Friday, August 24, 2012

Memorial for Boppo

Check this out on Chirbit

Boppo Memorial 8/24/12
I don’t have too many happy memories of growing up. But of the ones I do, they usually involved Boppo. Boppo, of course, is James R. Harmon. A veteran of the merchant marines in World War II, an insurance man, a telegraph deliverer, a landlord, a husband, a father, a sometimes worm farmer, and my grandfather. But ever since I was born, he’s been Boppo.

                There are so many great things I could say to try to honor his memory. His industriousness, working well into his 80s to maintain the apartments he’d worked so hard for. His resilience, growing up poor in the Great Depression and gaining so much in his life. His passion for lifelong learning, reading National Geographic and other publications every week and maintaining an active curiosity about the world despite never even completing high school. His love for jokes, his generosity, and so so much more could fill this space. But, to me, the one thing that stands out about Boppo more than any other trait is his strong, dedicated, and so enduring ability to love.

                “Love” is an easy thing to say, but, especially over the course of time, it’s a much harder thing to do. So often we let our fears, our pain, our pride get in the way of letting ourselves meet others where they are and open ourselves to loving them. But although he had his share of hardship with an unstable family as a boy, poverty, the death of his beloved wife, Madge, over thirty years ago, Boppo made love look easy.

                He made it look natural, so natural that it was easy just to take it for granted. He was the sort of person I might introduce a friend to once, and the friend would remember him forever as “the sweetest man [they’d] ever met.”

                When I was younger, I worried that he felt like he had to be generous to get affection. And he certainly was generous. He spoiled me as a child with toys and arcades and trips and food and anything I wanted that he could buy. He was the sort of person who would let neighborhood kids come in to his apartment whenever they wanted and grab a Coke. The sort of landlord who’d be flexible if not downright forgiving when rent was due. The sort of person who’d go down the line at Wright’s Cafeteria at Christmas and give each employee a $20 bill. I worried that he may have felt like he had to give all this money away, because that was the best way to show he cared.

                But as I got older, I realized that it was moreso a matter of priority. Growing up with nothing, he knew that money and material goods were luxuries, not requirements. That, at the end of the day, what truly matters is love. And whatever he could do for love, he would.

                He did the small things. Like trundling up to our daycare once a week to pick my sister and I up in his big blue van, taking us to McDonalds and then entertaining us with arcades and Legos and TV until we went back home. He was always willing to take care of a dog, fix a toilet, drive to help you where ever you were with never a complaint. He enjoyed simply spending time with us, watching cartoons on Sunday morning, going out to eat, watching movies that he may have found too racy or too confusing but thoroughly enjoying the experience simply because his family was with him.

                But he did the big things too. While my family’s home may have been a source of fear and chaos, Boppo’s apartment was a refuge every Saturday night. He would welcome us, spoil us, love us unconditionally. And he would enjoy every minute. Where my father often thought of us as burdens, Boppo always wanted to be with us more. He was always happy to have us visit. Always sad to see us go. He, just like my mother, would and did sacrifice anything for us to be just a little happier.

                And he was brave in his love. He was the only person to ever call the police on my father, during one of my father’s rampages, in an attempt to try to protect us when no one else would or could. And when I transitioned, as so many others receded or fell into their own fears and worries, he alone reached out. This 90 year old man with little formal education, raised in the Bible Belt, who watched Fox News all day called me just to make absolutely sure I knew that he loved me no matter what. Unlike anyone else, he needed to make sure I was ok, that I felt safe around him, that I knew he still wanted and loved me. He didn’t let anything get in the way of love. Because, to Boppo, loving me, loving us was all that really mattered.

                And, of course, that’s just some of my own experiences of his love. Everyone who met him, even for a few moments, can testify to how loving a person he was. Whereas as some families grow apart or always were distant, Boppo’s only got closer. In his final months, he was attended daily by the family that meant so much to him. He was surrounded by loved ones the night before he died. And, in death, he looked like someone who was assured of the deep, deep love in his life.

I don’t know how he did it. I don’t know how he overcame the hurt, the loss, the attendant pains and sorrows that his life knew as well as any other. I don’t know how he loved not just because that’s what one is supposed to do, but because he genuinely felt it. I don’t know how he so internalized that, ultimately, love is all that matters. I really don’t know. But I do know that because of him, because of his life, because of his memory, because of his immense and indelible impact upon me, I’m going to spend the rest of my life trying to do the same.

