Thursday, September 19, 2019

Ethical Wills


            My friend Peter recently sent me a talk he wrote on the subject of “Facing Our Mortality,” and among the many rich and valuable ideas there, I discovered the concept of “ethical wills.” Apparently this is a well-established part of Jewish tradition, but as one living outside that tradition, it was new to me. Peter described it this way:

In our tradition Jews are instructed to leave ethical wills as they would leave wills for the distribution of their property. Ethical wills grew out of the yearning of parents to consider, write and talk to their children directly about the values they wanted to bestow upon their offspring, the identity they would choose for their children and to make it clear what mattered in their, the parents’ lives.

            Kim and I are familiar with the “distribution of property” kind of will. In addition to our formal documents dealing with house, savings, etc., I have a file on my computer titled “Who Gets What” where we make explicit who gets the dining room table that Kim’s dad made, who gets my swept-clean computer, who gets my faded t-shirts, my grandfather’s books, etc.

            But what about values and identity?

            My first response was to toss out some words – you know, “honor,” “integrity,” and the like. Somehow, that seems too easy. I looked up the Boy Scout Law that I memorized and forgot years ago: A Scout is “trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.” Good stuff, but reciting a list of words does not go deep enough. (And I wonder what “clean” is doing on that list. And “thrifty” might not belong in the top twelve.) Looking over the Boy Scout list, I think I can narrow it down to two values: being kind and being reverent. Enough has been written lately about kindness, and I have little to add.

            Reverence, to me, is more interesting, though not necessarily in a religious context. I think it’s important to feel reverence for something – the natural world, your spouse and family, humankind, artistic creation, whatever. Something. Something for which you feel awe and respect because it is more than you, beyond your ego and your little ego-world. But I will save this for exploration in a future blog post.

            The hard part, for me, is not to come up with a list of the values I want to pass along to my children – or to anyone else who is interested. It’s the “talk to their children directly” that makes me pause. Nobody wants to hear that kind of lecture, especially when it can easily be taken as a criticism of what they are doing wrong. I’m not sure that direct talk is the most effective medium for values and identity transfer, especially that now, for many young people, texting counts as “talking.” I’d like to think that living by those values would be enough to do the job of transfer, but that’s a lazy way out, isn’t it? No, it will have to include talking directly, though the word “write” in Peter’s talk might give me a way out.

            At this point, I’m not sure what to do. How do you create an effective ethical will? Suggestions? How do you do it?

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Fruit Flies


            Kim and I often enjoy a glass of wine with dinner. Lately we are not the only ones enjoying that glass of wine.


            Don’t get me wrong – Kim and I enjoy the natural world, even insects, as Kim’s photographs illustrate. Fruit flies may be an exception. I’ve occasionally wondered whether St. Francis would swat a mosquito, and now, how he would deal with fruit flies who attack his wine.

            I have some experience with fruit flies. During my sophomore year in college I took a course in Evolution, and I recall doing some sort of experiment involving fruit flies. I’m not sure it was the same species as is harassing my wine, but it’s close enough. I’m not sure what we did to them in the lab back in 1962, but I probably put some sort of bad karma into the insect world, and it’s circling back at me now, possibly as delayed revenge.

            What to do? I tried clapping my hands over the wine glass, hoping to smash a few as they lifted off, but they are quick and elusive, and the few that I squashed would drop into the wine. We picked up some of the plastic lids you get for to-go drinks, but that compromises the elegance of the wine experience, which, as I learned from Kim, involves the quality of the glass as well as the wine. At the suggestion of a friend we set out a plate that combines vinegar and dish soap, and that got a few of them. Then we purchased a pair of table-top fruit fly traps that look like small plastic apples. Pour in the liquid that comes with the kit and you have something that captures and kills a few more – though it does not add to the elegance of the dinner table. Nor did the dish of soap and vinegar sprinkled with fruit fly corpses. I suggested lighting the candles on the table, hoping they would be drawn to the light, but they were too smart for that.

