Birthdays

I’ve learned about myself as I’ve gotten older. I’ve realized that I use food as a way to express to people that I love them. I cook for people as a way to thank them for being a part of my life. I use food as a way to take care of the people around me. Food can be a hug. A good meal with great company can be not only catharsis, but become unadulterated joy. This is why I like hosting my own birthday party. I get to cook as much as I want, and because it’s my birthday no one gets to tell me I can’t.

So, for the last couple days I’ve been cooking, and prepping, and generally fussing about to prepare for my birthday party. And tonight, so many people that I love came to my house to help me celebrate. I did the thing I always do. I cooked too much and made people try whatever new whiskey was in my cupboard. I laughed and told stupid stories and my spouse poked me until I start talking in a Scottish accent. The dog cuddled with new friends on the couch. I ate more cheese that I should have. I drank too much whiskey. I ogled my new presents. I talked about books and beer and my favorite recipes. I got so many hugs.

My heart feels so full. I feel so loved.

Asking Questions

When I was in the fifth grade, my teacher handed out awards at the end of the year, tailor made for every student. I won the ‘Most Inquiring Mind’ award. I hesitantly, and somewhat disappointingly approached my teacher to get my certificate.

“What’s inquiring mean?” I asked as if it were a reflex. The whole room erupted into laughter and I still didn’t get the joke.  I would eventually.

My whole life I’ve been asking questions. To the point that teachers didn’t like to call on me. Because I ask so many god. damned. questions. And usually won’t stop until I have a satisfactory answer. Not everyone likes this.

This kind of questioning can be a problem when you’re asking about large abstract concepts, like religion. Is God real? Does it matter if God is real? If God is real, are they good? If God is good, then why do so many terrible things happen in the world? Does faith matter more than actions? Does heaven exist? Is sin really a thing? What if all the religions that currently exist are wrong? Why bother with religion at all? What is the purpose of life? Why does religion create so much hate, if it’s meant to help people be good?

I don’t have the answer to any of these questions. I don’t think anyone does. (That’s not entirely true, I think there are a number of people in the world that genuinely believe they have the answers to all of these questions, and I think they’re fooling themselves). The one thing I do know, is that even without answers- it’s still worth asking these questions.

As I’ve said before, I grew up Christian. Specifically, I grew up Lutheran. I learned a lot of valuable things growing up in the churches I did, and was lucky enough to belong to congregations that were heavily involved in social justice issues and tried not to make me feel ostracized for being different. But, when I would ask these kinds of questions, things would start to unravel. At a certain point in most Christian teaching, it all boils down to faith. Faith ends up being the superseding factor regarding whether or not you get a satisfactory answer. If you believe, it will make sense.

That’s never been good enough for me.

I don’t take “Just because” well. When I was in high school geometry, I asked so many questions about trigonometry that my teacher asked me to see him after class. My classmates were baffled as to why I wouldn’t stop asking questions. Why I cared at all. Just put the numbers into sine, cosine, or tangent and your answer will ‘just be there’. I didn’t like that at all. What were these magic formulas that just knew the answer? And more importantly, how the fuck did someone figure out these formulas so that my dumb ass could just poke a button on a calculator? I wanted to know the how and why these formulas worked at all. My classmates just wanted me to shut up. My teacher, knowing that the rest of the class didn’t care, but that I would be a disruption until the end of the year if I didn’t get my answer, sat down with me after school for at least an hour to explain how tangent, sine, and cosine were derived and why they functioned the way they did. It was the most patient and wonderful any teacher has ever been with me.

If I’m that persistent with questions about small things like basic geometry, imagine how frustrating I can be to clergy, youth leaders and really anyone who will have a discussion with me about God. Some of the only people I’ve found that relish in rather than run away from my questions, are rabbis. When I’ve brought questions to rabbis I know, I’m met with thoughtful conversation and usually leave not with answers, but better questions.

So, here’s what I know- I can’t stop asking questions (Both in a metaphoric sense, but also probably physically) and I’ve used a lot of different methods in my life to try to find answers. If I need to know how to truss a chicken, Google’s there for me. If I’m asking how to rotate the tires on my car, my Dad’s got an answer. But, when I’m asking whether or not my faith matters, or how to parse the idea that God is not what I was raised to believe they are, who do I ask? In this moment, with these questions, Judaism. Not that I can ask one abstract concept about another, but I want to use Jewish teachings, traditions and scholarship to try to find the answers. It’s felt like opening a new toolbox, full of strange and foreign tools that I know are made for a specific task, but I don’t know how to use them yet. Imagine holding a screwdriver, but having only seen nails your whole life. You know it’s good for something, but you’re not sure what yet. Each tool is like a lockpick that I keep using to try to open different questions, hoping that one of them will open the lock to reveal the answer. I’m finding that sometimes it takes multiple attempts, or even multiple tools to get each lock open. And once it’s open there’s rarely an answer inside, usually it’s just another lock with another question.

