May 2008

How do we conceive of our old selves? Do we shed them like snakeskins and move on with our lives? Or do we honor them by integrating their best parts into the new us? My preference, as you can tell from my tone, is to do the latter. My psyche is permanently bound up with my past, and while I understand why some transsexuals choose to jettison their past, I think it’s sheer folly for me to pretend that George doesn’t exist and never existed.

I wrote a few months ago about the appropriate ritual for a transsexual’s journey and concluded that neither a funeral nor a welcome-home party was up to the task, but that graduation might come close. I have been thinking about this topic on and off during the spring, and in an exchange with JackyV in the comments to “Round the Clock,” I stumbled across another, perhaps much better, metaphor — retirement.

Rather than seeing this transition as a clean break from George, I see this process as the ultimate gift to him. It frees him from his toil, much of which was clueless, but a lot of which involved covering up my existence. He’s a good-hearted man who I hope did all right by family and friends and I genuinely like him. But he’s earned his retirement. I give him permission to stand down, to lay down his arms, to drop his ever-cautious guard that made him reserved and lonely. I want him to get a good night’s sleep and lounge by the pool and live a playful retirement.

But I also want him to write me postcards from his travels from time to time, to impart his wisdom and patience to me, to even share some of his caution and skepticism with me. I want to write him on the cruise that never ends and tell him I’m sorry for causing him so much pain and that I think we’re going to make it. I want to send him pictures of the family he built and let him know that he’s always in our hearts and minds. He may not be present, but he is fully integrated into our family and into my being.

I know family and friends are worried that in sending George into retirement, I will lose my values, my scholarly and administrative skills, and my very being, but that prospect seems unlikely. Sure, I’m going to do things a little differently, present myself in a changed way, emphasize different things in my interactions with others — but my values are ultimately George’s values, even though they may be wrapped up in a different package. I certainly don’t want to let him or his legacy down.

Thanks and bon voyage, George, lifelong protector and conspirator.

COLAGE is an unbelievably valuable organization for kids of transgendered people (as well as GLBQ, but I’m most interested in the transgendered issue for obvious reasons). They have a wonderfully rich page at their website to support transgendered families, and they have just revamped their “Kids of Trans” portion of the website, where you can find a newly released 40-page publication designed just for kids, “Kids of Trans Resource Guide,” along with discussion boards and publications for parents who are transitioning.

While I was writing poetry and worrying about swimming suits and work clothes and a thousand other little things, something happened.

I slipped into being Joyce full-time, well ahead of my anticipated schedule of July. Considering how much planning and processing and prognosticating I’ve done over every detail of my life for the past two years, this turn of events seems surprising. Funny thing is that I didn’t really even say to myself, “Joyce, today’s the first day of full-time,” or “wow, today is the very last day of George.” The concept never crossed my mind.

It’s just that when I got ready for work on Tuesday, having been the real me since Saturday morning, I just dressed normally and continued being me. It seemed the natural thing to do. I don’t think the idea that I’m Joyce full-time and forever actually crossed my mind until Wednesday or perhaps even today.

I think I would chalk up this turn of events to the students who were here in Bedford Falls for a 2-week seminar as part of their degree requirements. They learned of Joyce in April and were accepting and encouraging, going so far as to ask (when I came to work as George), “What’s up with this look? I thought you were Joyce.” Mary Jo and I held a party for them last Saturday, and many of them came to see the house and to meet Joyce, and I felt all my resistance begin to crumble in the presence of their acceptance and normal party activities. The next work week, George fell further and further away and felt more and more awkward to maintain. When Saturday, the last day of the seminar, rolled around, I went to work as Joyce–linen pants, white shirt, salmon blazer. And from 9:00 until the farewell dinner was over at 8:00 pm, that’s the way I was. I held a focus group, introduced a lunch speaker, did advising with my students, conferred with other faculty, went to a group therapy session, bought a few cases of beer, and went to a Japanese steakhouse for our final dinner together — and somewhere in the day, I forgot who I was.

And by “forget,” I mean that I quit thinking about who I was. Or maybe it was that I remembered who I was.

Since then, it’s been Joyce round the clock, experiencing the mundane world in really interesting ways, which I’ll catalog in short blog entries as they occur. For now, though, I am still a little dazed by these events — maybe one simply realizes she’s ready and regardless of the calendar, just steps through the gate.

Looking back, one notices that the gate is no longer there, primarily a product of one’s mind instead of external forces. I’m standing on the other side and see no portal, no reasonable boundary between the old me and the new me. I am very surprised to see how easily I fell through and how easy it is to be me

She said she wanted to do this
told all her friends
bragged about the big jump
laughed and joked all the way to the ladder

So vulnerable climbing the steps
painful progress to the top
fighting with herself not to reveal the fear
and to show bravery to the entire pool

Worried, but trying not to show it,
we below also balance bravery with fear.
light-hearted encouragement:
“It’s easy, honey! The water’s fine!”

Treading water, necks tilted back looking up, yelling encouragement
to the one we love, seeing the fear and excitement on her face
fatigue in our arms and legs, but we don’t dare call it off ;
we paste the supportive smiles on our weary faces.

She’ll jump in time; everyone does eventually
you don’t see little old men and women living up there,
camped out on the threshold for the rest of their lives,
faint-hearted youthful adventurers who weren’t able to muster the courage,
dreams unrealized, failure their legacy.

But it seems like it takes forever, and we’re tired of treading water.
can’t she see how easy it is? How easy it will be?
it’s as easy as falling down.
Driving home she will go on and on and on about the day,
about jumping over and over and over and over
and about how much fun it was and who she jumped with;
amnesia about the trepidation we now see in her body language
as she stands up there in the wind,
knees locked, jaw set, fists at her side,
toes dangling over the edge,

We have all been there, facing our demons,
and having finally jumped off our own high boards,
we float to the frothy surface, grab a breath,
and look up at the board and ask what was the big deal?

* jumping off this high board,
* holding her breath longer than ever before,
* swimming all the way across the deep end,
* touching the grate at the bottom of the pool,
* doing a flip off the low board,
* changing in the bathroom with all those people watching:

She will face these gateless gates of summer,
open them, pass through them;
her life, her jump, her indecision,
in the twinkling of an eye it will be gone

[see also “On the High Dive“]

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