January 2008

Something has happened.

Just when I think I get a handle on this whole transition, something happens to reveal yet another layer of complexity or beauty or awe. Maybe it was the extremely low weekend, which left me nowhere to go but up. Maybe it was finally telling Milo and Annabelle yesterday. Maybe it was meeting with Chuck today. Maybe it was my visit to the library on Monday to begin collecting new information about my April 11th paper and finally feeling like I could return to academic research after a very long and painful absence. Maybe it was meeting in an omnibus therapy session Monday with Chuck, Mary Jo, and her therapist, Cheryl, in which we got to issues of Mary Jo’s pain at having to be the strong one for me, and never being able to rely on my being the strong one for her. Maybe it was the call out of the blue from my lifelong friend Slade to tell me he would be visiting on Feb 13th, approximately the same date I had intended to write him. Maybe it was writing Gerald out in Santa Barbara today and receiving an amazing reply. Maybe it was Miles and Khloe’s frantic phone call last night about gossip. Maybe it is the incredible and adaptable love of my children.

Whatever its origins, I feel I’ve entered an entirely new and beautiful stage of this process. And I’m not worried at all. I feel not only surprisingly calm but magically excited to be connected to so many loving friends.

Where did the sense of impending doom go? Where is that train wreck? What happened to the fear and depression? I’m sure these things haven’t gone for good, but I feel as if they’ve been driven far into the shadows by unseen, but related, forces of love and friendship.

I can hardly keep up my thinking and writing with the pace of surprise and revelation — I feel like Whitman, lying in the grass and simply marveling at it all, the grandeur of nature, the magical connections between events that create meaning, the infinite possibility of it all. Where’s my stenographer, my scribe? I’ve got this burning ember in my hand, but by the time I make it to the computer, it’s faded, and all I’ve got is my recollection of its intensity.

There must be something about a friend breaking down and finally coming to grips with her essential self that brings people together, and I’m realizing that I’m part a group that’s growing and whose love, acceptance, and understanding is simply astounding. It’s all quite incredible (literally, because it’s hardly believable, and I wouldn’t have believed it possible 12, 6, or even 1 month ago). And what’s most weird and beautiful and incredible isn’t the trans-ness, at all, but rather the depth of feeling and connection that exists across time and distance in this web of friendship.

I am incredibly lucky and blessed.

I have loved 7 men in my life, not counting my father and uncle, and while I do not have a biological brother, there is no doubt that these 7 men are my brothers. [I can add another one or two to a hybrid category called big brother, who, while not as intense as these relationships, has been nonetheless critical in my life — I’ll do that elsewhere.] These relationships were/are deep, trusting, emotional, adventuresome, and intellectual. If, according to my post about the women I’ve loved, I wanted to be those women, then I equally wanted to be the men who make up my band of brothers. In order of my meeting them, here’s the roster:

Slade, 1966, elementary school
Zuboff, 1978, college
Clarke, 1978, college
Michael, 1978, Gail’s (my first marriage) brother
Gerald, 1983, graduate school
Will, 1985, graduate school
Milo, 2000, colleague

In reflecting on these men, I think we were all similar in many respects. We loved to play — I just don’t spend time with people who don’t have a highly developed sense of play (verbal, intellectual, and physical). We loved to take chances, skydiving, camping, rock climbing, being pilots, starting businesses, setting out on a road trip with no destinations. We all loved music and loved listening to it together in apartments or driving around in cars. We all liked hard work — we fixed cars, built fence, balanced financial and accounting books, sold goods and services. I think each of us found in each other a little strength to try new things, to express new or quirky ideas, to share stories about our past that had never been told, to lower our masculine guard because we trusted each other–with our lives, our ideas, and our hearts.

Not all of these relationships are still active. Some are still there, but dormant, while others have been severed through death, distance, or lack of interest.

Michael killed himself in Northern California with carbon monoxide, the victim of a broken heart and no coping skills. His suicide in 1985 still haunts me. I hated him, pitied him, mourned for him, stammered out explanations for him, fell helpless again the onslaught of despair brought on by his karma. We were brothers who shared all those ideals, above. Just when I had begun to get used to learning to love, he abandoned me.

Clarke made a Faustian bargain and dropped out of my circle. I’ve written about this in a story called “All the Secrets in the World”: perhaps I’ll post it here for your enjoyment. His mysterious vanishing in 1988 was crushing. He told me he had a chance to learn all the secrets of the cold war, but if he took the job, he would have to forget his past. We talked about it for days during a visit he paid me, and when he left I felt we had arrived at the right solution, namely, that he’s stay my friend. I never heard from him again.

Dormant, but still filled with potential and constant thoughts, are the following:

Zuboff, tortured wandering soul who stuck with me through all sorts of travails and adventures, but could not adapt to my marriage to Mary Jo and the birth of my children. I guess our relationship was, to him, one of happy bachelors. We talk from time to time, and I wish him well, hoping he finds some place (mental or physical) of peace.

Will and I spent so much time together in the firm that we created that we often didn’t have to talk, although he was always the talker of our duo. Fast-talking east coast worldly sophistication against my western bumpkin drawl, we made an odd couple. We moved apart in order to support our families, but can drop right into the same spot we left off last time.

