Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Inspirations: Linda Lewis

This is the second in an occasional series about women who inspired me over the years, and continue to inspire me.  The first was Kimberly Huddle.

I often write about Linda Lewis in my blog and on my facialbook.  I often refer to her as the "Internet Sensation" and other things like that.  How do I know Linda, and who is she really?

The Gorgeous Linda Lewis, June 2017

Well, I guess it should start back when I found out about her. My femme side resurfaced in 2008- that is true- but I knew about trans sites before that. Around 2001, I was doing an internet search for fiction sites so I could post my work, and Fictionmania came up.  For those who don't know, Fictionmania is a transgender site.  I remember starting to read a story there and I was hooked.  I couldn't believe that there was a site that had stories such as these- stories that spoke to something that I had long buried.  From there, I started looking up other transgender sites, and very quickly after I found Linda Lewis.

Linda ran two websites at the time- one with just regular Linda pictures and her interviews from various magazines like Ladylike, and there was another one that specialized in pictures of her with very big boobs.  (She took most of those on a Super Bowl Sunday, though I forget which one.)  In any case, she also has a Flickr page, where she has all these fans. She was amazing, gorgeous, and untouchable: she was an Icon.  And she still is.

Heck she even appeared in ads when I came out in 2008 reawaken not came out I started looking for things that would improve my figure etc.  One of the places I found was classic curves they make scientifically designed hip pads for Trans people called Classic Curves.   A new one had just come out the Veronica 4, and there on the ad was Linda Lewis- sitting on a stool in a red dress looking absolutely stunning.  Later in my search, I found a site which sold breast prosthetics.  It was an British site called Proactive Prosthetics, and there she was again modeling the breast prosthetics.  I was like "this woman is everywhere!" and again I thought she was some kind of Royalty.  I put her up there with several other icons such as Heidi Phox, DonnaKelli, Kimberly Huddle, and just so many others.

Ad for Classic Curves

In 2009, that I sent Linda a flickr message, asking her about the breast prosthetics and about the Veronica.  She kindly responded, and I felt I'd been touched by the hand of God.  I ended up purchasing both of those items over time.  They were expensive, but I had to specific idea of how I wanted "Sophie" to look.  I wanted her to have beautiful hips and big boobs.  I figured these would offset my very large shoulders.  I reasoned that if I had big boobs, nobody would be looking at my face.  That rationale continues to this day.  Fortunately, my genetics gave them to me.

Years later, Linda posted something on Facialbook.  I forget exactly what it was, but she seemed very down.  She had a health scare of some kind, which I later found out was a collapsed lung.  She needed financial help.  I sent what I could.  It was then that she and I started chat.  I found out that we had a lot of movies and music in common.  One day when I was trying to send her a DVD, I managed to call her.  I was so nervous!  I couldn't believe that I would be calling Linda Lewis! I left her a message, and she called back.  A tenuous friendship began.

Eventually, I was asked to join Vanity Club.  I spoke to Linda a lot about this.  Although she is not my "Big Sister," she did coach me a lot, and I am grateful.

I decided that I was going to go to the Southern Comfort Conference.  I was talking to my dear friend Stephanie Shostak about Linda.  She had also helped Linda financially a little.  Now this is saying something because Linda is a very proud person, and doesn't like asking for help.  Between us, we figured we were going to get Linda Lewis to Southern Comfort as well.  We figured out a way to get her a hotel room- she would room with a friend I knew, and between us we paid for her transportation.  I didn't realize when this started that by the time Southern Comfort came around, my life would have completely turned upside down.


I've written before about how at SCC I pissed Linda off, and it made me think about how she was not an icon- that she's just a human being like the rest of us.  And God knows I've pissed her off several times since then, just as she's made me angry.  That's what happens when you know someone well.  In any case, after SCC we parted ways and she went back to Michigan.

A couple months later, she was supposed to move down to Florida.  The details there are personal, and I will not speak of them.  However, she was delayed- she couldn't move down to Florida, but her lease was up in Michigan.  She had nowhere to go.  I asked my dear friend M, with whom I was staying, if she could put Linda up for a couple weeks.  She readily agreed, because she is the kind of person who Helps.  So it was that in late December 2013, I met Linda Lewis in her drab mode at State College, Pennsylvania, where had we agreed to meet.  Only a week before, I was headed this way to blow my head off, but I turned around.  It was a rainy, snowy, messy day, and she followed me from there back to the house where we would both stay for another six months. I lived on the second floor, while she lived in the basement, but it was during that time that I got to know the woman behind the Legend.  I thought she would just be there for a few weeks.  However that was not the case, as she kept getting delayed through no fault of her own.

Eventually she gave up on Florida, and we decided to get an apartment in Pennsylvania.  So we moved out, found a third roommate Zoey (without whom we would have been on the street- and we will be forever in her debt.)  We lived there for a year, and then moved to our current place.

Road Trip- July 2014

Linda and I are best friends. We are not romantic at all, because, One: I'm not her type, and Two: I'm married.  However, I would die for her, and I hope she knows that.  There aren't many people for whom I would take a bullet- less than a handful- but she is one of them.  I promised her that as long as there is breath in my body, she will never be alone.

