Fonzi Gets Chomped

September 5, 2015, Avonia Beach Pennsylvania, Lake Erie.  We spend an hour or so picking up beach glass while trying to coax Fonzi into learning the joys of water.  He does not mind getting his feet wet, at least.
Nearby, a group of people has five Labradors frolicking in the surf.  Further down, a couple plays with an exotic looking Australian cattle herding dog.
Back, closer to the parking lot again, where Avonia creek scribbles sideways through the sand, another young couple plays in the water with a large, tan, pointy eared dog (This is probably a 100 pound dog.  Fonzi, by comparison, is about 25 pounds). As we wade across the stream with Fonzi, suddenly the dog is on top of Fonzi in the knee deep water, jaws locked on Fonzi’s body, then neck.  The big dog’s owner jumps in, and wrestles her dog away from our dog.  I pull frantically at the tail end of her dog.
In thirty seconds, the chaos is over.  The girl’s boyfriend leads the dog, who is still lunging aggressively, back to their car.  The girl is balling, upset by her dog’s behavior, and clearly worried about Fonzi.  Fonzi, meanwhile is wiggling all over as if he just had the time of his life.  His collar falls to the ground, severed, as he shakes the water and sand from his coat, then rubs back and forth against me as if to ask what fun comes next.
I am still shaking, after imagining the disaster of the injury of my dog, and my spouse.

If I were Jamie, this is where I would relate my dog’s behavior to some aspect of my own condition in life.  If I were Ellen, a gull with the queen’s accent would swoop down and carry Fonzi off.  If I were AnExactingLife, I would use this event as inspiration to inventory my dog snacks.

Instead, I will continue my story.
I am in Erie for the weekend to visit my parents.  This means a certain amount of stress.  But I have seen a lot of my parents this year, and that is good, because it allows us all to get through the surface pleasantries, and to spend some varied time with each other.  My parents still use the name for me that they gave me at birth, and the gender words too.  Possibly, they always will.
There are many aspects to this.  Although they still use these words, they undoubtedly know and accept me as female now.  They hear my friends, and even strangers in public referring to me this way.  Last winter, when I visited them, their neighbor stopped over, and said to my mother when she saw me “I thought that you said your son was visiting.”  So, in private, I am not hurt too badly by their words.  Especially since my mother occasionally lets a “she” slip out accidentally.  These accidental accuracies are even more significant than forced ones.
What I really anticipated with dread is to be mis-named or mis-gendered in public.  But, happily, we spent the weekend amongst ourselves, and the situation never arose. (I have to admit that I am partly to blame for the situation with my parents.  I have never been good at asserting myself with them.)
The other reason that I am thinking about all of this is that I am finally reading Stone Butch Blues.  Leslie Feinburg’s widow has made the book free for download in honor of the late Feinburg (thank you TheFlannelFiles for making me aware of this).  I have seen people reading this book, and heard them speak of it, for years.  Somehow, I avoided reading it.  Despite the fact that my own life is radically different from Feinburg’s, and Jess’s (her protagonist), I find that the book speaks giantly to my own life, and I would suspect to the lives of many other people.  While the specifics of her life are so different, she yet captures specifics of my lived experience on every page.
Here are two great quotes that make me step back and re-evaluate the way that I am viewing my life:

I care which pronoun is used, but people have been respectful to me with the wrong pronoun and disrespectful with the right one. It matters whether someone is using the pronoun as a bigot, or if they are trying to demonstrate respect.
Leslie Feinberg – A Communist Who Revolutionized Transgender Rights, By Minnie Bruce Pratt posted on November 18, 2014, Worker’s World, worker.org

For me, pronouns are always placed within context. I am female-bodied, I am a butch lesbian, a transgender lesbian – referring to me as “she/her” is appropriate, particularly in a non-trans setting in which referring to me as “he” would appear to resolve the social contradiction between my birth sex and gender expression and render my transgender expression invisible. I like the gender neutral pronoun “ze/hir”? because it makes it impossible to hold on to gender/sex/sexuality assumptions about a person you’re about to meet or you’ve just met. And in an all trans setting, referring to me as “he/him”? honors my gender expression in the same way that referring to my sister drag queens as “she/her”? does.
Transmissions – Interview with Leslie Feinberg, July 28, 2006, by Jamie Tyroler , kampkc.com

I got both of these quotes from Feinburg’s Wikipedia page, but I then went and tracked down the original sources.

