“A journey does not need reasons. Before long, it proves to be reason enough in itself. One thinks that one is going to make a journey, yet soon it is the journey that makes or unmakes you.”
[Ed note: I haven’t posted anything here about it, but I wrote a bit about my 2019 trans awakening in a recent Instagram post. Then I had top surgery last week.]
One week post-surgery verdict: I look like a giant baby who’s seen some shit.
Fat, unsexed, bloodied and bruised.
I traded two boobs for a belly. Sitting or standing, it’s all I can see from up here. From sweater bumps to smuggling a lap cat. From Venus of Willendorf to Homer Simpson.
And even with the chest swelling, squaring things out a little and having no nipples really un-genders the whole upstairs affair.
So yeah, I spent over $9,000 and risked death to look like a drunk-tank cupid.
But wait! Here’s the perverse part:
Part of me wonders, why aren’t they throwing roses at me and my new, clearly improved body?
Smell that? Eau de Male Privilege. A helluva drug.
(And it’s putti, not cupid, I know…but nobody else knows, so.)
The puzzle I’m working on since it’s too soon to work out
I am not an incremental thinker or a bit-by-bit believer. Sowing and reaping is for farmers, and people who believe in an afterlife. I’m a global thinker, into eurekas and epiphanies, big bangs and unfurling the rest later. Details are for peons, you know? Scoffs: What experience do I have with step-by-step progress?
Getting through school? Bah. I was but one small speck of the disaffected phalanx carried on the college-prep current, until I was nearly carried out on my shield.
Going blind and losing big weight a la 2011? Closer, I suppose, though Part A had no logical connection to Part B. I did get in the habit of being delivered to a gym, doing stuff, and doing it all again a few days later. Until I didn’t anymore, because I started
Making babies? But that was a miracle that happened adjacent to me, practically in spite of me even if inside of me. I ate, we grew. I walked, we grew. I rested, we grew. No logic there but being, as much plant as animal.
But this trans thing IS a piecemeal process, and this surgery is laying part of a foundation for something else to come. Something, but I don’t know what. I can’t explain it to anyone else. I can’t even really verbalize it to myself, which goes to show how it hid in plain sight for uhh 30 years.
It’s an ur-narrative, as simple as a couplet: first this, then that.
It’s an ur-narrative, as confused as truth: first me, then me.
¿Por qué? Porque.
Off to learn everything I can about embodied cognition and fatboy fashion. Chins up!
The show was announced way back in August. That same day, I bought 2 tickets and sent a calendar invite to Kris to save the date.
The show would fall just a couple of weeks after our 20.5-year anniversary, and she’d really enjoyed their show last year with me at Terminal West. And this one would be even closer, just 20 minutes away at a venue we’d been visiting since high school.
From August through November, life went on. Back to school, colds, travel for work, the full serving of life in progress.
Since I follow HGM on twitter and instagram, I’d see updates about their tour, and I’d be just as excited all over again.
When they announced “our show” had sold out, I congratulated myself on my (1) excellent taste and (2) wise early-bird purchasing habits.
Less than a week prior to the big night, I realized with horror that we hadn’t asked our favorite sitter if she could stay with the boys. Kris was spending a week out of the country, so I deep in the subsistence one-day-at-a-time bunker of single parenting. Totally not conducive to planning ahead, or any of the executive functions (unless falling asleep at 8:45pm counts as one. And if it doesn’t, I don’t want to hear abzzzz zzz zzz.)
But luck was on our side! Our saintly sitter was available. SET PHASERS TO ROCK.
The Big Day Arrives
A couple of hours before our planned exit time, I take care of final preparations:
- Load my wheelchair, saying a quick prayer of thanks for the clear skies (the joys and sorrows of having an external lift!)
- Move the car so the sitter will have a place to park
- Pack my small wallet
- Fish my winter gloves out of the closet
- Check venue site for suggested parking spots
Then, I opened my email to print out the tickets.
And my email said, “What tickets?”
Oh, must have had a typo. Try again, please.
Change up my search terms: full artist name? Venue? Date?
NOPE. NOPE. NOPE.
Go straight to ticket seller site to check my purchase history.
NOT EVEN A LITTLE BIT
In desperation, I went to my bank’s site and pulled up the 3 month old statement, looking for the transaction that I KNOW I made.
BITCH, ARE YOU FAMILIAR WITH THE DEFINITION OF INSANITY?
