizabeth, your dear mom, and Frank (nicknamed “Rowdy,” for a reason), your good-ole-boy father? Would they be proud of you? Would they disown you? Would they make ashamed apologies to their friends at the bank, coffee shop, post office, or bridge club?

Rowdy died in 2002 and Elizabeth in 2005, and I won’t have a chance to find out what they’d think. I do know that my sister and I have embodied all of their values (whether we liked it or not), and we’re doing just fine with me, so I’d like to think that we can extend that acceptance and love backwards a generation to imagine a homecoming that’s loving and excited and proud. And that’s the image I carry with me in my dealings with hometown people — I’m a little bit Elizabeth and a little bit Rowdy, and even through I’m doing something really different, I’m not ashamed of it, and I don’t expect anyone I tell to be ashamed, either.

Your good name and your word were all you’ve got, I was told growing up, and I believe my name is still good and I keep my word in all my dealings, perhaps even more so now that I don’t have the albatross of GID around my neck.

My mother was a Law, and I still have my uncle John Law to keep me tied with her family, and I still have my aunt Phoebe and uncle Pat on the Bailey side of the family, and these siblings of my parents represent to me a tracing of my family history and values through which Elizabeth and Rowdy are tangible. Our relationships are just evolving with my personal news, and I’m looking forward to talking about our families in the coming years.

Last time I was home, my sister Liz said that I looked just like our mother, which is not only a beautiful compliment to me, but is perhaps yet another kind of external proof that I’m still a member of our family, that I’m still welcome at our holiday table, with immediate and extended family all seated together in a supportive holiday gathering.

Joyce and Mom 1962
Joyce and Mom, 1962

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