I think hoping that one day I’ll be able to unlock all the questions is unrealistic. What I’m hoping for is that one day I have the appropriate toolbox to pick apart any question, and that the satisfaction in asking and seeking never goes away. I don’t think I’ll ever stop having questions, and hopefully Judaism will never stop having better ones.

In Remembrance

The Transgender Day of Remembrance is next week, and I found myself pondering what that day could mean (at least for me) in the wake of yesterday’s election.

The trans community does a lot of remembering. We remember childhoods spent answering to the wrong name. We remember the excitement of twirling in our favorite green velvet dress. We remember the euphoria of seeing our silhouette in a binder for the first time. We remember the loss of a past self. Some of us remember life before Tumblr- before the internet!- before you could log on and meet strangers just like you sharing their stories of what it was to live outside the margins of the gender binary, and seeing just a glimmer of hope in that. We remember how different our bodies felt before hormones. We remember what life was like before the great gender upheaval- and how much better life can be now. We remember the looks of confusion- concern- or outright disgust from friends and relatives when we announced our new, better, future selves. We remember the names that bigots threw at us when we were at our lowest. We remember headlines of strangers like us that didn’t get to see their next birthday. We remember our friends. We remember our trailblazers that have fought for legislation to allow us to exist proudly and legally. We remember to live our lives loving every moment that we get, because too many of them are cut short.

I remember to get out of bed every day, grateful that the sun rose up, and knowing the sun will set again. I remember to put my pants on one leg at a time (although I hear that putting them on two at a time isn’t so hard). I remember that despite the fact that my life is good, not everyone’s is. I remember that it is my job, my obligation, my duty to make sure that one day this isn’t fact anymore.

Today, I remember that I am an American. I remember waiting in line at my polling place to cast a ballot for the future. I remember the dread of watching election results roll in. I remember the taste of bourbon on my tongue, attempting to wash out the vitriol leftover from this election cycle. I remember wanting to cry. I remember hoping that everything would be alright.

Mostly, I remember how much our community has already overcome- and I refuse to let this sentient glass of Tang pretending to be president be the reason I stop remembering. I refuse to let this idiot be my undoing. We’ve done a lot of figuring things out in the past, let’s remember how to do it again.

Being Kind in Politics

Lately, I’ve been straddling the urge to shout my political views at the top of my lungs and crawl into a cave and hide until 2017. I can’t deal with how charged the political climate is in the United States right now. People have forgotten how to be kind. I have been around very few political conversations in the last few months that didn’t end in some kind of name-calling or outright dismissal of someone’s opinions.

A few weeks ago, I was attending a dinner at my synagogue that involved some interesting discussion topics. One of the presenters discussed The Curse of Blessings. In essence, an angel places the ‘curse of blessings’ on a man that has a lot to learn about being a decent person. The curse manifests by forcing the man to come up with a new blessing every day. If he lets a day go without offering a new blessing, that will be the day he dies. He ends up living a long life because he’s learned to approach others with love and understanding, and be grateful for everything the world has given him. While the presenter was reading parts of this story, the gentleman sitting next to me offered a snarky comment about Donald Trump. Like there’s nothing redeemable or be grateful for in Trump. And while I disagree with almost every piece of word garbage that comes out of Trump’s mouth, this just seemed like the wrong time to even bring that up. We’re literally talking about being grateful and understanding- and you instead brought vitriol. Immediately I thought to myself- what kind of blessing could I offer for Donald Trump?

-Thank you for giving us an example of how greed can corrupt humanity.
-Thank you for exposing the prejudiced mindsets that still exist in this country so we can improve upon them.
-Thank you for giving us a culture where anyone can speak their mind without fear of retribution from the government

I wasn’t interested in this guy’s hate. All I could think about was how he had missed the point entirely. Personally, it makes me sick to my stomach to think that there are people who genuinely want Trump, whose rhetoric is so full of hate and disdain for his fellow man, to be in charge of our country. But, I also think that the same kindness and respect that we afford our allies, should also be extended to our opponents.

Especially in this charged political climate, I am constantly trying to remind myself and people around me that everyone- even that jerk that thinks my very existence as a trans person is a threat to their ability to pee- is still a person. They have thoughts and feelings. As much as I may not agree with them, it’s my job to attempt to understand folks before passing judgement. It’s a REALLY difficult thing to do. But I try to remember that just because they haven’t afforded me the respect I deserve, I shouldn’t retaliate in kind.

