Saturday, November 29, 2014

On my Way

My mom turned 80 just a few weeks ago, I milestone indeed, that is unless you know her mom made to 100!  My mom looks great and is full of life.  I should be so lucky.  Along with a few family members, we celebrated by singing Happy Birthday Mimi! as the clock struck midnight on November 11th.  But that wasn’t enough. My family is having another party this weekend.

There should be enough activities, games, and food choices for a group of 50 or so well-wishers.   I’m helping to buy the Chinese take-out and bringing a few desserts, no-bake chocolate oatmeal cookies and apples squares.  One thing is a for sure, there will be a “slide” show, full of wonderful photos of my mom from her childhood to present day, but also her seven children, my dad, her sisters, sisters and brothers in law, friends, nieces and nephews, her mom and dad and their family and friends, and of course her 17 grandchildren.

So on her birthday, after enjoying breakfast together, my mom and my two sisters and my dad went to a casino. It’s a thing they’ve been doing for years.  While I was invited that morning to join them, I decided not to go. It’s not really my thing.  Instead, I spent a few hours combing through stacks of photo albums, looking for photos of my mom and other possible images to be included in the slide show. During my investigation I came across many possible photos for the show, I also stumble over a few images of me. You know, me before transition.

I have an uneasy relationship with images of me from my past. At first I hated seeing them, they were an uncomfortable reminder of a previous time that didn’t reflect who I was. But over the past few years I’ve come to understand a little more about why my reflection and images of me were and are so troubling.   I’ve learned that my identity was often invisible, and the reflection and images I saw of myself, didn’t mirror what I expected to see, a girl. Instead, I saw someone else. Boy has that created a few problems. But don’t worry; I have a really good therapist. 

So I forwarded about 60 images to my brother who is putting together the show.  In the process I took photos of a few images I thought were significant enough to put aside as keepsakes. There’s one of me, probably 12 years old, in cut off jeans holding my extremely long black and white cat, Roosevelt. I remember crying so hard when I learned he had died. There’s another at my 10th birthday. I’m wearing a deep blue mohair sweater decorated with Aztec-like patterns. I’m standing in front of my cake, holding up all my fingers with my typical broad grin, unconcerned about my bowl haircut. 

Anyway, Thanksgiving was just the other day and I had the good fortune to have been invited to dinner at my ex’s house. We’re still close; in fact she lives just a mile down the road, which is really convenient, except when kitchen utensils suddenly go missing.  The guest list included me and my ex, her boyfriend, his ex and her girlfriend, and their teenage children. It took me hours to find the perfect outfit, you should see the wreckage in my room and the pile of discarded clothes, but I managed to pull it together and was only 20 minutes late, not bad for a LeBlanc (my mom’s maiden name). All and all we had a really nice evening, stuffing ourselves, being ignored by the teenagers, having a few drinks by a bonfire, listening to records (that’s right), and eventually cleaning up to progressive rock music, like Yes and Jethro Tull, don’t ask.  As we were leaving, my ex realized we failed to take any photos of the evening.  That’s okay I thought, I had a good time without any pictures and I have the lyrics from Aqualung stuck in my head, “…flowers bloom like madness in the spring.”

If I’m lucky enough, in a little more than 30 years, I’ll turn 80. And with a big smile, I’ll hold up my 10 fingers and flash them 8 times.  Some days, life seems really short.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

I'm not a Mainer

While I’m not a Mainer, I had the good fortune to spend sunny slices of my childhood here, on the beaches of York and Kennebunk, climbing the rocks of Acadia, finding snakes on Deer Isle, and driving across the Airline to catch a ferry from New Brunswick to visit my grandparents, Camille and Marie, in Nova Scotia.

In the summer of 2002, after a brief tenure teaching in Maryland, my then partner and I, both quit our jobs, sold our house, and moved back to Maine (we had briefly lived in Winslow a few years before and found Maine to be a special place). And If I can help it, I’m not planning moving away anytime soon. You see, four years ago I embraced my identity as a transgender woman.  I did so partially because of Maine and the people who call Maine home. As you probably know, Maine was one of the one first states in the country to pass a non-discrimination law protecting gender identity and expression. And while that is significant, I had found a network of trans friends and allies who were, and still are, great supporters. Unfortunately in the process I lost my job, among other things, and wasn’t able to find a new position as a teacher, which broke my heart.  I’m employed now, but it took awhile to get back on my feet.

My new job as program coordinator at EqualityMaine has reintroduced me to Maine. And in the short time since starting last winter, I’ve traveled nearly 30,000 miles across the state, from Eliot to Machias, and many points in between; schools, coffee shops, police stations, and even the Statehouse. I was nervous, almost hesitant taking the position, knowing I’d be traveling to parts of the state that have little exposure to trans folk like me.

But you know what, it’s been okay, I was going to write “great”, but there’s always room for improvement (that’s the teacher in me). I haven’t heard many negative comments about who I am, well about my gender that is; there are plenty of other comments.  And yes, I get stares and second glances, but I guess Mainers are too polite or private to say anything to my face. The worst is when moms and dads herd their kids away from me in public, at Target, or in women’s restroom. I’m not a monster, and that hurts. I do think I’ve used a lot of energy worrying about the negative and I pay extra attention to my surroundings, just to be safe, and I’m sure it takes it’s tool. It must.

