Sunday, March 29, 2020

For Rebecca

Friday afternoon, March 27, 2020.  I'm at MIL's house where I was watching my daughter (MIL called a truce so I could do this, but still insisted on dead naming me the whole time, but that's another story.) MIL went to bring Wife home from the hospital.  The surgery went well.  I decided to check facialbook for the first time since early that morning.

That's when I learned that my dear friend and mentor Rebecca Lohr died the night before.  She'd been fighting leukemia for a while.  One of her last facialbook posts also mentioned pneumonia.

Rebecca with a piece of the original Death Star (from her page)

Sometimes, you don't know exactly when you met someone, but with Rebecca, I know exactly when: December 21, 2008.  That was the night of my first Renaissance meeting.  As I pulled into the parking lot, scared out of my mind, I saw a woman walking toward a door.  I opened the car window and called out to her "Excuse me- I'm looking for Renaissance?" She turned and said "You're in the right place.  Welcome!"  I learned that she was the President, or Group leader, or whatever the title was at the time.  I walked in, carrying my girl clothes- no makeup- and my journey began.

After I'd changed and put on my wig, I went to the meeting area, where Rebecca saw me and smiled her Cheshire cat smile.  I remember saying "I must be crazy" to which she replied “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.  You must be or you wouldn’t have come here.”  I laughed.  She knew her Carroll.

Over time, I found Rebecca to be a very complex person.  In so many ways she was a joyful mix of contradictions, yet they all made sense.  That was just Rebecca.  She seemed to be a bit of a loner, yet sought company.  In her, I saw the Awful loneliness of genius.  There were few who really understood the entirety of who she was.  It took me years, yet eventually, I got it.  She was a goth girl, yet wasn't.  Wiccan, yes, but solitary.  Fan girl, but not obsessed.  Mostly.

I'm glad I had those years.

If there was a TG event around Philly, Rebecca was there.  Renaissance, Angela's Laptop Lounge, Monday Night T-Girls, Raven Parties, Keystone Conference... she was there to lend support.  Or maybe she just wanted company.  Hard to know with her.

Henri David Ball, Halloween 2009

In many ways, her fandoms defined her.  She was a sci-fi fan extraordinaire.  You want to talk Dr. Who?  She knew all about it.  Obscure novel?  Read it.  Trek?  Absolutely.  Steampunk?  Here's the pictures.  Ren fair?  Let's go!

Her biggest, most enduring love was Star Wars.  I'm a HUGE Star Wars fan, and I like to think my knowledge is encyclopedic, but next to her, I was an amateur.  Her Star Wars knowledge and collection was unparalleled.  She had binders full of autographed photos of everyone involved- major or minor- in front of or behind the camera.  She'd met Carrie Fisher so many times that they were on a first name basis.  She regaled me with tales of drinking with Jeremy Bulloch (the original Boba Fett.)  Of, ahem, enjoying other substances with other actors.

With Carrie Fisher, from Rebecca's FB page

That was another thing that defined her in a way: she loved her drugs.  She was extremely fond of weed, and often was dreamy eyed because of it, then suddenly have that mischievous look to eye that she knew something you didn't.  She told me of tripping and all kinds of adventures, yet respected that I never did those things, as I have enough issues with just drinking, thank you.  I never judged her, and she never judged me.  I think that's one of other defining traits.  As the Poet once wrote "She knows too much to argue or to judge."  She never judged people.  She just let it all roll.

We shared a sense of humor

She also had her music.  She loved making music.  She was in many bands, but Radium Angels stands out.  Yet again, her music couldn't be defined or pinned down- she fluidly moved between styles.  They released their music as well.

She wrote and published books.  She's been shot at... She... wow, what didn't she do?

She didn't sign it though.

How I'll remember her most though, is that she was a regular at the book store where I used to work.  She would come in two or three times a week, just to hang out.  We'd talk, especially when I was stuck in the music section, which was usually slow.  Prior to my transition, my speaking to her 9as well as a couple other transgender women) raised eyebrows.  I smiled and said "they're friends."  After my transition, Rebecca became a mama bear at the store- no one was going to mess with me while she was around.  On a few occasions, she took someone to task about misgendering or otherwise "othering" me, including, once, a manager.  Often, Rebecca would wear her Tardis dress and carry her R2D2 handbag, just to watch people's reactions.  And we even had a little code for when I was being "watched" by management, or if I was really to busy to talk.  It was her idea.

Since leaving the store, I didn't see her as much.  We'd chat through Facialbook.  She couldn't attend my "farewell gathering" as she was sick, but she sent encouragement.  The last messages were so full of hope.

The last messages

On my way back to State College, I looked up through the Twilight and looking down at me, a Cheshire Moon smiled.  I pulled over as the tears began, yet I felt at peace, because I could just see Rebecca smiling at me from above.  She was happy- No more Pain.  As I watched, the moon was slightly obscured by a dreamy wisp of cirrus cloud, and I thought... how appropriate.

Sleep well Rebecca.  The Force will be with you.


Sunday, March 22, 2020


I've written this blog since December 2008.  Over the years, I've done my best to keep my family matters quiet.  I've written about Wife and daughter occasionally, but I never name them to maintain privacy, as well as security.

Wife is a very private person.  Strange, isn't it?  That she would marry someone who spills their guts in writing for so long.  Before I was thrown out, it was like we were total opposites when we went out- I was full of noise, alcohol, and bluster, all covering my inner pain and insecurities.  But really, we are far more alike than different, especially at home.