Gerald, perhaps the wisest of the bunch, was part mentor, part friend, part brother, part guide. He called on me to help him out and I did the same — when Michael killed himself, it was Gerald who drove the motorcycle the 500 miles to be with us. I miss his wit, his musical talents, and his philosophy, and am overjoyed that we are re-building connections right now.

The last two are active.

Slade, the most conservative of the bunch on the face of it, but the most willing to take large risks. He’s the one who throws himself on the grenade to save me, and I him. We survived grade school, junior high, high school together. We have kept in contact through college, graduate school, jobs. We were at each other’s weddings and will be at each other’s funerals. Slade is my big brother, my protector, my deepest love.

Milo entered my life a colleague at a time when I thought the era of brotherly love had ended. I had put away childish things in order to be a professor, to raise children, to be a good husband. Milo instantly broke through — it was as if we had known each other for decades. Not that we had the same paths to these current jobs, but that we found so many similar things fascinating. We are drawn to maps, devices, systems, parts. We love to pun and muse and brainstorm. We are skeptical of blowhards who don’t realize how they come across. We both probably strike a stance that is more humble than is warranted. We love teaching and researching. We love adventure of all sorts.

Telling these men about my trans-ness is the hardest part next to telling my family. I need their approval and fear their rejection. So far I have told Milo and Gerald, and they have been nothing but accepting. I pray that Slade and William, who are on my schedule to tell in a couple of weeks, will be equally accepting. I wrote Clarke a Christmas card to an address I tried to dig up for his city, but nothing ever happened. Zuboff will be ok, I think, but will be concerned that I’m buying in to conventional conceptions of beauty and femininity, and perhaps he’s right.

I don’t know if I’ll ever love another man like I have these seven. I don’t know if my transition will forever alter these relationships, possibly in harmful ways. This situation of mine, like so many of our collective other adventures, simply requires deep love and trust and a leap of faith that everything will turn out all right. It’s worked before, so maybe it’ll work this time.

[See also “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before“]

Saw Khloe in the hall today, and we sat in a lounge talking while she ate lunch. I showed her my Boston pictures, and she didn’t run screaming from the room, which was a good thing.

A graduate student came in to get lunch and to lie down on the couch, but Khloe and I just shifted into talking generally about things, being careful to avoid touching on anything particular.

Or so I thought.

Tonight, Miles and Khloe called me to say that another grad student had told Miles that he had been told by the couch-resting student that Dr. Bailey and Khloe were having a very strange personal conversation that seemed to touch on the performance of gender, drag, sex changes, and that sort of thing, and she was speculating that Dr. Bailey was having a sex change.

“I protest,” said I to Miles on the phone. “I don’t do drag.” 🙂

In all seriousness, I said, I figure there’s no point in writing her and saying “forget what you heard” because that will simply confirm her suspicions. Miles and I talked about the full disclosure with the truth hidden in plain sight, as in Poe’s “The Purloined Letter”), which would go thusly: “It’s not professional to talk about personal conversations you have overheard. And even if you were to talk, you ought to understand what you think you heard before speculating. Dr. Bailey certainly doesn’t do drag, but he and Khloe are definitely interested in gender as performance, in how we construct our identities through our dress, our mannerisms, and our language, and he would be happy to share his research thoughts with you any time, if you’re interested.”

I don’t know if that will keep things burning slower rather than faster, but whatever happens, it’s all going to happen in a few months, anyway.

I’ll be at school tomorrow and I’ll see if grad students eye me suspiciously (or, I should say, more suspiciously than normal).

I’ve been having an awfully hard time of things lately, crying at night, descending into bad places, and not recognizing all the good things I’ve got. I have my health, my family, my job, my intellect, my friends. I work in an industry (education) where I am virtually assured of tolerance and perhaps even happy acceptance. I feel like I’m on an adventure where I get to do everything I ever dreamed of doing, and am able to do everything I need to do to stay sane and healthy.

There is another part of me, probably unrelated to transsexual issues, that weighs on me. I am afraid of letting people down, of being rejected, of being seen as a failure. I’ve always been like this, and I think it must have to do with my role in my family as the golden child. For all my family’s faults, and there were many, they could always count on me to achieve good things, things worth bragging about at the drugstore, holiday gatherings, and country club soirees.

It’s not that I don’t want to do good things, but I feel obligated to not screw up, to uphold some sort of undefined standard for several generations of my family, most of whom are dead. That familial expectation has evidently been burned into my synapses; although I’m aware of it and understand it intellectually, I seem to be helpless to resist it emotionally, and am thus tossed into the ring to fight without gloves or training against an invisible opponent who left the building years ago.

I grieve, but I am not always sure of the object of that grief. I grieve for my dead parents. I grieve for my masculine self, who is disappearing. I grieve for my children’s innocence. I grieve for the happy little child I was at one time — she’s buried under decades of sadness and I only give her a slim chance of surviving. I grieve for my wife, who is losing her husband.

I also grieve for my golden child status — I cling to it somewhere, somehow, even though I feel it harms me. And I grieve without an object of grief — and this formless sadness is hard to deal with. This is definitely the hour of lead, as Dickinson puts it, and I have to find a way to both outlive it and also somehow get to “letting go.”

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