So we will go through the rest of our lives, hopefully, as best friends and companions through this Whirlwind that is transition.  She is on the cusp of going full-time herself, as the hormones are doing their work, and soon she will be unable to hide her femininity.  I look forward to that time, and I know she does as well.

There are so many things that make up a transition, and Linda has been instrumental. I could not have done it without her; she was there that first day when I declared myself full-time.  She was there my first day of work as a woman, and she has been with me every step of the way.  She has done her best to help me when the Darkness has me firmly in its grip.  Linda is one of the wisest people I know (and her knowledge of the Space program puts some Phd's to shame!)  

She is my Bestie, and I love her.

Linda is a legend- even if she doesn't think she is.  She is one of the most amazing people I have ever met.

She is Linda Lewis.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Old dream

It's an old dream, but I still remember it very clearly.  I think it was from around 1976 or 77, because of who is in it.  That would mean I was somewhere between 9 and 11 years old.  This also means that it was 40 years ago.  It's amazing how memory works, isn't it?

In this dream, I have been sent to an island, and the only way to access this island is a small, short tunnel. It's possible that this island was in another dimension.  The tunnel was like a large log that you could walk into- it was maybe six feet high and about the same width; oval in shape and dark brown.  Maybe 20 feet long.  One could see through to the other side, and it was a green paradise.

My parents had come to see me, although I think they were there to "rescue" me, I don't remember that part precisely however when I was summoned to come off the island and meet them I walked through the tunnel and I was a woman in fact I looked like Jessica Lange as she appeared in King Kong- the 1976 version (which is how I date this.)

They were surprised to say the least.  I mean to have your 10 year old son suddenly be walking in front of you as a mature woman... I remember my mom burst into tears, and my dad was absolutely disgusted.  He yelled something, but I don't remember exactly what.  It wasn't nice, whatever it was.  I remember saying "I don't understand why you're upset! I'm happy! I'm finally happy!"  I then turned and walked back through the tunnel, and I remember still hearing my mom crying and my dad shouting.

That was the whole dream that I can remember, but the part is still clear as day is standing there as a beautiful woman saying "I'm finally happy! I'm finally happy!"

The crying and the shouting.

I think about this dream occasionally.  It wasn't the first Dream in which I was a woman, and far from the last.  Now, occasionally, I still dream that I am a guy.  I hate those dreams.  They are becoming rarer though.

Now my dreams have been centering around the same themes: I'm lost; I can't find something; I'm haven't finished something, usually school work; I'm using trying to get somewhere, but every time I try to travel I end up going the wrong direction and being further away much further away.  These dreams usually take place in a grotesquely huge version pf Penn State main campus which is miles wide, and has a very urban part.

But in that old dream, I was exactly where I needed to be, doing exactly what I needed to do.  I was a woman, and I was happy.

Be well.

Monday, June 19, 2017

PSU Hazing Death Backlash

So Penn State has imposed new rules for Fraternities and Sororities.

New measures include:

-University control of the fraternity and sorority organizational misconduct and adjudication process.
-Hazing that involves alcohol, physical abuse, or any behavior that puts a student’s mental or physical health at risk will result in swift permanent revocation of University recognition for the chapter involved.
-Transition to deferred recruitment/rush process for fraternities and sororities.
-Strict social restrictions.
-Monitoring of social events by University staff members.
-Relationship statement signed by all fraternity and sorority members that clarifies the respective rights and responsibilities of the University, the chapters and their respective members.
-Further parent education: availability of report card, messages to reinforce with their students.
-Capitation fee for support of extra services, spot-checkers/monitors, and educational activities.

The Penn State Panhellenic Council sent a letter in reply.  (read that HERE)  They are of the opinion that they are being unfairly targeted, as they had nothing to do with any of the recent controversies.  They have a point.

As I have written many times in this blog, I was a brother in a Fraternity in college.  I joined Phi Kappa Sigma (Skull) while at Drexel in May 1985.  When I transferred to PSU, my membership transferred with me.  I even wrote a book about my college days, which is yet unpublished (I have posted some chapters in this blog from time to time.)

Fraternity Anniversary, November 2015

I've been thinking a LOT about the fraternity sanctions since I read them.  I wanted to think them through before posting my opinion.

My fraternity at PSU got physical with the pledges.  No doubt.  It was hazing.  Lots of pushups, etc.  And we played drinking games WITH them.  If they were drinking, we were drinking.  And they were never asked to do something that the classes before hadn't done.  That said, each class seemed to... increase the intensity.  Like their memories of what they endured warped, or that they remembered it being far worse than it was.  As "House Paramedic" (and I was) if a pledge got hurt, I would evaluate, treat, and if needed, the pledge would get further care.  The worst we ever had in my time was a broken rib.  Our chapter re-chartered about ten years ago.  Everything has changed.  Stupid hazing is a thing of the past (it better be- I helped re-write the pledge program.)  And the chapter is better for it.