            Why so many fruit flies? For one thing, they are small enough to squeeze in through the screens in our windows, something it took us a while to understand. Also, our neighbor, Karen, did some research that suggested that cherry growers in Turkey were undercutting our prices here in northern Michigan, so growers were just leaving cherries to rot on the trees, leading to the population explosion. It might be time for another tariff . . .. Nancy, another neighbor, said it happens at this time every year, and her husband said that fruit flies like his Southern Comfort as much as our wine. Fruit flies appear to be alcoholics.

            After a week or so, the plague of fruit flies has abated somewhat. It may be those red plastic apples, or it may have to do with the cobwebs that I have been removing with less enthusiasm. It may be a result of their flying while drunk. 

            I believe that my fruit fly experience qualifies as a First World Problem, a step or two behind hurricanes, starvation, war, global warming, and mortality itself. Fair enough. But part of my spiritual growth includes a commitment to “being present,” and this week, that means being present with fruit flies.


Thursday, September 5, 2019

Icarus and Mortality


            Lately I’ve been thinking about the fall of Icarus. The myth is usually taken as a lesson about the danger of flying too high, as the sun will melt the wax holding your wings together, and down you go. Moderation is best.

            But there are other ways to see the story. First, Pieter Brueghel’s The Fall of Icarus:


(You can see the legs of Icarus just below the stern of the ship.)

            Auden’s take on the painting:

Musee des Beaux Arts 

About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on. 

Our suffering, even our death, takes place, for the most part, unnoticed: “how everything turns away.”

            And from William Carlos Williams:

Landscape with the Fall of Icarus

According to Brueghel
when Icarus fell
it was spring

a farmer was ploughing
his field
the whole pageantry

of the year was
awake tingling
near

the edge of the sea
concerned
with itself

sweating in the sun
that melted
the wings' wax

unsignificantly
off the coast
there was

a splash quite unnoticed
this was
Icarus drowning

The landscape is “concerned / with itself.” Not us.

            But then there is this, from Jack Gilbert:

Failing and Flying 

Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
It's the same when love comes to an end,
or the marriage fails and people say
they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
said it would never work. That she was
old enough to know better. But anything
worth doing is worth doing badly.
Like being there by that summer ocean
on the other side of the island while
love was fading out of her, the stars
burning so extravagantly those nights that
anyone could tell you they would never last.
Every morning she was asleep in my bed
like a visitation, the gentleness in her
like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
Each afternoon I watched her coming back
through the hot stony field after swimming,
the sea light behind her and the huge sky
on the other side of that. Listened to her
while we ate lunch. How can they say
the marriage failed? Like the people who
came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.
I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
but just coming to the end of his triumph.

            I sent this poem to a recently divorced friend. He said it didn’t help. But it’s not about marriage and divorce – like the other two poems, it’s about how we see our endings. Everything will “turn away,” and the world, natural and human, is “concerned / with itself.”

            None of this, however, diminishes the triumph. The challenge is to identify and appreciate our triumphs.

            I showed a draft of this post to Kim. “Shit happens,” she said. “Get over it.”


Comment from Charmaine Stangl:

Wow! I thought I was tired, but I wanted to check e-mails before getting ready for bed.  This removed all traces of weariness from my brain, if not my body. "Musee des Beaux Arts" has always been a favorite, and the other Icarus themed poems were a treat, especially "Failing and Flying."  Most of all I liked your idea of the challenge being to appreciate our triumphs.  That started a little waterfall of ideas.  First i thought of Edna St. Vincent Millay"s words, "My candle burneth at both ends -- it will not last the night.  But oh, my friends and ah, my foes, it gives a lovely light."  Then I thought of Sara Teasdale's words: "...for one white, singing hour of peace count many a moment of strife well lost."  Then I thought of the agonizing pain of the end of a relationship that you don't want to end.  As bad as it feels you wouldn't for a moment choose not to have had the glorious moments.  Last (so far), regarding the way we just move on, i thought of the Seinfield episode where George's fiancee dies from licking the cheap wedding invitation envelopes George bought.  Jerry, George, Kramer and Elaine say a few polite words as they walk out of the hospital, then one of them looks at his/her watch and says, "Let's go get something to eat!"  Everyone responds with enthusiasm.  Please excuse my unwillingness to look up spelling/punctuation.  I had only enough energy to get the thoughts down.  Thanks for the wake-up!