At the park- a creepy tree

As I've written many times, I write this blog to get things out of my system.  Maybe it's good that so few read any more.  I wasn't going to write about this, but in this time of isolation, in this time of deep depression... I need to talk about this.

Yesterday morning, I drove east to see Wife and daughter.  I have so much work to do, yet I knew that if I didn't go then, it may be a month or more until I see them again.  I needed to see them- to hug my daughter- to pretend for a moment that everything would be ok.

We went to Wendy's in Oaks, drive through of course, then over to the nearby Lower Perkiomen Valley Park.  Wendy's was out of regular coke, so I got cherry coke, and Wife got a lemon coke.  We ate, talking about Daughter's school work and mine.  The sun shone hot through Wife's car windows, making me sweat a little.

Wife then said she had something to tell me that she wanted to say in person.  My heart sank instantly- nothing good ever followed those worlds.

Wife told me she was diagnosed with breast cancer.  It was caught very early- there is a 99% chance of a total cure.  She'll find out Monday if she'll have a lumpectomy or total mastectomy.  She'll tell me when the surgery will happen, but doesn't want me to be there.  She doesn't want pity.  She doesn't want a fuss.

That's how she is.

Daughter was told Friday night.  I understand how she feels- I was in college at PSU when I received a call from my mum saying that she'd had surgery for cancer- past tense.  It was already done.  I remember that surreal feeling of "mum has cancer."

This was different.  Wife and I have been together nearly 30 years.  Next month will be 27 married.  (6 1/2 separated.) To hear the person whom I promised before God and a congregation of loved ones to love, honor, and cherish "all the days of you life until death do you part" tell you she has cancer...

I can't describe that feeling.  I can't.

Hell, I'm crying while typing this.  Daughter and I talked a little later, when she accompanied me to the Wawa to get gas for the trip back to State College.  I told her that it felt like a brick in my stomach.  She told me she was "terrified."  I told her I was too.  I told her that I knew in my head that Her mother would pull through this with flying colors, that the chance of total cure was 99%, and that her mother is tough... but it would take a while for that to get through to my heart.  I told her that we'll get through this together.

After dropping her off, Wife and I spoke privately, and I told her the same thing.  I told her that anything she needed, I was there.  She smiled and said "I know."  But she doesn't want a fuss.  She doesn't want to be patronized.  And as I wrote above, that's her.

We hugged.  I held the hug and told her that I loved her.  She told me she loved me.  I got in the car and drove back to State College.  I was good- I didn't start crying until I reached the turnpike.  But it was a long trip back, as I had to pull over several times as I couldn't see through the tears.

I took this one of the times I pulled over.  Life goes on I guess.

Now I'm here.  The sun is shining, and I'm writing instead of doing my mountain of work.  132 miles awáy live my Daughter and my Wife, who has cancer.  I'm helpless to do anything.

I wrote long ago that I couldn't imagine living without Lisa Empanada in my life, and that was true.  But this is different.  This is Wife, with whom we have a daughter.  We had a family.  Despite our years of separation, I cannot comprehend of a world without her in it somewhere.  I always expected that I'd die first, long before her, and that Daughter would have her to rely upon for decades upon decades to come.  I know Wife will be fine.  I know the percentages, etc.  But I'm still crushed by this.  It just isn't fair.  Nothing in my life is.

Why does everyone I love gets sick or dies as I keep living?  They deserve life more than me, yet here I am.

"Be strong for your daughter."  "Be strong for Wife; she'll need you now."  But she doesn't.  All these miles away, I'm useless, helpless, and she doesn't need nor want me around.

I'd normally say "cue all those people saying 'stop being so negative' and 'pull yourself together.'"  But no one reads my shit anymore.  And I need time to process this.  And I have lots of homework to do.

It's a sunny day outside.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Keystone Conference Cancelled

A version of this was published on TG Forum on Monday, March 16.


The 12th annual Keystone Conference, set for the end of this month, was cancelled due to concerns over the current pandemic.  It was cancelled by the group that runs it: TransCentralPa.

This was the correct action. 

Many of our transgender brothers and sisters are older, or have compromised immune systems.  If you need an example, the infamous “Con Crud” that goes around gatherings like this.  I know I’d survive the Corona virus, but if someone I knew died after contracting it from me, I’d never forgive myself.  Ever.

Yes, it was the right response, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt.  A lot.

My Nametag, had it happened.

Before transition, Keystone was the event that I looked forward to the most- even more than Halloween (and that’s saying something!)  It meant several days of being Sophie among people that UNDERSTOOD.  I made some wonderful friends at Keystone over the years, many of whom I only see at Keystone.  When it ended, the dreaded “Pink Hangover” that each year became deeper and lasted longer.  When writing about the conference either in my blog or here, I often quote my dear friend David Denton, who once wrote:

"It was eerie. When I close my eyes and think about the walk to the Dog & Pony on Sunday morning I swear I can hear dying echoes of the most genuinely delightful laughter. It's like hearing ghosts from the past, Sophie."

And it’s so very true.  Keystone brings JOY- a palpable Joy that charges the air itself.  Most of the attendees go through their day to day lives as guys, but treasure the moments that they can express their inner Truth.  For some, this conference is the ONLY time they can do it.  And now it’s denied them. 

