With Mary Jo at an equestrian event and the boys over at the Rapido household playing all day, I found myself reading this blog and my trans* oriented correspondence from the beginning. I was surprised to feel quite a lot of sympathy for the writer, who was obviously struggling in the beginning to find her voice, fumbling along in the first few months. Along the way, however, I believe I have found a good voice, stumbling upon it perhaps in November or December.

What’s really strange about reading this chronicle is that sometimes I feel like I’m on auto-pilot, or that there’s a prime mover or a puppeteer making things happen and I’m only along for the ride, kind of sleep walking in a hazy and surreal existence. In other words, I know I have deliberated and reasoned the various decisions I’ve made, but having done these things (hormones, therapy, FFS, laser, electrolysis, coming out, full-time, etc.), I sometimes don’t remember having been as deliberate as I believe I was.

I can think of hundreds of moments — epiphanies, if you want — where I find myself a bit surprised at how I look or what I’m doing. I find myself in a hotel lobby with a hundred trans*people and ask myself what brought me here? Or I’m chatting with a mechanic about a flat tire, and then it strikes me that I’m someone different — I’m in drag…no, wait, it’s not drag, it’s normal. It’s like the Talking Heads song “Once In A Lifetime,” about those moments of shock when you ask yourself “Well, how did I get here?” or “My God, what have I done?”

At the same time, having written and thought and processed every minute facet of my life and relationships, it seems unlikely that this is truly some kind of auto-pilot, but maybe the kind of forgetfulness that comes from great struggle like childbirth or wilderness survival or extreme grief. Maybe this forgetfulness comes from the fact that there is no time to pause because we’re careening around a track and it’s very important to have eyes forward, scanning back and forth for the next problem to present itself. If this is the case, then the paradox is that while a transsexual transition is most definitely a long-term project, the transitioner in question employs a relatively short-range focus that involves close relationships, the next hormone appointment, the state of her beard, and the constant anxiety about whether she’ll “pass” today or not.

Both the past and the distant future fall away in a haze like the curvature of the earth, and I find that despite living and breathing and thinking gender for quite some time, I find that I an fairly confused about what it means to be moving towards my goal of being a woman.

There is no doubt I’m a real transsexual, but a woman? I’m not so certain — perhaps I’m a faux woman because I feel I’ll always be a transsexual and never a real woman. How could I, with 48 years as a boy and man and husband and father? Intellectually, I don’t really mind because I think trans* is a legitimate category of human being, someone with an interesting past, like your friend who tells you over cocktails that they used to live in the circus — who isn’t attracted to that sort of history?

The more I reflect on the subject, however, I suspect it’s probably not a matter of real vs. faux, but rather real vs. idealized. During a lifetime of envying the other sex’s bodies, I think many transsexuals have spent so much time imagining an idealized body (female or male, depending on your flavor of trans* dysphoria) that when we finally take steps to do something about it, being a “real woman” (or a “real man”) carries risks of not being enough, of not being able to match that lifetime of imagining. We complain about being too tall, too short, of not having big enough hips, or too-large shoulders, and in doing so, we aren’t really in the realm of trans* psychology, but rather in the realm of body image issues, where we have a picture of the ideal (from our friends, advertising, movies, magazines, and so on), and we feel deficient in our “real” bodies.

When I complain about having no hips or no waist, my women friends rattle off their various imperfections and say something like “welcome to the club.” Maybe that’s the way to emerge out of the transsexual transition, accepting the fact that I, like real women, have to accept a real and imperfect body and to find comfort in who I am. If you’re short, you make “short” work for you — if you’re big, you embrace your bigness and make it work for you. I see photos of myself and I like my smile and I think I’m genuinely happy and project confidence in the new me, so I know that at some deep biological and psychological level, I have come to a spot of peace with myself. Maybe I should just say this is my body, and this is what I’ve got to work with: tallish, thin, striking features, and an interesting history?

