A Year and A Day Later

Last night I drank a toast to the year that was and the thing that occurred to me most was that beyond the healing and beyond the revelation of the closest I would ever have to the right body…beyond everything was that for the first year of my life, I could simply be me and that for every year and a day beyond, I will be me and not think about being someone else or some other version of myself. I will never go to bed at night and wish to wake up differently.

A year and a day and the rest of my life to follow. Free to be just me.

‘This thing’s to do.’

So here I am, a few day’s shy of a year after GRS, and I’m mostly good with where everything is in my life…mostly. The thing is, as I become more and more comfortable in my skin and embrace just being, there are still edges that need shaping, things to do so that I no longer have to ask myself if there are any things left to do.

For starters, I’ve been overweight for years and, as such, my neck has been covered by a layer or two of fat that has kept whatever I might have that resembles an Adam’s Apple hidden from view. But over the last 5 months, I’ve been very committed to a slow and steady weight loss plan, using the LoseIt app on my phone (and their website…I so recommend this site. It works if you use it and if you need something to report to everyday. It keeps you honest with yourself.). And I’ve lost 25lbs thus far. I still have a ways to go, but I am happier with my body. But I do see that layer of fat around my neck receding and I’m afraid that when I near my goal weight, that which has been hidden shall be revealed. I’ve already checked with Meltzer (his office is 30 minutes away from my home) and I’m looking at around $3,500 for the tracheal shave.

This bit worries me most of all because if I lose all the weight I want to lose and suddenly my svelte neck reveals what I would prefer remain hidden, I would suddenly have this horrible indicator which, for the moment, I do not. It is worrisome and, as such, I worry.

Yet another fun expenditure! And I’m all out of student loans to procure…

Oh, and there’s the hair. At work, I wear a wig that blends well with my hair to cover up the age related damage. When not at work, I generally wear a head band or a scarf and my hair stylist and I have found a nice look with bangs that works for me. But I do wish I could eschew the bands and scarves. That means a transplant and that’s around $10K.

Did I mention I’m a teacher?

Those are the major things. I still check in for electrolysis for an hour a month and one or two places still have the old name and I’m still holding off on the birth certificate (partially because of the cost and partially because California has a bill in the works to simplify the change – which will cost substantially less).

The thing is, as long as there are things to do, I won’t really feel like I’m done with this. I’d really like to be done with this and if I had the cash, I would be, which I suppose puts me in the same boat as anyone else who would be done if not for money.

So it goes.

Community Standards

When I pick shows for our main stage productions every year, I have to be mindful of a number of things such as student population, budget, feasibility (big one that students and faculty often don’t get when they request that I do Phantom of the Opera or Wicked) and this thing my boss calls “Community Standards.” This is important because I’m not directing plays in Marin County, California where I’ve known high school productions of Hair have taken place. There are a lot of shows I would like to direct that I feel have educational and artistic value. But I don’t get to just do what I want or even feel is appropriate. I have to be mindful of the community. It’s my job after all and as much as my students want to do Sweeney Todd, it’s not going to happen around these parts.

Now some would say to challenge the status quo because the status is not quo. We have to challenge community standards to change them. Trans people would not be visible without this practice of advancing what the community deems appropriate. I would not be thinking about my spring musical if not for people pushing the envelope of what the community expects and even I play a small part in pushing that envelope. My very small contribution to the cause. It is important work, challenging the community to accept what was once not acceptable.

Sometimes community caretakers, those with an interest in halting progressive thought or who feel that the status most definitely is quo or who are simply happy with the way things are, push back. They toe the line and demand that what some of us deem progress be halted or, better still for them, reversed. They hearken back to some imagined “better time” when things seemed “simpler.” It’s like those nostalgic for their high school days because life seemed, and most likely was in many respects, simpler. But they do not remember the reality of high school. Just an imagined ideal. These caretakers are not concerned with those who remember high school as the worst time in their lives because everybody’s got the right to be happy so long as their own rights are primary and really not everyone has the right to be happy at all because if those people are happy, then their own version of happiness is questionable. Being a caretaker of community standards often requires a deep sublimation of empathy.

Sometimes one group that challenges community standards is at loggerheads with another. They only accept their ideologically pure version of where the community ought to go and often outright deny the existence of another group because they have created a version of the status quo where the other group is in service to the very community that often actively shuns them. This is a tricky bit of business because it requires selective blindness to reality. It also requires them to believe that if they attack a group of people, they will stand idly by and accept the blows…perhaps the opposition will see that they are somehow right and stop their own need to open up what the community deems acceptable. But it sometimes gets to be something like a Harry Potter/Voldemort struggle… neither can live while the other survives. Ultimately, those who are most active in this fight against each other, through their actions and words, escalate the arguments until there is no possibility of accord. Capulets and Montegues one and all. The ridiculous part is that the community at large doesn’t even know this fight is going on and rally couldn’t care what the outcome is. The fights, for the most part, have no discernible affect (every once in a blue moon, this is not the case and the community notices and takes a side – but this is rare).

