Category Archives: Authenticity

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 Ice Capades

lake-placid-skating

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

How-Mom-Cooked

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

I’m Ready to Ring in 2016

Jamie-Resolutions

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

I Never Believed in Santa Claus

Macy’s NYC

My family does not celebrate Christmas. Although my parents would have preferred for it to be just another day, it was always clear that December 25th was the day we did not celebrate Christmas. We were Jewish, and had our own holidays. Our own candles. Our own food.

Donna and I acknowledge Christmas two ways: we go to Alexis’s for waffles and Prosecco, and we tip the employees who work in our apartment building. We don’t exchange gifts.

Growing up, I knew of other Jewish families who were just like us, except that they celebrated Christmas as a secular American holiday. Like Thanksgiving. They decorated an artificial tree, ate a spiral sliced ham, and exchanged presents. My parents said it was “A shanda.” A scandal. Jews should act like Jews. Jews like us go to the movies and out for Chinese food on Christmas. Jews like us do their shopping after Christmas to take advantage of the sales.

My parents believed that all Jews, all over the world, were our kin. They divided the world into Jews and everyone else. I feel kinship with a subset of unobservant, over-educated, and under-employed queer New Yorkers. At Christmas, I feel a little at loose ends. I’m missing a party that I don’t want to attend.

My Dad told me that Santa Claus didn’t exist. That parents, aunts, uncles, and grand parents buy all the presents. I understood that my life wouldn’t be any better if we were Christians or if we celebrated Christmas. I’d have to wear a red and green plaid dress with a black velvet Peter Pan collar, tights, and black patent leather Mary Janes. I’d get the same dolls, Nancy Drew books, and a purse. Different wrapping paper, the same problem.  Continue reading

Step Right Up Ladies and Gents

step-right-upSome days I feel like I’ve accidentally stepped up to a carnival game called Guess What I Am. The odds are stacked against me. The game ranks secondary sex characteristics over gender expression and gender presentation. It ignores my intent. It doesn’t recognize the middle ground.

When asked “What are your preferred gender pronouns (PGPs)?” I usually stammer out “they”. I hate pronouns. Most people use feminine pronouns when they talk about me. It doesn’t feel right, but I don’t stop them. Three years into writing this blog, I remain pronoun challenged.

I am not comfortable with either he or she, or Sir or Ma’am, although Ma’am is the worst. I’m OK with they, Jamie, or nothing. “Nothing” is easy with honorifics and titles. On forms, I leave the title box blank. If I have to fill in something, I use Dr. or Prof. I haven’t seen Mx. on a form yet, and I’m not sure I’d use it. “Nothing” is difficult with pronouns.

I choose to wear masculine clothing, have a masculine haircut, and carry myself in a masculine manner, but I don’t use masculine pronouns. I conflate masculine pronouns with taking testosterone. I read as masculine, but not necessarily male. I like how I look. I don’t do anything to make it easy to read me as female. When I go out I get Sir’d and Ma’am’d and a combination of the two. I cringe when people apologize after calling me Sir. Continue reading

Two Things I Learned From My Colonoscopy

First, I need to find a less awkward way to tell medical staff that I had top surgery. Second, I need to learn how to ask for help when I need it. Third, no one wants to hear about my colonoscopy.

my-butch-colonoscopyWhen you see a new doctor, you fill out a form and list all of your surgeries. I’ve had surgery to repair a torn meniscus (knee), to remove fibroid tumors, to remove my uterus (partial hysterectomy), and to remove my breasts (top surgery). The nurse at East Side Endoscopy didn’t know what I meant by top surgery, so I told her I had a bi-lateral mastectomy. She asked if it was for cancer, and I said no, and left it at that, but I felt her question dangling, unanswered.

I only had gotten three hours of sleep, and I hadn’t had any coffee, and I nearly said cosmetic, but I caught myself. My transition, no matter how ambiguous it is, no matter how much it has to do with how I look, is not cosmetic. I’m still angry that my health insurance refused to pay for top surgery. They claimed it was not medically necessary. I couldn’t find the words to explain to the nurse that top surgery is gender confirmation surgery or to tell her which gender it confirmed.

I’d like to find a phrase that is clear. That isn’t pathologized. That doesn’t sound like a euphemism. That tells the truth. Continue reading

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

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