Another frigid morning in lower Manhattan. The priest from St. Paul’s stood on the corner of Church and Vesey. He was giving out ashes. The crowd came up from the subway, heads down, moving fast, checking their phones. A woman stopped, the priest said a prayer and made a cross on her forehead. She thanked him and moved away. I wondered if she was giving up meat for Lent.
I’m not religious. I’m skeptical of epiphanies, but sometimes I envy the faithful.
The closest I’ve come to an epiphany was in India. Donna and I were staying in a guesthouse in a quiet neighborhood in Jodhpur. A few boys were kicking around a soccer ball. We sat on a bench to watch them.
A woman came out of her house with a tray of pea pods. She brushed them into the gutter and went back in. A cow came by and ate the pea pods. Then the cow came over and nudged me. I rubbed its nose and scratched its ears. We locked eyes. I thought “I wonder what it would be like to think of a cow as my equal or as a higher being.”
As soon as I thought it, I knew I was going to have trouble eating beef. In Rajasthan, it was not a problem. In deference to the HIndu and Muslim communities, we were never offered beef or pork. I decided not to worry about it until I got back to New York. Each time I saw a cow on the street, I thought about my cow in Jodhpur.
The morning after we get back from a big trip, Donna and I always go out for breakfast. We never go out for breakfast in our normal life; we go out so we can pretend we are still on vacation. Donna ordered fried eggs and bacon. I ordered pastrami and eggs. I took a couple of bites and told Donna “I don’t think I can do this.”
Ten years later I’m still either a ovo-lacto vegetarian who occasionally eats fish, a pescatarian, or an omnivore who doesn’t eat meat and poultry. I’m not sure what to call myself. I know that sounds familiar.
When I stopped eating meat I was shy about it; I didn’t know if it was permanent. I used to eat meat with great pleasure, and I was embarrassed to tell friends I’d given it up. It was a visceral decision, not an intellectual or moral one. It was based on one precocious cow.
I don’t talk a lot about not eating meat. I’ve been criticized because it is inconsistent to eschew meat but eat dairy and fish. I’m not into purity. It isn’t a big deal to me. I don’t want to put anyone out. I am lucky to have food to eat.
I’m shy about explaining that I am transgender but not transsexual. That there are contradictions between how I look and how I feel. That I’m not explicitly trying to be read as male, but I do not want to be seen as female. I’m hesitant to request third person singular pronouns, slow correcting people who use my old name, and tired of explaining dysphoria and defending top surgery.
Friends from my meat eating days periodically ask “Are you still a vegetarian?” As if it is just a phase I’m going through and eventually I will come to my senses. As if they are still waiting for me to invite them over for a standing rib roast. A few have asked me if I still consider myself to be butch, and I tell them yes, but I am qualifying it with transgender. I don’t think they really believe me; they are waiting for me to move one way or the other. As if it is a phase I am going through and eventually I will come to my senses.