For those of us engaged in a transsexual transition, it’s important to get out of that short-term forgetfulness, perplexity, and fixation on today’s body, hair, clothes, and work hard to be mindful of how we got here and also how we’re going to live our lives after all this dramatic turmoil is over. I don’t think we want life to be the same as it ever was, an unbroken chain of repetitive thoughts and fears that keep us stuck in fretful sleepwalking and confusion. We want to see clearly with eyes of the world opened to our past and our futures, awake, alert, and content.

We all hear lyrics completely wrong sometimes (and here are two great websites devoted to mis-heard lyrics, Pajiba and Kiss-This-Guy, which comes from the oft-misheard Hendrix line ‘scuse me while I kiss the sky in “Purple Haze”).

After a recent post in which I wrote about how I heard my own version of lyrics in Keith Urban’s “You Look Good in my Shirt,” so that I heard “You Look Good in my Skirt,” I began to wonder if different types of people might be inclined to hear lyrics differently from other groups. These groups might be national, linguistic, racial, local, and whatever-else-you-can-imagine, but I’m specifically thinking of transgendered people and how we might (mis)hear lyrics that no one else hears because these words tap into our subconscious minds in ways no one else experiences.

Sure, there are deliberately ambiguous and playful songs that we are all supposed to notice, like “Lola” or “Walk on the Wild Side,” and I’ll never forget when I heard those songs for the first time — my trans* ears just about jumped off my adolescent head! But there are also little lines that never failed to get my attention like the Beatles’ “Get Back”: Sweet Loretta Martin thought she was a woman but she was another man, or “Polythene Pam”: Well you should see polythene Pam. She’s so good-looking but she looks like a man.

But I’m talking about songs with “normal” lyrics like the Keith Urban song mentioned above, or the song that always had the most intense mis-heard trangender lyrics (for me) of all time, Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl.” The first time I heard it, I swear I thought the singer was saying he wanted to BE Jessie’s girl, which makes this a song that yearns not only for love, but for a change in identity. The song is filled with opportunities to mis-hear, too. Take the chorus of “Wish that I had Jessie’s girl,” which is repeated throughout the song, for example, which I always heard (and still hear) as “Wish that I was Jessie’s girl.”

It’s a forbidden love, even in the “straight” lyrics of the song, but the way I heard it (and still sing it aloud in the car, I must confess) was about a doubly-forbidden love: the singer wants to take the girl’s place, so he not only breaks sexual orientation rules (until his sex change, that is), but he also breaks his vow to his friend, who apparently is happy with his girlfriend. The song is already disturbing for guys and their best buddies, but my version is much, much darker and takes us and the singer to very different psychological and sexual places. The trans* version of the song is less about covetousness, but about jealousy, for the singer is jealous of the girlfriend for a) being female and b) receiving Jessie’s love.

It doesn’t take much to see the trans* version of the song, either — there are lots of little interesting clues that sound like things trans* people say, like lyrics about “playing along with the charade,” “making a change,” “something’s changed,” “loving him with that body, I just know it,” “I look in the mirror all the time,” “wondering what he (she) don’t see in me.”

In the mirror sequence in the video, he smashes the mirror, repulsed by the fact the he can’t look good enough to be desirable, and Rick Springfield is such a pretty boy that it’s not hard to imagine him having trans* inclinations, at least in my version of the song. In his plaintive cry of “Where can I find a woman like that?” I always heard (and still hear) “How can I be a woman like that?”

Finally, at the end of the song, he changes from “I wish I had…” to “I want” Jessie’s girl (which, for me, is a change from the hypothetical wishing I were Jessie’s girl to wanting to be Jessie’s girl), and in this evolution of desire, we realize that this song has been a watershed moment for the singer, as he now understands that what he wants is more than a lustful wish, but a desire for personal change.

For some reason, I have been listening to a lot of country music on the radio lately, something I’ve never done before. Maybe it’s got something to do with getting older, losing my parents, having kids, or undergoing a transsexual transition. I don’t know. All I can say is what’s on the radio today isn’t my father’s country music. I will try to understand this trend more in subsequent posts because if my musical tastes are changing along with my sex, then I’ll end up spending more money on music than on clothes!