Me bartending at a fraternity event, 1987

Fast forward to this year.  A Penn State student is dead.  The kids who allowed this to happen refused to help him- refused to help someone they said they WANTED to be their BROTHER.  And when people tried to help, they were threatened.

The fraternity, Beta Theta Pi, has been "permanently banned."  Charges have been filed.  A grand jury says that Piazza died from "the direct result of encouraged reckless conduct."  Pearls have been clutched.  Old white guys have harrumphed.

Call me a cynic- but Beta was a rich boy house.  Families with a LOT of money.  Rich and Powerful alumni.  I really wonder how long "permanent" will be.  Five years?  Ten?  Does Beta own the house and grounds?  If so, what then?  Will judges,etc, be bought?  After all, this is Trump's America, where Money talks louder than ever.

Beta (image: Google maps)

Will the Piazzas EVER have justice for the death of their son?

I hope so.  Desperately.


These rich kids not only let the kid die, but prevented anyone from helping him.  And why didn't someone simply take that cellphone they ALWAYS carry, walk outside, and call 911?  Oh right, they'd been drinking, and that kid would be all right.  After all, he's not just a Man... he's Beta material!

And, they are all young and Invincible.  Death is for lesser beings.

So.  This is all territory I've gone over before.

The University has placed these new sanctions.  TKE has said they are closing for the 17/18 year because their brothers keep destroying the house among other things.  (I wasn't aware they were back after that drunk driving death in the 90s.)

The tragic and avoidable death of Timothy Piazza has forced the University's hand.  What do I think as a Greek alum?

What would I thought then?

Then?  That it was over-reach.  But I would've been outraged that fellow Greeks allowed such a thing to happen.  That said... I was only 19-22 then.  Now, I'm 50.

I loved being in a fraternity.  I made friends with whom I still keep in contact after 30 years.  Some of whom I consider my dearest friends.  A couple of my brothers were my biggest supporters when I transitioned back in 2014.

The Fraternity brothers (hereafter Bros) across the PSU Greek system has had many opportunities over the years to police themselves.  I was on the IFC Community Relations committee in 1988, so I saw this first hand.  During my years, we had several houses busted for underage drinking, several Bros arrested for selling drugs, and one house condemned because it was falling apart.  We had one death due to drinking- a Pink Elephant brother fell off the roof of his house after a night of partying. Number of rapes and sexual assaults I couldn't find statistics.  Anyone care to help?

In the almost thirty years since I've graduated, there have been multiple deaths, fires, hazing incidents, underage drinking citations, and I won't even count the suicides.

Timothy Piazza, Rest in Peace

Hell, even AFTER stricter measures were in place, SAM violated almost every single one of them.  They were suspended but when I visited campus, days after that happened.  I saw MANY bros wearing SAM gear.

Obviously, something has gone wrong- either in the system, in the parenting, in society, or any combination of those.  As the University is ultimately responsible for the safety of its students, they MUST act.  And so they have.

Do I LIKE what the University is doing?  No.  But I don't see any other alternative aside from disbanding the entire Greek system.  If bros in even ONE house are sociopaths (and I contend Beta was) that's too many.  But according to the stories, the police reports, and statistics, Beta WASN'T an outlier- not for Bros.  Maybe not even for that entire generation.  Am I painting with too broad a brush?  A boy is DEAD.  You tell me.  Please, I beg you, please prove me wrong.  Yes, PSU has Thon.  But what is done every other weekend of the school year?

Penn State has acted.  The Bros know what they need to do.  If they care ONE bit about the letters they wear, the University they attend, and the Brothers they supposedly care for, they will do it.

My letters meant a LOT to me in my Penn State days.  They still do.  I am PROUD to be a Penn State Alumni, and a member of Phi Kappa Sigma.  I will be both until the day I die.

Be well.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Big Mistake

I made a HUGE mistake the other day and its results hit today.


You see, the other day I called Wife's insurance company about changing my name and gender on the policy.  (Wife has graciously allowed me to remain on her policy.)  They told me they can't do it- she has to.  Fair enough.

I then asked about Transgender coverage, and received a nice surprise.  Wife's insurance from her employer now covers GCS. I just have to find someone who accepts BC/BS. It may/may not cover FFS. In any case, preauthorization is required.

So I emailed the doctors that I had researched; asking if any of them accepts BC/BS.

Unanimous:  NO.

This isn't even a case of "in network/ out of network."  It's NO.

So, what was my mistake?

I did something I swore I'd never ever do again:  I allowed myself to Hope.  I thought that maybe, just MAYBE, something would break my way for a change.


And so, the Hope crashes, ripping yet another hole in my soul.  It Hurts.  (And please spare me the "big girl panties" remarks.)

Yet again, the lesson is reinforced:   Hope Lies.

Be well.

Thursday, June 1, 2017


It was pouring rain the morning of Tuesday May 30th 2017.  My roommate and bestie, Linda, had to work at 4 a.m, so I took her to work, then came back to the apartment. I climbed back into bed for a couple hours, but then I had to get ready.  I was taking a trip.

