You Look Just Like Barbra Streisand!

Barbra and SadieWhen I came home from the beauty parlor, after my first pixie cut, my father said to me “You look just like Barbra Streisand!” He meant it as a compliment. I broke into a tantrum. I did not want to look like Barbra Streisand. I wanted to look like Paul McCartney.

The pixie cut was meant to “fix” the haircut that I gave myself with ordinary scissors. I wanted a “Beatle mop cut” but mostly I wanted to cut off my hair. I was still hoping that a hair cut could turn me into a boy.

My father adored me. My father adored Streisand. She was a poor, big nosed, Jewish girl from Brooklyn who made it big. She was a star.

I didn’t want to be a star. I didn’t want a girl’s nick-name. I didn’t like girlish diminutives or terms of endearment. I especially hated when my Grandmother called me Ameleh or Feygele; the former the Yiddishification of my birth name, the latter Yiddish for little bird. Years before I changed my name I forbid anyone to call me Ameleh or Feygele. I cringed at the sound. I didn’t want any part of being either.

Barbra as Anshel

Barbra as Anshel in Yentl

I didn’t see the movie Yentl (the 1983 musical, which Streisand produced, directed, re-wrote, and starred in). I remember seeing the trailers and thinking that Barbra Streisand looked way too much like Barbra Streisand. She didn’t look like a yeshiva boy to me. Her hair was still in a kind of pixie cut. Continue reading

The Fork in the Road

I came to a fork in the road and I moved the fork.

When I started writing this blog, I stood on the border of butch and transgender, with one hiking boot firmly planted on each side. I was unable to budge. I had never truly, fully, thought of myself as a woman, but as an increasingly older boy. I had suppressed and avoided making a choice, all under the rubric of being butch.

Grant Wood’s American Gothic, 1930

The sticking point was that as masculine as I felt and looked, I didn’t picture myself as a straight middle-aged white man. I could not authentically place myself in that construct. Conversely, I couldn’t tolerate picturing myself as a middle-aged woman. The dysphoria was too raw. No one over 40 wants to picture themselves as old, but I still wanted to be a boy. I did not know who I wanted to be like when I “grew up”. I knew I was trans, but I didn’t know what words to modify it with.

I share a history with kids who were raised as girls but didn’t want to be girls. With tomboys, with kids who rebelled against their parents and teachers, who created their own internal boy lives, and who defiantly stayed true to their boy selves. Whether they identify as butch or transgender or any label on the spectrum. Whether they identify as women, men, both, or neither.

I feel a kinship with masculine women and feminine men. With people who look queer. With transgender people who don’t always pass. With people who walk down the street and go about their business with their chins up knowing that other people are staring at them. Continue reading

The Ice Capades


Boys skating on Lake Placid, 1929

I got my skates sharpened and went ice skating at Wollman Rink in Central Park. Instead of getting in touch with my inner child, I got in touch with my inner curmudgeon.

Once a week, from the age of 7 to maybe the age of 10, from October to April, my mother took me and my brother ice skating. My mother and I had identical red plaid skate bags and white figure skates. My brother had a black bag and black figure skates.

Despite wearing white skates, I liked being on the ice. I didn’t mind falling or crashing into the side rails. I chased my brother around the rink, imagining that I was playing for the Rangers.

I don’t know why my mother stopped taking us skating. When I was in my thirties I decided to start skating again. I was going to buy a pair of black figure skates, but the guy who was fitting me told me that the best and cheapest skates in my size were boy’s hockey skates. I didn’t need to be convinced. I also bought a black skate bag. Continue reading

One Person’s Chore is Another Person’s Pleasure


One of my mother’s favorite ingredients.

I’ve been cooking for comfort. Nothing fancy, nothing colorful, nothing trendy. Food to read by. Food to hunker down with. I used to think of cooking as women’s work. I know activity has no gender; the person doing the activity is gendered (or agendered), but I steer clear of activities I associate as feminine. At home, I never saw men in the kitchen unless they were mixing drinks or washing dishes.

My mother did not enjoy cooking. She took advantage of the miracle of canned and frozen convenience foods to get dinner for four on the table every night. She believed that everything needed to be fully cooked to be safe to eat (including canned asparagus, frozen tater tots, and steak). My mother owned two infrequently used cookbooks (The Settlement Cookbook and The Joy of Cooking); most of her recipes came from the back of the soup can.