Thursday, August 29, 2019

Garage Sale


            Kim and I have always enjoyed having garage sales. The analogy I use is that it’s like taking a crap and someone else hauls it away – and they pay you for it! But there is more to it than that. Garage sales are a way that we connect with people, both neighbors and strangers. 

            As a guy, I don’t make those connections easily. Most of my friendships, except those dating back 55+ years at college, come on the coat tails of Kim’s girlfriends. (This means you, Manny, Bill, Rick.) I’m not very good at initiating friendships on my own. These garage sale connections are a lot less than friendships, resembling more what I learned to do as a Starbucks barista, initiating a conversation based on the customer’s clothing (“Is that a University of Wisconsin hat?”), or accent (“Boston?”) or book they might be carrying (“Shades of Gray? Really?”), [Note consecutive punctuation marks.] I’d form a brief 30-second relationship while making change, and then on to the next person. Perfect.

            My garage sale relationships last a bit longer. In fact, most of the time I’m standing out in the driveway talking with the husband while Kim is in the garage explaining some of our weird merchandise to the wife. I figure that the longer I can engage the guy in conversation, the better chance Kim has to sell something – though half the time she is just discussing health or grandkids with the wife. I’ve learned that people are a lot more interested in themselves than they are in me or anyone else, so that is where I take the conversation: “Where are you from?” “What did you do before you retired?” “Have you always been this fat?” (Just kidding with the last one . . ..) Some of our “customers” stay for over an hour. One guy insisted on showing me photos of his dog, and several times Kim has invited couples into our home. A few couples have come back to visit, though they pretend to be looking over our stuff again.

            We enjoy making money at our garage sales, but Kim also enjoys trades. She traded one neighbor some kitchen stuff for banana bread and rhubarb sauce, and a stranger returned with an oriole’s nest that she somehow learned that Kim fancied, and Kim gave her a bedspread in exchange. But making money is important. It allows us to pay for trees and flowers without feeling bad. We do not put prices on anything, as Kim prefers to engage in conversation with customers (“How much do you want to pay?”). If anyone asks me a price, I say, “Let me ask my wife,” and they immediately understand.

            I did accidentally come up with one marketing strategy that I have not yet tried. We had a garage sale in Saline where we were selling some tools of Scott’s. I wrote the word “tools” on our sign, and I noticed a lot more cars stopped. Why? Not to stereotype, but usually when couples drive around, the guy is behind the wheel. Guys behind the wheel tend to see Garage Sale signs better when the word Tools occurs on the sign. So, I’m going to try using the magic word, even with no tools, explaining to the guy, while his wife shops with Kim, that I just sold them all 10 minutes ago. We’ll see how that works.

            Another advantage of garage sales involves multitasking. We have yet to advertise our sales, preferring simply to put our signs when we are doing yard work. We rarely have a lot of traffic – one car every 20 minutes counts as “busy” – so we get a lot of planting, weeding and watering done. I’m not very good at multitasking, but I take pride in my ability to squirt a hose at a tree while glancing at the garage.

            Many of the people who stop at our garage sale ask about the bark siding on our house, and usually we invite them to take a closer look. Some of these folks are or used to be builders, and others are looking for cottage ideas. Occasionally these people neglect to check out the garage sale, but that’s OK. We are proud of our Bark House.

