Friday, February 27, 2015

WALKING THE GENDER TIGHT ROPE



Daya in her new Dior shades

Until Tuesday afternoon, we'd never met face to face. But Daya Shadowfax took a few days off work to drive several hours through snowfall, ice and rush hour traffic and meet with me -  a woman she only knows from the Twittersphere. Emotional intelligence and courage are the qualities I've come to admire most in Daya. But then, Daya is transgender, and what greater leap of faith is there than that?

How did we make our connection? Well, I'm writing a new novel with a transgender character and I want my character to be authentic and reflect actual trans experience.  Daya has been helping me with that.  She had read my novel I KNOW WHERE I AM WHEN I'M FALLING - but that's pretty much all she knew of me.  All I knew is what she said on Twitter or in our occasional Skype conversations.

Daya describes herself as a gender tight rope walker. I really get the sense of how risky and dangerous this must feel when I imagine Philippe Petit sliding out across a cable stretched between the Twin Towers. What if half way through, he made the conscious decision to step off one side into midair? The thought terrifies me. Even as I type these words, my hands begin to sweat.

"But it's almost like I don’t have a choice," Daya told me. "I have to do it." For her, it is physiological as well as psychological. A year or so back, she discovered in medical tests that her estrogen levels were something like three times higher than they are in most women.  In other words, she is already female by some measures. "If you know this is your truth,  the true you, how can you not want to be more of who you are, once you find something like that out? How can you not want to travel that path regardless of how arduous and taxing it is?" she said.

From the time Daya arrived in Falls Church on Tuesday afternoon until the time she left this Friday morning, I felt comfortable and stimulated by her company. We laughed, we cried. We talked over lunch at the Lost Dog Cafe. We talked over dinner last night at the Mad Fox. We talked on a drive to Great Falls and Georgetown. One evening we watched  Whiplash and talked for an hour or so afterwards. We also had a DVD of The Judge but twice we cued it up and never got round to watching, because we were too busy conversing about films and books and music, about sex and relationships and of course about Daya's transition.

She is an emotional person but yet she tries very hard to be mentally prepared for every step of her journey. Sometimes she might get blindsided - when somebody is gratuitously cruel or deliberately insulting. Speaking of one such incident she said, "I was so emotionally upset by it I couldn't rationally respond.  It's not that I don’t want to be an emotional person. That’s an admirable trait. But I don’t like it when it controls me.  I love just falling into happy emotions and going with it and that's awesome, but I also don’t want to be controlled by emotions which prevent me from being who I am or where I want to be."

In April, Daya will undergo the first of a few surgeries, with the idea of slowly easing into a more female presentation. "When you see someone every day, it's hard to notice the micro changes," she said. "You don't recognize them." But what she loves most is seeing people she used to know and who haven't seen her in a while, and realizing they no longer recognize her. 

The day before yesterday, she bought a pair of boots in Nordstrom, and the cashier asked to see her ID.  Daya handed over her license. "And is he with you today ma'am?" the cashier asked.

"That’s me," said Daya.

The cashier became flustered. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry..."

"No, no, no; it’s a good thing," Daya answered. She found it validating.  "If I can alter my appearance slightly, little by little, and ease myself into it, and feel that it's not forced, that would be ideal," she said.
A kick-ass pair of boots they are too

"We project how we feel and people pick up on it. I don’t want to be seen as cartoonish or project that, and if I feel like I am, then I’ll ease back.   That's the whole thing with wearing a skirt or a dress. I know that if I don't feel comfortable, people will pick up on it."

Much of the time we were chatting, Daya was busy knitting. She knits a lot of hats - and had a whole bag of them in her car - Dr. Seuss funnel type hats in different shades of blue and knitted textures, cloche hats in pale yellow, round pork pie hats in purple and green. 

wearing a hat she knitted me
"Until I feel comfortable, I won't do it, because if I don’t feel comfortable – people will pick up on it, whether consciously or not.  That’s how I function and how I operate. I can ease into it – get my head around it."

"When are you going to actually switch your name legally?" I asked.

"Once I'm out of surgery, I have to go to the court and file the paperwork, file the letter from my doctor  and find time with my work schedule  But I don’t want to rush around and worry about it. That will happen. I just have to pick a day, and go to the DMV and change my name and gender.

"At work, I’m going to write a letter explaining that I'm still the same person but I’m having surgery done to aline my appearance more with who I am, and if you want to know the particulars, I'll be more than happy to explain. You can't offend me by questions. You can only offend me if your intent is to offend me. But I would prefer that you use this name and these pronouns.  I understand it's difficult to see someone change in that regard, and I’m not going to be angry if you forget or whatever. I'm just trying to say I would prefer this.

 "I kind of clued in to that with reading Jenny Boylan," she added. "She did exactly the same thing. She wrote a letter to all her colleagues.  And given that space, remember what I said about distance, when people have a break, you know, from seeing you?"

"You don’t wear much makeup," I observed.

"I feel it's an effort. I feel if I tweeze my eyebrows, that should be enough for now.  Yesterday I put on a little foundation and mascara and that was it."

"You don’t wear lipstick," I said.  (I don't know what I'd do without lipstick!)

 "I found some Burt's Bees lip balm which has some color to it but I don’t know if I like it that much.
 It's sometimes such a pain, you know.  But I pick and choose when I wear it.  It's uncomfortable. It's like a dress."

She showed me the lipstick she'd got. "Oh yeah, that is nice,"I said. "It's subtle."

She was wearing a sweater with a high neck and buttons down one side. "You see this – I would have bought this when I was eighteen.  I love these off angled clothes – I don’t like stuff buttoned right down the middle." She laughed. "Maybe that’s my personality. I’m off to the side. I've always liked things like that – I have another jumper upstairs with snaps, black and white stripes and with the thumb holes.  It's stuff I want to ease into. I don’t want it to have a false ring to it.  And I don’t want to be outcome driven, or hoping something will happen.  I’m hoping that the surgery will be a natural expression of who I feel inside. I’m doing as much as I can to get closer to what I see as me."

Daya

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

THE IRRELEVANT HOPES OF A 1st GRADE BEAN BIOLOGIST

When he was in first grade, my son Alex kept an Observation Log as a Bean Biologist.  He was to record the progress of several seeds he'd planted in a box, over the course of the winter months. The log that follows is a family favorite.  It has given us hope - not in success, but in the concept of hope itself. And isn't that what counts?






"Today I planted seeds.  I planted four. When it was finished it looked very nice. I planted a sunflower. They are going to grow nice."




"I don't see anything yet.  But it will grow.  Miss Keens watered you today. They will grow fast.  From Alex."
A seed is watered


"Dear Miss Keens.  It might grow next time.  Alex"
Popsicle stick markers.  The barren earth.
"I still see nothing yet. But it will grow soon."
first sign of life
"I got my baby plant.  It's half a centimeter. It will grow better on the weekend."
"My plant is one centimeter. He might grow two centimeters on the weekend"
Popsicle sticks
"My seed disappeared. Maybe my corn seed will grow or my sunflower."
"Now it is gone for good. I wonder what plant will grow next."
Popsicle sticks