Since I wrote this for the column, I've thought about the years I was "closeted."  I remember that blessed relief when I could FINALLY be Sophie again.  It was all I could think about the rest of the month- that one night out.  Several DAYS in a row?  Heaven.  I told Wife I was going to an "Instructional Design" convention back then.  I hated lying to her- it ate away at what little soul I had left.  (That's why I had to tell her eventually.)  But- I needed those few days.  I needed that release.  Like so many of us, the person who arrived at the conference would not be the same person who left it.  I learned so much each time- and my experiences helped my "confidence" grow.  Eventually, on March 25, 2014, the first day of the 2014 Keystone Conference became my first day living my Truth. 

I think about how the conference changed me.  I think about all that it means to the TG community at large, especially in Pennsylvania.  I think about how much I've changed since coming out. 

The Conference doesn’t mean as much to me as it used to- I mean I still love seeing friends and helping girls taking their “first steps” as I did all those years ago.  However, since I now live my Truth, it’s no longer the “escape” it once was.  For me, it’s no longer an oasis in a painful life of Lies.  But for so many others, it IS.  That’s what makes it so damn important.  That’s why nearly a thousand people were planning to attend this year.  That’s the Emptiness that most of them now feel.  The organizers understand that.  In fact, they had the foresight to put the phone numbers for various Suicide Hotlines on the front page of their website, beneath the cancellation announcement.  Because it means THAT much to some people. 

At the Dog and Pony, March 12, 2020

I know some attendees will still be going to the Sheraton Harrisburg/Hershey (if we're not on lockdown by then) during that time, just to be there.  After all, the hotel staff has been extremely friendly.  I may stop by, just to see who is there.  After all, I’m only 90 minutes away.  Those who are still going Need this time- why else risk health and safety?  As I Needed it.  If I were still pretending to be Him… yes, I’d still be there the whole time as well, assuming I could afford it.  Make no mistake, there IS risk.  I know of two people who passed away at transgender conferences such as this (both from heart failure.)  There IS risk of infection.  This pandemic is no joke. 

I also feel so bad for the conference volunteers of TransCentralPa.  They worked so hard all year on this, just to have it end by circumstances beyond their control.  They put their heart and sweat into this- into making this one of (I think THE) premier TG conferences.  They make it look so effortless.  It isn’t.  I also think about all the money they lost in non-refundable deposits.  That hurts too- after all, they’re a volunteer organization.  Some people decided to donate their registration fees to TransCentralPa rather than have them refunded.  That’s a CLASS move!  It helps defray some of the money lost.

If you also wish to donate to defray the losses, their website is HERE.

So we wait for next year.  We wait for next spring, when Keystone comes again.  We wait for that grand occasion to see dear friends, to show off our gowns and shoes, to be who were really are.  As I wrote in a eulogy for a dear friend last year on my blog:

“At that first Keystone Conference, there I sat with maybe 80 other attendees, listening while Dr. Jeanine Ruhsam, then president of TransCentralPA, spoke to us as peers- as family… She spoke about beginnings- about how every journey has one, and that many in the small dining room (only one of the three available- now the conference packs all three) were just beginning our journeys.  I was one of them.  She also spoke about Community.  How all of us were part of something larger- that everyone here Understood what we all felt… For many of us, me included, it was what we needed to hear.  I'd grown up thinking I was alone: a freak.  I never forgot what she said, or how she made me feel.”

THAT is the power of community, and THAT is the power of the Keystone Conference.  There will be a next year.  A next Keystone.  May we all be there to enjoy it.

Be well.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Sleep well, Blues Man

The night froze around anyone stupid enough to venture out.  The bouncer waited just inside the painted wooden door to check ID and collect the cover charge- usually a few dollars.  The Skeller was packed, sweaty hot, stinking with smoke and stale beer.  People's shoes stuck to the beer muck as they did their best not to step on the occasional broken green glass from the Rolling Rock pony bottles dropped onto the stone floor.  Thread through the crowd to the bar for a pitcher of beer, then off to the left to the back room, where the small wooden stage barely stood in the far corner.  Speakers flanked it, and the crowd stood close enough to hug the band.

On the stage, four guys and one woman made music.  The Blues.  Blazing hot soulful Blues.  The woman was Tonya Brown, a bit overweight, enigmatic, with a voice that burned through the room and the soul.  On stage right stood a wiry man with a porn moustache wearing a "Blues man" Dobbs fedora, and his guitar sliced through the rhythms and told everyone there what it meant to be young and alive, if a little drunk.  Queen Bee and the Blue Hornet Band held court until the wee hours- the best band at Penn State in the late 80s, which is saying something given the great bands around at the time.

Mark jamming at Skull house, April 1988

That guitar player was a self-taught Blues aficionado named Mark Ross.  He'd play slide guitar using one of the ubiquitous Rolling Rock pony bottles.  He traded solos with a series of saxophone players over the years, loved the scene, loved the band, and, above all, he loved the Music.

I don't remember the exact date I met Mark, but I remember where and how.  Queen Bee and the Blue Hornet Band played at my fraternity house one of our Saturday night parties.  They set up in our "club room" on the ground floor, and their speakers rattled the windows.  The room was smaller than the bars they played, but just as packed and hot.  As they set up for the night, I introduced myself to him and we talked as he set up (after he refused my offer of help.)  We talked about music, both current and the blues.  I was still a Blues neophyte at that time, but knew enough to impress him.  And that night, he impressed me.  I made sure he had a steady supply of drinks.

