I’m not a Pollyanna or a Little Lord Fauntleroy. I don’t expect the best from everyone, but I do like happy endings. Not happy as in a boy falls in love with and gets the girl, but happy as in the cop gets indicted by a Grand Jury after shooting an unarmed black man kind of way. Happy when justice prevails. The story doesn’t always go my way, but I am optimistic that things will change. Not on their own. Nothing changes without action.
For the first eight weeks after my top surgery, Donna refused to look at my naked chest. She was queasy about my surgery, and was afraid she would react negatively to the scars and the contours. The first four weeks were not a problem. I slept in the other bedroom because I snore like a rusty chainsaw when I sleep on my back. I wore a T-shirt and boxers around the house. I asked her if she wanted to look. I asked her what she was waiting for.
While Donna was in the hospital, and unable to get out of bed without assistance, I teased her by starting to lift my shirt. At one point she dared me to do it, but there were two nurses in the room and I didn’t think I could flash her without them noticing.
Donna likes ambiguity. She likes movies with endings that are open to interpretation or unresolved (e.g. the French New Wave). She likes to discuss what the director meant, what was left out, and why. I like documentaries. I want to know what really happened, the back story, the details. I want Donna to see my chest the way I see it.
People, and institutions, can change. Sometimes through persuasion (coming out), sometimes through non-cooperation (call me by my name or I won’t answer), and sometimes by intervention or obstruction (I have the right to pee in this bathroom). Most people don’t change without a challenge; we must convince them that moving is better than staying where they are. They need to overcome their inertia, their complicity, their fear.
I’m a nonviolent activist, but I’m not used to being one in my own home. If you fall along the queer or transgender spectrum it helps if you are an optimist and an activist. You need to believe that you can create change, that things can and will get better, and that there is a reason to keep going. Barbara Deming said that we “have as it were two hands upon [the oppressor]—the one calming him, making him ask questions, as the other makes him move.” I’ve been nudging Donna along.
Donna was sitting on the couch reading the Sunday paper. I got out of the shower, and walked around with a towel, drying off, showing, but not showing. She asked me to put the towel down and turn around. She took it in and said it fit me, it looked nice. Nicer than she thought it would look. My scars were not as bad as I said. She liked that I had pecs and upright nipples. She was afraid that I would be flat or caved in, that it would look like something was removed or was missing, that I’d look unfinished. She said I looked like a boy, and that she liked it. She picked up the newspaper and continued reading the arts section.
I put on my boxer briefs and strolled around the apartment. I hung up the towel, I put on deodorant, I made the bed, I straightened up the papers on the coffee table. She didn’t lift up her head. I pulled on a T-shirt, buttoned up my jeans, made a cup of coffee, and sat down on the couch next to her. Clean and happy.
Note: Barbara Deming (1917-1984) was active in the Civil Rights, Peace, and Gay/Lesbian Liberation movements. Excerpts from her 1968 essay On Revolution and Equilibrium are here (the editors revised some language). The photograph is from a demonstration in support of Intro 475 (NYC Gay Rights Bill) and is from April, 1973. Barbara is third in from the left, after Sylvia Ray Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson. Kady Vanduers is to the right.