            Our next official garage sale will be the last weekend in September. We hope there will be no snow on the ground. I’ve started working on the ad for the local weekly paper and various internet locations I will have to find. Most of the summer people (sometimes called “fudgies” because they are drawn to the numerous Up North fudge shops), and their money, will be gone, but that’s OK. We are looking forward to the 3-day garage sale event. We may serve cookies and call it a party.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Sunrise


            Almost every morning Kim goes down to the shore to photograph the sunrise over Torch Lake. Often, I join her. Mid-summer this meant getting up at 5:30. Now in late August sunrise is approaching 7:00, so it’s not so demanding, but from time to time we let our coffee cool on the table as we make our way down the stairs.

            Why? The reason is obvious once you see her photographs below. But it’s also a way to celebrate the new day – and we are both here to enjoy it. (We also celebrate with our morning hug, when Kim is not too sore, but these do not provide photo-ops.) Sunrise also reminds us of the beauty of the world that we are privileged to witness. And yes, sunrises have been going on for years, probably before we were born, but only recently have we paused in such deep appreciation. It may be because of where we live. And it may be because of this precious time in our lives.

            Here:









Sometimes we are not alone at sunrise:











Storm clouds bring their own beauty.







And sometimes the mood is serene.









Sometimes it's more about pattern and design than color.







The color sometimes makes us feel we are living in a work of art.















Thursday, August 15, 2019

Heart Attack


            A few days ago, we learned that Kim had a heart attack. Kim was pretty sure that’s what was happening when she was wading for Petoskey stones – a clenching tightness in her chest that was different from the array of pains that are part of her daily life. She has been dealing with fibromyalgia and arthritis for many years, and cancer and then surgery related back pain for the last several. But this was different, and she knew it. We sat on our Adirondack chairs as she described the pain and we discussed whether to call 911. I fetched her two aspirin from the house, but the pain was starting to release before she took them, and about 40 minutes after it began, the pain was gone. We sat there for about half an hour, waiting to see if there would be a return and vowing to call 911 if it happened. It didn’t. We made our way carefully up the stairs to the house. I held her hand firmly.

            Later that afternoon we spoke with a doctor who was conveniently visiting our neighbors, Rick and Sandy. We described the symptoms to him, and he suggested that we see our physician “better sooner than later,” by which he meant “better sooner than too late.” We had appointments on Friday (this was Monday) for our annual physical with our family doctor, an excellent diagnostician, and we decided to wait. This may have been a mistake, but we got away with it.

            Friday’s doctor’s appointment confirmed what he called “irregularities” on her EKG, what he described as a “T-wave inversion.” Though this was a term that I had not encountered as an English major, I knew that it was not a good thing.

            Now, what?

            We went from the doctor’s office to the cancer center for Kim’s monthly infusion and then spent much of the drive home processing the news. Kim says that during her attack she thought, “Better to die quickly of a heart attack than suffer a lingering painful death from cancer,” whose return she is awaiting, instantly adding, “but not yet.” (This echoes St. Augustine’s famous prayer, ““Lord, make me chaste – but not yet!”)We have been thinking in terms of our Ten-Year Plan, with five active years in our new house and then, maybe, five more somewhat compromised years. The prospect of sudden death changes all that.

            One of the first changes we made, after committing to a healthier diet and daily walks, was to add to her “Five Wishes” end-of-life instructions, “NO CPR!” Chest compressions would mean a likely breaking of the cage apparatus enclosing her spinal cord, leading, most likely, to paralysis. Nope – rejected option in your mid-70s, though a possibility when younger.

            The doctor said that he usually recommends a stress test following a heart attack like Kim’s, but he cautioned that a stress test sometimes itself leads to heart failure, and with Kim’s no CPR instruction, this might not be a good idea. They made an appointment for the stress test in a week, allowing that much time to think and talk it over. The other option, he said, is to “let nature take its course.” This is what she decided to do.

            Now, what?