They played our house many times while I lived there, and for a while, played no other fraternity.  Once I turned 21, I quickly became a regular at their shows.  During breaks, I'd talk to Mark when I could- he was always surrounded by fans.  I occasionally hung out with him on the nights the band was off, and usually it was at the Brick House.  We'd get drunk, and talk music.

Mark, 2018.  

The band released albums, gained recognition, and toured constantly.  I graduated, and left Penn State behind.  When I visited, I'd always see if Queen Bee was in town, and would see them if they were.  Despite all the people he knew, all the fame the band gained, Mark always remembered my name.

The band broke up in 1999, so Tonya could go to New York City to pursue a solo career.  She died in 2001.

I saw Mark at State College over the years, and we'd drink together.  In 2014, after I transitioned, I reached out to him on facialbook.  I told him my dead name, and mentioned a bar fight we mutually prevented during Summer of '88.  He warmly accepted me.  We chatted on fb from time to time, but I never saw him play again.  He retired from music before I returned for my PhD.

Debut Album

He died last night of the pancreatic cancer he'd fought so hard for months.

Mark understood that to play the blues, a musician had to have heart, and they had to wear it on their sleeve.  Mark's had heart to spare, and he shared it with room after room; crowd after crowd.  He was generous with his time and smile.  He had love, and shared it with not just his family, but with everyone he met.

Skeller stage, January 2018, before Skeller closed forever

During the shows at my fraternity, or at any venue where the crowd could reach, Mark would allow them to occasionally take off his fedora, and fan his fingers with it during a solo.  It was a way of paying tribute to the man and his talent.  Tonight, being his first in heaven, I wonder which blues great will fan his fingers after he takes the stage, reunited with his soul sister Tonya, to share his heart and love to that celestial audience for all time.  Gonna be one heck of a show!

Sleep well, Blues Man.  Thank you for your friendship, your heart, and thank you for the music.

Queen Bee at Skull, April 1988

Friday, February 28, 2020

Men of the Skull Chapter 60: Raid

Trying to get drunk when under 21 was sometimes difficult back in the day, despite the comparatively lax rules.

I had some people over for a small gathering.  Dave was supposed to bring the beer, as he was the only one of us who was over 21 at that point.  (He's now 54.  I feel old.)

I wrote this chapter in 2005- fifteen years ago.  I saw Dave a few months ago when he and his wife visited State College.  And yes- he brought this up- now 33 years later.

I guess after all these years, and with all the changes and everything, he thought I would feel bad about this.

Nope!  Not one bit!  And when I said that, his wife laughed loudly.


Chapter 61: Raid
            Friday, April 10 1987  Scarfo Indicted in Judge’s Death

“That asshole isn’t coming, is he?” snapped Virginia.
“He doesn’t feel like hauling the beer all the way down from North Halls” I replied.
“Shit” sighed Mandy.
             Virginia, Mandy, and Virginia’s “little sister” Laura waited in my apartment for an hour before I finally called Dave.  The idea was that Dave would supply the beer and I would supply the women for a night of drinking and fun.  Maybe Dave would get lucky, but I doubted it.  
Now we sat and fumed in my living room.
“I thought you said this guy was cool,” Laura said.  Laura left transferred to Temple from PSU last year.  She pledged little sister at Crow, selected Virginia as her big, finished the program, and left.  She was short- about Judy’s height, slightly heavy, big breasts, shortish blonde hair and a pretty face with bright blue eyes.  Her voice rasped liked she smoked three packs a day, but she never smoked in her life.
“Well, he’s apparently fucking lazy too” snorted Virginia.
“He lives in North Halls?” asked Mandy.
“Yeah.  Runkle Hall.”  I replied.
“Did he say we couldn’t go there?”
“No.  Actually he said we could come up if we wanted, but he wasn’t coming here.”
Mandy stood up and straightened her leather mini skirt.  “I say we drink him dry.”