This quote from Abraham Joshua Heschel has been floating around in my brain recently, “When I was younger I admired people who were clever. Now that I’m old, I admire people who are kind.” This is the perfect example of the transition of values I’m seeing in my own life right now. In arguments, I find myself caring less about being right, and more about being kind. And not just being kind to my opponent, but also trying to exert whatever power I have in that moment to attempt to make them see the value of kindness too. It doesn’t always work. Sometimes they don’t listen. Sometimes I don’t keep my cool. But sometimes, there’s a glimmer that I could have changed somebody’s mind and that makes it worth the struggle.

My Most Embarrassing Shit Ever

Why is ‘what is your most embarrassing moment?’ such a common ice-breaker? My most embarrassing moments aren’t funny. For the most part, they’re fucking weird. Like, cringe-worthy as opposed to giggle-worthy.

Some examples of how deeply embarrassing I am as a human being:

There was one time, I can’t remember what the circumstances were, I was sitting around with a bunch of people and in an attempt to get to know each other we were given the prompt “What’s the weirdest thing about you?” I responded with “I have a jar of scabs”. Everyone looked at me in a way that conveyed to me I had thoroughly misunderstood this exercise. I don’t know if I spoke to any of those people ever again.

While I was working on a project I turned on Netflix for some background noise. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time had just come out and I hadn’t seen it, so I thought “why not?” After it had finished, I pondered just how deeply terrible it was. There was rampant white-washing, the plot itself was tenuous at best, and there were Ostrich races. But, I wasn’t done with my project yet, so I attempted to find something better to watch. I scrolled through documentary after action flick, through TV shows and comedies and couldn’t find a single thing I wanted to watch. So, I watched Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time again.

There was another time I was working in my studio at school (this one was shared by several people) and I listened to “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” by Elton John on repeat for approximately an hour. It wasn’t until after this had transpired that I realized that someone else was also working in the studio.

More than once while working retail I would give a customer their total for a purchase and they would hand me cash, to which I would promptly ask, “Debit or Credit?” and have to pretend like everything is normal and I was not the biggest idiot on the planet in that moment.

Also, I regularly mix up Elton John and Eric Clapton when discussing music. No discernible reason that I’ve uncovered as to why I perpetually mix these two up, but I do. It doesn’t seem like it would be a big deal, but it sure makes you sound stupid when you talk about how great Elton John was in Cream. I’ve also been known to mix up Pakistan and Palestine. Which, while slightly more understandable given their similar pronunciations, it does tend to make conversation about that Israeli conflict in the Gaza Strip awkward.

So, this is why I hate the game “What’s your most embarrassing moment?” because it’s just as bad to recount these moments as it was to live them the first time. I will be very happy when this stops being a part of ‘team-building’ and starts being a part of ‘deposited in the dumpster and forgotten forever’.

Singing, it’s a thing in my life

Despite the fact that I write about my gender A LOT on this blog, I know I’ve also written about how restrictive I find it to be defined by my gender. I hate leading with the fact that I’m trans in conversation, I hate perpetually “coming out” to strangers because 1) It’s frankly none of their business and 2) It’s genuinely more important to me that you know Green Lantern is my favorite member of the Justice League than it is that you know anything about my gender identity (well, as long as you get my pronouns right). So, when I made the decision back in October of last year to join a group specifically BECAUSE I’m trans, it was kid of a big deal for me. I’ve never really been active part of the queer or trans community. It somehow always felt weird to seek out people that are ‘like me’ so to speak for the same reasons I hated when people made assumptions about me for my gender. Also, I don’t particularly like large groups so I never did the whole Pride Parade thing. The only thing I’ve ever sought out explicitly because I was trans was a therapist and Howard Brown Medical Center.

Anyway, many months ago a friend posted a link on Facebook (meant for someone else, but I’m a lurker so I found it) about a choir for trans voices. The last time I sang in a choir was seventh grade, but I grew up singing in the car, and the shower, and while riding my bike, and even in a terrible attempt at a punk band once in high school. So, I was intrigued. I’d been on testosterone for about a year and had been struggling to find my new singing voice. I had all kinds of new low notes in my range, but there was also a space where my singing voice used to be that simply didn’t produce sound anymore. The idea of a choir sounded terrifying. It also sounded like it could be really fun. So, I showed up that first night of practice. I had only been back in Chicago for a couple months and was looking forward to meeting some new people, especially people that wouldn’t make fun of my shaky singing voice.