Growing up, I put home cooking in the chore category with sewing, laundry, and cleaning. It didn’t occur to me that it could be a pleasure. I left for college with no domestic skills. A barbarian baby butch. Continue reading

The Paperwork Obstacle Course

Babe Didrikson, demonstrates her hurdling technique. 1932.

Babe Didrikson, demonstrates her hurdling technique. 1932.

In July, after my intake appointment at Callen-Lorde (NYC’s LGBT health clinic), my nurse practitioner told me that my cholesterol was high. I needed to lower it before I considered starting testosterone. I bought a bottle of fish oil.

I carried a card in my wallet, with the name of a prominent cardiologist on it, for three months. When I called, the office manager told me that I can’t schedule an appointment until the cardiologist looks at my file. She gave me her name and the fax number, which I wrote down on the back of an envelope.

The next day, I pulled up the Callen-Lorde patient portal expecting to send my results over. I attempted to log in. I tried every permutation of my user IDs and passwords. I phoned Callen-Lorde, and they realized that when they initially registered me they incorrectly entered my e-mail address in my profile (which explained why I never got any emails from them). I dropped by their office to straighten it out and re-register.

I went home, set up the user name and password, wrote the password down on the patient portal information sheet, opened up my file to get my results, and couldn’t find them. I clicked around a lot and gave up. I was going to call Callen-Lorde back and ask where to find my test results, but it was late in the day and the medical records office was closed. I had to wait until the morning.

I thought about calling Callen-Lorde every day, but there was always an excuse to put it off. I waited for a month. Continue reading

Ma’am and Microaggressions

Comic by Transitive Properties (see notes).

Comic by Transitive Properties (see notes).

Every time I get called Ma’am, it’s like getting slapped in the face with a dead fish.

For years I’ve tried to adjust to strangers calling me Ma’am. I’ve tried to ignore it. To acknowledge it and let it roll off of me. To accept that in a cisnormative society I’m perceived as a masculine female or as a butch lesbian. To accept that some people must use only Sir, Miss, or Ma’am in their jobs. To accept that other people can’t imagine any other alternatives, even when one is standing right in front of them.

I’ve tried to listen to the tone of the Ma’am. To guess the intention. Is it friendly? Is it innocent? Is it automatic? Is it sardonic? Is it because they don’t know what else to call me?

I wish it didn’t bother me. There are far worse things going on in the world than the cashier at Whole Foods calling me Ma’am. Or the bank teller. Or the staff at the front desk of the gym. Yet each Ma’am smacks me in the face.

I don’t know if calling me Ma’am counts as a microaggression, but it feels like one to me. Columbia Professor Derald Wing Sue defines microaggressions as “brief, everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to certain individuals because of their group membership.” Microaggressions are “different from deliberate acts of bigotry because the people perpetrating microaggressions often intend no offense and are unaware they are causing harm.” Microaggressions “include statements that position the dominant culture as normal and the minority one as aberrant or pathological, that express disapproval of or discomfort with the minority group, that assume all minority group members are the same.” Continue reading

I’m Ready to Ring in 2016


Calvin and Hobbes

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. I have a mental list of stuff I ought to do that I didn’t get around to doing in 2015. Some items are holdovers from 2014, perpetually on the verge of almost being attended to.

I had great hopes for 2015, but it was a hard year. I’m glad it is over. I’m not going to sugar coat it. Donna’s open heart surgery, hospitalization, and recovery took a lot out of me. I was discouraged (and furious) on Labor Day weekend, when she missed a step, fell, and broke her ankle. She ended up in the hospital again, and then in rehab. She came home in a wheelchair, and slowly progressed to using a walker, and last week to using a cane. I love her, but I don’t love being her caretaker. We got on each other’s nerves. We adjusted. We are getting back to normal.

We didn’t go to Italy (we cancelled the trip after Donna’s fall). I didn’t make time for ice skating. I never finished cleaning out my room (I did clear out a closet, a dresser, and take 6 quarts of coins ($712) to the bank). I let the mail pile up out of control again. I let my legal and financial paperwork fester. I didn’t call my brother.

I did go for my top surgery revision, see a doctor for a physical, get a colonoscopy, maintain my weight, and go to the gym irregularly enough to not lose ground. I swam in the ocean in board shorts and a rash guard. I didn’t go to hell in a handbasket. I’m in a satisfactory place to start 2016. Continue reading