I can accept that I am butch and transgender, but I have trouble accepting that I will never be a boy. It should be obvious; I am chronologically an adult. I can’t time-travel backwards. It is unfair that I only got to be a child once, and that I went through it as a girl. No second chance.
The adults tried to convince me that I should want to be a girl. That I should be happy I was a girl. I kept hoping I would morph into a boy. I refused to believe that body parts were destiny. I kicked and screamed and dragged my feet through childhood. I would not march willingly into the strange territory of teenage girls. I dug in my heels and hoped for a miracle. Continue reading →
Some of the worst moments of my mother’s life were the best moments of my life. I didn’t plan it that way.
My sixth grade class at P.S. 40 performed the musical South Pacific. I can still sing some of the songs. It is a Rodgers and Hammerstein classic. Some Enchanted Evening, I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair, You’ve Got to Be Taught, and There Is Nothin’ Like a Dame. The play was considered progressive by New York City public school standards. It touched on war, race, and privilege without referencing Vietnam, the civil rights movement, or white flight. Subjects we did not discuss much at home or in school.
Our class probably performed a sanitized and abridged version of it. When I listened to the original 1949 cast album some of the songs were unfamiliar. My memories of the play are sketchy. It was set on a island, there was a love story, one of the male characters had a scene where he wore a grass skirt and a coconut cup bikini top, and the play had a bittersweet ending. All I remember clearly is that I was a Seabee in the chorus. Continue reading →
According to my mother, who is dead, I’m a failure. Not just because I’m a sodomite. I’m a failure because I never married, never had kids, and didn’t earn a pile of money. Fortunately, my brother Jon hit the trifecta. My mother got grandchildren without my having to lift a finger or wear a skirt.
“hard work is simply the refuge of people who have nothing whatever to do” - Oscar Wilde
For all her insistence that I act like a girl, she spent her whole life comparing me to my brother. Jon was popular. His report cards were upbeat and full of praise. He had ambition. Why couldn’t I be like him? My elementary school report cards noted that I was not living up to my potential. When I tried to be just like my brother I got in trouble for acting like a boy.
My mother was surprised when I was accepted into Hunter.Hunter College High School is a public school that admits students based on a competitive entrance exam. It was still an all girls school when I attended. “Hunter girls” were the best and the brightest. They were supposed to make their mark on the world. Continue reading →
I don’t walk around my apartment naked. I wasn’t raised that way. My older brother and I shared a small bedroom in a small apartment. We wore clothes until bath time or bed time, changed into our pajamas in the bathroom, and went to bed.
Once we were old enough to wipe ourselves and dry ourselves we were not naked in front of our parents. Nor were our parents naked in front of us. They were buttoned up. They did not hang around in pajamas, bathrobes, or loungewear. If you were awake you had all your clothes on. Except at the beach or the pool.
The four of us shared one bathroom. There was a mirrored medicine cabinet over the sink; the only full length mirror was on the inside of the door to my parent’s bedroom. To use it you had to close their door. I never looked at myself in it dressed. I never looked at myself in it naked. I did not want to. Continue reading →
On January 14, 2014, I participated in the panel “How to ACT UP” at the New York Public Library. In keeping with the title, I unexpectedly outed myself as trans. In front of several hundred people.
ACT UP at the March on Washington, 1987
I spent seven years in ACT UP (The AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power). We demonstrated by marching in the streets, disrupting FDA hearings, and throwing the ashes of our loved ones over the White House fence. We were trying to save lives and the government wasn’t paying attention. The drug companies were overcharging for ineffective drugs. My buddies were dying. We were consumed with anger.
I was one of many activists who burned out. When I left ACT UP I lost contact with most of my activist friends. I went back to my normal life. I became unmoored. I was not the only member who suffered from loneliness and the loss of meaning in my life. We started talking to each other again after Spencer Cox’s death. We did not want to lose another comrade. Continue reading →
It is 10° F in New York. I am surfing the internet for swimsuits. Gracie is curled up on the floor in a patch of late afternoon sunlight. I’d like to know what she is dreaming about.
I have the perfect wardrobe for January; for 12 inches of snow, slush moats, and arctic windchill. I’ve got high-tech long underwear, three different types of fleece jackets, a down sweater and a down jacket, lightweight and heavy weight Gore-Tex shells, boot socks, windproof gloves and moisture wicking glove liners, neck gaiters, wool beanies, and insulated waterproof work boots. I can mix and match for any winter weather condition. If you wanted to throw an outdoor party in January I’d have the ideal outfit. I’m an urban slumberjack.
Last year I waited until June to think about swimming. I swore it would be the last season that I’d wear a black racerback Speedo in the water, topped by a pair of quick-dry shorts and a damp T-shirt on the sand. A black racerback is the butch equivalent of a little black dress. It is elegant and understated, but I don’t wear dresses. I promised myself to start looking for genderqueer appropriate beach wear in January. This is my 2014 swimsuit challenge. Continue reading →
I spend a lot of time thinking about how people see me and what I look like. Not because I am vain and stylish, but because my mother was obsessed with making me look like a girl. We were both unhappy with how I looked; we had different ideas on how to solve the problem.
Every day I struggled to get dressed and go to school. I hated wearing skirts and dresses. I hated wearing tights. I hated wearing Mary Janes. I hated wearing pastels, lace, bows, and anything that had elastic in the waist or a zipper in the back. I threw a lot of tantrums. I wanted to look like a boy not a girl. I could not understand why my mother insisted on putting me in clothes I hated.
By the third grade I had acquired a wardrobe of drab unadorned dresses, and dark Oxford shoes. While I despised these clothes, they were the least objectionable of what was available. I wore them like a prison uniform. The clothes were ugly. but innocuous enough that I could numb out in them. I refused to inhabit them. I daydreamed my way out of them. Continue reading →