The Patient and the Impatient

AMBULANCE_NYCDonna came home from her three-week stint in rehab (she broke her ankle in two places and needed surgery to repair it). I wheeled Donna through the lobby, into the elevator, and down the hall to our apartment. I opened the front door and got stuck with the wheelchair in the foyer.

When we bought our apartment, I insisted on being in a “roll-in” building with an elevator. For over twenty years I assumed our apartment was vaguely accessible.

Wheelchairs, at least the basic ones provided by Medicare, need a lot more space for navigating than I imagined. I thought I had cleared a path through the apartment, but it was too narrow. I had to move the hutch (full of Donna’s mother’s good china) just to get her into the apartment. To get into the living room, I had to shift the dining table, the coffee table, and the couch. To get into the bedroom, I had to move the bed, the dresser, and her reading chair.

I knew that neither the wheelchair nor the walker would fit through the bathroom door, which is 24″ wide. Even the knee scooter is a tight fit. She can use the scooter to get to the shower, but it is awkward for the toilet. I wouldn’t want to do that maneuver if I was in a hurry to pee. The commode will be in the bedroom until she is more mobile.

We have help. Medicare pays for a visiting nurse (twice a week), a home health aide (five times a week for four hours a day), and a visiting physical therapist (twice a week).

The first person who came to visit was Pema, the visiting nurse and case manager. She is from Nepal. I opened the door and introduced myself as Donna’s partner. She was friendly and talked with both of us about the services that the agency provides. She seemed completely non-judgemental.

The second person who came to visit was Fatou, the home health aide. She is from Senegal, and wears a hijab. I introduced myself as Donna’s partner. After Fatou got settled in, I ran some errands and went to the gym. Donna thinks the aide is there to help her, but I think she is there to give me a break. While I was out, Fatou referred to me as “he”. Donna was flummoxed and did not explain our relationship. It remains unexplained.  Continue reading

My First Television Set

heteronormative-crapI broke down and bought a television set and a Roku box. I feel like a traitor. It is as if I joined the Republican Party. I haven’t watched television since I was seventeen. I think of it as mindless heteronormative entertainment.

In theory, I bought the TV for Donna. She is housebound, nursing a broken ankle. In February, when she was recuperating from open heart surgery, we curled up together on the couch and watched movies on my iPad mini. It was cozy, but the iPad mini screen is tiny. The new TV is a 32″ diagonal. It looks big to me, even from the couch. By American standards, 32″ is small.

I have to reconcile myself with owning a television set, even if I am not signing up for 500 reality channels. I already have Amazon Prime and Hulu Plus on my iPad; I will probably sign up for 30 free days of Netflix. I keep telling myself I traded up from the 7.9″ iPad mini screen to a 32″ monitor. I’m still watching only what I choose to watch. I’m not watching the Kardashians.

I’m not a TV person. I’m a recovering stereophile (music equipment geek). My distaste for TV was made obsolete by streaming. Streaming blurred the line between computers, stereos, radios, televisions, cameras, and phones.  Digital media corrupted my identity. Another victory for the binary. Continue reading

You Look Great, Did You Lose Weight?

One_lucky_butchNo, I lost my breasts. Except that I can’t really say that. I can’t easily explain, to someone who barely knows me, that I did lose weight, but they are probably noticing that I had top surgery (in December 2014) and then I went out and bought clothes that fit me. I lost some weight, but mostly I lost my shame. Not all of it, but a healthy chunk.

My dentist was the most recent person to ask me “You look great, did you lose weight?” He is a middle-aged straight white guy. He looks like he is in good shape. I imagine he has an easy life, but all I know about him is that he lives in the suburbs and took over the dental practice when his father retired. We mostly discuss my teeth. He is big on flossing.

He told me to “keep on doing whatever it is you are doing” and I was tempted to explain just what it is that I’m doing. He was picking up on something, but it eluded him. My transition is only visible if you know what you are looking for.

The gracious thing to say is “Thank you, I feel great.” and move on, but I hate when people bring up my weight. His statement implied that I used to look overweight, uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfashionable (true on all counts). He might have meant to pay me a compliment, but instead he fat shamed me. I don’t want it to be all about the weight. Continue reading

Mad About Plaid

too_much_plaidUsually I break out my flannel shirts right after Labor Day, but it is the middle of September and the weather has not changed. It is still summer in the city. I’m wearing my summer plaid.

My summer plaid are Madras. I didn’t plan to have a half-dozen Madras shirts hanging in my closet. I bought them, over the last two years, one at a time, unable to resist the patterns. All summer long, when I didn’t want to wear a T-shirt, but I didn’t want to wear a dress shirt, I threw on a Madras. Then I realized that Madras is as close as you can get to a summer flannel shirt. I love plaid.

I don’t understand how my personal style developed; how plaids got into my subconsciousness. If it is a butch thing, or a guy thing. Why plaid instead of stripes or paisley. Why plaid instead of Tattersall or gingham. How my child brain synthesized the idea of masculinity down into a plaid shirt. How I drifted into some sort of Ivy League goes hiking hybrid style.

madras-are-so-butchMy Madras are classic plaids; not the pastel Easter egg, flashy fluorescent, or psychedelic patchwork plaids. My plaids wouldn’t be out-of-place on flannel. The British brought the Scottish Tartan patterns with them to India, wove them into Madras cloth, and then spread them all over the rest of the British Empire. From India to Bermuda. Madras shorts, pants, jackets, and shirts made the jump to the U.S. in the 1950’s. They have been a preppy staple ever since. I only have the shirts. This article from Gentleman’s Gazette explains everything you might want to know about Madras.