Collegian April 10, 1987

Virginia looked at me and smiled an evil smile.  She stood up.  Then Laura, then me.  And so we merrily walked across College Avenue and up the long hill to the north side of campus, scheming as we went.
After knocking on Dave’s door, Mandy called out “Open up!  A bunch of hot sluts want to fuck!” 
The door opened quickly.
Dave had a case of Bud longnecks.  Dave sat in his chair, Sven in his, Tim on a bed with the case between them, and each had a beer under their belt already.  Four down, twenty to go.  Quick introductions followed.  Dave offered beer to the ladies, and opened them.  Virginia sat next to me on the other bed, Mandy on the desk next to Dave, and Laura next to Tim. 
            Dave had a small makeshift table set up in the middle of us all- some particleboard on top of a milk crate.  Virginia innocently suggested we play “Up the River Down the River,” as it was a game we could play even if not right next to the “table.”  Sven and Tim enthusiastically agreed.  Dave agreed reluctantly.
The rules were simple: The dealer deals 4 cards to each player (including himself), then eight cards in the middle, in two rows of four.  The dealer flips over the first card and announces, "(Card) drinks 1.”  Any player who has a matching card (number) drinks one drink.  If a player has two of the same number (like two 3's) the player drinks double or if player has 3 of the same number then triple.  The dealer flips over 2nd card and announces, "(Card) drinks 2 .”  Any player who has a matching card drinks two drinks (if double, drink 4 drinks, if triple, drink 6 drinks, etc.).  Next card drink 3, then drink 4 to finish off one row.  Now it's time to go back down the river. Dealer flips the end card and says, "(Card) gives 4.”  Any player who matches the dealt card gives 4 drinks to anyone, then give 3, give 2 drinks, and give 1.  Drinks could be split if desired (you drink 2, you drink 1.)  We always played “aces make the rules” so if you had an ace and it came up on the table, you could make a rule.  Rules would carry over if the cards were dealt again.
The game started quickly, with Virginia drinking four on a pair of aces among others.  Rules: standard (No d-d-d, no names, no pointing), and no cursing.  Dave hated “no cursing.”
As the drinks started to be given, the elbows pointed between our little cabal of raiders (when the rules say no pointing, everyone uses elbows).  We gave Dave a token drink or two, but for the most part kept hitting each other.  New rule: “Bull moose”- you can only drink with your left hand.  If caught drinking right, you finish the drink in a single chug. 
First game finished, twelve beers left.  Deal again?  “Sure!” chirped Tim, thinking he might get some action from Laura.  After all, Carolyn was out with her friends that night.
Second game- Sven dealt, and started with “Drink 4” instead of drink 1, and counted down from there.  Kings drank 4; I had a pair of kings.  Third beer! 
Three, two, one, and around the corner to give one, two.  Aces give two- Mandy had triple aces, and gave two drinks each to Virginia, Laura and me.  New rules:  5s are a social and 4s are “popsicle” – last one to touch their nose drinks.  Kings give three- I gave them to Dave.  Give four.  Second game over.  Seven beers left. 
“Up for another one, Dave, or you going to let a girl out-drink you?”  Mandy asked.  She had four beers to his two and a half.
“Deal ‘em!”  He called, flinging a hand up for emphasis.  I dealt the cards for game three.
Drink 1, 2, Sven had an ace on 3.  Rule:  before drinking you had to say “God bless Ronald Reagan!”  Drink 4… POPSICLE!  Virginia lost and drank.  Tim spilled his beer.  “Sloppy drink!”  Drink twice!
Round the corner, Give 4- deuces, and Mandy had two.  Four for me and four for Virginia.  “Bull moose!”  Laura absent-mindedly sipped using her right hand.  She chugged and accepted another beer.  Give 3…2…Social!  “To beer!”  Dave toasted, then we gave the mandatory “God bless Ronald Reagan.”  Drink 1.  Game three over.  Three beers left.
Golden chair- bathroom break!  Most of us scrambled down the hall to take a leak.  After finishing up, I bumped into Virginia in the hall.  She pulled me around the corner away from the room into the stairwell, took my head in her hands and kissed me passionately.  Hands roamed.  I was fondling her right breast, her hand down my pants when Dave turned the corner.
“I thought so!”  He crowed.  “It’s not like you two are subtle!”
We smiled and fixed ourselves.
“Don’t tell anyone.  We want to keep it quiet” I said. 
Dave nodded.  “No problem.”  He knew about Judy.
Back to the room.  Game four- Tim dealt.  Virginia and Tim both opened a new beer each.  Play moved quickly.  Take 1…2…  Mandy finished her beer, and opened the last one.  Take 3…Social!  Penn State!” toasted Laura.  Take 4.  Round the corner.  Give 4…3…Dave kept feeding drinks to Virginia, which she eagerly drank.  Carolyn came in, dressed in tight jeans and a striped top that showcased her assets.  Give 2.  Tim was dumbfounded- he didn’t expect her back so soon.  Give 1.  Game over.  No more beer.  Our little group of four chugged what was left of our beers.  Stood up, thanked Dave for the beer. And walked out.  We’d been there maybe half an hour, tops.  Dave looked stunned. 
We laughed all the way back to my apartment. 

Many years later, Dave still talks about that night, usually using the word “bastards” as he does so.

Next Chapter

Wednesday, February 26, 2020


Strange week here in Sophie land.

It was another up and down week.  I felt sick most of it.  Run down.  I've been sleeping maybe four hours a night because I'm up so late doing homework.  But that's not the strange part.

Twice last week, I was told (by two different people) that I'm "intimidating."  Me?  A fat transgender woman?  I couldn't scare anyone these days.  Huh.

Friday, I had a virtual meeting where I learned that the GA work I've done pretty much since getting here was all wrong.  Sigh.

A couple of hours later, I was invited out for a drink by a couple women I haven't seen in oh... over thirty one years.  One of them used to work at the Skeller (I wrote about that bar here.)  She was the hottie that everyone wanted to go out with (WAY out of my league.)  The other was an Alpha Chi Rho (Crow) little sister from my day.  I dated a couple of Crow little sisters when I was an undergrad.  (I wrote about them in the book I wrote: Men of the Skull.  You know, the one I've been serializing here on the blog.)

The Crow little sister wasn't sure she knew who I was, after all I've changed a bit in the 30 years since my undergrad days.  She remembered the two Crow little sisters I knew.  We both went digging through our phones looking for old pictures.  She found hers quickly.  I recognized her picture vaguely.  Frankly, she didn't look like the person in the picture, except for the eyes.

The Picture I showed Her

When I finally found my old college picture, she recognized that person.  She said she remembered my "Moody eyes."  Huh.  No one ever told me that before.  I told her that I couldn't get a date in college even if "I wore a necklace of hundred dollar bills around my neck."  Which was true.  She said she knew a few girls who had crushes on me back in the day.

I wish I knew that then!  But, knowing me, I wouldn't have believed them.  Or said something lame.