Every Tuesday night since, I’ve spent my evenings with some of the most interesting and compassionate people I’ve ever met. We sing disco. We sing madrigals. Sometimes we sing trashy pop music at karaoke. It’s been great. Since moving back to Chicago I’ve gone through some heavy periods of depression, like not leaving my house for days- feeling somewhere between sorry for myself and downright inoperable, but every week choir has managed to motivate me to shower and leave the house for at least a few hours. Since starting, I’ve been a little happier. My voice has gotten stronger. I’ve learned how to expand and control my range better. I still have moments where a note was supposed to come out and my vocal chords betray me, but I don’t feel scared to sing in front of people. I don’t feel like I have to apologize for my voice. And more than anything, I feel like I have friends.

Past Pronouns

When I first started the process of transitioning- changing pronouns, asserting myself as masculine, etc- I struggled with how to talk about myself in the past tense. Do I talk about my Bachelorette party? Should I mention that time I was the only girl at my own birthday party? It only got worse when I started being recognized as male on a regular basis. Every opportunity to talk about my past was a moment where I had to decide whether or not to out myself as transgender.

And while I’ve found that there is tremendous power in ‘passing’ (I hate that term so much) there is also something even more freeing about being open and honest about who I really am.

One of my biggest struggles in starting hormones was the idea that I was somehow erasing my past. That by starting a new chapter in my life I would never be allowed to talk about the previous chapters. And not that they’re amazing, but they’re still a part of me. I would talk about my past with my current name. I would talk about growing up a ‘little boy’. But, that’s not true. While I have a Rolodex of anecdotes that would demonstrate I’ve been a boy my whole life, it feels dishonest to talk about it like that. I didn’t identify as a boy growing up. I didn’t know I could. I didn’t know I was allowed to. I always attempted to make space for who I was at the moment. I have never experienced dysphoria in the same way that a lot of my trans friends have. I didn’t hate my body (beyond the usual teenage angst). Mostly because I refused to. This body is mine and it’s the only one I get, so whether I’m happy about it or not- IT IS MINE and I am going to love the shit out of it.

So, I’m learning how to talk about my past. I’m finally comfortable enough to talk about all the girly things I loved (And still do. I’ve started painting my nails again & it’s great). I’m getting better at talking about who I was in relation to who I am. I would never talk about myself right now using feminine pronouns or my birth name, but to me ten years ago… that was my truth. We’re still the same person. We’re just on different chapters of the same story. She’s part of who I am, and I like to think she’d like the man I am now.

I (am trying to) Love Who I Am

Today, I could really use someone to just tell me I’m ok. That I’m not a terrible person. That my trans-ness doesn’t disqualify me from being a decent human being. That I’m still a good person. That I’m the kind of person someone would want their kid to grow up to be like. I don’t always need that kind of reassurance, but when I do it’s hard to do anything else until I feel better. I’ve been trying to focus on a single line from Janelle Monae’s Q.U.E.E.N.

2015-11-25 00.28.25

 

Even if it makes other uncomfortable, I will love who I am.
Rinse, Repeat.

 

Attempting to Explore My Faith, Again

I grew up Christian, and I don’t say that with the usual giant caveat that most people associate with that statement. Have you ever noticed that when most people say “I grew up Christian” there is an implied ‘and I hated it’? I didn’t. Growing up, my faith was an integral part of who I was and informed a great number of decisions in my life. I went to church almost every week and actually liked it most of the time. I think this is primarily because the church my family was a part of was full of fantastic people that worked hard to create a community that was welcoming.

As I got older, the sense of home I had within church dwindled. I could never find a community that made me feel as comfortable as my previous church had. I even went to a few churches that flat out made me feel unwelcome. One church I went to all but excommunicated me over a miscommunication about a bicycle. (It’s a long story that’s not actually very good, so I’ll spare you the details. Just know that I had been attending this church off and on for over a year, and was treated like garbage over something I had no real control over). I couldn’t find meaningful connections to people, which had always been my most favorite part about being a part of a congregation.

So, I fell out of love with church. I still thought of myself as a Christian, but my theology at that point was pretty different compared to most main-stream protestant denominations. When I was in college, I did a lot of reading about Deism and I really connected to the idea of God as a creator. As an artist, I related to a deity that was invested in the best interests of their creations. I also took classes taught by one of the best professors I had in my entire undergraduate education about Islam, Buddhism, and Christianity. I did a lot of studying. I did a lot of learning. I continued to try local churches to see if I could find a new congregation to call home, but I could never find one. I could never fully reconcile the idea of Jesus being divine on my own, and I couldn’t find a church or pastor patient enough to deal with my barrage of questions on the subject. At a certain point it always came down to ‘you just have to believe’ and that was never good enough for me.