I had taken off a couple days of work after working six in a row.  I was going to Boston, Massachusetts. Why Boston?  Well, I had a couple reasons, but the main reason was that I was going to a consultation with Dr. Spiegel.

Road Trip!

Dr. Spiegel had performed FFS (Facial Feminization Surgery) on several of my friends, and I love the results.  You see, I have determined a couple things: first is that I will never retire.  Working retail, I will never make enough to retire, so I will work until I drop.

(Oh, how did I pay for this trip?  Prostitution.  No, actually I sold a few things on ebay, and had been paying down my credit cards, so there was room.)

I have enough in my 401k to afford one surgery and only one. I already know how much GCS (Gender Confirmation Surgery) will cost, both with Dr. Christine McGinn and Dr. Toby Meltzer.  I also know how much Dr. Meltzer charges for FFS.  I got that consultation a few years back at the Keystone conference.

So now I was going to see Dr. Spiegel to find out how much he costs.  Then I will have to make a decision. I can afford only one surgery, so do I get FFS or GCS?

That is the question.  Both are Dreams come true:  The face of a woman or the "parts" of a woman.

The way I see it if I get the FFS, I may be able to find a better job, and then later maybe be able to afford GCS- if you can follow that logic.  I know it's a bit convoluted.

And it would be wonderful to look into a mirror and see a feminine face instead of Neanderthal man.  I still don't see a girl when I look at myself in the mirror- even if I'm topless and can see my breasts.  I know a lot of people can see a girl when they look in the mirror, and I envy them.

Essentially, I've grown tired of walking between the genders.  I would love to be able to afford to get it all done; be done with surgeries.  Heck, I still haven't even had electrolysis yet, so I still have that ahead of me.

It took over six hours to drive up to Boston.  I was meeting an old friend for dinner.  My GPS took me on a merry chase through the city, especially in a series of winding tunnels.  Several times, people almost took off one of my bumpers or worse.  As my friend calls them:  "Massholes."

Kim Moore: "Is that the Bunker Hill monument, or is Boston just glad to see you?"

During my travels, I passed Fenway Park, so I saw the legendary ballpark with my own eyes.  It is impressive.

After dinner in a sports bar, I found the hotel.  It was in a VERY nice part of Boston, near Boston University (my "Big Sister's" alma mater.)  I changed clothes, rested a bit, then touched up my makeup and went down to the bar for a glass of pinot grigio.  I was exhausted.  The bar was fairly empty- just me and a couple of business-looking men, neither of whom gave me a second look.


The next day, I met a dear friend and fellow Vanity Club sister Cheryl Katon for lunch.  She came in guy mode, looking very sharp in a suit.  We ate at the Cheesecake Factory (I had a chicken sandwich) and we talked about transition, being trans, and life walking in both worlds.  She is very successful in her line of work, and many people know about her feminine side, but she doesn't want to go full time.  She is happy where she is.  Lucky her.  Also, she picked up the check.  Thanks again, Cheryl!!!

After lunch, it was time for my appointment.  I made it to Dr. Spiegel's office in plenty of time.  I was efficiently checked in by Dr. Spiegel's staff.  His patient Care Coordinator, Carole, led me back to an examination room, but first- pictures!  These will be the "Before" I assume.   Carole is a very nice woman with auburn hair and wearing green eye makeup.  She smiled easily.

When I was settled in Exam Room 3, she started asking me questions about what I wanted.  She said I had a soft, feminine look already.  I smiled and thanked her.   She took down my answers to the questions, then left.  And then I waited.  And waited.

Dr. Spiegel finally arrived.  He asked questions, examined my face, and asked more questions. He asked what my main area of concern was.  I put my hand across my neck and said "from here up."

So, in his opinion, I need a forehead reshaping, a brow lift, cheek implants, rhinoplasty, and jaw shave.  So, essentially I was right- everything from the neck up.  I asked him a few questions, then waited a bit more after he left.  Carole then took me to her office and we looked at numbers.  BIG numbers.  Bigger than I have.

I was messaging with one of my dearest friends, Ally, and she suggested looking overseas.  She went to a surgeon in Mexico, and she looks spectacular.  He charges less than half of any other quote I've seen.  But then there's plane fare.  And I don't have a passport, currently.

Ally is simply stunning!

So, back to the Question:  which Dream do I choose?

I am 50.  Looks fade.  And what if the job is botched?  I'll look even worse.  Having female parts is til death do we part.  Do I attempt to blend as much as I can?  Or not have to tuck anymore?  After all, it's not like I'll USE those female parts.  Is dilating so enticing?  With a female face, maybe the misgendering will stop, or at least become uncommon.

A lot to think about.

I left the office, and headed directly home.  I arrived at 9 PM, tired as hell.

On the way back through Connecticut, I kept driving through clouds of milkweed sparkling in the sunlight.  They looked like snow falling.  It was so beautiful.  And the clouds above seemed like Heaven.  For a time, I had no cares, absorbed in the splendor.

I have a decision to make.

