Tales of Very Hairy Men, Episode 3: Trans Like Me

20 09 2010

A brief note of business first: I’ve created an email account purely for communications regarding my blogself, and I would love to hear from you. It’s firstjamiethenjames (at) gmail (dot) com, and I’ve also listed it on the About page.

I have a tendency to do things on my own. It isn’t a matter of pride; far from it. This tendency is an overpowering demon, ugly and almost comically stupid. It doesn’t give chase; it doesn’t wave its arms or roar. It is just a lumpy, warty, unbelievably heavy monster. In times of stress, it lumbers out of my head and sits on my legs so I can’t move. Unable to reach for help, I do all my work in almost-solitude, staring into the blank, drooly face of my own inane inertia monster.

With varying degrees of success over the years, I’ve tried to overpower it. There have been occasions when I’ve lifted it up far enough to roll out from underneath. Somehow, though, even after twenty-two years of education and socialization, I still haven’t found a way to sidestep it in the first place.

Thus, it is almost always on my own that I write papers, lift weights, put together furniture.

It was also on my own that I came into my own transness. Since then, I’ve heard tell of an utterly foreign phenomenon: it seems that some people actually talk to other people when they’re teetering on the edge of a gender identity revelation. Not so for me. Thousands of people were being trans and talking about it on the internet, in discussion groups, even in my own school’s GLBTQ resource center. And I was wedged beneath my monster, watching Queer as Folk on Surf the Channel, thinking, I can’t put my finger on it, but there’s something weird about how I can’t stop watching this show.

Fittingly, this was taken on my first time out at a queer bar.

The face I would've made then...

Everything worked out okay, though. I marinated in Queer as Folk until I figured everything out and then I made a beeline for Express Men. I learned to tie a half Windsor from the perforated card included in the Macy’s tie packaging. I carried that card around for a few weeks in case my tie came undone and I couldn’t remember how to fix it.

A year later, I had loosened up enough to wear t-shirts some of the time. I was living in a new city, had made new friends.

One evening, I was out studying when a friend called to ask if she could stop by. She was out with a visiting friend of hers, and she wanted us to meet. I knew a little about the guy from anecdotes: his name, his alma mater, that he was trans.

They came by to say hello. He was shorter than me, slight, wore thick black plastic glasses frames. His beard was full and dark. It was clear that our mutual friend very seriously wanted us to get along.

So the three of us strolled once around the campus center. I am not usually particularly bad at carrying on everyday conversation, but this meeting came at the point in my life right after I had decided to start T. My brain was on a constant loop from facial hair to low voices and back to facial hair.

And, of course, my new acquaintance had a very serious pair of sideburns. These sideburns probably yield more hair than the combined efforts of all the men’s faces in my entire family, great-grandparents included. I was stuck marveling at his hair follicles and wanting to know how to groom mustaches and wondering if his chin ever got tangled. Unable to come up with a non-weird way to explain all that to someone I’d only just met, I had to make do with whatever generic observations I could make about our immediate surroundings.

...if you'd told me I'd grow up to be this guy.

“That room back there is really orange,” I offered.

“Yeah, like orange all over.”

“No kidding. Oh hey, there’s a coffee place over there.”

“Coffee? I like coffee.”

“Me, too. I like coffee.”

“Holy crap! That girl has a lot of books!”

Once we’d cycled through the orange room, coffee, and books one more time, we’d arrived back at my studying spot, so they took their leave. I hoped my friend would explain to him that I am in reality a titillating, imaginative, witty person and this evening was just a momentary fluke.

It only took a few moments after they’d left before I realized a strange warm feeling in the bottom of my stomach. Something inexplicable was buoying my spirits up.

Slowly, I realized how good it felt just to see that someone else out there was out in the world being trans like me. In spite of my own lackluster conversational efforts, I’d had a fantastic time during the fifteen minutes we’d spent walking around campus. There was something undeniable about coming into contact with a physical talking laughing thinking being who’d survived the pronoun battlefield, too.

