Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Melting Snow

I sat in my warm car, hiding from the late winter wind that howled through the streets of Boston waiting for the right time to go into the club. The sun was setting and the city looked desperately attractive a week after an historic snowstorm.  It was a familiar place, but a very far different era.  It had been a long time since I was here, with a boyfriend, 25 years ago.  He was cute and playful,
with a confidence I lacked. We saw each other briefly, going out to bars and clubs, and eventually each other's apartment.  I’ll always remember how special it felt being introduced to a small part of the gay scene in Boston and being out in my hometown, but the relationship didn’t last very long.  So there I was, last Thursday evening, a middle age trans woman, at Club CafĂ© on Columbus Ave, recalling a spring romance that seemed like a lifetime away.   

Distracted by the host’s greeting and insane good looks, I hadn’t noticed the club was virtually empty as I entered just past 6. He signaled toward the backroom and the private party I was there to attend.  A polite young man, a recent grad perhaps, wearing a jacket and tie welcomed me to the reception and handed me my name tag.   The room was sparsely attended and the flat lighting against the dark walls was a reminder that we weren’t here to dance. And without pulsing lights, loud thumping music, and warm bodies, the nightclub had little charm.  Fortunately, the people in attendance were smart and friendly, and the mostly dry conversation went down easy after a few peach cosmos.  

This was the first Syracuse University LGBT Alumni reception, ever.  I had received the notice just days before and was excited to attend. In the years since graduating, I’ve never felt compelled to join an alumni group, but this was different.  We shared a common bond, especially those of us who struggled to find happiness and contentment with our sexual orientation and/or gender identity in a time before public acceptance.  I spent the better part of the next few hours mingling with other SU grads and guests.  And while I didn’t bump into any classmates, that would have been fantastic, I think I made some worthwhile connections.

After the reception I meet up with another SU grad, who happens to be a classmate from high school, and long time friend.  Under the bright florescent lights in my parents’ kitchen we enjoyed Chinese takeout.  Miraculously my parents were still awake and even joined us for a little while. It certainly seemed like old times.  I spent the night at my parents’ house, the very home I grew up in.  Falling asleep in the childhood bedroom I used to share with my younger sister, memories flickered back to life, revealing themselves hiding in the cracks on the ceiling plaster and between the splintered floorboards under my bed.  I saw my past from a new perspective and with a clarity I didn’t possess as girl hiding under the covers frightened not of monsters, but of being found out.  I wondered how I managed to appease my internal desires living in a house with 9 people and very little privacy.   

The following morning I had coffee with a charming and handsome writer I had met the night before.  Coincidentally, he lives two blocks from my parents’ house, how convenient.  Where was he when I was growing up?  As I sat comfortably on his couch and pet and played with his adorable dog, we reminisced about growing up in familiar settings during a similar time, but with slightly different outcomes.  Our conversation rekindled memories of childhood and the secret lives we both led, learning to cope and searching for happiness behind closed doors. It was comforting to hear stories, not unlike my own, and I felt a sense of normalcy I seldom experience.  By the window I noticed a turntable and asked him about memorable albums from his past.  We both laughed, recalling the purchase of Prince’s album Controversy, and feeling bewildered by his overt sexuality, androgynous appearance, and the provocative poster hidden in the sleeve, depicting “the artist” standing in the shower wearing nothing but a thong, oh my. 

Later that day, before driving home, I went for a walk around my old neighborhood.  As children, we gathered and played for hours in and around each other’s homes, even visiting the shops in the village with little or no supervision.  On my walk, I passed by the elementary school I attended from kindergarten through the sixth grade.  I thought about my years as a student in that old building with the medieval looking slate roof and Humpty Dumpty watching over the blacktop where we played foursquare.  My secret I thought, was safely hidden from childhood friends, but I’m not so sure anymore.

I know I acted out in different ways, confused about the body I inhabited and the strange attractions I had towards both girls and boys.  Girls were fabulous to be around.  I remember sitting with a group of them in 2nd grade, admiring their freedom and beauty, feeling like I shared their spirit.  But what could I do about it?  By the 3rd grade I was wearing girls' underwear under my boy clothes to school as well as under my little league uniform, go Angels! This behavior continued for years, and I constantly created new ways to feel closer to my gender identity.  But being around boys was confusing, especially as I grew older and my body started to change.  As I became even more puzzled about who I was and what I could do about it, any remnants of childhood vanished in the haze and horror of puberty.
Standing in front of my elementary school, under the very cherry tree I helped plant 40 years ago, I looked at the windows of my 1st grade classroom.  They were filled with brightly colored red and pink hearts.  I smiled and closed my eyes. Through the thick brick walls I could smell the scent of glue and crayons mixing with my teacher’s perfume, I could hear the cheap metal scissors cutting through construction paper, I could feel the gritty texture of toys in the sandbox, I could taste the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and for a brief moment, I felt the wonder and innocence of my youth, before it vanished, like the snow melting under my feet after a February storm. 

Prince - Controversy by Master_System