Be well.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Violin Recital and Art.

Wednesday, May 24th was my daughter's violin recital.  She's been practicing all year and, in fact, started last year.  It was exactly as you would expect it- a bunch of third and fourth graders playing their violins as only 3rd and 4th graders can.  But as bad as it sounded, we, the parents, were all very proud of our children.

Wife was there sitting at the front row with MIL.  I arrived separately and sat in the back because I didn't want an incident to occur.

After the third graders performance, they went out in the hall to set down their instruments, and then join their parents. I went out in the hall to see my daughter, but I missed her.  When I returned to the hall, she was sitting with her mother and her grandmother.  Then she saw me at the back of the hall, and ran back to me.  She sat with me during the fourth graders performance.  This made me very happy.

There was also an art show going on at the school. My daughter wanted to show me the work she had up on the walls.  At one point, we were standing in the lobby, and she introduced me to a friend of hers.  I do not remember this friend's name, but she said to her friend "this is my daddy!"  I was wearing a black floral dress. I've shown pictures of this dress before.  It is cut low, and shows off my girls very nicely.  But when introduced as someone's Daddy and I'm standing there with my boobs hanging out, well the look on her friend's face was one of confusion, astonishment, and ultimately fear.

Black floral dress, May 2016

She did not understand.

I'm sure that today at school, this person asked my daughter about what was going on and she told her.

My daughter then took me by the hand, and guided me down the hallway so I could see one of her pieces of Art. It was a little Shamrock. I think it was made of paper mache.  After we looked at it for a moment and I took a picture, we walked back up the hallway toward the doors.  Back to the crowded Lobby.  As we walked along, she said "here I am walking with my transgender Daddy- my transgender Daddy."


I was a mix of emotions at that point. I cursed myself for having inflicted this upon her, and I wish that I didn't have to, and yet she took it in stride.  It was nothing new to her at this point, and in fact was probably nothing too unusual to her classmates, despite her friend's expression.

Maybe there is hope for the world yet.

I will always be her father- that was my biological role in her creation- and despite appearance and my Womanhood. I will always be her father, and she, my daughter, will always be my little girl.

God willing, she will outlive me, and I wonder what she will think of me after I'm gone.  When I am just a memory, how will she judge me and how I've conducted my life?  How will she judge me for being Trans?  For all of the Heartbreak that has occurred in our family's life, I do not know what she will think of me should she reach my age now: 50. At that point, I will probably be long dead.

It's late at night, and I think of these things. I think of my daughter asleep in a room a little more than a mile away and I miss tucking her in at night.

I miss reading her stories until she fell asleep, but maybe now she's too old for stories.

And life is passing me by, while I live in an apartment I can barely afford a mile or so away.

Be well.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Preface of my New Book: Rough Draft

As I wrote previously, Sandy Empanada, Lisa's soul mate, asked me to write a book about Lisa Empanada's life.  I have spent the last few months doing the research- official documents, etc.  I'm about to start interviews- the coroner who responded to the police call, the man who found her, and, most importantly, her loved ones.  In any case, I decided to write the preface.  I've already shared it with Sandy.  Now I share it with you.


Lisa Empanada did not exist.

Neither did Lisa Ann-Marie Newell.


However, Thomas Vernon Newell did exist legally.  He died on September 16, 2013.  Cause of death: Suicide by Carbon Monoxide asphyxiation.

I never met Thomas Vernon Newell, known as Tommy to his friends and family, until I gazed down at his lifeless corpse at his funeral.  I didn’t drive all the way to Baltimore to attend his funeral.  I drove there for the funeral of my dearest friend:  Lisa Ann-Marie Newell, aka Lisa Empanada.

You see Tommy was Lisa.  Lisa was Tommy’s soul.  Lisa was Tommy’s Truth.  Lisa died with Tommy.

Lisa was Transgender.  She was a woman born in a male body.  That male was Tommy.  However, Tommy was Lisa.  She was ALWAYS Lisa, but had to hide it.  So she did.

In the end, Tommy killed Lisa.  Murdered her.  Murdered my best friend- my Sister.

Me?  I’m Sophie.  I am also Transgender.  I exist legally, because I was able to Transition to my True Self, where Lisa died before she could do the same.  There is a story here- and that is what this book is about: that story.  It is Lisa’s story.

But I can’t tell Lisa’s story without telling my own.

Lisa was a Light in the lives of many people.  Her death was felt in the Transgender community across the world.  Many of us drew closer to comfort each other, and we had honest, open discussions about suicide, and the feelings that drive a person to it.

I call those feelings “the Darkness.”

Research has shown that 41% of transgender people attempt suicide.  Many transpeople succeed.  Lisa was one of them.

I have walked that path as well.  That’s how Lisa and I really connected, because I knew EXACTLY how she felt.  I did my best to bring her back from the Darkness, along with her therapist.  One can NEVER defeat the Darkness alone.  So I tried.  And I failed.  And Tommy killed Lisa.

And she’s gone.