We’ll miss you, Boppo. Your physical presence is gone from our lives, but we will always, always feel your love. And we will always love you, too.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Returning to Nightmares

The past two nights I've had strange nightmares. The nightmares themselves had very typical content (my ex being distant while in a great deal of peril & me teaching a class and losing control of it while my voice doesn't work), but the strange part of them was that when I woke up, I wanted to go back into them to finish them. That's a stark contrast from most nightmares, where they leave my heart aching and a deep sadness bubbles up that I can only find in the twilight between waking and sleeping. These both felt unfinished, as if I had more to do in them. And I kind of wonder what that means.

The beginning of the school year is always stressful, and this certainly look to be the busiest I've ever had: teaching a new class at UTK, leading the high school Sunday School at church, doing my presdissertation, taking my own courses, having nine clients, co-chairing a subcommittee for the LGBT Commission, organizing Trans 101 content to put online, organizing a Trans Day of Remembrance, recovering from surgery/dilating multiple times a day, etc. I get why I'm stressed. And when I'm stressed, I have nightmares.

But why do I feel like I want to go back inside them? Do I want closure? Am I starting to feel like I have the power to effect change that I couldn't before? Certainly part of me is afraid that teaching college will produce similar results to when I taught high school; I have so many nightmares about when classes where I was the sole person in charge would just get out of control, where I could feel the students sharpening their knives and jabbing jabbing jabbing as more and more blood flowed. And I don't know that I'll fully move on from S until I have someone else I can love.

But I guess I'll take it as a positive, that I feel like I'm better able to fight my dragons as opposed to being ravaged by them. I guess we'll find out how true that is on Thursday.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

All Us Pretty Things

"Very pretty. You look natural." the woman said as I was leaving. It wasn't the only time someone complimented my appearance while in the outpatient facility in Montreal. But it certainly stood out. "Natural."  To borrow a phrase, "Born this Way." One may as well have said "real." (The "pretty," of course, is attendant upon the "real.") And to hear it from another trans woman haunted me.

"You are so young and so pretty! I cannot believe no one would come with you!" my cis hostess enthusiastically exclaimed at the bed and breakfast (where I stayed the night before moving to the hospital). She was an exuberantly open and affectionate woman who really seemed to be capable of making anyone feel welcome and appreciated. But those first words lingered with me too. As if me being "pretty" ("real") meant that of course I would merit company and support.

The sentiment alone was said effusively, but it was meant in implicit (and, naturally, "well meaning") contrast to some of the other patients, particularly those who had transitioned fairly recently at older ages. And whereas some women who had transitioned a significant number of years ago but were in their 40s would be read as female easily, there were a few women who were in their 50s who had likely not done much HRT or who had transitioned later who I imagine have significantly more difficulties.

Physical appearance as a metric of "realness" is a common tension for trans people. For instance, most of my experiences with trans women have been with a scant few locally and then online. And online, ages skew significantly young. I've written here before about struggling with resentment towards younger transitioners (which I know is a product of my own self-loathing and absolutely nothing to do with any fault or flaw on their parts), and it's a not insignificant chip I carry on my shoulder: how much different, how much better would things be if I had transition at 20? 18? 16? Whenever I run my fingers along my cheeks, whenever I catch my voice skewing masculine, whenever I get rejected because I'm trans, it flares up in spouts of self-hatred. When I see myself in the mirror, when I look at most pictures or videos of myself, I think "Every person I know must be politely refraining from pointing out how foolish it is that I think I'm anything but a man in women's clothing." And I start to desperately wish I was cis, to desperately wish I really was "pretty," to desperately wish I had transitioned before my face masculinized beyond repair. Because I am under no illusions that, regardless of what others say, if I am "pretty" it's only in relation to those who are not read as female as easily as I tend to be.

And when some of these other trans women said "pretty" to me, I wondered: did those women feel similarly to how I feel? Was "pretty" an innocuous compliment, a way of trying to soothe an insecurity I presumably have, or a way of hurting themselves? Did they see me with envy, the way I looked at the young woman who came in the last two days who looked and sounded so cis I wasn't sure whether she or her boyfriend was getting the surgery? Did they think to themselves "I can never be as real, as beautiful, as desirable as her?" Because we know, oh how we know that really, on a fundamental level we are fake. We are hideous. We are undesirable. And, worst of all, we deserve to be unwanted and unloved. Because who could possibly commit such an act of immense charity as to fool themselves enough to join us in the delusion that we are something we are decidedly not?

