Tag Archives: travel

Terra Firma

Urbino, on a sunny day.

Urbino, on a sunny day.

I told Donna that no one wants to hear that she was disappointed by our trip to Italy. No one cares that it was rainy and cold for 12 days in a row, or that her intermediate level Italian wasn’t as fluent as she hoped (she eavesdropped, but she was unable to follow conversations). No one has empathy for someone who spent three weeks traveling in Italy and then complains about it.

I had a good time, especially in Venice. We stayed there for a week. It is a walking city, and late in the afternoon, while Donna napped, I went out for an hour stroll along the quiet back and side canals. It is possible to get away from the hoards of tourists; they mostly stick to a few major thoroughfares and the area near Piazza San Marco. Near Piazza San Marco, even in October, the crowds were overwhelming.

veniceshipleaderThe Venetians are trying to put some limits on tourism, especially giant cruise ships. I can relate to their anger. I live near Chelsea Market, which is mobbed by tourists. It is too frustrating for me to shop there on the weekend. Some days I just want to knock the selfie sticks out of my way and tell them that they are in a market, not Madame Tussauds Wax Museum. Continue reading

The Werewolf of Venice

grand-canalBy the time you read this post, Donna and I will be on a direct flight from New York to Venice. It is a trip we planned to take last year, to celebrate her recovery from open heart surgery, but cancelled when she broke her ankle. Right now, the trip is more of a challenge than a celebration. Donna has less energy than she would like, and is anxious about walking long distances. We are both a little apprehensive about the little packets of testosterone left behind in my sock drawer, but we are going to try to not think about them while we are away.

Almost as soon as we became lovers, Donna tried to get me to go on vacation with her. At first I resisted. I didn’t understand her desire to travel, and it was expensive. She persisted. I was so infatuated with Donna, and felt so lucky to be with her, that I gave in.

Venice was the first place we went to together. I don’t remember why we chose Venice, but I was smitten.  I’m excited that we are finally, after over 30 years, going back to Venice, together.

I prepped for the first trip by reading guidebooks and regional cookbooks. I went to a store in Little Italy and brought home the cheeses and cured meats of the Veneto. I drank only northern Italian wines for months before we left. I read Italian novels and learned to count in Italian to 100,000 (before the Euro there were 1400 lira to the dollar). I didn’t want to look like, or act like, the stereotypical crass American tourist. I didn’t want to embarrass Donna. I didn’t want her to wake up and realize that getting into a relationship with me was a big mistake. 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

A Potential Threat to Homeland Security

When I get dressed, the first question I ask myself is “Does this look OK on me and would a guy wear this?” I never ask myself “Does this make me look like a terrorist?” This morning I looked in the mirror and realized I was wearing the same clothes that I wore the last time I went through security at JFK. Blue jeans, black T-shirt, blue chambray work shirt, and gray wool socks.

I took off my belt, my sneakers, and my watch. I emptied my pockets, put my quart-size bag of toiletries and my electronics on the tray. I waited my turn, walked into the machine, spread my legs, put up my hands, counted to three, and when the TSO (Transportation Security Officer) nodded, I walked out to retrieve my stuff. Not so fast.

Point-and-shootThe officer ordered me to go through the machine again. Then another officer patted me down very thoroughly, particularly around my groin and my chest binder, and swabbed my hand for explosives.

The TSO originally pressed the blue button for male and when lots of yellow squares appeared on the screen, she realized she made a mistake, and put me through again pressing the pink button for female. Donna overheard the discussion between the officers. It was neither private nor discreet. They did not realize she was with me.

The last three times I’ve traveled, I’ve had my palm swabbed for explosives. It wasn’t random. Donna waltzed through. My gender is seen as a potential threat to Homeland Security; hers is not. Continue reading


Verace Pizza Napoletana at Sorbillo in Naples.

Verace Pizza Napoletana at Sorbillo in Naples.

What do you think of when you think of Italy? I think of pizza. Donna and I rambled around the southernmost part of Italy for three weeks. It is a pizza culture. Verace Pizza Napoletana. I had to get over it looking skimpy by American standards.

Before I left New York I made a list of the best pizzerias in Naples. I wanted to make sure that I ate in at least one of them. The last day of the trip, the last pizza we ate in Italy, we went to Sorbillo. It was a late lunch. It was a delicious pizza. Charred floppy crust with a touch of tomato sauce and small chunks of fior di latte (cow’s milk mozzarella), a few pieces of basil.