This book is about the Amazing Woman I knew.  She called me her “Best Friend,” aside from her wife and soulmate Sandy.  Her “Sister.”   Why should you could care about her?  Well, Professor Jennifer Finney Boylan wrote that “You can’t hate someone whose story you know.”  Lisa was a wonderful human being.  Her story is worth knowing.  This book is about her Life, her Darkness, her Light, my life, my Darkness, and her Death.  In it, I will try to make sense of a life that ended far too soon.  I will celebrate that Life.  I will celebrate my Best Friend.  Maybe, someone will learn from it.  And maybe, just maybe, the Pain of her loss will ebb from my soul.

In any case, I want people to know my Sister.  And why she was who she was.

From Lisa's Funeral

Glad at GLAAD

Friday afternoon I was on break at work.  May 5, 2017.  And I'd received a message from a dear friend.

Jennifer Finney Boylan wanted to know if I wanted to attend the GLAAD Media Awards.  The one that costs $500 to attend.  Minimum.  She had an extra ticket- free.

She asked ME?????

I had to work the next day, so I couldn't make it.  After a few minutes, the head manager walked through the break room and into her office.  I went in and told her about the offer.  She quickly made sure I could attend.

HUGE thanks to my manager: Lisa!

I sent Jenny my confirmation, and I asked a few questions.  After all, I'd never been to a high powered celebrity studded gala before.

Then, I assessed my financial situation.  Rent was paid.  Still outstanding bills...  however, one of the credit cards I'd been paying down had a little room- enough for a mani/pedi and the $40 for parking that I was quoted.  (Turns out my assessment was wrong, but that's another story.)

So at 10 Am on May 6, I got a mani/pedi.  Went back to the apartment.  My roomie and bestie, Linda, graciously consented to do my makeup.  She is a Hollywood trained makeup artist of enormous talent.

I tried to put on my blue gown from the last Keystone, but the hook atop the zipper was missing.  So no go there, as it's strapless and I didn't think a gala would be a good place for the Girls to come bouncing out to play.  That said, Tinder WAS one of the sponsors...

In any case, I went with a backup gown that I'm surprised wasn't on storage.  The strappy shoes I wanted to wear had heels that were too high for extended comfort, so I went with pumps.  First pair of hose?  Runner.  In the end, I knew everyone would be in designer suits and gowns, it being a New York City LGBT Gala and all, and I'd be the Hick in the off-the-rack rag.

I actually was quite worried about this.  But, in the end, I figured that these people didn't know me, and I'd never see most of them again, so who cares?

The Look

I climbed into the car and drove through the rain over to New Jersey, and up the New Jersey Turnpike (I wasn't counting the cars, though.)

I spotted New York City, and eventually went through the Lincoln Tunnel into the city.  This was my first time in NYC as a Woman.  And I didn't think twice.  I had to drive a tad... um... aggressively to get where I was going in any kind of time.  I'm sure a cab driver or two probably used colorful metaphors towards me.

I arrived at the Hilton Midtown, where the event was held, got my valet ticket, and went to find the room.  I found it quickly enough, as there were TONS of volunteers to direct people to the event.  I called Wife to let her know I arrived safely, and texted Linda the same.  I then went upstairs and checking in at the gala, where I received my table assignment:  Table 39.

One of the sponsors was Ketel One vodka.  They had kiosk bars set up at strategic locations.  Open bar.  Each kiosk served only one type of drink.  The first place served a mixture of Ketel One orange vodka, simple syrup, and champagne.  It was VERY yummy- and, since champagne was involved, very intoxicating.  There were cocktail tables scattered strategically about, and they all had a magazine called FourTwoNine on them.  I stood at a table; people watching.

Occasionally, someone would stop by, and we would chat.  The first one was a gorgeous slim African American woman who worked for one of the sponsors: Turner.  She used to work for the Obama Administration.  Degree from Howard- Masters from University of Chicago.  We had a nice conversation regarding her feelings about the event, and what it was like to work for President Obama.

I bounced around a bit, and went into another room.  As I stood at a table in this other room, a woman strode over.  She was impeccably dressed, beautiful, and radiated confidence.  Everything about her said "I am happy with my life, and I am in control."  She was everything I have always wanted to be.

She started flipping through one of the magazines on the table. She asked if I'd heard of this magazine.  I said I hadn't.  She said that she thought it was an online only magazine.  Maybe this was their first print issue, I said.  She kept paging through and mentioned something about the layout.

I asked if she had magazine experience.  She smiled and said she worked for Curve magazine.  I've read Curve, and we sell it at the bookstore where I work.  I'd had a few beverages at this point, and I asked if they were looking for writers.  She smiled at me and said she was always looking for talented writers.  I quickly gave my resume (New York Times, International magazines, blog...) and gave her my card.  She gave me her card, which I put in my bag.  I told her that I'm "one of those annoying people who follows up."  She smiled again and said she expected me to do so, and wanted me to- if she didn't, she wouldn't have given me her card.

She was called away by someone, and we parted.  The next day, I looked at that card.  She is Merryn John- Editor in Chief of Curve!  I was stunned!  Wow!  And yes, I have followed up.