And the worst part is that this is not a uniquely trans issue. There's a hierarchy, certainly. But if we set "realness" aside, much of that paragraph could apply to most any cis woman comparing herself to the "ideal." A fat woman to a thin woman, an older woman to a younger woman, a woman of color to a white woman, a disabled woman to an able-bodied woman, a fat, older, disabled pre-op trans woman of color to a thin, young, able-bodied, cis white woman. And there's a significant chance that that thin, young, able-bodied, cis white woman can *still* have an eating disorder that causes her to utterly loathe her body, seeing something hideous whenever she looks in a mirror and firmly believing no one could ever find her beautiful.

I know part of me, on some essential level, views being cisgendered as "the goal." If you're read as cis, indistiguishable from cis if no one who "knows" says otherwise, you've "made it." You are "pretty." You are real. You are ideal.

But of course that's ridiculous. Certainly, so very very many things are so much easier/safer at that point. But there's still a never-ending litany of reasons for women to hate their bodies/appearances/selves, whether it's weight, breasts, butt, curves, height, voice, facial structure, skin color, hair, etc etc. Trans women, particularly trans women of color, get the brunt of the intersections of racism/homophobia/misogyny/transphobia, but their oppression is an aggravated manifestation and combination of forces that still affect everyone who is at a higher place up that ladder but not on top (if there is one). Being "cis" wouldn't cure all their problems, it would just reduce the intensity.

And just so, being "cis" wouldn't make me "pretty." I know cis women (who certainly had plenty of viable alternatives, if they wanted to exercise them) have been attracted to me as Juliet. I know that there are people in my life for whom I've always been female without an asterisk. I know the way I see my reflection is tempered by a wicked combination of cultural narratives of platonic ideals and historical narratives of my own lack of worth. "Pretty" is a subjective term applied as if it's an objective pronouncement of worth. And I know that that feigned objectivity is the voice of oppression (or kyriarchy), equating a woman's worth with appearance, with cisness, with whiteness, with thinness, with straightness, with femmeness, with an impossible ideal. (Men's worth is judged too, of course, but on different scales)

But, and this is the key, simply because there are established hierarchies of legitimacy, of worth, of "pretty" does not make them true. When we buy into those hierarchies, we may pretend that we're on a spectrum of worth but really it's a binary: you are valuable or you're not. You are you, or you are perfect.

Knowing this is different than internalizing it. I don't feel I'm "pretty," meaning I don't feel I'm valuable or attractive or desirable or real or human in the way everyone else. But I do realize that I am the only one who can make that determination. Now, it's just a matter of sucking out the poison and letting myself be the beautiful of an authentic self. "Pretty" be damned.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Climatic Conclusions

[This is going to be very TMI. So, um, considered yourself really really warned!]

Holy. Shit.

So, you know how lots of you were wondering if I could orgasm and I kept on telling you "Hopefully!"? Well, we can change that answer to a resounding, emphatic yes.

I'd been tentatively trying, rubbing my clitoris in the way that sort of thing is usually done (in my experience), once a week for the past two weeks. The results were fairly poor. There was a slight sensation, but it wasn't the deeper, physical pleasure I was looking for.

So I tried last week, a bit more, but with comparable success. Much of my hesitance is that I'm not fully healed. Most of the stitches are out or almost out and I feel a lot more flexible and mobile than I was, but it's still scary, ya know?

The thing is, I've been having nocturnal emissions (two so far). Which is downright bizarre. Ironically, it's why I started masturbating when I did at 19: I wanted them to stop. And they feel the same way now that they used to, except... there's contractions but nothing comes out. And in many ways it feels like my penis is contracting when it's... not there. WHICH IS RATHER DISCONCERTING.

So, today, I decided to stick with it a bit longer. And, again, it's not like merely touching the clitoris sends a little bolt of pleasure (which for some reason is what I was looking for). But I started slowly rubbing it, and it started feeling kind of nice. Not like "OH GOD YES" kind of nice, but pleasant enough. And I keep looking at whatever sordid and sundry stimulant material I'm looking at. Nothing to write home about (so to speak).

