Saturday, May 30, 2015

GENDER IDENTITY and HAIRCUTS

My friend Daya is recovering from an Adam's apple shave and chin reshaping. The surgery involved cutting the skin entirely along the jaw line and peeling it down, shaving the jawbone for a more feminine contour, and sewing it back up.  It was agony.  Daya tweeted afterwards, "Knew there would be pain but didn't know there'd be PAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAIN!"


Daya in one of her signature hats

She came down to visit us for a few days while she was recuperating.  Our friendship began when I was researching for a novel I'm writing about transgender friendships and what it means to be female.  Daya wants her appearance to align with how she feels inside - a perfectly natural desire.  She resists caricature, doesn't want to be "cartoonish" as she puts it. She simply wants to be perceived by others as the gender she feels she is inside.  That's why she went through the surgeries - and it's why we were talking about haircuts.  Her hair is fine and thin and she was afraid there was nothing she could do about it.  She didn't want it to scream out MALE.

So I asked my friend Irina who cuts my hair if she had any thoughts.  We sat in her salon together and she considered Daya's options.   "Should I go darker?" Daya asked.

before

  "I wouldn't go any darker," Irina said. "But I would cut off some of this length."

"But is that a style choice or because of the condition of the hair?"

"Both," Irina replied. She suggested mixing tones, warmer colors, along with blonder highlights. But she would think about it and we could come back in the morning.

We returned to Irina's at 9 o clock on Wednesday. "I have been thinking all night about what we can do with your hair," she said, and then showed Daya four colors which she would combine to give the illusion of depth and body.  She would cut the hair to taper at the neck, and angle it in front.


The transformation began.



We chatted while Irina applied the color foils.  I watched her work her magic, with sensitivity, thoughtfulness and skill.

She showed Daya how to back comb the hair for volume.  Daya's featured softened as she looked at her reflection in the mirror.  Tears sprang into my eyes and I couldn't hold them back.



"Stop," said Daya, "or you'll make me cry too."



a sweet moment


"You have good hair," said Irina.  "It isn't a problem with the quality of your hair."

We embraced her and thanked her.  "No more hats," said Irina.

"Thank you for the support," Daya said. "It's like what I said about how I felt when I put on my sister's clothes. I felt right and now that is projected."

"I had tears after you left," Irina texted me later. "You are very special soul. I am glad you are in my life."

Daya's new haircut





Thursday, May 21, 2015

FOOLS WITH NOTHING IN THE MIDDLE

Me and Ben smelling the roses in our middle age
This evening, Ben and I had dinner with our friends Ian and Francesca, who we've known for thirty years.  It's amazing to realize and beautiful to celebrate.  We've lived our lives - we've had our babies, we've had our various US Foreign Service experiences - we've watched our kids grow up.  So here we were now in a DC restaurant, comfortably conversing in the middle of our lives and talking about our past, our present, our future. Yes we're in the middle of life.  And this evening, that felt wonderful.

The Fool in Shakespeare's King Lear - talks about the folly in LACKING a middle.  "I had rather be any kind o' thing than a fool. And yet I would not be thee, nuncle," he says, meaning Lear himself. Lear has divided his kingdom between two daughters. "Thou hast pared thy wit o' both sides," says the Fool, "and left nothing i' th' middle."

Nothing in the middle.  What a horror! I remembered this passage the other morning when I was walking the dogs. I was between breakfast and work and this passage struck a chord and I needed to think about it. There's no celebration of the MIDDLE these days, I said to myself.  And that is the problem with the world today!

I've been thinking about this because I was teaching my college students about Carl Rogers and Rogerian argument - the need to find a common ground. It sounded old fashioned, and almost preposterous. And yet, my students liked the idea - the idea of actually LISTENING to the other side of an argument before jumping in with your rebuttal. What a beautiful world it would be if there was more of that, we decided.

We can see that it's a problem in politics. There's right and there's left, but never the twain shall meet.  It used to be politicians in the middle, who understood the art of compromise, who went across the aisle to say - you know, this might not be precisely how I'd get things done if it was all up to me? But, hey, let's make it work!

It's a problem in the economy.  The middle class is ever shrinking.  We now have the very very rich, and the poor who can't make ends meet.  It's a problem in publishing.  Publishers have their heavy hitters and their low end low brow market - but they've done away with midlist titles.

It's a problem in marriages. People say 'I wish I could do things MY way.'  You can.  But that's called being SINGLE!  In a marriage you have to settle for solutions that aren't always to your liking. In order to get along - you have to...


                                                                       compromise


And while I'm at it, let's hear it for middle children. They are the ones who bridge across the divide - the ones who traditionally make peace.

What if we do away with bridges? What if all we have is one bank  - a gulf - and then another bank.

Is middle wishy washy - or might it be more about forward momentum? I heard Anne Tyler in an interview recently saying her favorite place to be was in the middle of writing a book.

So the middle of life? It's a beautiful place to be - a place from which to go forward mindfully.
 Ben and his friend Tony in the middle of life and friendship

My college boyfriend recently turned sixty. HOW IS IT POSSIBLE!  I sent him a birthday greeting.  "Hard to imagine," he replied, "that it's been over forty years since I was head over heels for you!"

So I inscribed a copy of my novel and sent it to him for his birthday. When we were young, he had also once inscribed a book to me with a verse from AA Milne.

And in that spirit, this is what I wrote:  "Now that we're sixty we're as clever as clever. So I think we'll be sixty now, forever and ever!"

My beautiful friend, Gail, in her prime
Let's  here it for the middle.  Let's celebrate the joy of middle age.  From this perspective you look at the banks on either side, as Ben and I did with our dear friends this evening over dinner.  You remember who you were and you continue with joy to build a bridge towards who you might one day become.