After she left, another beautiful came striding up to the table.  This one I knew- the Amazing Lana Moore from Ohio.  She is on the board of GLAAD, a former Captain of a Fire Department, and is one of my heroines.  I'd met her once before, at Southern Comfort 2013.  She greeted me and we hugged.  She knew my name!

Lana an I spoke briefly when my dear friends Jone and Christina came over as well.  Both wore gorgeous gowns.  I knew they were in NYC, but didn't realize that they were coming to the gala.  I wasn't surprised, though, as both are very generous to LGBT charities.  We all spoke for a bit, then Jone and Christine left.  I spoke a little more with Lana, and then she was called away.

I stood stunned.  Lana Moore knew my name!

People started drifting toward the other side of the floor, as seating began for the dinner.  I bumped in Jenny Boylan, who was surrounded by pretty men in impeccable tuxedo.  It was almost like a musical.  We spoke briefly, and she said she'd catch up with me later.  I found my table, and chose a chair.

The dinner was wonderful.  I was at a table with fantastic people.  To my left was a beautiful transwoman from Detroit, and to my right was the amazing and beautiful Jenny Boylan.

The dinner was chicken, couscous, and some veggie.  I'd never had a $500 dinner before, so I don't know how it compares.  The wine was good and the company even better.

That is $500 worth of dinner.

About half way through the dinner, a guy came over and started chatting with Jenny.  He wore a suit over a t-shirt, had tousled hair and smelled of clove cigarettes.  He was very outgoing and demonstrative.  I thought he was from Europe.  Nope- Hollywood.  Jenny had him pull up a chair, so he was next to me.

His name is Louis Stephens, and he was very nice in a cheesy sort of way, despite the fact that he misgendered me several times.  Apparently he's a well-known musician in Hollywood- and a metal guitar player if my google search is accurate.  Everything about him was larger than life.  I don't know why, but I got the feeling that he was blustering because he was actually very scared and lonely inside.

Lana Moore with Louis Stephens (pic courtesy Lana Moore)

The dinner was followed by an awards ceremony.  Several celebrities presented awards and/or won them.  There were some touching moments.  There was also some music.  The band was DNCE.  I never heard of them, but apparently it's the new band for one of the Jonas Brothers.

Then there was one of the big awards-The Excellence in media award, which went to Debra Messing.  Her speech made headlines, as she called out Ivanka Trump on her hypocrisy.

With Jenny Boylan

After the awards, there was the after party.  I took my leave from Jenny, as I had to drive alllll the way back to Philly.  I said goodbye to a few others.  On my way to the escalators, I met a couple of celebrities, very briefly.  I met Trevor Noah of the Daily Show, as well as Whoopi Goldberg.  I said "hi!  Love your work!" and they said "Hi!  Thank you!"

I reached my car, found my way through the city, and made it to the New jersey turnpike.  Then to the PA turnpike.  Then home.  It was 1:30 AM.  I was exhausted.  I was falling asleep at the wheel during the last ten minutes.  I made it home, took off my gown, clothes, jewelry, and was asleep when my head hit the pillow.

 What did this all mean to me?

Wow.  It's been over a week and I'm still processing.  I mean, New York City... celebrities... being invited at all... meeting people who could shape my future...

I came home exhausted.  But... is the word "Empowered?"  I was in a room full of the Movers and Shakers of LGBT America.  These are people who fund the fight, and fight the fight.  These are the professionals... not some backwater amateur with a blog like me.  Their enthusiasm was contagious.  It was almost like going to a Transgender conference, where everyone shares that ONE trait that makes us all Different... or Special.  However, that one trait was many traits here.  It made me feel, for one night, that maybe, just maybe, we, civilized rational people who happen to deviate from the norm, could actually survive what is happening today.  That maybe one person can make a difference.  maybe the word is "strengthened."  I'm still not sure.

One thing I know for sure- the woman who drove up to New York City that afternoon was not the same woman who returned that night.  We all learn and grow from experience.  I learned.  And perhaps even grew.

The day after the gala, I went to the movies with Wife, Daughter and Linda.  I showed Wife and daughter the pictures.  Daughter said "Your makeup really shows off your deep wrinkles."

Thanks kid.

Deep Wrinkles

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

What Have We Become?

We have a new guy at work.  He is also a Penn Stater, but he is far younger than me.  He was one semester short of graduating when his money ran out.  He was there when Paterno was fired, etc.  For the sake of this entry, I'll call him NG.

As I said, NG is far younger than me.  He is a snappy dresser, having come from the hotel industry.  We were talking about our respective times at Penn State the other day, and how so much has changed.

Things Change

One of the major changes is the policy towards alcohol.  When I was at PSU in the mid-late 80s, the University's attitude toward alcohol was FAR more laissez faire.  My fraternity would routinely go through dozens of kegs at a regular Thursday night party.  There was a MAJOR philanthropic event called Phi Psi 500, which was essentially spring homecoming.  It was a running race involving chugging beers at various local bars.  It raised a ton of money for charity.  People would walk around with opaque cups full of whatever.  The police would look the other way, as long as you behaved yourself.  That was the key- "don't be an asshole."