So tomorrow, November 20th is Transgender Day of Remembrance. It’s the international day to recognize individuals from around the world who were killed because of anti-transgender violence. And I feel honored to have helped a little and organize two events in Maine, one in Portland and the other in Bangor. And while I'd like to think I'm safe, I'm not. We will read the names of nearly 200 people who are no
longer alive, simply because of whom they were, and that’s just the reported and known cases. Sadly, there are many, many more. 

Last week the GLSEN (Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network) National Climate Survey was released, including a snapshot of Maine.  This is the most current data about how LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) youth are faring in school. Unfortunately it wasn’t good news.  81% of LGBTQ youth reported being verbally harassed in school, and nearly 40% reported being physically harassed and abused because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity/expression. 

I hope you agree it’s critical we stand together and support the trans community as well as LGBTQ youth, not just on Transgender Day of Remembrance, but at PTA and school board meetings, at the Statehouse, and when we talk with our neighbors over coffee or shoveling our driveways. If you like, let them know you know me, a transgender woman who loves to laugh and swim in the ocean, because we are better people than the state we’re in.  

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Middle of Nowwhere

A year ago today,  I ran the New York Marathon. I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m bragging, as I was just one of 48,000 participants who traversed the 26.2 miles from Staten Island, to Brooklyn and Queens, then Manhattan and the Bronx.  More than 2 million
spectators lined the route, cheering all of us to the finish line in Central Park. In the end, after four hours, I finished, and felt horrible. It took me more than two hours longer than both the female and male winners.  I did finish a little ahead of Pamela Anderson, but didn’t see her on the course. She was on the Ellen show later in the week talking about her experience. She looked good with short hair.  We’re the same age, if you were wondering.  

Four years ago I ran the Las Vegas Marathon. It was my first one. The race was in December, and the weather was nearly perfect.  I had been to Vegas the previous summer on a cross-country road trip and stopped to see a college friend.  Yes, it was hot, very hot, 110 degrees in the shade. She was a rock-climbing make up artist from New Hampshire.  Having seen my recent collection of drawings and paintings featuring Barbie dolls, she thought one of her clients would love them.  I was a little overwhelmed when she mentioned it was Pamela Anderson.  Nothing came of it, but I thought it was really cool that she mentioned me to her.

I haven’t run as much this year. I got a new job and I’ve been sick.  After a heart procedure sidelined my training this summer, reoccurring upper respiratory infections this fall, along with allergies have stirred my asthma, making it almost impossible to sleep; no less run.  But, I’m stubborn and stupid. So last Sunday, 358 days since I ran the New York Marathon, and with idyllic weather for late October, my short walk turned into a jog.  About a mile from my house I had to stop. I was coughing, wheezing, and couldn’t get a full breathe of air in my swollen lungs.  Those of you, who have asthma, COPD, or some other breathing issue, know what I’m taking about. It was like breathing underwater, and despite an ongoing fantasy, I’m not a mermaid.

I took a few puffs from my rescue inhaler, turned around and began to walk home. That didn’t go very well either. After a quarter mile or so, I had to stop again. I sat on wooden rail next to a park, waiting for my breathing to return to “normal”.   After about twenty minutes, I started feeling a little better and walked some more. An hour after leaving my house, I made it home, a small victory.  It’s funny, I’ve run nearly 5,000 miles over the past five years, sometimes they’re easy and sometimes they almost kill you.

This morning, after being on Prednisone all week, and my lungs improving, I was tempted to lace up my Sauconys, but opted instead for my hiking boots. The wind was howling, and the rain was mixing with snow.  It is November after all.  After a half mile down my road I turned east onto a new trail that runs alongside the Batson River and eventually meets up with a brackish section of
Tyler Brook. You see, my castle, (which is actually a ranch built in 1968), is nestled next to hundreds of acres of conservation land and sits just a few miles from the ocean. I know; I’m spoiled.  The wet leafy walk passed through a forest of birch, oak, beech, and pine, crossing streams and stones covered with lichen and large granite boulders left behind from the Laurentide Ice Sheet 35,000 years ago.   
After about an hour and a half, I thought I had become trapped in some maze or endless loop in the woods.  I had lost all sense of direction, and everything began to look the same, like the backgrounds in cartoons.   I couldn’t be lost; I was less than mile from my house.  About ten years ago, I took an orienteering class in the woods of Western Maine. The course was an overview of how to use a compass in the woods. As we introduced ourselves, we let the group know why we were taking the course.  One person mentioned they didn’t want to die alone in the woods.  I thought of that as I passed a pleasant looking plush green and yellow bed of moss and newly fallen leaves. 

I had lost sight of the blue blazes that had guided my morning walk, so I turned back and retraced my steps.  I must have drifted off the trail somewhere.  You know, the road less traveled and all…that’s me. I eventually saw the unnatural flash of color affixed to the trunk of a birch, and returned to the loop trail I had wandered off from. With my fingers and cheeks wet and cold, I found the trail-head and walked home, content.  I hadn’t seen or heard another human the whole time.  Maybe I'll watch this year's race on TV, and possibly an episode of Baywatch.