Both quotes speak to me, and will help me to get my head on straight the next time that I am squirming because someone has called me “he”.  I live boldly out and loud as “other”.  I have for all of my life, even when I was trying not to (there is no more backing down now).  Although I am uncomfortable being interpreted as male, I cannot deny my femininely manerismed gay and straight male brothers with whom I share so many experiences of growing up, nor my transgender sisters.  When I am seen as “she”, yet labeled as “he”, I am at my greatest strength in breaking the barriers of gender.
Still, my identity is confidently female.  If I need to earn the right to that, I think that I have by now.  And, I have earned the legal right to it as well.
Yet, I still identify most closely with butchy females, with trans males.  Adopting too many stereo-typically female traits goes against everything I believe about feminism.
In short, I am making a political statement every time that I walk out my door.  This statement is more important than my own discomfort that people sometimes interpret me as male.

The bad parents are right to steer their staring kids away from me in the supermarket.  But it is already too late, the kids are already corrupted: they have already glimpsed me, and now they now that there is something other than boy or girl or man or woman in the range of possibilities of life.
( The good parents satisfy their kids curiosity with a reasonable explanation of the wide variety of people in the world. )
(Sorry this post is still a little disorganized.  Conceptually, some of the stuff in the last few paragraphs is complicated, and I am still trying to get it just right.)

Lehigh Valley Charter High School For The Arts ( Vacation, Part 2 )

Lehigh Valley Charter High School For The Arts

Lehigh Valley Charter High School For The Arts

On Wednesday, August 19, 2015, I finally toured the new Lehigh Valley Charter High School For The Arts (Charter Arts), in Bethlehem Pennsylvania.  The old school was in a rented old industrial site (no windows in the whole school!) but it still blew me away.  Art, dance, and music was happening everywhere: in the classrooms, in the hallways, on the ceilings. The new school puts all of that in the most beautiful building: a building constructed especially for creating art, situated in a vibrant arts community, and positioned with dozens of unique and inspiring views.

Charter Arts pulls the students from 46 different school districts in eastern Pennsylvania.  Each student auditions to get into the school.  At the school, the kids do academics for half of the day, and their art (dance, figure skating, music, visual arts, theater, vocal arts) for the other half.  I have seen some of the art that these students are creating, and it is very impressive.

But here is the most wonderful thing, and the point of me writing about this school.  My friend who gave me a tour of the school made a point of telling me what a safe haven the school has become for students who are LGBT, trans, gender variant, or have just otherwise not fit in, in the places where they come from.  Charter Arts is like a college experience for these kids.  They are able to be welcomed as themselves, in a new school where nobody knows them, and where they are judged solely as artists.  The school is a place that works to transcend boundaries of socioeconomic background, class, race, and gender.  These are lofty ideals, but my friend is believes that this has really happened in her school.

My friend is super wonderful anyways, but I know that our decades long friendship has caused her to give extra thought to the students of her school who are outside of the gender norms.  I am so happy that our long friendship has led her to take a special interest in the well-being of these kids.

The school impressed me so much that I drove back up to Bethlehem twice to draw and paint the school.  My friend hasn’t seen the drawing yet, but I hope that she likes it enough to hang it in her office.

I Must Be Doing Something Right

I am in my Woman Rivetingwork truck, at the bank, holding a check which bears a feminine name (my spouse’s) and an androgynous name (mine). Well, not my work truck, but my boss’s truck, and it is even way worse than my truck, except that some of the equipment in it works better, sometimes. Diesel and chemicals leak out through the holes through which I can see the macadam below. Soot blankets the inside of the cab, because the chimney in the back of the truck is clogged. Yes, there is a chimney in the back of my truck. I mean my boss’s truck.