It isn’t that this guy was the first trans person I’d ever met or even that we shared an especially deep conversation (as you may have noticed). He was the catalyst, however, that finally made this lesson stick.

I have no idea what this person’s transition was like for him. I don’t know if we have anything in common at all, except for this one word—which isn’t even a word, really, so much as a prefix—“trans.” But sharing that one word means sharing something very real. Something ineffable; something that can’t be reduced to hormones or to doctor’s appointments or to therapy sessions.

Meeting other trans people makes being trans feel less like a malady. This gender isn’t something unfortunate that befell me, like a broken arm or a car accident. Being trans isn’t something I have to accomplish in solitary silence, like math homework or plucking my eyebrows. This identity is difficult, touchy, and frankly heartbreaking sometimes. It’s easy to start thinking that my transness is just mine, just a fluke that gave me hips and made me self-conscious in customer service situations. But meeting other people who are trans like me reminds me that it’s also fucking beautiful.  It does not have to be just another battle I fight on my own.

So conclude my Tales of Very Hairy Men. The moral of my stories? People with lots of facial hair stick in my memory. If anyone ever wants me to learn a meaningful lesson about life, they should employ a person with a beard to teach it to me. And for those who are wondering, I do in fact still pluck my eyebrows. It makes my face more expressive.


Le Musée des Égouts

8 06 2010

I once ran into Loren Cameron in the Paris Sewers Museum. Underground, staring through a grate at my feet at actual, literal sewage, I picked a voice out of the crowd behind me, and I thought, That person sounds just like Loren Cameron. I turned around just in time to see him round the corner, just in time to recognize him.

Stricken, I took a step back. Resolved, I then took a step forward. Frightened, I glanced to see whether my two friends were still reading the plaque about Victor Hugo and the sewer system. Resolved anew, I set off at a jog, which felt particularly daring given the nearness of this raised walkway to rivers of Parisian sewage.

“Excuse me,” I sang timorously. I remembered to drop the sleeve of my sweatshirt, which I’d been clasping to my nose and mouth to filter out the smell of museum. He turned and raised his eyebrows expectantly. “Are you Loren Cameron?” I cringed at how starstruck it sounded. I think I met you a few weeks ago, I could have said. Cool shoes, I could have begun. What did you think of the Victor Hugo bit back there? A thousand better openers flashed through my mind. Boy howdy, smells like poo in here, doesn’t it?

He politely helped me out, affirming that he was in fact Loren Cameron. I explained, very quickly, that I’d met him at a talk in the States a few weeks ago, to which he responded with fitting surprise:  “Wow! And now we’re meeting in Paris. Standing in the sewer.”

I thanked him for his visit to my campus, my eyes as wide as they could go. I told him that his stories and photographs had been really Meaningful To Me. My eyebrows were trembling with the exertion of trying to communicate. I’m saving up to buy a suit, a real men’s suit, they were trying to say. My name’s Jamie, they yelled. This is the last summer I’m going to wear this push-up bra and this camisole.

My friends rounded the corner then. Introductions, an invitation to come see him speak in Paris the next day, and we were leaving, my flats unbearably slippery on the metal grating.

I have no idea whether he got it or not. I’m inclined to think not, since there’s only so much an eyebrow can communicate to a complete stranger. It doesn’t really matter. During those latter college years, I spent a lot of time with my eyes wide open, hoping for some sort of advice from people who seemed to know how to be out or queer better than I did.

The most liberating moment of identity-formation for me came a couple years later. I’m even still feeling the aftershocks, like from an orgasm that boomerangs back through you a few times before it’s done. I was queer the whole time I thought I still had to learn how to be queer. I was a gay man the whole time I spent watching that YouTube clip of John Barrowman yelling, “LET’S HAVE A GAY-OFF!” After which I spent an hour in my empty apartment alternately laughing riotously  and  then trying to lisp it the same way he did. If you had asked me then, well, first I would have been very embarrassed, but then I would’ve said I was an aspiring gay trans man. I suppose there are far worse things to do, now that I think about it, than to aspire to being yourself.