But by that time, I was not familiar with anything. My own kitchen faded out and spun away, like in a bad dream. I was speechless. But…? How…?
With the sitter due at 6pm, I confessed to my wife my revelation that I must be an idiot. Somehow, she did not seem as surprised by this revelation as I.
Go easy on me, honey, I’m not doing too well
Do you hate me honey, as much as I hate myself?
– “Heart Like a Levee,” Hiss Golden Messenger
Like most parents of small children, we don’t get a lot of nights out together, and we didn’t want to cancel on our sitter and have her lose the planned income. A chain of sorrows.
Time to scare up a Plan B. There must be something else happening on the Sunday night before Thanksgiving.
In this city of nearly 6 million people.
In this, the 9th-largest-in-the-nation metro area.
N O T H I N G
And I don’t mean “nothing as good as our original plans.” Our goal for months was to see HGM – nothing could match that.
I mean “nothing” as in “not a single thing.” Every events calendar was cleared until after Thanksgiving.
JFC. What do people even do after 7pm?
Movies! What’s playing?
Oh, that’s right – NOTHING.
Finally, in disgusted resignation, we buy two tickets to Geostorm twenty miles away. With the movie holding at 13% on Rotten Tomatoes, at least I wouldn’t have to pretend to have liked it. This was the best of the bad outcomes.
Seeking company for my misery, I tweeted my disappoints out to the world.
A minute later, I get a reply notification. Unusual, because even my nearest and dearest treat my tweets like the elevator farts they are: best to politely ignore them, hoping I’ll stop soon or leave.
But when I check, the reply was from MC.
! ! ! ! ! !
The next minute was a blur. DM, reply, an email, and he put us On The List.
A bolt from the blue of pure grace.
We drive to dinner a couple blocks from the show venue, dine, and toast to my undeserved good fortune, to the grace of artists working from love, to a wife who doesn’t hate me as much as I hate myself.
We roll toward the venue at doors open. There would be no opener, and it’s easier to maneuver my chair before the crowds reach max capacity.
We arrive at the venue’s entry, where the opening door is up a half-flight of brick steps.
When the door swings open, we can see 2 more flights of steps leading up to the venue proper, the listening room.
As I mentioned, we’ve been to this venue off and on for the last 20 years – but not in the last few, not since I’ve had my wheelchair.
After the couples in front of us file in, we coolly ask the door man, “Where’s your wheelchair entrance?”
“We don’t have one.”
“Sorry, we don’t have one.”
Kris and I exchange dubious glances. Is he new? In possession of a remarkably dry sense of humor? Is it backstage, so they keep its use tightly restricted?
“But…but…how do you get gear and stuff in?” I stammer.
“Carry it.” And he shrugged all of his many muscles, some of which appeared to shrug their muscles.
Well, son of a bitch. We made it this far — through the Forest of Wait and the Bog of Buying Brainfart, to On the List, to the literal Doorstep of the Venue — and there was No Way In.
We move back to regroup. A few walkups get told it’s sold out and leave. A few more ask about the band anyway, which I tell them is great (hence sold out) and can’t help pettily throwing in “and it sucks that they put me on the list, and neither of us knew I wouldn’t be able to actually get in.”
I might have said that last part extra loud so muscley doorman would hear. *angel on my shoulder blushes*
But it worked. *devil on my shoulder grins*
This man of few words said, “Well, we’ll get you in there if you’re on the list. What if we carry your chair up? Can you get up the stairs, then sit again when we get it to the top?”
“My [power] chair weights 130lbs!”
“And I weight 260,” he countered good-naturedly.
“I weight 220, but I can’t lift it.”
I am thoroughly skeptical person, and also this female salmon. But. If they’re offering. And if it’s really the ONLY WAY…
There’s one way in and there’s one way out and we’re gonna have a good time
– “Biloxi,” Hiss Golden Messenger
So I relent.
Kris offered her arm to my death grip, and I clawed the bannister with the other hand. I step, step, rested, step, dragged my weak leg and large ass up too many stairs to count.
Showed my ID to the list holder, got stamped, and staggered in.
Down below, Doorman recruited two other willing guys and brought up my big, bulky wheelchair.
I was too ashamed to look back. I was mortified they had to do that for me, and flooded with appreciation that they would anyway, and terrified they’d hurt themselves or the chair in the process.
It’s a basic-ass power chair, but it took me a $1,000 co-pay and nearly a year of time to get it. A replacement would cost over $6,000 because my insurance company doesn’t shop on Amazon.