I am lucky that authentic Madras shirts are still made. Even if they are not fashionable, they are still classic. They have not gone the way of bell bottoms or cargo pants. They are not a fashion crime, e.g. wearing over the calf tube socks with shorts.

I like timeless classic men’s fashion. I would like to wear out my favorites. To go back to a store and replace an object with the exact same item. The reality is slightly different. Lapels change, collars change, colors change, and the cut changes. There are a few classic outfits from each decade that could be worn today, but most outfits look dated. Men’s fashion changes more slowly than women’s, but it does change. A lot of guys don’t change with it.

I don’t want to be the middle-aged guy trying too hard to be cool. I don’t want to be the middle-aged guy wearing clothes that were in vogue in 1990. I don’t want to be the middle-aged guy wearing beige and gray. I know I’m at risk. This article from the Daily Mail explains why. Continue reading

Welcome to Rehab

Regata_StoricoI almost made it back to Venice. Donna broke her ankle in two places on Saturday. We won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.

I’m angry with her for falling, for rushing, for not watching her step, for being Donna. She was on her way to the swimming hole, and came back to get sunscreen. She missed the step from the porch to the walkway. I didn’t see it happen. I just heard her cry out.

I was planning on staying home and writing a post about going back to Venice. Instead, we took a trip to the emergency room.

Our first trip abroad together, in 1983, was to Italy. We flew into Rome and took the train to Venice. When we arrived in Venice there was a crowd outside the train station, and the Vaporetto weren’t running.

We arrived on the first Sunday in September. In the middle of the Regata Storico. There was nothing to do except look at the boats and wait for the Grand Canal to reopen so we could get to our pensionne. I ate my first gelato.

I learned a lot about Donna on that trip. I learned that she loves the unplanned and unexpected, that she likes to change the itinerary, and that she likes to travel without reservations. We were going to stay in Venice for five nights but had such a good time that we ended up staying for ten nights, and skipped Emilia-Romagna (Bologna and Ravenna) before decamping for Tuscany.

Donna doesn’t like guidebooks. She hates lists of “10 things You Must Do In …”, even though she’d want to do five or six of them anyway. She thinks of herself as a traveler not a sightseer. She is fond of Romanesque churches and Roman mosaics. She finds them in out-of-the-way places. We go out of our way to visit them. After Venice, we were going to drive through Umbria and Le Marche.

If you are in a long-term relationship you probably have a set of meaningful one word phrases you both use. For us, they are Grazalema and Bologna. Continue reading

Imagining the Future

When I was a child I could not imagine the future. I could not picture myself as an adult. What I might look like, who I would live with, or what I would do. I drew blanks.

I knew what I didn’t want to be. I didn’t want to be a girl. I didn’t want to be like my mother. I didn’t want to marry a man and have kids. I didn’t want to be a wife. I didn’t want to be a career woman in a skirt suit. I didn’t want to grow up. I didn’t want to do the long list of things that my mother did to get ready. I didn’t want to bother with pantyhose, lip stick, eye liner, foundation, perfume, hair spray, or nail polish. I didn’t know there were other options.

I survived by resisting my mother’s attempts to make me look like or act like a girl. I survived, but I did not thrive.

I thought in double-negatives. I didn’t do what I didn’t want to do. This is not the same as doing what you want to do. Whenever possible, I didn’t do the girl stuff. I dragged my feet and resisted. Sometimes I didn’t do anything at all. I stayed in my head or I read.

All of my fantasies were about being a boy. I kept the cognitive dissonance to a minimum by not fantasizing about being either a man or a woman. I didn’t want to grow up. I didn’t want to be a blank. Continue reading

Confessions of a Non-Dancer


Fred Astaire and Fred Jr. By coincidence, my dad’s first name was Fred.

I don’t dance. I refused to take dance lessons. Modern, ballet, or ballroom. I refused to let my dad teach me to Lindy or Waltz. It was too girly. If I had been allowed to learn how to lead, in pants, I might have done it. If I could have imagined myself as Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly, I might have done it. But I was damned if I was going to pretend I was Ginger Rodgers. It was a short-sighted decision. To dance naturally you have to start young; it has to be in your bones.

I never learned to partner dance. I can barely dance solo to rock or disco – I shuffle my feet and flap my arms and try to sway on beat. I didn’t dance until I was in college. I learned on a tiny dance floor in the back of The Saint (Boston). There was a mirrored ball and cigarette smoke. It was too crowded to move.

Of all the girly things I refused to do as a child, and there were many, I only regret not learning to dance. I do not regret not learning how to sew, knit, do needlepoint, put on make-up, put together an outfit, walk in heels, flirt, do gymnastics, play jacks, or use a hula-hoop. I’m thankful that I thought swimming, ice skating, and cooking were neutral to masculine activities (life-guard, hockey player, and chef).

My parents met at a synagogue dance. I watched them dance at parties and bar mitzvahs. I was always surprised that they danced so well together. Dancing changed them from parents into a couple. They looked like they knew what they were doing. They told me that dancing was an important social skill that every girl should have. I didn’t listen.

I didn’t dance in front of the mirror. I sang along with the radio, my feet firmly planted on the floor. I didn’t dream about dancing with boys. I dreamed about being a boy. Continue reading