Tag Archives: ponderings

The Pointlessness of Blogging

I started this blog, lovingly named Trans/Plant/Portation to refer to my gender identity, my then-imminent relocation to the other side of the continent, and the travelogue that I’d be writing about as we drove across country (and through part of Canada). I was volunteering to give up my day job, figuring that after fifteen pretty successful years in the workplace I’d land something new and interesting shortly after unpacking my last box in our new house. Instead I blew out my left ACL three weeks prior to our trip, watched the global credit economy implode, and didn’t find work for another two years.

Everett contemplates a volcano

Somehow, the blog that was supposed to be my fun-filled journal for friends turned into my stop gap, my virtual solace-finder—one of my only outlets for my extroverted personality. Susanne was worried for me, I could tell, but she had her own anxiety regarding acclimating to her new college environment. She had to start her faculty career and sort out the myriad characters at work. All of a sudden everyone we knew was Susanne’s coworker—fine, insofar as coworkers go, but not a group to whom one can express their concerns about their Very Recent Moving Experience.

Also, the new house reeked of cat urine, the walls bulged, and the upstairs tub occasionally leaked into the kitchen, via the spotted ceiling. Read More…

Living with Chronic Fraud Complex

I’ll be honest; I’m quite an average person. Oh I know there’s the whole transsexual thing, and the being from New Jersey thing, but regardless, I’m not especially bright nor talented, I have not accomplished a single push-up since 2004, and I waste a ton of time on the Internet. (I did quit that bad Farmville habit, but that’s another story.) I am middle-class, middle aged, pretty much white, male, college educated, opinionated, obstinate, fat, and okay with a sense of comic timing. I manage to remain partnered, I’ve got two terrific children, a mid-range house, a paid-off car, and dreams of a hot tub installation in my future. There is nothing exceptional in any of that, save the partner and children who are measurably and demonstrably superior in many ways. I on the other hand, am pretty good at cobbling dinner, wiping away poop, and figuring out how to soothe my children. But on any given night I may burn the potatoes and overcook the chicken, get shit on my hands and the wall, and wind up bouncing a screaming baby for twenty minutes in an attempt to suss out the problem. In other words, having some success does not in any way preclude future failure. I try on a frequent, regular basis not to attach my ego to my successes or my failures and to keep outcomes away from my sense of self, should I fall victim to an overinflated vision of myself or reach a state of disquiet desperation at my gross ineptitude.

If one only knew me from my public persona—which I have half-assed crafted at the behest of my publisher and a myriad of publishing industry experts, in an attempt to fashion the proverbial “national platform” necessary for author stardom someday—one would think my life is an exercise in perfection. There are the adorable cherubic children, the very cute home, the published books and essays, the leadership title in my online input field for occupation. All of that is absolutely true, and I am proud of my family and friends and where I find myself at this point in my life. It is, however, a curated list of high points. Not posted (in part because I disdain the whiny FB post on principle) are all of the mistakes I replay in my mind throughout the day, whether they be a driver unhappy with me or an argument I had twenty years ago. Also not presented in most public forums are the mantras from my inner critic, my sadness that I’m not on an upwardly mobile career track, my frustration with my creaky knees, and my nagging sense that I deserve all of the rejection slips I get after applying for a grant or to a literary journal. I often realize, with stunning newness, that nearly every other writer I know is more talented than me and writing something more interesting than I am.

There is no point in entertaining these destructive notions more than I do already, so I corral them off of the Internet for the most part. This means a couple of things, namely:

  • I feel like a fraud to some degree, every day
  • I have lots of coping skills for life while feeling like some degree of a fraud

Read More…

Empathy as a Radical Act

I didn’t post much to this blog in 2014, though I’m not much surprised given that it opened with a new baby, in addiction to our rambunctious toddler. I’ve mulled over a lot during the interim of the last ten months, including:

  • Our national inability to ameliorate gun violence through legislation, education, infrastructure, and community
  • Why we’re not having a nationwide conversation about police procedure and the role of police in the twenty-first century
  • How small civil rights strides for trans people could exacerbate an emerging hierarchy of care and support for trans people
  • How to support our queer and trans youth better