Eventually, it arrived, and I sat and tried to breathe slow and not cry. (Not tonight!)
But the lack of elevator was just the tip of the inaccessibility iceberg. There was no designated seating area for chair users, so we were left to strategize our own spot. We picked one at the end of the bar, next to the (low) tables where standing people would be less likely to block my view.
The crowd fills in moments later and fills the place up. I will not be able to go anywhere until it clears out again after the show – unfortunate news to my neurogenic bladder’s every 20-minute schedule, but again, no choice here.
It’s hard, Lord
Lord, it’s hard
Everybody in the whole damn place has gotta have a good time
– “Biloxi,” Hiss Golden Messenger
Band in. Show starts.
And in that alchemy, the mess, the strife, the shame of getting there melted away.
We groove like only HGM can groove.
We laugh. We sing along. I chair-dance myself sweaty.
And also countless people trip over the footplate of my chair (and my feet). I have to pee for an hour and a half, leaving me praying the show never ends and ends right now. Bitter and sweet, sweet and bitter.
They play all my favorites.
I’m amazed at the energy the band can bring to this last stop on tour.
I’m humbled at the sacrifices they make to come bring this experience to us. Thousands of miles and dozens of days and countless loved ones left, just to fill us with the gospel of the jukebox.
It’s like an oil change for the soul. The toxic sludge drained out, the life-giving power of connection restored.
We applaud the contiguous encore. It’s the mature choice, logistically and conceptually, and it makes perfect sense.
Finally, finally, it’s over. We wait a minute for the aisle to clear as quickly as it had filled, and I beat it to the (inaccessible) bathroom. Relief.
When I come out, they’re waiting to take my chair down. I grapple-plod-step-rest-plod back down, and plop on a bench in the clear, cold air outside to await the chair arrival.
When the eagle lands, Kris and I head back to the car, to home, to bed.
The story would end there, but it doesn’t quite, because there was magic afoot, remember?
To home, to bed, to sleep perchance to dream. Perchance to not be awakened by either kid before dawn. And so it went!
In the morning, I rolled over to try to shift the pain from one hip to the other, to keep the pain down enough to pretend I might sleep for 15 more minutes.
But that never works. I open my eyes and was transported instantly back to the stage last night.
A shimmering blue column of power and persistence catching the sliver of weak sun, transforming it beyond recognition.
A pulse of light in the darkness, just like HGM in the November early darkness on that empty Sunday evening.
I’ll rise, I’ll rise
I’ll rise in the morning
Take the good news
And carry it away
Take the good news
And spirit it away
– “Drum,” Hiss Golden Messenger
And in that flash, I knew: there is enough love to go around.
That songs are stronger when more people sing them.
That live music is the raw edge of community – our synapse, ifyouwill – of community with every thing that makes life good, and with each other.
And it’s a “we” that makes life good.
There’s one way in and there’s one way out and we’re gonna have a good time
– “Biloxi,” Hiss Golden Messenger
I had a good time. A great time. An epically awesome time.
Even with the roadblocks, the self-imposed and the systematic, amor vincit omnia.
Thank you, MC.
Thank you, HGM.
Thank you, Eddie’s Attic strong men.
Thank you, Kris, for 20.5 years.
Thank you, legs, for getting me up the stairs one last time.
From Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life
Getting ready for bed tonight, he started throwing his water bottle in protest of having to put on pajamas.
I warned that I would take away the water bottle if he did not stop chucking it around. (It was full, and heavy, and the room is not that big, and his brother was rolling around on the floor without a helmet – not that I need a single reason). He threw it 2 more times in rapid succession, so I took it away. Poured out the water and put the bottle on an unreachable shelf in the bathroom.
He pouted, cried, begged, wheedled, demanded, cajoled, pleaded, and cried some more to get it back.
etc etc etc for like half an hour literally
Finally, he stood up and walked out of the room without a word. I assumed he was going to get a drink from his water cup in the kitchen…until I heard the clunk of an empty water bottle on the bathroom counter, and the water turning on, and the bottle filling up.
He’d gone to the kitchen, all right, but instead of drinking inferior cup water, he got a fresh water bottle from the drawer and filled it up himself.
I went to help him screw the top on tight. Wordlessly.
Because that’s what you do, right? When the universe has a laugh and gives you a kid just like you but with more energy and fewer inhibitions?
You give up. You pitch in. You take your half-victory, and he takes his.