My view is that you cannot change the community in the way you would like with negative actions (unless your goal is to provoke fear and hatred, often of yourself, in the community). That being said, the caretakers can use negativity to fight against change and if those seeking change attempt to use the tactics of the caretakers, then they will not win the day. This is why it is so difficult to change community standards and, when it happens, it should be celebrated, even if the change is by very small degrees.

Simple Joys (for when life sucks)

Sometimes life seems like it’s not what it should be. I think trans people get this more than most. We spend a lot of time looking at other people and wishing that our lives were like theirs…envying their not having to deal with what we deal with because it seems like they have a somewhat easier go of it. After all, we have all the regular old problems they do… plus the trans thing. I cannot tell you how many times I have wished the trans thing into the cornfield. Wishes don’t do a whole lot of good, though. There are still days that suck and sometimes they just suck in that way that life can kind of suck and sometimes it’s the trans thing rearing its stupid trans thing head and spitting suck all over everything.

Truth is, I hate where I live. I have a lot of days on my job that I love that I hate. I have days where some kid snickers and I know it’s about me or I just hear one too many bits of life truth from a teenager with a shitty home life and it gets to me and I want to run screaming to something else. But I go back to work because it’s work and sometimes I love doing the job enough that I can overcome my flight response and I go back to work and do the job and listen to the stories and offer my best shoulder for the tears.

And there are times when it seems like there will be no escape from the place, that we’re stuck in the suck of the place, the suck that comes from so many different factors. What I’ve been trying to do, trying so hard to do is to accept the suck as part of my day-to-day the same way I accept the trans thing as a part of my life. I was told yesterday that my transition is something of a model for how to do it right and I wish that were entirely true. I’ve certainly been fortunate in many regards and there are times where I feel like I walked between the raindrops. At the same time, none of this is easy and being unhappy in the place I’m in doesn’t make it all that much better.

But I’m here in the here and now and I cannot live in a universe of crap because that is not living at all. So I grasp onto bits of the present that don’t suck at all.

I grasp onto my children because they are wonderful, beautiful beings…the joy that I helped bring into the world. In the midst of being a somewhat stern parent, I look at them and smile.

I grasp onto my spouse because even though she does not think it, she is the best person in the world. I am fortunate beyond measure to have her in my life and though I don’t deserve her, she is here with me. A small reward from the universe for being a better person and I only wish to be better still to be a proper reward for her as best as I can be.

I find the simple joy in my job, the plays…the play. The joy of bringing theatre to kids who need it. The knowledge I give my students who need a family a kind of weird and cool family to be a part of when nothing else seems to be going their way.

I try to live in the present because the past holds nothing more than lessons and the future is too timey wimey, too uncertain. I know the now and for good or ill, I can live in it and smile at my little cat madly chasing phantoms down the hall or that odd moment when my spouse has discovered something beautiful or clever or funny and she smiles and lights up my world or my kids spend an hour of insanity in the bath tub.

The simple joys of the present even when all the suck is right outside the door and the trans thing wants to make it worse. I clear out a little space of something wonderful and I allow myself permission to stay there.

It’s like Ben Vereen sings it…

Teaching Trans – How I Kept My Job

(I originally wrote this for “Frock” Magazine, but felt I needed to pull it at the time due to district issues which are no longer applicable…so here it is)

I did not expect to be able to keep my job as a public high school Theatre Arts teacher.

When I started planning my transition, I made the very reasonable assumption that my days as a classroom teacher were coming to an end. After all, the majority of trans people lose their positions. This is what I discovered both anecdotal and statistically. Most trans people simply do not fare well and the majority experience some level of loss and that usually begins with their employment. I even went so far as to create an anonymous email account and send a note to my Human Resources person. Her response was a cut and paste of the school district’s Non-Discrimination policy that said the district did not discriminate against someone in regards to their sex, but had no direct language about gender identity. I wrote back for clarification and received none. Which, of course, led to reasonable assumptions to the negative on my part.

I did not expect to be able to keep my job as a public high school Theatre Arts teacher.

My school is in an area that is a combination of urban, suburban and rural and generally religious and conservative.  While not the most conservative part of the area, it is enough that my boss reminds me to be highly mindful that the materials I choose for our main stage shows are appropriate for our community standards.

I did not expect to be able to keep my job as a public high school Theatre Arts teacher.

More to the point, I imagined that should I attempt to transition on the job and should my district and school be progressive enough to allow me to do so, there would be people in the area who would be at the font of the school with tar and feathers and rails and pitchforks and, worse, news cameras. And they would have ugly signs and ugly chants and my presence would hurt my students’ ability to learn and participate in school plays or even take a Theatre Arts course. If that were the case, I would have walked away. My needs are not as important as theirs. I am here on their behalf and controversy would have killed the already endangered theatre program at my school.