In this post, let me write about a guy I had heard on the radio a hundred times, but whom the DJ’s never identified. He had this one song where he’s licking his wounds and tells his lover to take her cat and leave his sweater, and that she’ll think of him. And he’s got this other one about an ex-lover staying the night and looking good in his shirt. Now you country fans are no doubt mocking me for being so ignorant, but until a couple of days ago (when a DJ accidentally told me his name), I didn’t know that this fellow’s name is Keith Urban. I was at the music store with the boys and I figured I’d see if he has any CD’s, and sure enough he does. I found the one with “You’ll Think of Me” and “You Look Good In My Shirt” and gave it a listen. Good songwriting, good musicianship, and an all-round fun listen.

But here’s where gender rears its ugly head. I was enjoying his song about this lover looking good in his shirt when I began to sing a slight variation, substituting “skirt” for “shirt”:

And maybe it’s a little too early
To know if this is gonna work
All I know is you’re sure looking
Good in my skirt

I pictured someone like Shania Twain singing these exact same lyrics and telling her ex lover who has spent the night that he sure looks good in her skirt. What would be the difference? Wouldn’t it be the same cute sentiment? Not on your life. The difference would be enormous — “normal” people would call it perverted, the thought that a) a man would wear his girlfriend’s skirt and b) she’d accept it, encourage it, and sing about it. It comes back to the difference in the words “feminine” and “effeminate” that I tried to articulate a few months back.

The ex-girlfriend sleeping with the singer and wearing his shirt in the morning is tender, child-like, and a little vulnerable. But the opposite, while it ought to connote the same tenderness, strikes us as odd, effeminate, and weak. Of course it’s ok for women to wear her lover’s shirt — who wouldn’t want to wear a man or be a man, honestly? But the opposite, for the lover to wake up and put on his girlfriend’s clothes, is comical because no “real” man would ever subject himself to that sort of ridicule or lower himself to the woman’s position. Femininity in men is frightening and pathetic, and men who seek it are wusses and women who encourage it are perverted.

Still, I’d love to see Shania Twain sing it that way. Or better yet, Keith Urban (who seems pretty secure in his sexuality) could wear a pretty skirt on stage and sing the song this way.

All I know is I’m sure looking
Good in your skirt

snippet of a letter to Carol Honda, a professor friend from the west coast

I’ll tell you a time in my life where you really, really made a difference. Do you remember when I had tickets to the Grateful Dead for 3 nights in a row in Oakland Coliseum? I rented a car and drove up to Davis and we went wine tasting (and brandy tasting at Domain Carneros) and you were studying something the tuba, something utterly joyous. Debra had just broken up with me and I was reeling and your friendship and the visit west and the Dead helped get me back into a good place.

Right after my visit west I dove deeply into building Joyce, not some cross-dressing, fearful Joyce, but a social, happy, out Joyce, and she was well on her way to emerging when I met Mary Jo, and although she didn’t ask me to do it, I sort of voluntarily put Joyce away with the thought that true love, family, and kids would render that part of myself obsolete forever.

You can see how well that worked.

I since learned that what they call Gender Identity Disorder never, never, never goes away. You’re born with it and you’re destined to do something about it, depending on how severely you feel at odds in your body. I love my life and my family and my kids and job, and this one thing threatened to wipe it all out. I figured (coldly and rationally) that all in all, it would be better for me to acknowledge this condition, pick the path that I knew was right (if hard), and live the rest of my life as a woman than to pick what was behind any of the 20 unknown doors with 20 bad outcomes like death by stress or anger or heart attack or ulcer or suicide.

So here I am, 15 months of estrogen (and no testosterone), 17 months of therapy, out to all my students, faculty, administrators, family, and friends — on the eve of morphing from George into Joyce for good, and life is really all very good. I feel like I’ve joined the human race. Even in the pages of this blog you can see how bubbly (on average) my recent posts have been compared to the depressing posts of not very long ago.

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