You try not to think about velociraptors opening door knobs. Not tonight.
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So instead of looking for a new family/wheelchair vehicle in 4+ years, as planned, we have about 48 hours. *pukes a rainbow*
We negotiated (pro tip: that’s what you call begging when you manage not to cry) with the body shop via the insurance guy to have them remove the wheelchair lift and the nice stereo we got installed last year. And they’ll reinstall the lift when we’re “ready,” which is objectively better than nothing. *pukes a rainbow*
Tomorrow we go clean the rest of our stuff out of the van and leave the factory radio and some other accessories. Going through the house, filling a laundry basket with headrests and headphones, manuals and key fobs, it looked like I was breaking up with somebody.
I guess – I never have done that. *pukes a rainbow*
Kk is going with me to look at a possible replacement tomorrow.
We’ll not be getting another van because none are high enough to clear our steep driveway without scraping.
Most cars can’t handle the tongue weight needed for the external lift, and I like buying cheap furniture too much to give up all cargo space.
A pickup would be too tall for the boys right now, though it’d be great for all our hardware store trips.
Compact SUVs are too small, and big ones are too expensive and too big.
That leaves midsize SUVs, which I’ve never owned before and only driven a couple of times. But I’ve mocked them plenty, so there’s that.
I think I feel about getting an SUV the way many ppl feel about getting a minivan. It’s a rolling concession, a deep bow to the familial and financial and physiological forces I could theoretically travel lighter without.
So much lighter.
But then who would I be traveling with? But then who would I be, traveling?
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I think I’m not going to re-register the boys at their preschool for next year — essentially unschooling, ahead of schedule.
I’d previously secured a promise from the other parent that we’d “look at all the options” come kindergarten-age. “All the options” would include the regular public school down the street, whatever charter or magnet options are available, and truly alternative options like unschooling and the state’s K-12 online curriculum (technically a charter, but logistically very homeschooly).
When we agreed-to-agree-later, the expectation that the boys would just happily bop along in preschool until the final lightning round. But it’s just not going well enough to justify the time and effort and expense. And because of their late birthday, they will be nearly 6 before starting kindy — kind of unthinkable to a May-baby like me.
I was ardently supportive of unschooling years before we thought we’d have a kid. I read The Teenage Liberation Handbook in college — alas, a couple years too late to apply it to my own life — but the attitude and openness to unschooling was exactly what I’d wanted, and what I’d eked out a little of, in spite of compulsory public schooling, without ever having a word or a model for it.
I was so underserved in school because I was a smart, good, girl.
I didn’t demand anything from my teachers. I didn’t even ask sweetly for anything. I didn’t know I could.
I finished every assignment early and pulled out a book or needlepoint project.
When I broke my ankle in 3rd and 6th grade, I stayed inside and graded the others students’ worksheets while they went out to PE, because I was accurate and trustworthy.
Because my home life was, um, “hectic,” I did all my homework on the bus on the way to school, or during homeroom, or in the class immediately prior.
My teachers asked to keep my posters and projects and papers to show as models to next year’s students. Except for a diorama I made in 2nd grade of The Snowy Day – that one we donated to the big public library downtown, and they displayed it each winter for several years.
I won scholarships to summer arts camps at the local college.
I scored 99%ile on every CRCT and ITBS and any other standardized test we took. A perfect score on the 8th grade state writing exam.
I got straight A’s until 8th grade, when I got super depressed (again) and revolted (finally).
I wanted to DIE.
And I was one of the lucky ones.
I mostly had good teachers, caring and bright.
At the end of kindergarten, my teacher recommended I be tested for the gifted program, which I easily passed. Taking that test is one of my few early memories because it was so FUN – solving puzzles, one-on-one, for a nice lady who smiled at me!
Once a week for the rest of elementary school, I spent a day in a gifted class, with more interesting projects and a chance to stretch my thinking a little. In middle school, it changed to a class period a day. Better than nothing?
“Slow down and let the other kids catch up,” my parent’s joked when I came home complaining.
“You think it’s easy now? Just wait til you get to middle school,” they said.
“You think it’s easy now? Just wait til you get to high school,” they said.
“You think it’s easy now? Just wait til you get to college,” they said.
So I went to college, as I’d been begging to do since at least 8th grade. (“This standardized test says I’m reading at a 16th grade level! I wasn’t even trying! Why can’t I just skip to it?” I was insufferable because I was suffering.)