I did not expect to be able to keep my job as a public high school Theatre Arts teacher.

That was scary. I had been a professional teacher at that point for five years and it was my career and I did not want to lose it. Life is about more than gender. I have ambitions and interests and goals. I have this career that I felt a calling to do that was about to be lost because of my need to transition and that should tell you how strong my need to transition was, that I was willing to sacrifice not just my employment, but my career to heal myself. And it was scary because I had to think about what I was going to do next to support my family. I started preparing to find work teaching online because, to be fair, I felt that I could do that without much controversy. But, truly, I was not sure what I would do next and feared that I would have very few, if any, options. Statistics are scary in this regard and they frightened me through many a sleepless night.

I did not expect to be able to keep my job as a public high school Theatre Arts teacher.

I had to transition, though. So I planned my exit from my job at the end of the 2011-2012 school year. In the meantime, I planned my first RLE (Real Life Experience…we are expected to live full time, for a time, before having surgery to be sure that this is really for us) for my summer break in 2011. I would have two months to live in the world as a woman before going back to the double life I had been living for the year prior. Just about all of my friends, especially those in the trans community, were deeply concerned that I would not be able to go back without the worst depression and while I agreed with them, I had to go through with it. As June turned to July, their concerns became my reality and I cried a lot of tears at the thought of having to play the male role again. I didn’t know if I could do it and I certainly did not want to and I had no choice but to do so.

At least I thought I didn’t because I certainly did not expect to be able to keep my job as a public high school Theatre Arts teacher.

But the Fates guided my Internet wanderings (and the Fates have found the Internet their simplest means to guide the lives of mortals) and I discovered an article about the legal protections for trans employees that already existed in the U.S. and while it did not explicitly say that public sector employees where I work were protected, there was an implication. I contacted the author of the article who kindly spoke to me for an hour and directed me to find legal assistance. I found some very helpful people at the national level who guided me to a pair of incredibly wonderful local attorneys, one of whom knew a member of my district’s Board of Governors. A day after my meeting with them, I received a call from one of the lawyers saying he spoke with the board member and that my district had policies in place in regards to employees transitioning and that I had nothing to worry about, that I should simply come out to my principal and he would help me work out a transition plan and that if there were any problems, I should contact her and she would assist me.

And so even though I had spent the last two years expecting the worst, I was able to transition and keep my job as a public high school Theatre Arts teacher.

Days of Importance

As a Jewish person, I grew up with a lot of holidays, or Holy Days. The Hebrew calendar is peppered with them and there was always a joke that we could find some reason not to go to school on any given day. I still went. I still go to work. I’m not the holiest of people after all.

As a person who is now a part of the greater alphabet community, I am discovering all these new days of celebration or remembrance or visibility and I worry that there will come a point where the days become so ubiquitous that they begin to lose their significance.

I don’t worry too much, as I am not the holiest of people and still go to work on them. Usually the recognition of the day is accompanied by some kind of large public gathering. And I simply cannot abide large public gatherings.

I’m not much for group anything unless I have some measure of control over the group. Parades and rallies kind of freak me out. Just too many unknown bodies in violation of my personal space. I did Time Square on New Year’s Eve a bunch of years ago and it was both exciting and highly unpleasant. That’s how I tend to describe any large gathering of interest or note.

So chances are you won’t find me at a rally or vigil or parade. It doesn’t mean I don’t support the cause, but that I am not at all comfortable being  in the crowd.

And I do recognize these days of importance as being important. At the same time, what does a day like today, the IDAHOBIT, mean, really? Are there days against racism? Days against Antisemitism? (I would think there would have to be given the relative number of days on the Hebrew calendar…room for one more, honey). Is every day of the year a day of importance for some group? At that point, do the people the days are meant to affect, the people at the top of the cultural/social/political power structure, even take notice?

Who are these days meant to impact and are they having the desired effect?

I wonder if anyone has ever done a study…

Distracted

Sometimes I think that life is a series of distractions. We’re distracted by needs and wants…by desires. Work is a distraction that pays and play is the distraction we work for all day or week or year. Good deeds distract us from the bad and bad deeds are the result of desire born of the need to be distracted.

But distracted from what? If life is an endless series of distractions, wouldn’t that mean that there was something underneath it all that we’re trying so desperately to mask? Is it that at our core we understand that this is all meaningless and even as we attempt to ascribe meaning to it through religion or attempts at immortality through creative acts, we understand that there is nothing to this life but the distractions?

Just the time with our loved ones. Just the play. Just the waking up and doing. Just the quiet time thinking about anything but the emptiness.

If that’s all there is, my friends, then let’s keep dancing…