friends


Just when life seems completely settled, just when you think the transition blog has died and shows no sign of life or activity, something odd happens.

Like this email I received out of the blue this morning from Slade Taggart (and this is the total text—no subject line, no salutation, no signature block):

Please remove all your blog posts referring to my middle name.  I find it reprehensible that you would write about me using my name on that blog.  Also, please transfer your business to another firm.  Finally, please don’t call, text, or email me.

I’m not sure what he’s been seeing on his emails, texts, or phone records, but I can assure him (and Slade knows this well) that I haven’t called, texted, or phoned since he cut off communications way back in August of 2008.  I’m guessing he was Googling his various names, and ran across his middle name in a search engine and then, much to his surprise, read about himself as a character in my blog.

In any event, you’d think that pseudonyms would be sufficient, wouldn’t you?  I’m certainly not removing the blog posts, but have further anonymized his character by changing it to Slade Taggart.

I would point out, however, that all the anonymizing (or pseudonymming, or whatever else one wishes to call it) in the world doesn’t change the fact that a dear friend had (and continues to have, apparently) a visceral reaction to my existence, and that this reaction and its accompanying rejection constitutes a major event in my story.  It’s a psychic, social, personal, and historical explosion that cannot, and must not, be erased if this story is to be told accurately.

And blowing a gasket about a pseudonym I use in this blog, and then calling it reprehensible, strikes me as pretty hypocritical.  If we want to talk about reprehensibility, why don’t we talk about abandoning your life-long friend when she needed support, shall we?  Or how about holding on to some sort of deep anger or fear for four and a half years, only to write, out of the blue, this absurd email?  What kind of psyche does it take to push distasteful things this far away from your history for the purposes of keeping up the facade of togetherness?  I’m an empirical thinker, as you know, and the hard facts that Slade doesn’t want to acknowledge is that virtually everyone who cared about me before still cares about me now.

So, applying Occam’s Razor to this data set, which is the more likely hypothesis?

H1 — 99.5% of Joyce’s friends are fools or dupes or deluded

or

H2 — 0.5% of Joyce’s former friends, including Slade and perhaps no one else, is correct in desperately holding on to their their rejection, fear, and anger.

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.

The only official reason I went to my field’s main conference in San Francisco last week was to present the best dissertation of the year award to a deserving doctoral student. My friend Sherry, the head of this organization, asked me to do this job, and I realize that she must have known that without an official duty, I would be tempted to lay low, to skip the conference in order to avoid making myself feel vulnerable. But with an official duty, I had no choice but to chair the committee, put my new name on the program, and (most importantly) stand up in front of a ballroom filled with my colleagues and present the award.

After I wrote the initial award notes, which had to fit within 2 minutes, I worked with my voice team back home in order to tighten the wording to allow me to go slower than my George voice, and I practiced over and over, not because I thought I’d mis-read anything, but because I wanted my voice to match my new body and new look.

The awards ceremony arrived on Friday afternoon, which gave me a couple of days of attending sessions and meeting old friends. The ballroom was pretty full, probably 200 attendees, and I sat in the front row of the audience with the other presenters and recipients, all of us facing the raised dais and podium at the front of the big room. As the ceremony began, I tried to listen to the words of others, and got most of what they said, but I kept picturing myself falling down as I walked the 5o feet from my chair up the steps to the podium, alone, the whole ballroom waiting and watching. I imagined my hair getting caught on something and flying off. I imagined my voice breaking or someone yelling from the back, “Is that a guy in a dress?” followed by widespread laughter.

I recognized these fears as those formless anxieties we all get, and I allowed them to be played out and then banished from my brain.

They called me. I walked. I did not trip going up the stairs. I looked around the room. I laid out my notes deliberately, pausing a second so that I could get my bearings. I read slowly and with emotion, looking up and catching eye contact from different parts of the room. I don’t think I blundered. When I called my recipient up to get the award, I finally lost myself in the moment, and my self-consciousness faded and I just stood there smiling as I listened to his words. It wasn’t about me, although I had been worried it would be about me — it was about him and about his dissertation and about our academic field, and when my self-consciousness and my fears were vanquished, that was what allowed it to be about those things. I didn’t even think about falling or wig-exploding or name-calling as we walked down the stairs and took our seats.

In fact, after this moment, a lot of my concerns about embodying Joyce evaporated. I had faced a large professional hurdle and had passed the test. I met new people at the reception, chatted with old friends, and felt as if it was probably going to be possible for me to continue being a professor in this field.

At our recent academic conference in San Francisco, Mary Jo was a fabulous partner and “introduced” me to all her friends, even if we knew each other before in a sort of funny, but also serious, ritual we repeated over and over. And it wasn’t just for fun — I think having her conduct the introductions made things go very smoothly. After all, I can imagine our friends thinking that if my changes are all right with Mary Jo, then how hard can it be for someone else to engage me normally?

The question that came up a lot more than I anticipated was about our relationship and what it’s called. Are we lesbians? Heterosexual married couple with a quirky husband? Am I the wife? Husband? Former husband? What is Mary Jo? A victim? Wife? Partner?

Everyone agreed that our relationship defies conventional labels. Maybe “queer” captures it all? It’s clear that many people need a label for the relationship, but I think Mary Jo and I realize that this need is theirs, and not necessarily ours.

Lesbians also noted with no discernible humor or irony that Mary Jo is clearly the butch of this relationship and I am very obviously the femme, something we’ve talked about between us, but haven’t really had discussed in public settings before.

Mary Jo’s lesbian friends not only generally think that we could call ourselves lesbians, but also believe that it’s ironic that we’re grappling with the kinds of questions our lesbian and gay friends have faced all of their lives. Yes, it’s a twist of nomenclature that we’ve never grappled with before, and perhaps never appreciated in our same-sex couple friends. Maybe one can intellectually grasp what another couple is going through, but cannot truly feel it and “know” it unless one had lived it.

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