None of these issues have gone away, so I will spend quality time thinking and writing about them in 2015. I think my days of burger reviews and snarks against reality television (which is in a death spiral anyway) are over, at least for now. This year I’ve got to tie up my next memoir project and get moving again on two fiction projects. Blogging may continue to be on the sparse side, but I’ll make more than 44 posts this year, I’m sure. In the meantime:

It strikes me that in the context of deaths of Mike Brown and Eric Garner at the hands of their respective local police forces, in the state-level pushes against welfare recipients, within the curtailing of reproductive rights that further restrict abortion, and that cut off insurance coverage for contraception, and in the effort to talk about the state of the US economy, we have already dug into our respective positions and are quite unwilling to listen to the perspectives of others. If there is a silent majority center in the US, it is extremely good at staying silent. In the meantime, we hear a lot of noise of folks at the ends of the political spectrum, and while we may believe in our own talking points in earnest, the other side thinks we are paying attention to the wrong message, that our evidence is full of errors, and that we’re too stupid to see the situation realistically.

I’m not asking everyone to go watch FoxNews and msnbc or crossover their favorite media sources to the presumed opposition. Rather, I’m wondering if we can find a way to disengage from the polarization of these hot button political issues, especially as the tug of war approach results in very little movement toward a new or caring society.

For example, in thinking about the very recent suicide of Leela Alcorn who posted her suicide note on her Tumblr account (which has since been taken down by her parents), it is easy to fall into a visceral hate for her family who according to Leelah dismissed her gender identity and were hostilely unsupportive of her to the point of forcing her into a trans conversion therapy program. Let me be clear: I agree with the American Psychological Association’s longtime stance (they passed a resolution against it in 1997) against the practice and stand by the mountain of evidence that shows such attempts at behavior and identity modification are ill-advised, harmful, and wholly ineffective at achieving their stated goals. Clearly, Leelah’s parents weren’t on board with her requests for transition support, socially or medically. But demonizing the parents belies a whole series of issues and ideas that bear some reflection, including:

  • How can an individual (a parent in this case) live with the cognitive dissonance between loving their child “unconditionally” as was stated by Leelah’s mother, and refusing with all of their ability, to fulfill that child’s repeated requests for support?
  • Why has Christianity become so popular as a rationale for explaining the world when it has such a long history of harming the people it is mandated to serve?
  • Why has the idea of “religious freedom” moved toward shutting down dissent and a diversity of opinions and people  in a country supposed founded on the twin freedoms religion and speech?
  • How can we work to liberalize Christian teachings to move communities of faith away from such bereft practices of isolation, shaming, and conversion and toward acceptance of young people, no matter their sexual orientation and gender identity?
  • Why do so many trans-identified people consider suicide early in their transition and what can we do at a personal, community, and infrastructure level to support them and minimize suicide?

Shouting at people, writing in all caps online, trolling religious right web sites—these may be laudable tactics for some, but I don’t see them changing minds. If we’re invested in progressive or radical change, it behooves us to think about what outcomes we want to see, and remember that for the majority of people, they are doing what they think is their best. We may not agree with them, but that’s how they go to sleep at the end of every day. If we are to truly communicate with people who are different from us, we will need to see the world at least a little from their perspective.

After Transition, Try Not to Become Insufferable

In a country that has as its national mantra, “I’m special,” it can be difficult to see the overlaps and similarities we have with other people. We mark our sense of style as unique to each of us, even as we shop at the same globally positioned clothiers, or second hand shops that sell the mass-manufactured fashions of thirty years ago. We rail against the evil of larger systems from our seats in the college auditorium. We complain about nasty customers as we daydream about spitting into their food that we’re trying to prepare for them. We lament the oligarchs even though there are so many of us who loathe them that we could theoretically do something about their power if only we banded together about it. Instead of maybe standing in our fierce independentness. But I digress. My point is that we may have distinct DNA and unparalleled lived experience, but we have great similarity to our families (chosen or not), our friends, and even to strangers.