I’d like to say college was the sea change I’d been seeking. And when I got there, there were other smart women, and super professors, and fun books to read, and new ways to stretch my brain. But there was still so much awareness that I had to slow down to let others catch up with a class discussion, or not be too participatory in a group project. Just save it for office hours, just work it out in the essay you’ll be getting an A on no matter what.
I couldn’t take a math class because I probably wouldn’t get an A in it, and that would threaten my scholarships. Even though I had questions that my high school math teachers hadn’t been able to answer.
I couldn’t take an econ class because I wasn’t an econ major or minor, and I might not have gotten an A in it.
I couldn’t sleep at night because I was manic.
I couldn’t wake up in the morning because I was depressed.
I couldn’t…I couldn’t…until I couldn’t any longer: I spite-failed my senior seminar (required for my major) and had to take 21 hours in my last semester to graduate on time/get on with my life. If it weren’t for STUNT, I don’t think I’d be here today.
As a kid, I could never make my parents happy, because their unhappiness had deep roots reaching back well before I made the scene. My teachers, on the other hand, were too easy to please: I didn’t struggle academically or socially, and god knows there were plenty of others who did, enough to fill all the teacher’s available time and attention and then some.
Bosses, it turned out, were like my teachers (and occasionally like my parents). In either case, my effect was muted, and I would quit after 9 or 10 interminable months. Over and over, for years. (Also, being a secretary is really. fucking. boring.) Only once I landed in libraries did I slow the rapid-failure pace and find a sweet spot for fulfilling my needs for curiosity and autonomy and service.
One of the hardest works of my adult life has been recognizing that I am not normal, not average, and never have been, and that it’s okay to be that way.
A few years after college, I tried in vain to get my mom to tell me what my IQ score(s) had been from my gifted test in kindergarten, but of course she’d willfully forgotten and saved not a scrap of evidence, like it was some kind of the dirty family secret.
So I took the MENSA entrance exam one sunny afternoon, thinking that’d be an easy way to rule out that I fell in the top 2%. I didn’t expect to get the acceptance letter a few weeks later.
Well, THAT’S interesting, I thought.
I read books and blogs on unschooling and laid their frames over my story, imaging different experiences and outcomes. Verdict: Yes, I probably could have been a contender. I taught the word “autodidact” to a physician I worked with/for. I read whenever there’s a spare moment and play pub trivia for its louche appeal.
More recently, I’ve read about Asperger’s/ASD (especially in women, it’s different, yo), and about Dabrowski (he GOT it), and blogs like Your Rainforest Mind. And it’s bittersweet – to finally be seen, not just a malcontent and nerd but as someone with high potential and deep sensitivities.
As someone not congenitally broken.
As someone who deserved more than she got.
I can’t make education decisions for my children without weighing these experiences.
At 3, the boys are too young to test for giftedness, but according to the research consensus, their IQs likely fall within 5-10 points of my own. (Which I still don’t know exactly, argh.) Their donor is an unknown variable, but most of the heritability of IQ comes from the mother anyway.
As environment goes, they’ve got nearly every advantage we can give them, that I wish we could ensure for every child everywhere: food, shelter, loving adults, relative stability, books and music, art supplies and blocks, time for doing and time for reflecting, chances to make mistakes and get hurt and make new mistakes and get better. They were born full-term and healthy #blessed. They’re bilingual. They are curious and motivated and tenacious and intense.
Plus in the fall, they’ll start weekly German school, and maybe an extracurricular, and we’ll keep going to libraries and museums and performances and cultural festivals and playgrounds, and I’ll keep thrifting way too many great books and toys. We’ll visit family and friends, spend time in the woods, make art, eat good food. Within the year, I expect they’ll start reading independently, asking more questions, testing even more limits.
In other words, I have no reason to think they are NOT gifted, and I want them to be treated as such.
Preschool’s greatest strength and ultimate betrayal is its die-hard determination that all students are equal.
Public school’s greatest strength and ultimate betrayal is its insistence that all students better be equal (but the white male ones should be a bit more so, that’s just how it’s always been done, hup hup, barf).
In both cases, all student deserve the same opportunity for high-quality education to grow up to be the best contributors they can be, with the most fully-realized selves. Society depends on it. Our collective future depends on it.
And for now, my children depend on me to make the best choices for them, given the options and information available at the time. It’s not a decision I take lightly or wish to abdicate to anyone else. Their futures depend on it. Their selves, now and later, depend on it.
The world has the right to expect great things from them, and they have the right to know it.