            Kim told Ben, our grandson, “I’ll do whatever the hell I want, for as long as I can,” but we are making some changes. Thursday, before the official diagnosis, we decided to trade our new mattress for an upgrade to a bed that allows the head, knees and/or feet to be raised, with a wave and vibration functions. It’s an expensive version of the hospital bed we rented for Kim when she was rehabbing at home for a month following her surgery. Just in case. We are eating more oatmeal, less bacon and red meat, more veggies, less sugar – a tough one if you’ve tasted Kim’s scones, cookies and pies. Karen, our neighbor, has brought us cucumbers and lettuce – before she knew of the heart attack. We are talking about cutting our nightly drink. I wonder if talking about it is good for heart health.

            Saturday found Kim planting flowers, almost as if nothing had happened. She did, however, ask me to dig a somewhat deep and difficult hole, and she took over watering our extensive new plantings because, she says, she finds it “relaxing” and “zen-like.” She pointed out to me that newly planted perennials don’t look great until the third year, which I think is a good thing. Our newly planted trees will start to fill out in 5-10 years. We are just about finished with the installation phase of our landscaping – and our lives – and we are moving into the maintenance phase.

            Kim is pissed off at me for writing this, as calling attention to herself in this way is not her style, not who she is. But I need to write it for me, as a caretaker. Yesterday we worked with Rick and Sandy to build a small rock wall. Kim, with her stubborn German heritage, was right there with us, but she was only lifting the smaller rocks.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Trans


            Transitions are a normal part of life: puberty, retirement, job changes, marriage(s), divorce, illness, a new haircut, etc. If you are lucky, and maybe it’s not a matter of luck at all, the transition can lead you to a sense of wholeness. This might happen when you marry the right person, or perhaps when you find the right job or career. Both of these happened for me. As a teacher and as Kim’s husband I found, or created, my wholeness, and now I am working on adding to that wholeness my roles as a writer and home owner – more transitions. One’s identity is a suite of roles – but that’s the subject of another blog post.

            But sometimes these transitions operate at an even deeper level. Mike was a fraternity brother of mine in college, and now she is Michelle. She made the transition just a few years ago when she was in her 70s. Last weekend Michelle came to visit us at our home on Torch Lake. Kim and I learned a lot, and as frequently happens, the questions grew along with the answers:

Did Michelle find or create her new identity?  She reports that she didn’t actually “find” it, for she always knew that her assigned-at-birth male gender did not fit. (Think about wearing shoes that are the wrong size, to make a trivial analogy.) In a sense she did “create” her new identity, for she made a conscious choice and then acted on her choice, but she did not create herself the way a painter starts with a blank canvas. Michelle uses an archeological analogy, where she brings to the surfacea self that had long been buried. In a talk she gave at our Amherst reunion, where we reconnected, and again at our home, Michelle was clearly bringing her female self to the surface. She chose her clothes carefully, and her style is distinctly feminine. We did not see her without make-up, and her wigs are flattering and, dare I say, appealing. While many of our conversations were rather academic, dealing with hormones, psychology (she is a psychotherapist), diet and surgery, she also enjoyed “girl talk” with Kim. I was excluded from these, though I did catch some discussion of manicures and pedicures. I learned that some of the girl talk had to do with Spanx panties, and I wondered if the ghost living in Michelle responded to women’s panties the way I do when Kim lets me fold the laundry.

Does Michelle wish to “pass” as a woman, or does she wish to be identified as a “trans” (transgendered person)?  It was hard for me to tell. At one point she compared herself to a missionary bringing the Word about trans as real people to the unconverted, who she expected to find here in northern Michigan. (In her talk, available at MichelleAllisonLMFT.com,on the ‘About Michelle’ page) she very helpfully explained what terms are currently offensive, which are OK. Who knew?) This would suggest that she wants to be identified as “trans,” but I’m not sure. Her voice is the same as it used to be, but Kim points out that her own voice is lower than Michelle’s, who is doing vocal exercises to feminize her voice. She has great legs, for a woman, and shows them off. Her back and shoulders appear rather masculine, perhaps the result of her building a large stone wall even after her testosterone was chemically blocked, but this judgment might be a result of my own stereotypes about women.