One of the things the Skeller bartender said struck me.  We were discussing holding grudges.  The Crow little sister was outside smoking at that point.  Skeller told me that Crow held grudges for a long time.  I said I do too.  However, most of the anger and pain of whatever caused the grudge disappeared when I transitioned.  I had other issues to worry about.  That said, I still hold a few grudges, but all but 2 of those are against people who hurt dear friends.  That I cannot forgive, nor will I.  My dear friends are my life.  No one hurts them on my watch.

If I can help it, that is.

Skeller said that one of her coworkers called her a "Dweller," because she dwells on things.  I'd never heard the term used in that way.  I told her that I'm a dweller as well.  I dwell on decisions I made decades ago.  I dwell on events that I'm guessing others have long forgotten.  I have more regrets than I have cells in my body.

I know that's not good.  I should let things go.  Yes, I can read your thoughts.  Just kidding.  People tell me that I should let things go as if it were easy.  It isn't.  I've written many times in this blog about my overwhelming need for Justice- to "put things right."  So much in my life was/is just unfair.  Yes, I know life isn't fair- but some things should be.  For example, I dwell on the fact that I was born.  And that I was born in a male body.  That I'm transgender.  I dwell on the pain I caused my Wife and daughter, and the pain Wife inflicted on me by not moving with me.  I dwell on so many things.

But if I didn't, I wouldn't be me.  I wouldn't try to learn lessons from mistakes.  I wouldn't have this passion for history.  I wouldn't be here working toward a PhD.

The three of us chatted for a little over an hour, then I left.  I don't know what kind of impression I left.  They invited me to a bar that night, but I declined.  I sponged two drinks off of them, and that was already too much.  No, I stayed home and watched movies with my roomie/bestie Linda.  And I thought about things.  I dwelt.

Then, I took two melatonins and went to bed.  Woke up, and started writing.

Be well.

Friday, February 21, 2020

February Blues

Been a while since I've written.

I knew this PhD thing would be hard- really hard.  I didn't expect it to be as hard as this.  I did well enough last semester (did I already mention that in a previous entry?). I got a 3.97.  In my one class, my final paper pulled me out of a certain C, which in grad school is failure.

This semester, I again have three classes: Issues in Adult Education; Social Theory and Lifelong Learning; and Collective Action and Social Movements.  That last one is a sociology class, and is taught by Dr. McCarthy, who is a huge name in that field.  He attended his first protest in 1959, and has been there-done that.  He joined the PSU faculty in 2000, so he was unaware of the protests here of the 80s.

Floor of the HUB.  Took this last week

His class has the most reading involved- as much as the other two classes combined.  Also, it's Sociology, which I hadn't taken a class in since undergrad... in the 80s.  All but one other person in the class are sociology majors.  All but one of those are PhD students.  That exception is an undergrad senior, who is going to graduate with her bachelors and masters this year (and is also taking PhD courses.)  In any case, the whole sociology thing isn't my forte.  So, there's a bit of a learning curve.

Things have been up and down.  Some days I break down sobbing.  Some days all is well.

Today is sunny and cold.  Classes are done for the week, but I still have a lot to do.  I have a skype meeting with my GA boss in a few minutes.  After that, I'll take an hour or two to relax before getting back to work.

I hope it's worth it in the end.

Be well

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Out of Gas

Yesterday, I pushed my car into this gas station, out of gas and money. I swallowed my pride and posted on facial book asking for help.

Uni Mart, North Atherton St.

Within a minute, I had several people send me money enough to not just get enough gas to get home, but also fill the tank. (I then deleted the post.)

My deepest gratitude to:

KR Schaefer
Randi Simpson
Frank Mentzer
Rachelanne Nelson
Michelle Levy Ferretti

I don't deserve friends like you. I cried tears of happiness.

While pushing the car (300 yards to a downhill, where I was able to coast into the gas station) I kept thinking about how stupid I was for not budgeting correctly.  How if I can't even do that, why the f**k was I wasting my time trying to get a PhD?  Stupid, fat, ugly, old... my usual litany of self insults.

By the time I stopped by a gas pump, I was ready to quit grad school, find a redneck bar nearby (plenty to choose from) and start a fight.  Suicide by Trumpanzee.  I just wanted to crawl into a dark hole and never come out. 

That's when I decided to post what I did to facial book, because otherwise it was a LONG walk home.  I figured I MIGHT get $5.  KR immediately sent $20.  That was all I needed, and more than expected.  In the time it took for me to transfer the money from paypal to my account, the others donated.  Literally within a minute.  I deleted the post, transferred the money, and filled my tank. 

But there's more to this story. 

All of them then checked in with me via messenger or whatever.  They were concerned.  A couple of them I hadn't "spoken" to in a few years.  One (Mr. Mentzer) I never even met, and his work had a profound influence on my life!  Two of them told me I was not to pay them back.  One told me to make sure to get a little something for myself.  So I did.

I bought beer

And after a long day, I settled on my couch, and Linda and I watched a movie (Fast Times at Ridgemont High if you must know.)  I had a beer, and, after the movie, started in on my homework.

The day ended.  I was tired; my muscles ached; but... my friends helped me when I needed it.

Thank you.  Seriously.

Be well.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Last Decade

I know I write about the past often.  I'm still trying to understand who I am, and why, so looking at the past is one way that I do this.  For that reason, I don't often do "year in review" things.  However, this time it's a new decade.  2020 marks the 7th decade in which I've lived.

I was born in 1966.  I only have a few vague memories of the 60s.  I remember watching the moon landing.  I remember falling down the stairs when I was two (I remember the sensation of falling and thinking "whee! I'm flying!) and breaking my arm (I don't remember that part.)