All the pizza we had in Italy was good – pizza with olives, pizza with artichokes, pizza with mushrooms, pizza with salami (an indulgence for Donna). The pizza at Sorbillo was a notch better. I would have been happy just ordering pizza margherita (classic), but Donna likes a little something extra. To make it special. Continue reading

My Cow in Jodhpur

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-cow-in-jodhpurA 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.” Continue reading

Hola Amigo! Back from Guatemala

no-butch-woud-wear-this-dressThe Guatemalan equivalent of “Can I help you sir?” is either “Hola amigo!” or “Señor?” I spent three weeks in Guatemala without using a gendered bathroom except in a few restaurants where the bathrooms were in the back and I could use them relatively unnoticed. Donna used many “servicios sanitarios” in the markets but I avoided them. I didn’t want to risk being challenged, and I don’t speak enough Spanish to respond appropriately.

I found it hard to balance being comfortable in my clothes and comfortable on the street. I opted for the basic butch t-shirt and jeans look. Donna wore purple and pink; loose linen tops and pants. She always looks slightly dressed up and put together.

In the western highland areas of Guatemala, most of the women wear traditional Mayan clothes (skirt, blouse, sash, apron, shawl). Most of the men wear contemporary western clothing (a lot of A&F and HCO knock-offs for sale in the markets). My jeans and t-shirt blended me in with the guys. They saw me first as a gringo; then they dealt with my gender presentation. I caused a lot of confusion. Continue reading

Traveling to Guatemala

travelling_while_butch_in_guatemalaDonna and I are about to embark on a three-week vacation to Guatemala. The vacation will be og-less. No dog, no blog. Donna will have me all to herself. You will get a three-week break in posts. Gracie will spend three weeks with our dog walker.

I am hesitant to go on vacation. I like to travel. I know I am lucky. It is a luxury to have a job and vacation time and a partner who likes to travel. I have a bunch of books I’ve stockpiled to read. I’ve been reading up on Guatemalan history and Mayan culture. I am hesitant because my dysphoria increases when I am out of my comfort zone. Guatemala is out of my comfort zone.

This is my first time traveling as Jamie. My new passport says Jamie, my driver’s license says Jamie, my credit cards say Jamie, my tickets say Jamie. Donna even says Jamie 95% of the time. Last year when we went to India, I went as Amy. I waited to change my name until Donna was comfortable with me taking on a new name; I did not want to jeopardize the relationship anymore than I already had by saying I was transgender. It has been a rough year.

When Donna met me I was a baby butch. Now I am a middle-aged butch who also identifies as transgender. The process has been hard for her. She has had to wrap her brain around a lot of concepts she didn’t expect to be thinking about. She has had to consider whether she wants to go through this with me (whatever the “this” is). A lot of women go running in the other direction. She is standing her ground.

I never traveled before I met Donna. I don’t come from a traveling family unless you consider running from a pogrom traveling. I was raised to think that travel was what ostentatious rich people did to show off their jewelry. And, since we lived in the greatest city on earth (New York), with the greatest museum in the world (The Met), there was no reason to go anywhere else. You could see all the world’s wonders for free, right here. Donna changed that. She got me going.

Is_this_a_bus_for_a_butch_trans_blogger?I need to remember that I travel to get out of my rut. To shake up my queer New York centric view of the world. To think about other people’s history instead of my own.

Three weeks of traveling independently is a lot of time together. A lot of time to talk about our relationship and my butch-trans*-iness. Donna has always wanted to go to Guatemala. She is interested in Mayan indigenous culture and textiles. I am interested in Mayan ruins and colonial architecture. Donna will be open and charming; she will chat up other travelers and any locals who speak English. What will I be?

Donna taught me to travel light. I wish I could do it spiritually, but I will settle for the physical part. I need to winnow my stuff down so that it fits in my pack. I have sudden urges to buy new items for a trip, as if a new shirt or new sneakers will magically make everything OK, and my anxiety and dysphoria will disappear. I know the opposite is true; to reduce my dysphoria I should take old, proven, comfortable, favorites. There is a pile of clothing on my bed. I can only fit a quarter of it in the pack. A worn black T-shirt and broken-in jeans are my equivalent of a blankie. They are probably all I will wear no matter what else I bring.

Lastly, there is how I will be seen on vacation, and the tension that arises in our relationship when I am with Donna and I am read as male (Donna is not amused by this at all). From her vantage point we are an obvious butch/femme couple and she wants to keep it that way. Donna will be standing her ground in Guatemala; but I feel it shifting subtly under me.