Does she want to have a romantic relationship?  Yes, and she is pursuing relationships through online dating sites. With a man or a woman?  The examples Michelle discussed, briefly, were with women, though most likely lesbian women. I did not inquire about how those physical relationships might work, but as a person in his mid-70’s, I don’t think that’s as important as I did in my youthful 60s. In any case, it’s none of my business.

Are doctors being trained to deal with the trans population?  The traditional set of specialties does not appear to offer a comfortable fit. But the trans population in the U.S. is surprisingly (to me) large, with the latest estimate 1.4 million adults, and so larger hospitals are certainly equipped to provide care. I’m not sure how insurance companies deal with all this.

How did Michelle’s transition impact her friendships?  Not very much. She is still in touch with her old friends, and she repeatedly said how her ex-wife is her best friend, despite the understandable turmoil that led to their divorce. When I dropped Michelle off at the airport in Traverse City, I told her that I was very happy, despite all the changes, that the same Mike who was my friend at Amherst, the same intelligence, wit and perception, is still very much alive. And why not? I use this continuing friendship as an excuse for slip-ups in my use of pronouns, where I reverted to he/him instead of the she/her sitting with me.

How did I feel about having Michelle, a trans, as a guest?  Kim and I discussed her visit a little beforehand, often making pronoun errors, but these errors largely disappeared as soon as we greeted Michelle. The only discomfort I felt was when we went to restaurants and to one Land Conservancy event, but this discomfort was entirely in my anticipating weird or offensive responses from waiters, waitresses, or Conservancy personnel. I was very pleased that either everyone saw Michelle as female or they saw her as a valued person/customer, with us, and her identity as transgendered was ignored. Five years ago a trans person would have been a real curiosity, but that’s not the case anymore, even among people who may never have met one. Good for us.

Michelle, when she left us, described her experience with us as “transformative,” something she knows something about. What did she mean?

Michelle’s response:

Hi Dave,

Well, here are my comments. Probably far longer than you can use, but as you know I’m a person who has a lot to say. And brevity is not my long suit. I don’t know how to tell you to use these. I’d like to say some are not that important, but since this blog is kind of a portrait of me, I feel a certain compulsion to ’get it right.’ You can edit or publish anything in these comments you choose (or dare as in the case of the sexual stuff). By the way, I have no problem telling you that I retain a penis which is pretty functional—another reason I will not be likely to pass. I think most of what I’ve written addresses the questions you raised. And I assume you can figure out which of my text goes with your questions. I hope I haven’t made too much annoying extra work for you. And thanks for giving me the option to respond and comment—it was a lot fun writing about this stuff, and I may have come up with some formulations I’ll like enough to use in some future setting.

Love, Michelle

I have pondered long and hard about your understandable use of my dead name. I appreciate that ‘Michelle’ is new to you, both as a name and a person. You have a history with my former self and have only recently been exposed to me as I am now. Here is an opportunity to understand some things about twists and turns of gender dysphoria. For reasons that are purely non rational, seeing my dead name in print multiple times is very unsettling; knowing it will be read by a large number of your subscribers (almost all of whom will never know me) still multiples this discomfort. I’d really like to give you license to write and express in your most authentic voice--but in this instance I really just can’t pull off the degree of distress tolerance that would be needed.

On friendships, most who have known me more recently comment that I express a brighter mood and seem way more comfortable in my own skin. That is certainly how I see myself; for those friends I am a new and improved version of the person I used to be.  Version 2.0

Being a guest in the ‘up north’ part of MI seemed uneventful to me. I’m touched that you had some anxieties about how I would be received. Although there are places in our Great Land where I might not be warmly welcomed, I perhaps naively assume the Stringers would not nest in non-affirming territory. I mentioned that I have waited to be at least mildly called out in public, even in the very Blue state of Connecticut. After three plus years out (and with my very overt attention seeking, femme presentation) it’s still smooth sailin’. I make it a policy to stand tall and proud, and I think that helps make it work for me.