I remember the 70s.  I remember a dream from when I was three: a huge blob of living lava burned through a barn (this barn really existed, and had a huge hole in the one side, so...) Also in that dream there were a parade of brachiosauruses on the horizon, moving left to right.  Most of my childhood was the 70s.  However, it was also the decade of Star Wars, which changed my life as it did so many others.  

I began the 80s in junior high school.  I ended them as a college graduate.  In most ways that count, the 80s is when I "grew up."  Burned all my girl clothes because "men don't play dress up."  I fell into deep depression, from which I still haven't recovered.  Until recently, it was the decade of greatest change in my life.

In the 90s, I met and married my Wife.  I moved to Baltimore to work for Games Workshop.  Bought my first (and only) house.

00s... A decade of Hell.  We moved back to Pa to live with Wife's mother (MIL.)  My drinking was out of control.  Earned Masters degree.  I was angry at everything, especially myself.  I wrote a book, hoping to figure out why.  Daughter was born in 07.  Then my True self reemerged in 08 after 25 years of suppression.  Oh, and I started this blog on Myspace.

At the dawn of 2010, I was a VERY closeted cross dresser who was very confused and depressed.

I didn't know how deeply my femme self went, and I fought it as hard as I could.  In 2012, I finally stopped lying to my wife three and a half years after my "re-emergence" and told her all about Sophie

Also in 2012, I met a person who would affect my life profoundly: Lisa Empanada.  She was a friend and mentor, but more- she understood the Darkness in my soul, as she had it as well.

August 2012.  I was arrested for drunk driving.  I finally got help for my drinking.  I paid the price for my stupidity.

In December 2012, I decided, with Wife's consent, to start HRT.  I wasn't sure about transitioning, but heard that a low dose of estrogen helped with dysphoria.  It did.

Events escalated quickly.  I began getting more freelance work as an Instructional designer, so I was able to start paying off debts.  I also worked part time at Penn State Great Valley.  Then, in late summer of 2013,  MIL discovered I was transgender, and gave me 48 hours to move out.  Wife told me she was not coming with me, which crushed me.  I moved out on August 30, 2013. 

With Lisa at SCC

A week after I travelled to the Southern Comfort Conference (SCC), where I was "pinned in" as a sister of Vanity Club.  While there, I met someone who I didn't know would be a central figure of my life: Linda Lewis.  Lisa arrived the last day of the conference, which surprised me.  I didn't realize that this would be the last time we would ever speak. 

My birthday was September 13.  Four days later, on September 17, 2013, I was told that Lisa died of suicide.  After being thrown out, other issues, then her death, I tail-spinned into the Darkness.  I really don't know how I survived that month, and the next few. 

In late December 2013, Linda Lewis arrived from Michigan on her way to Florida.  Things fell apart while she was staying at the house where a dear friend graciously let me stay, and she stayed in Pa. 

March 2014.  I finally started living my Truth.  Lost 90% of my friends, and Instructional design calls stopped.

June 2014.  Linda and I found an apartment together, soon to be joined by Zoey, without whom we would've been homeless. 

June 2015, Linda and I moved to Phoenixville (Zoey previously moved back to Iowa) where I was closer to Wife and daughter. 

Cast of Dracula, 2019

November 2016.  The election puts a maniac in charge of our country.  Hate crimes against minorities, including transgender people, rise dramatically.  The end of the American experiment is a real possibility.

February 2017.  I made my stage debut as Sophie in the Vagina Monologues.  Sold out show. 

February 2018.  I lost my book store job after 14 years.  I was unemployed, except for odd jobs and Lyft, for over a year.  I felt absolutely worthless.

May 2018.  I travelled to the UK to reconnect with family and myself. 

January 2019.  I played a Maid in a local production of Dracula.  Sold out run. 

June 2019.  I played the courtesan Tintinabula in a local production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.  It will be my last play for a long time, as I have no time while studying.

August 2019: Linda and I moved to Penn State so I could begin my PhD studies in Adult and Continuing Education, after being accepted in March.

Linda and I in State College, 2019

Now it's January 2020.  I'm in my apartment in State College.  The new semester starts in a week.  How would I summarize the last decade?


Worst decade of my life. 

So many losses.  So much Pain.  Combined with deaths, and the uncertainty of who I really was, the Darkness was (and still is) still waiting to claim me as it did Lisa.  I am far from the same person who started the decade- in fact it was a whole different life.  Seems so distant, but it wasn't that long ago.   I started the decade as a "guy" in deep Pain, 

At the dawn of a New Decade, I feel useful.  I finished my first semester of doctoral study with a 3.97.  I work as a graduate assistant for the University.  Linda is also working.  I've made some new friends, and I'm mentoring an undergraduate transgender woman (still taking her earliest steps,) but for the most part keep to myself.  The colossal amount of homework precludes a social life. 

I'm living now as I have been for the past several years: day by day.  I don't make plans.  I do what I need to do.  People come and go.  Now in State College, I'll fade from more people's lives.  That's the way of things.

Cast of Forum

I still have no Hope.  45 is still in the White House, and it seems like weekly I lose more rights simply because I was born transgender.  Money is still a struggle, so surgeries are out of the question. 

Yet, I'm doing something here that may help others.  If I can help one transgender person have an easier time in transitioning, and/or survive, then this will all be worth it.  Nice to have purpose again.