And then something clicked. And my body started to feel like it wanted me to rub faster. And I did. Then it's practically like I'm tapping a button. And my vulva starts to do huge contractions, to the point where I wasn't even sure I was entirely touching the clitoris (the vulva's still significantly swollen, although much improvement), but I got the arching back sensation and just kept on moving through. And then... it hit me.

And my.god.

For those who don't know, orgasms with a penis (at least for me) kind of felt like rising tension, rising tension, tense tense tense RELEASE done. It's over fast. And, at least for me, the buildup was more perfunctory than pleasurable. Hell, the whole thing was more of a "well, I'm glad that's out of my system" kind of thing in lieu of "THAT FELT AWESOME." Again, various issues play into that for me, and obviously lots of people with lots of penises tend to really like it so go figure. But, for me, masturbation (even the vast majority of sex, with three or four exceptions) was more about exorcism than enjoyment.

But this was different. It felt... good. And when it finally hit... it wasn't like one "BANG." I was waiting for the "BANG," because that's what I'm used to, and it never really came. Instead, there was just this really intensely pleasurable feeling and I couldn't help but moan really loudly. For, like, ten seconds. Arched back, really intense pleasurable sensation, and moaning. And when it was over, I just kinda lay on my back staring at the ceiling in a dazed, happy kind of way.

And it didn't just feel good. It felt right. After almost every orgasm I've had before, I've felt kind of guilty or, at best, relieved that it actually happened and was over with. But this time, I was just really glad (and, of course, thinking "Wow, I'm going to get to do that again!").

There wasn't that big moment of relief, like "WHEW IT'S OVER." It felt good, but I was also kind of wondering if something was wrong because there wasn't a huge "release." And as I processed it, it occurred to me how very amazing it all way.

Because, listen. Everybody's different, and we can never really know what it's like to feel/be another person. But this orgasm felt a lot closer to the descriptions of vaginal orgasms that I've heard/read. One of my friends and I were talking two weeks ago about differing descriptions of orgasms, and how she felt it was kind of sad that people with penises just kind of got a "BANG" and then had to recover, whereas people with vaginas got longer, intense sensations and could keep going very soon after.

That's how I felt today. It honestly blows my mind that this is a thing. Because seven weeks ago, I had a penis! I had a different kind of orgasm! And now it's changed! The machinery is altered, but nothing "new" was installed. And I would think that "cis female orgasm narratives" might have impacted what to expect and act out if I hadn't experienced it myself. I couldn't fake what happened. Hell, I wouldn't have known how to. Despite everything that I "knew," I was expecting something a lot more similar to what I'd known. What happened was positively surprising.

Obviously, it's my first time, and who knows how things will change as I heal/learn the patterns better (I am really looking forward to that). But this is fucking amazing (so to speak). It's paradigm shifting. That this is even possible shocks me, and that it's so exciting and right is just affirmation upon affirmation that SRS was the right decision.

And, you guys, truest story: I cannot wait to see how this changes sex.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Moving On

I'm in an emotional space I've never been in before: stability. Lackluster stability, perhaps; I'm not complacent and certainly not happy. But the multifarious chaos, desolation, and trepidation that's adorned my furrowed brow for the better part of my ever is largely dissipated. 

For as long as I can remember, I was always preparing for the future, always looking ahead, and even when I was significantly unhappy in the present (which was often if not usually), there was always something in the near or distant future that I was working towards. And each realization offered the prospect of some significant change in my day to day life.

That's what transition has been like, but on a micro level. There are zillions of steps in a long process. And I've had it mapped out since deciding to transition, two and a half years ago. I wouldn't say SRS is the "culmination" of the process, but it's certainly the last major step. 

And now? Now I feel kind of... hollowed out. I've been staying with my mom for the past five weeks, and I'm kind of scared to leave. Not just to go back into the world and the grind and the constant demands upon my still recovering body. But to go back out into the world not looking forward to something else.

I think this is what post-op depression is. I've been putting so much planning, putting so much mental energy into getting to this point that, now that I've reached it, it almost feels surreal to move past it. I'm pretty well set, barring economic collapse or unexpected tragedy, in terms of my career path. I'm pretty well done with the "obligatory" tasks of transition. I feel like I'm going to be floating instead of swimming. And after so many years of struggling so very much... I don't know what to do with myself.