Being a parent for thirty-two months is not much of a history, I know, but it’s enough to realize that many other people have had experiences near the ones I live through these days. Even though I am singularly located in my own place and time and history. There are so many parents out there that I see every day, bargaining with their children, looking joyful or exhausted or proud or revolted (“BOOGER, Daddy!”), sharing a scoop of ice cream or just trying to fucking get their kid into the car because they needed to leave five minutes ago. They are everywhere, parents. There’s no denying it, no hearings on Capitol Hill about whether they exist or not, even as we walk away from broad access to contraception and family planning and free breakfasts for poor kids and welfare to help support families through hard times. Nobody says we can convert parents into being non-parents. The head of Jelly Belly isn’t shelling out five million samoleans to prevent parents from existing in California. We parents know we are something of an entity, even if we don’t go around calling ourselves a “community” per se. Read More…

2013, Don’t Let the Door Hit You on the Way Out

DSC_0089I only wrote 75 blog posts in 2013 (well, 76 considering this one is on the last day), partly because parenthood and partly because I was working on so many other things. My second child is due to arrive on March 1, my second book sometime before that (wish I had a date, ahem), and life at work is full of advocacy, budgeting, negotiations, and paperwork. I’m pretending I’m not stuck in the middle of a new novel project, because I can’t really call it new anymore if I’ve been working on it since 2012. I joined a board of directors for a former prisoner transition program that was desperate for funding before it was awarded nearly a million dollars in a settlement with AT&T for price gouging. I continue to field calls from people looking for resources or lawyers or therapists or a shoulder to lean on, and I wish I was a better connector for them. I would love to find some new music, or find music in a new way because Spotify’s recommendations can only take a person so far.

I’m doing my best to fit into Walla Walla and its tiny machinations of power and prestige, but I still dream about relocating all of us to a more metropolitan area where I won’t want to squeeze every person of color I see on the street and where we can meet other people like us who aren’t also urgently trying to find a way to leave. I keep having the sense that I’m in the middle of something, which is better than feeling like I’m at the end, I suppose. Maybe this is what middle age is—the experience of the mud in the middle. When I was 23 and dirt poor and on the edge of eviction, I dreamed that twenty years from now I’ll have it all handled, I’ll own a house and have a well paying job, and instead my future hasn’t met those class aspirations. I do value stuff a bit differently these days, which is either by design or by cause of condition. I get so much time with Emile and I have no regrets about that. Read More…

After 42 Years, I Still Don’t Have the Answer to the Universe

The older I get, the less I realize I know. Let’s face it, it would be challenging to find me more self sure than when I was 9 years old, during which age I’d insist it was not only possible to have all of the knowledge in the world in one human brain, but also that I would accomplish the feat. Such precociousness! Turns out that knowledge gathering is onerous, filled with all this foundational base stuff before anything really fascinating comes up. Want to master painting? Here’s a lesson on perspective. Love to know French? First you have to learn elementary vocabulary and grammar rules. Nobody jumps to particle physics without first hearing about that Sir Newton dude and the apple on his head.

So perhaps patience has been an issue of mine, in that like, I have little of it. At least my expectations for most everything else have drifted toward the realistic. I can’t know everything. I can in fact only know the tiniest shavings of a thing, and my ability to understand those droplets is fallible, mutable, susceptible to the flaws of memory and time and that foundational perspective. Yet in this knowing about knowing I can at least scrape together a little honesty. It is something of a conduit to my own humility, and in great contrast to my previous certainly about my intellectual prowess. So thank you, meta-knowing. Read More…

Chatting for dummies

Everett on camAs an avid watcher of the Daily Show, I watched this week when Jon Stewart “investigated” Chatroulette. For those of you blissfully unaware of this impertinent corner of the online universe, Chatroulette is a Web site in which you get on your Web cam and are randomly matched with someone else on their Web cam. It’s an anonymity-loving paradise, except that, as Jon showed, it’s mostly filled with horny middle-aged men. And reporters looking to find out what the story is.

I wanted to know if that was the beginning, middle, and end of the whole thing, so I fired up my built-in Web cam and I moseyed on up to the Wild Wild Web. Okay, I don’t have to fire it up, it’s just automatic because it’s a Mac, but whatever. I sallied up and got ready for some roulettin’ good time. I will say I was annoyed by my camera, because to be able to see my screen is to have it aimed at a really unflattering angle for my face. But I need to see my screen, so double chin it was.

My first random assignment was . . . a black screen. And yet Chatroulette was telling me to feel free to start talking. Talking? To what? This was weird, too weird. Was it talk therapy? A technical glitch? A–and suddenly, my “partner” disconnected from me and hopped to the next shuffled cammer.