So, this new decade brings so many challenges.  May it bring all of you happiness.

Be well.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Men of the Skull Chapter 59: Last Great Phi Psi

Yes, I'm skipping a chapter.  The chapter I'm skipping is about two of the brothers being arrested, and, as there's no way to really scrub their identities in this chapter, as a courtesy to them, I'm not posting it.

Also, it's just not a good chapter.

in any case,...


Chapter 59: The Last Great Phi Psi 500

Saturday, April 4, 1987 Papal Mass is marred by violence

            How does a tradition die?
            Is it because people don’t care anymore?
            Once upon a time, there was a tradition at Penn State called the Phi Psi 500.  Actually, it was and still is the national philanthropy for Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, but at PSU it was HUGE!  It was the perfect college philanthropy- all the money went to charity.  Imagine this: a running race around State College.  Simple enough.  But in this race, everyone has to go to six bars and chug a beer in each before going on with the race.  Whoever thought of this was a fucking genius!  The money got raised by canning, the fees, t-shirt sales, raffles, and the drinks purchased during the race.  Figure over a thousand racers paying fifty cents a drink per drink, times six, and that’s a decent chunk of change right there! 
Collegian, April 6, 1987

            How could it get any better?  Well, add a second part of the race for the non-runners.  Make it a costume contest with prizes so that you’ll have college students with their twisted beer-fueled imaginations coming up with insane ideas. 
            As can be imagined, this event was huge.  There were always events for which all the alumni would try like hell to return.  Fall had Homecoming.  Summer had Arts Fest.  Spring had the Phi Psi.  The hotels would be booked solid for miles around.  The bars and restaurants were packed.  It was a bonanza for all the downtown merchants- just like another football weekend.  During the race, people would line the streets cheering.  Some people were openly drinking, but the cops ignored it as long as the drinkers remembered the most important rule: “don’t be an asshole.”
            Phi Psi- with all of this in its favor, how could such a tradition die?  Like this- the school administration announced that they wanted the Phi Psi 500 to be “dry.”  Phi Psi caved in, like they had a fucking choice.  So starting in 1988, a program of phasing out beer from the Phi Psi 500 would begin. 
            Of course students and alumni were pissed off, but what could they do?  Even though all the racers had to be twenty one and have their IDs pinned to their shirts, the police could still clamp down for “public drunkenness” or whatever.  And, of course, the university could pull Phi Psi’s charter. 
            Welcome to Reagan’s America.  Or more precisely, Bryce Jordan’s Penn State.
            Phi Psi tried to minimize the damage.  The Collegian interviewed the guy running it, Todd Dagen, and he said “We want to continue the race in years to come if people will just participate without the alcohol.”1
            Right.  Whatever.
Skull was on tap, of course.  We kept the keg in the coatroom to the left of the foyer (where we had the house payphone.)  We had blue opaque plastic cups- because if the cops couldn’t tell it was beer, they didn’t have probable cause to come onto the property.  Skull had been doing this for years- we were pros.  We also put up a temporary fence along the edges of the lawn to keep people off of it.  No one was gonna tear up our lawn but us!  See, we were right on the race route.  The bar across the street, The Brewery, was one of the six.  This meant that our lawn was prime real estate for watching the festivities.  We had pledges at the bottom of the stairs with a guest list and a couple of pledges on the side porch to keep people out. 

            Of course, we invited a sorority over every year.  That way, not only not only did the girls get to party with Skull, but they also had an awesome place to watch the race go by,  Of course, the sorority was always grateful.  Very grateful.
            So here it was- the day that everyone hoped wouldn’t be but kinda knew would be the last great Phi Psi 500.  The alumni returned and everyone was excited. 
            And it rained.  Hard.  It was like God had decided to fill Happy Valley all the way to the top with water instead of beer.  The race went on- rain or shine.  Did that dampen the enthusiasm?  Hell no!  We Are Penn State!  And this was one of the best parties of the year!  We weren’t about to let a little (or a lot) of water stop us from having a good time! 
            The streets were lined with people in raincoats or with umbrellas or just getting soaked.  Virginia and I headed over to the Bone.  People tended to stay inside until they had a few, then they didn’t care if they were wet or not.  Some of the Chi Os were carried outside laughing and screaming.  Eventually almost everyone was outside: soaked and happy. 
            So Virginia and I drank and watched as the “real racers” went sprinting down the hill to the Brewery.  And the old folks (35 and older.)  And the sorority relay.  By the time the “anything goes” group came through, were already fairly bombed and talking about stupid shit.  As usual, the brothers pretty much ignored me, so it was mostly just the two of us.  Occasionally one of the pledges came over to talk to me, but not often. 
            We watched as a group of runners went by in slow motion: the “Chariots of Fire” group. 
            You know, even with unlimited beer and entertainment, a party isn’t that much fun if no one socializes with you.  I was bored.  The Greatest Party Day- and I was bored.  Had another beer and decided to leave.  Virginia and I walked past some brothers rolling around in the grass with mud covered laughing sorority girls.
            Took some time to worm through the crowd on Beaver Ave and get back to the apartment.  Outside in the rain, people dressed like keg worshipping Hare Krishnas, leisure suited disco rejects and California raisins paraded, drank, danced and puked in the streets.
            Virginia and I showered and fucked ourselves silly.
            There would never be another Phi Psi like this one.

1.  Esper, Patty, “Phi Psi faces less alcohol, possible snow” Daily Collegian, April 3, 1987