I eventually arrived at a place where I wasn’t interested in making my faith a priority. I had other things to worry about and my faith wasn’t bringing me down per se, but it wasn’t lifting me up the way it used to. I put it on the back burner. It was there, simmering, but I had other things to work out that felt much more pressing. (Like, I dunno… my gender?) In that time, I’ve watched my spouse undergo an intense conversion to Judaism. It’s been confusing and exciting to be a part of. Over the last few years, it’s been like watching him step into the proper version of himself. A second skin that was always there, but he never knew how to wear it properly. The most gratifying thing about it all has been watching him thrive and be happy.

Only in the last several months have I had the energy to even think about my own faith again. I’m trying to let myself open up old and vulnerable wounds to understand something new about myself. So, I’m doing what I always do when I’m not sure how to proceed- I’m reading, I’m learning, and I’m trying really hard to let myself ask questions without having answers. A few weeks ago, my spouse and I started an Introduction to Judaism course at our local synagogue. (Which has been me furiously taking notes, trying to learn anything and everything that I can, and my spouse trying really hard not to fall asleep. Thanks for bearing with me, dear!) It feels like a step in the right direction. Who knows where it’ll take me, but I’m not looking for answers yet, just continuing to ask questions.

Turns out, I’m a Pluviophile

There were a lot of things I missed about the Midwest when we lived in California, and I could write an almost never-ending list of things I hated living in the Bay Area. But I missed nothing more than rain.

I missed thunderstorms that could be called ‘rolling’. I missed thunder and lightning and getting caught in an unexpected shower. I missed open skies full of ominous grey clouds and the way my windowpanes shook- tremors implying they could give way at any moment- when heavy thunder cracked against my house. I missed falling asleep to the soft sound of a summer storm. And I missed the regularity and frequency of rain.

Most people from the Bay liked to argue that I only held this opinion because I lived there during drought years- and the three years that I lived in Oakland were some of the driest on record- but it’s more than that. Rain isn’t really rain in California. It doesn’t fall in wide sheets, save a short period each winter. Rain is more of a heavy mist that was just too lazy to rise back into the clouds. It hovers around you, immune to modern technology like umbrellas. And it only happens seasonally. It’s so infrequent that natives lose all ability to operate vehicles or really even go outside. The only people you see outside on a rainy day in the East Bay are transplants. I have waxed poetic about rain to strangers in bars because they too are from somewhere else that knows what rain is supposed to sound and feel like.

I say all this because as I sit here on my back porch in Chicago, soaking up a bit of cold autumn rain, I simultaneously feel more at home than ever and yet as far away from what that word has meant to me over the years. Even though it’s cold and wet and I’m sitting on an uncomfortable milk crate- I feel safe. The rain a reminder to stay grounded in reality. But I’m not at home. This house once absolutely felt like home, more than my parent’s house or anywhere else I’ve lived. I don’t know if it’s simply because time has passed or because I’m a different person now, but it isn’t home anymore, at least not yet. Maybe because the right people aren’t here. But, it doesn’t make any sense. My spouse is still here. He’s all I’ve ever needed to make a house a home before.

In our small, weird apartment in Oakland, we built a family. It’s wasn’t always good. It wasn’t always nice. That’s kind of what family is, in a way though. I had people that somehow insisted on working their way through my stubbornness, past my weirdness and into my life. Sometimes I did the same to them. We ate together and laughed together and hopefully became slightly better, different people together. Now we’re not just on opposite ends of the Berkeley/ Oakland divide, but strewn across the globe. We were never meant to be a forever family- board games, beer and brisket can only hold together so much. It’s what happens in Grad school. You meet amazing, wonderful people that are going to be a part of your life forever, and then you move apart. You have to become adults. You have to move closer to your biological family and further from the people that feel like family. I really miss them. I miss seeing them all the time. I’m so afraid to build a new friend-base here because I feel like my relatives should be good enough. Or worse, what if we do built another family? What if we finally get all the strings in our support net tied properly, and they leave? Or we leave? I know my spouse’s 5 year plan involves moving a few states east. What then? I can’t keep tying and untying the net of people around us. It’s too hard. When I say I can’t do it, I mean it. I don’t know that I can, either physically or emotionally. Every time I debate texting a friend for coffee, I stop. Do I really want to invest in this if it will be impermanent and painful again? I don’t know where to go from here. While I know I can’t continue by myself, I also don’t know how to head into such a potentially painful unknown future.

When I was in California, I missed the rain.

Now that I have the rain, I miss my family.