Remember there is one’s gender identity: deeply felt in the recesses of the mid brain and uncovered (or found) by one’s own personal archeological enterprise. There is then a social expression of that gender identity. This is where one’s creativity comes into play. Viewing myself as an artist, I do see my body as a canvas to be decorated: personal ornamentation is also a common way of describing it. 

‘Girl talk’ and related activities (clothes, jewelry, hair styles, shopping as a woman) are among the most rewarding of feminine experiences. These are moments when I feel my female identity most strongly and am so proud to be in the company of my sisters. Their acceptance and inclusion of me into their circle of intimates is the best! 

Regarding responses to intimate female garments, here is where your cis male nature contrasts with my trans awareness. If I understand you correctly, your access to women’s intimate garments is a brief window into a private and special domain. When I wear my clothes (which are women’s clothes in every manner), I typically have a feeling of overall wellbeing and pleasure in these actions. The contrast for me is between my closeted life, where cross dressing was a very guilty pleasure and a bra was ‘hot stuff', and my current life whereby this is the only manner of dressing I know anything about.  And what I know about it is that it is completely without guilt or shame--and that is a most deliciously exhilarating feeling. Gender euphoria  displaces gender dysphoria.

‘Passing’ can be a rather vexing issue.  While I want to present as looking very youthful (for my chronological age), attractive and feminine, I’m also very proud to be trans. I entertain the conceit that it makes me ‘a very special person.’ Add in my less than feminine voice and other ‘tells’ I’ll likely be read as trans anyway, so why not let it work for me. My ideal would be to be convincingly a female and able to pass, but then choose not to pass. Youth and a pile of feminizing surgeries will work wonders. However, youth is behind me and I have little interest in spending my remaining years in a state of post-operative recovery. In the interest of accuracy, my most recent and highly effective elimination of testosterone was achieved surgically (orchiectomy).

Medicine for trans people. In general there are few experiences less appealing for a trans person than a medical visit ( a public bathroom can be fraught also). The word gets around who are the trans friendly practitioners (and that includes therapists as well). Everyone I see is at least very good, and most are terrific. And it’s getting better. Insurance companies are the bane of everyone’s healthcare, even more so for the trans population. They determine what is ‘medically necessary’ to address one’s gender dysphoria. And those decisions are made exclusively by cis people, the vast majority being white men. I suspect that they are among a large segment of our population who at a deeper level suspect that gender dysphoria is not all that ‘real.’ Top surgery for trans males and gender affirming bottom surgery for both genders are well covered, but a whole array of other procedures are not.

Romance! I’d like to see what an intimate romantic relation in my proper gender would be like. An interesting artifact of attempting intimate relationships as my former self was that I really wanted to be the woman I was with--you can see how this might impede genuine intimacy. My pool of available candidates is relatively small due to my age (older folks are more straight and non queer). Most women who identify as lesbian, will categorically preclude any involvement with a trans woman (they require a ‘real’ or woman born woman). I retain my orientation toward women despite my gender shift. If I get lucky, it will be a woman who is bi, or more properly pan sexual; meaning they are attracted to a variety of gendered identities. As far as the details of sexual activity, it’s not that complicated. Those who wish to be penetrators can use their penis (if they have one) fingers or dildos; those who wish to be penetrated can offer their vagina or anus; and all the other options such as oral sex and touching are of course available.

Finally, using ‘trans’ enables me to bring in other words containing that root. Very often my very presence in certain spaces is ‘transgressive’ (hopefully in a kind way); also, I seek to be ‘transparent’ with my various agendas available for easy inspection. And I try to have experiences that are ‘transformative’ in that I am changed, usually in some way related to emotional experience or a deepening sense of identity. My visit with you and Kim was transformative in that I left having been ‘opened up to some new delights…’  as per the Rumi poem I use in my presentations. I hope you both felt some of that also.