Not everything is a love fest, as my (terminal) correspondence with Slade indicates. You’ll recall I saw him the other day for lunch before my high school reunion. I had not heard from him, so I dropped him an email yesterday:

Hi, Slade ---

It was great to see you in Empire Falls the other day, and thanks for helping me get that red Dodge pickup from the airport to town (we'll see if they can fix the master electrical bus).

I saw Rob Peterson and Anna Cramer out at the ranch on Saturday afternoon, and Ann reported that you and she had talked at the country club and that Keith Cravat was apparently drunk and obnoxious (I suppose some things simply don't change).

Speaking of change, I know that we did not talk about me and my life transition, and perhaps it was because of having the kids in tow (which wasn't something I had planned -- Mary Jo was supposed to be in Empire Falls Thursday night and she was going to watch the kids while I did stuff in town, but she was delayed because of a medical exam).

Or maybe there was nothing to talk about -- I don't know. In any case, what you see is what you get with me, and aside from it being a bit odd (OK, even really, really odd), life is good and I feel like whole person for the first time in a very, very long time. I'm not sure what this is like to you --- whether you're pissed off or fearful or annoyed or confused or aghast or something entirely different --- and I guess it's none of my business except that I pledged loyalty to you a long time ago and attended your wedding and have always held you as my oldest and dearest friend, and the silence is perplexing. If there's something to be done, I'd like to know what it is.

Hope you're doing well and that your kids are getting all their ducks in a row for the upcoming school year.

Yours,
Joyce

To which he responded definitively this morning:

George:

You have gone somewhere I cannot go. I barely recognize you anymore and I have had a very difficult time with this situation. You talk about "loyalty" and you insist on some definite reply from me. Since you insist, I choose to reply No. I will talk over the phone or by email, but I cannot hang out. Remember, you insisted that I choose. I would not have wanted it this way. Everything was by your choice and upon your insistence, not mine. I did my best. That's all that can be expected of me and that's all that I can expect of myself.

Slade

I have gained much in transitioning, have benefited in a hundred ways since I fell into the deep despair almost 2 years ago. But there are also losses, perhaps not as many as I feared, and not as many as my friends feared, but they do exist, and they feel like enormous failures as they glow white hot with my fire of doubt and regret. Some things may never be recovered through personal atonement, and that hard realization makes me feel very vulnerable.

One of my oldest friends, going back all the way to elementary school, is Slade Taggart, a friend who I love like a brother.

After learning of my transsexual crisis and my decision to transition, Slade and I talked on the phone every week or so for a month or two, then occasionally, then not at all. I had read on one of my discussion boards an interesting analysis by a doctor about her struggle to try to understand where her transgendered nature came from, but that her ultimate realization was that its origins are less important than her decision to do something about it. Slade, being a scientist himself, had expressed a lot of interest in origins, so I thought he would like this email, which I forwarded to him, along with a note saying that when he comes to Empire Falls in August for our 30th high school reunion, he really ought to stay with me out at my ranch.

I got the following terse reply:

Hi. I have booked a hotel for the weekend and I don’t want to be problem to anyone. Also, please don’t send me any more information. These missives are actually disturbing for me.

I thought we were making progress, perhaps nothing like a love fest, but nothing that brought us to what sounds to me as a brush off. A bit stunned, I wrote him back with the following email that apologized for making him nervous and telling him that I understand what he’s saying loud and clear:

OK – I didn’t mean to be a pest; I just thought the medical person’s self-inquiry sounded a lot like your questions about etiology. From here on out, I assume that you are in charge of the nature and pace of our relationship. Yours, Joyce.

I feel rejected and guilty — for having made him feel disturbed, but also for being transsexual — I know it’s his problem as to how he deals with my changes, but I can’t help but feel like a catalyst for estrangement. Maybe he’s still thinking things over and I have mis-read his tone and intent — I sure hope so.

Intense days, these. Crying almost every day. Sobbing grief at every turn. Where’s that light at the end of the tunnel, again?

Mary is astounding. We’ve had such intense talks, honest and revealing. I don’t think I’ve ever had a relationship like this. I know I haven’t. The funny thing is that I don’t think it has anything to do with gender and everything to do with being honest with myself and someone else.

I feel as if everything has fallen down around me, and everything I thought I knew, everything I was certain about and confident about, has turned out to be wrong. I’ve been using the metaphor of walls or barriers that I have built over the years to protect me, and I think I’ve come to realize that not only did they protect me and my secrets, but they isolated me. It may have been common sense to others, but I am surprised at the realization that I have lived a very lonely, isolated life. So it’s no wonder that this new openness, which is really the only survival tool I have right now, feels so, well, open. It’s different and vulnerable, of course, but it’s also surprisingly empowering.

This past week was really hard, having been reading She’s Not There and having visited my hometown on Wednesday for a meeting. I’m not accusing Jenny Boylan of messing with my head, but this book helps to bring issues to the surface. I think my hometown reinforces my feeling of duty and perhaps makes me feel trapped.

In any case, on Thursday it was way down in the dumps, absolutely miserable, unable to sleep, woke up at 3:30 and just paced the house until sunrise. It was a lonely, sad day, one of those really low times when everything is tired and confused.