I couldn’t be any less of a girl as I insert the payment stub and check into the pneumatic canister. My hair is cropped short. I smell like the diesel, bleach, and sulfuric acid which saturate my worn out Dickies work clothes and wet boots. Probably I have grease smudges on my face from crawling around inside the diesel engine in the back of my truck making repairs, before giving up and calling for a new truck. The “girls” are tucked safely into a tight sports bra. I have no feminine accoutrements to rely on.

As the can whizzes through the tube, I think, that is all right. I learned from my mother (I know that I was hard on her last week) that the measure of a woman is not in whether she has a “woman’s” job, follows orders from a man, has on heels or jewelry, wears make-up or feminine clothing, or goes to the hair dresser (my mother has always gone to the barber). These lessons have stuck with me. I am no less woman because I don’t submit to most of the “rules” of what women are supposed to be. As a transgender female, that makes it even tougher on me. Fortunately, I also inherited stubbornness from my mother.

But still, I am pleasantly surprised when the cashier looks at the names on the check, and calls me by the feminine name (my spouses). Some chatter ensues. She calls me “Ms. D.” She makes an attempt at selling me a new checking account. She calls me by my spouse’s name again, and I drive off with a big smile on my face.

Chalk up a big point for the cashier, and for the bank. And knock off one big chunk of insecurity that I sometimes feel about how people see me.

(the image is Rosie the Riveter, library of congress, 1943, significantly altered by me)

I Have No Idea

So I ran some errands with my wife on this rainy morning.

First, we had some paperwork to fill out at the bank. The interaction was all very pleasant and businesslike, yet there was not a single title, ma’am, sir, Mr., Ms, or Mrs. There were no pronouns used of any kind.

Second, we stopped at the supermarket next door to the bank. As I approached the checkout, the cashier loudly exclaimed “And how are you today, sir?”

Last, we visited our favorite Vietnamese restaurant. We lingered over lunch and looked out on the puddled parking. When the server picked the check up at the table, she confidently said “Thank you, ladies.”

Three different experiences in three hours. Add the experience of being aggressively stared at and sometimes stalked, and you get the story of my life.

A few days ago, Jamie asked, “Is there a universal difference in being in the middle depending on which end you started at. What are the similarities?”

To which, my answer is a confident, emphatic, “I have no idea.”

I have been thinking on this question all week. The more that I think about it, the more that I realize that all that I know is my own personal experience (which I know to be heavily distorted by my own unrealistic self-image), and my own philosophy (which probably has no basis in the empirical world).

My own experience is that I started somewhere in the middle, and 46 years later I am still somewhere in the middle. At home, I experienced an upbringing largely free of gendered expectations. My mother was thwarted by the limitations of growing up as a girl in the 1940’s and 50’s. She let us know it. (I am glad for those lessons in homespun feminism. ) The 1970’s were full of anticipations that things would be different now. Equality of the races and sexes was here at last. Helen Reddy sang “I am Woman.” Ziggy Stardust sat in a tin can. The Jeffersons were movin’ on up, and Archie Bunker was a soon to be extinct Jurassic species. The naivety was almost comic, with 40 years of hindsight.

In school, I was labeled “boy.” I resisted this label, as much as I could, and spent most of the next many years of my life fleeing all things male. By 4th or 5th grade, I was sure that I was actually “girl.” To others, I was “different”, “artistic”, or “gay guy”. “Gay Guy” became a comfort zone for me. All things considered, it is a fairly socially acceptable version of “middle” (perhaps the social equivalent of “butch lesbian”? ). It took a long time for me to realize that “gay guy” was holding me back. ( I am not primarily romantically attracted to males. But others saw me as a gay male, and I was comfortable with that. )

Now, I am more middle than ever. Because of my “butch” attributes, I think that people are as likely to think that I started as female, than that I started as male. But I really don’t know, and I really don’t know how others see me. But, that shouldn’t matter. None of us can ever really know how others see us, or even control how others see us. It is really just a matter of our own lived experience.

(My neighbor calls me “David Bowie” when he is drunk.)

Jamie’s question perplexed me, the more that I thought about it. Maybe we can hammer out some better answers in the comment section.

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