Cammer? Okay, I was a fish in a frying pan with a pool of spilled milk next to me. I was a mess of metaphor. No sooner had I been bumped by the first person than I was wham-blam bumped two more times in extremely rapid succession by other people I barely even saw! Gee, maybe my ego isn’t ready for this, I wondered. It was rapid-fire rejection! After 18 months of job rejection, and 7 months of query letters to agents rejection, could I take this? Was I up for this?

Of course I was! It’s Chatroulette! I steadied myself as the computer hunted for another random assignment. What’s taking so long, I wanted to know. And then, out of the darkness, came. . .

A bald man, with furrowed brow, staring very closely at his screen. I could have sited good places for hair plugs on his scalp. I disconnected. I! I took the power, my power, into my own hands and clicked next! Banished, middle aged staring man! Next up, a bald man? And another. And another.

You know, there was a mid-semester fall break that I took my sophomore year of college, and to save on gas I gave a couple of people a ride back with me. One of them lived in central Pennsylvania, so it wasn’t very far out of the way between Syracuse and New Jersey, but it was unfamiliar enough that I didn’t really know my way around there. I dropped her off and had one more friend in the car, who lived in Clinton, NJ. We tried to find our way back to the highway, but we’d gotten lost and just as I was certain we’d been riding in circles, we spotted a restaurant of the Pennsylvania/New Jersey variety. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s a low building with 70s-era brownish brick, big industrial windows and a bakery counter at the register. The only thing not making it a proper diner was the lack of polished chrome and the absence of tableside jukeboxes. It was that kind of restaurant. And even though it was late, it was open, with ten million cars in the parking lot. We walked in to the front, relieved that we could be back on our way soon, until we saw who was in there.

Every single person other than the hostess was a middle aged bald man. 250 bald men.

It’s not a bald thing, really. I’m losing my hair; I know I’ll be among them someday. If they were all blue I would have been just as rattled. Or wearing the same clothes, whatever.

I whispered to the hostess that I needed to find the highway. She wrote down directions for me. I leaned in and asked if this was a convention group.

“How’d ya guess,” she asked me, blandly, chomping on her gum and looking at me like I was the stupidest person she’d ever seen. Not only was I driving around with no idea that the highway was three roads away, but I couldn’t even put it together that the bald convention was meeting here. Sheesh.

We left quickly, agreeing that we should never speak of the experience again. And apparently I have left Georgette in the dust on that one. Sorry, Georgette.

Anyway, maybe the bald men of America have moved into the 21st Century and are now meeting on Chatroulette.

I clicked again, and there it was, a man and his little man. And I mean little. I moved on quickly, hoping to rid my retinas of the sight in short [sic] order.

Three teenage girls sipping at drinks obviously procured at 7-11, giggling. Perhaps they’d just seen what I’d just seen. I made a mental note that any future teenage girls in my household will not have access to Chatroulette. Maybe the Web will be gone by then.

A very fat woman in a light blue bra and matching panties. The moment my face came into view on her screen she began jumping up and down. I clicked next.

Someone had put a Jesus bobblehead figurine on his desk and left the camera there. I heard myself laugh on his computer.

Along the line somewhere, I had drifted into performance art. I tried to look behind me to see the bend I’d gone around.

Another wanker. He and I clicked next at the same time. I wondered who he was looking for. Those giggling girls, I guessed. That thought made me frown, and my next “partner” saw it and typed, “why the sad face,” before they clicked next. It was a rhetorical question, apparently.

Two teenage guys lying on someone’s bed, looking bored. I suspect they were gamers, because they next’ed me faster than anyone else.

A whole room of young women. I waved and clicked next. I was too intimidated!

Another blank screen. Again, what am I supposed to do here, I asked myself. “Hello? Are you there?” No response. Okay, that was just creepy.

Two teen boys again, one in profile. I could hear that they were getting yelled at by a female authority figure, probably because they were on Chatroulette.

I exited the screen, having had enough of all that.

On Twitter I had posted that I’d checked out Chatroulette and sure enough, five minutes later I had three Chatroulette-affiliated friends following my Twitter account. One of these led to some funny screen captures of the way two random chatters can juxtapose in funny ways: two people dressed as Jesus (so maybe Jesus is a thing on the site?), one person dressed as a cop while a wanker looks rather afraid, a person playing air guitar and someone looking like some approximation of Jimi Hendrix.