However, Friday, with Mary gone to an out-of-town event, I slept well and got a little lift, working at school in the morning and getting some action on getting a new doctor.

Home by lunch, I found myself standing in the closet looking for a shirt to wear, and all of Dad’s old work shirts just fit like tents, given my weight loss and my loss of muscle due to hormones. So I began looking at each one, kind of inventorying what to do about them, and decided I’d take them to the vacation place next time.

But the feeling I had at that moment was déjà vu, and it was just like walking through Mom’s house with it empty and her dead and trying to decide what to do with her things. Part of me wanted to say, she wouldn’t want me to mess with her things, while another, pragmatic part, said, she’s dead and there’s no point in keeping this stuff around.

I felt the same thing looking at my clothes, my unwearable underwear, my ancient makeup that our Amy and her mom packed up along with everything else when we moved to the country.

I felt horrible grief — sadness at a loss, helplessness at the uncertain future, anger at having been dealt this hand.

When you’re in this situation, you sort of drift from belonging to belonging, no particular search pattern in place, listening to the story of the item or wondering what its story might have been. Why did Dad ever buy this pair of boots? I remember when Mom wore this thing. Did we ever eat off these dishes? And the energy gets sapped out of you and you kind of shuffle things around and tell yourself that you’ll deal with it later, that it’s too monumental to deal with today, and thus enervated from the exploration, you close the door and vow to face it later. When you finally do manage to move things to give-away piles or to take-home piles, it is with some relief, but also a feeling like you’re betraying your parents, like you’re giving up on them. It’s as if you could keep alive the possibility of their returning to you if you just keep their things where they left them. Once you sell them or divvy them up, you destroy that possibility.

In taking inventory of my own life, my own clothes, my own belongings, I felt almost the same feeling. I’m not dead, but to hear some transsexuals talk about it, I’m killing off my George Baily, my male persona. He has a past filled with interests and loves and frustrations and accomplishments and failures — and it feels like a betrayal similar to the one above to think of pulling the plug on him. He didn’t do anything wrong, really, other than try to hide his difference, and it seems cruel to impose a death penalty on him. However, prolonging his agony is not unlike trying to keep my parents alive by refusing to clean out their belongings.

It’s not just George, either. I looked through the makeup drawer, the big collection of all sorts of lipstick tubes, powder compacts, eyeshadow cases, and nail polish bottles that Amy and her mother loaded up to help us finish moving from town a couple of years ago. And this drawer, like my parent’s house and my own closet, is an archaeological experience. There are crusty bottles of nail polish that have no business on this earth, tubes of pink lipstick I must have worn during a fluorescent streak in the 90′s, eyeshadows that aren’t fit for anyone but a 16 year old. I culled through my things and threw them away, along with underwear and socks that didn’t belong to me any more.

The grief is also for the past, Mary’s and mine, because that, too, is shimmering with uncertainty, like an old TV on the fritz that may, at any moment, blink out of existence with no hope of recovering the signal. These clothes, these makeup tubes, these images are all of the past, and I grieve for the past.

I’m also grieving about the future in an odd way. I found myself anticipating being at some point in the future, looking back on this day and grieving about what has been lost. In this way, this future-grief is a telescoping event that never ends — it’s a worldview that sort of dreads what living is going to feel like later on. If you let this take over you, you’ll be paralyzed with fear.

I think you have to have a mind to the two kinds of grief, the sadness at what’s lost and the anticipation of future loss, without allowing either one to dominate your life. You’re balancing the two, not wanting to ignore one or the other, but not wanting to put too much relative weight on either side, as well. If you are always looking backwards at what you’ve lost, then you’re hopelessly nostalgic, unable to see the world around you. However, if you never look back, then you’ve killed your history, your stories, your heritage, so that’s not an option to ignore the past, to stamp out the grief. On the other end of the time spectrum, if you dread the future and anticipate the future feelings of loss, you’ll be unable to step forward, and you’ll do harm to yourself and your family, afraid to take a step. But if you don’t think of the future, you’re ignorant and blind, for lessons do repeat and anticipating the future is a good thing.

I bought a digital video camera Saturday and began trying to capture the events of the present before they’re gone. We have done so-so at documenting our lives and I have a horrible fear that the boys won’t have any documentation about what their life was like when they were little. I want them to see that they were loved, even in the midst of turmoil, and that they had fun and that their parents laughed and lived. If my transition ends up causing them horrible embarrassment, then I hope they can look back nostalgically on these times and say Well, at least we had our youth, and if it weren’t for Dad, we’d have happy lives.

I feel as if I’m holding water in my hands trying to prevent change, watching our current existence, which feels normal and safe, trickle through the gaps, no matter how tightly I close the hands. I know you can’t stop change. If it’s not a sex change, then a disease, or an accident, or a natural disaster. The boys will grow up and will have their hearts broken by their first girlfriends. One of their parents will die unexpectedly. Something will happen to rock their faith in people, or government, or education. I don’t know how videotaping 2007 will make a difference, but I feel like it’s something. These are such tumultuous times that a little objective evidence couldn’t hurt. But I wonder if we’ll look at these movies in 10 years and snicker at just how stupid and naïve I was, how nothing I could do or could have done would fix the gaping wounds I’ve created. Will the videos be ironic, pathetic, and helpless documentaries of someone trying to stop time?

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