I'm sad. And I'm scared. But I'm sad and I'm scared while knowing that I am at a better place in my life than I ever have been before. It's good to be stable. I literally cannot express to you how much even the lukewarm dissatisfaction I feel now is so.much.better. than the very vast majority of my emotional state up to this point. And yet I miss it. Already. I miss the stress, the fear, the tenuous hope mixed with apprehension. Not for a moment do I want it back, but still I miss it.

I know this too will pass. Part of me relishes the fact that, the further I get from the surgery date, the more I can devote myself to so many other parts of my life and growth that I've been delaying while focusing upon the rest. Once the school year starts and I'm seeing clients again, doing the work I was made to do, I will feel that fire and direction again.

But I'm mourning. God help me, I am mourning something which I am glad is dead. And I am saddened all the same.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Questioning Self Worth

I've been working on establishing self-worth for myself for quite sometime. Much of that's been figuring out why it's so low (abusive alcoholic father, being trans, not finding fulfillment in work) and taking steps to try to change (distancing self and appropriately categorizing relationship with father, transitioning, getting admitted to program on path to ideal career). And, compared to even a year ago (much less four or five), I'm doing markedly better.

However, what I find myself struggling with now is maintaining that sense of self-worth consistently. While there may be intermittent moments where I feel that I'm a person who can be loved, can be desired, and should be respected, it's difficult for me to consistently foster those feelings for very long. At this point, I honestly think I have a pretty good understanding of why and how I feel. What I need is a way to internalize that understanding, to believe it instead of just being able to abstractly explain it.

So my question(s): Do you feel like you have a healthy sense of your own self-worth? Have you always had it? If you haven't, what did you do to gain it and maintain it? If you're still working on it, what's been particularly helpful for you thus far?

As always, your contributions are incredibly appreciated. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Guilty of Dating While Trans

[In response to this Feministe post, responding to a "Dear Prudie" advice column about whether a relative should out her trans cousin to the man her cousin is dating.]

 I'm pretty sure I got rejected a week ago for being trans by someone on okcupid. And it was especially irksome because the woman was awesome: really into all kinds of different social justice, knew about cissexism, seemed really ambitious and compassionate. She was enthusiastic and engaged, and then she read that I was trans and she... wasn't. When I saw she'd answered that "trans people ought to disclose their status in messages before meeting" (coupled with a note about her "grappling with the cotton ceiling,") I knew that it wasn't going to work out.

 And sure, online dating sucks etc. But I think it was one of the first times someone else really made me feel directly ashamed and disgusting. I mean, certainly, trans women are repulsive on an existential level to a great many people. But this was a direct rejection from someone who really seemed like she ought to know better. It was the first time I'd ever even considered not being so out all the time, because if even the folks who are progressive social justice activists and sympathetic to the abstract cause of my rights feel, on a visceral level, that I'm really just a dude in disguise... How else am I even supposed to get the chance to show them I'm not?

 I won't hide it, of course; being trans is too much a part of my identity and my politics. But it reminded me of parts of Kiese Laymon's gawker essay TNC posted, and how this sort of prejudice sticks with you and poisons you. How everytime a character jokes about the obligatory "tranny hooker" being "really a dude" it stings me. How I still feel like it's charity when people are attracted to me. How being trans feels like a stain I just can't get out. And I wonder how the hell I'm supposed to find and keep that sense of self-worth when it's so frequently reinforced that I ought not to have it.

Because when trans issues are framed in any kind of mainstream discourse? It's all about protecting cis people. Bathroom panic about scary men-dressed-as-women molesting cis women on the toilet aside, I've frequently seen people compare having sex with a trans woman who's not out being akin to rape. (And, of course, the ones who have sex with us when we're out are primarily perverts). Not to mention that it doesn't occur to Prudie for one moment that if that woman's cousin outs her, it might result in a beating or murder. We're just "living in a dream world" in thinking we're real women like the rest of you, and everyone needs to be saved from our delusion.

It weighs on you. Eats at you. And it makes it all the more difficult to believe that anyone would truly want you. Because, at the end of the day, the stain remains. And, in the eyes of most people, no amount of scrubbing will ever remove it.