As a cultural text, it could be interesting. As a way to chat with people, well, I didn’t actually “chat” with anyone. I learned no names, knew any of their stories, and really, I didn’t care to know. But wow, there are a lot of lonely guys out there. I’d say it warranted some evaluation by the government, but I don’t care that much.


Speaking of lies

I try to listen when the universe at large brings up points for me to consider. A few weeks ago, the message I heard was “be comforting.” I was actually told no fewer than three times, by three entirely different people—a student with twitchy senioritis, a transgender woman on the edge, and a professional who is having difficulty with a superior—that my words to them were comforting. These conversations happened in the midst of the anguishing last stages of a woman’s life here in town, a woman about whom I’ve written before and for whom many people have a particular fondness. And as I’ve seen her caretakers looking increasingly exhausted, the concept of what is comforting, when, and for whom have swirled around in my head. We often forget, it seems, to support the caretakers, and they, the front guard, need a lot of comfort themselves.

On another level, we attempt to provide comfort for the terminally ill, in the form of hand-holding and increasingly desperate dosages of opioids. It’s the medical equivalent of building a sea castle. We wring our hands when we fear our efforts aren’t enough, and of course they’re not enough. And so we hope that our well wishes, our prayers, our food offerings—for surely they can’t concentrate on cooking, for God’s sake—will do enough for now. Sometimes hope and a bite of warm supper is all we have.

The message this week, if I’ve got it correctly, is not to lie. Surely this is something my parents and a plethora of clergy attempted to teach me when I was a child. The script back then was simply that lying is wrong, a concept predicated on a young person’s monolithic understanding of morality: you do right just because. You avoid doing wrong just because.

What I see about lies now, on the cusp of my fourth decade, is the devastation in their wake, like the wrecked ideals of a partner who has put such effort into someone he then realizes doesn’t have his best interest at heart. Or the sudden calamity that avalanches down on a person who gets laid off after disingenuous promises from her boss that she can trust him. It’s not the lies themselves, necessarily, that are wrong, because who really wants to hear that they look awful in their favorite pair of trousers, it’s the shock wave from the lies and the intent in the heart of the liar that we want to avoid.

In an online writing chat today there was much discussion about lying in fiction. Yes, I know, it’s fiction. I think “lie” stood in, on several occasions, for “believability.” It does raise an interesting question to me. We’re so quick as readers to spot flaws in what makes a story believable or not—we come into a book with cynical expectations and have our guards up for the first sign of trouble. But these are just books. Raise the stakes and talk about people and relationships, ask us to make an investment in what they mean to us, and we become myopic, willing to believe even preposterous tales just to keep our vision of reality stable. And then we lose, bit by bit, our own sense of well-being and comfort, because while we may not want to admit to it, our confidence erodes under the constant swell of those lies.

I am not immune to any of this, and when I was ten, fifteen years younger, I went to lies as a coping strategy, oh sure, I did. I am a storyteller, after all, but I’d lost sight of where make-believe was okay and where it wasn’t. I’ve spent time in the prison camp of cowardice, aligning myself with dominant personalities and then wondering how I could squirm out from under them. Mostly I just figured out how to exist in the cramped space they allowed me, but one of those survival skills was lying. It didn’t even matter after a time what the lie was about, as long as I had something all to myself, a tiny corner of truth about which they didn’t know. These were infinitesimally small victories; stacked all together I could have fit them on the head of a pin, but they were mine, mine, mine, and somehow they were enough, mostly because my dreams were absurdly small.

And then, though they were so tiny, they were numerous, and like the Big Bang that arose out of a submicroscopic particle, they exploded all over me and I had to admit to them and myself what I had been doing. I was a juggler of little lies who had slipped. But it helped me to see what a waste of time all of that nonsense really was. I hadn’t been ready to let go of them, but they left all on their own, and lo and behold, I found new ways to meet people. In fact, I met better people, ones who would never corner me until I found my 5-year-old self’s coping strategy. It was like moving to a house with a dishwasher, me promising never to go back. Who wants to go back to scalding their hands, after all?

I’m inclined toward direct, unwavering truth-telling these days, even as it has sometimes meant making difficult decisions, like oh, turning my life upside-down and living as the opposite gender (and not just so I could write a book about the experience). But it is a life unafraid, at least.

And uh, I take comfort in that.

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