Phi Psi 500 1985 (pic: Kathleen Prince for La Vie)

That began to change during my time there.  The University President, Bryce Jordan, started clamping down on the partying.  He hated that image of Penn State as a "party school."  And this WAS the Reagan era, after all.

Things changed.  As the years went along, I read about riots during Arts Festival in the summer.  We never had riots in my time.  According to NG, riots weren't uncommon during his time.  We beat Ohio State?  Riot.

It seems (I have no numbers to back this up) that the number of rapes and sexual assaults has gone up.  But, it's strongly possible that more are just being reported.  Or that the authorities are believing the victims more.

However, another disturbing trend has surfaced.  Recently, the Penn State Greek system has become a series of horror stories.

In the past few years, there have been houses closed for hazing (having pledges literally catch sh*t from the brothers), KDR was banned for posting pictures of passed out women on Facebook as well as hazing, SAM was closed down for violating every one of the new alcohol rules over parent's weekend, and the worst- a pledge died when he fell down the stairs after being forced to drink.  And those are all recent.  Several houses are closed for hazing and/or rape offenses.

During my time, the mid 80s, only one house was closed:  ATO due to a gang rape.

The Washington Post even published an article on the subject of Penn State fraternities called At Penn State, one woman's rule at fraternity parties: Don't go upstairs (The Washington Post, March 24, 2015)

All of this makes me wonder- what happened?  All this violence and rape and flat out stupidity...

When did our children become so savage?  And why?

As a member of the Greek community, I understand both sides. What we did in the 80s seemed harmless. But now, a young man is DEAD.   The University is considering ending the Greek community.  However, the school administration has a share of the responsibility in this matter.  Beta was banned before for hazing, yet recolonized.  They are a RICH house.  Powerful alumni.  I hope they are proud.

The fraternities have to own up as well. They've been playing a game of one-upmanship for decades. Each generation tries to outdo the last. It's just a big "dick fight."  Macho bullshit. And now, with social media, they have a peer audience. Unfortunately, the audience is more than peers- and we are Horrified.

Most of these kids probably never had to endure the consequences of their actions.  They got away with everything- slid through life.  They've never been told "no." Guess what guys- unless you're SUPER rich, there are ALWAYS consequences.  Always.

The alumni of the fraternity community share responsibility as well. We are supposed to advise and guide these students, not wink and laugh. (KDR alums were INVOLVED in their facebook porn site.)  In the end, these are OUR children.

There are no easy answers. I don't envy anyone's position in this. At all.

But the fact remains- a boy is dead.

How did it come to this?

What have we become?

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Book Review: Long Black Veil by Jennifer Finney Boylan

I've been reading a lot of trans- related books of late.  However, I have not reviewed them here.  It's not that they weren't worth it- I just... haven't.

Luna. Dress Codes, If I Was Your Girl, This is How it's Always Been...

However, this one hit me hard, for various reasons.  The fact that it was written by my dear friend, the incredible Professor Jennifer Finney Boylan, is a bonus.

If you read this blog and don't know who she is, shame on you!  ;)  Click here for a bio and stuff, and HERE for a something I wrote about her.

Long Black Veil is Jenny's first work of fiction in twenty years.  It is a mystery/thriller, set both around the Philadelphia area and in Maine.

I've sold many copies of this book already.  How?  I describe it thusly:

Six college friends enter the old Eastern State Penitentiary in 1980.  They get locked in.  Are they alone?  Only five come out- one has disappeared.  Over thirty years later, a body is found in the prison.  Whodunnit?

It's also a meditation on Secrets.  We all have them.  As Jenny has said often (paraphrasing) the biggest change in Coming Out wasn't changing gender, but from being someone WITH a big secret to being someone WITHOUT a big secret.  And. she is absolutely correct.  There is one more theme.  I'll get to that.

Everyone in this book has a secret.  True, some are bigger than others- but all play a role.  And that's another wonderful facet- all of the characters, major and minor, are all fully realized.  They are all people.  Are there stock characters anywhere?  Yes- filling in the edges.  But in the book you meet such characters as Backflip Bob (from Boston!), Herr Krystal, Wailer, and many more.  And have google ready, as here there be Art History- and it means something!

After all, Paintings do speak, right?

What about trans issues?  Is there a trans character?  Well, take a close look at the cover.  The top and bottom.  The very faint pink at the top and the baby blue at the bottom.  The colors of the Trans flag. Think there may be some trans stuff?

At Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, at Jenny's signing for this book

One passage absolutely floored me.    I quote:

I thought about it, but at this point all I could feel was exhaustion with her, with the whole teeming world of people who are not transgender, with their endless questions and interrogations.  Enough already.  I'm sorry, but I have to ask:  What is wrong with you people?  Does a human soul really require an explanation before she can be deemed worthy of human kindness?  Does compassion for one's fellow humans really demand a test first?

So incredibly True.  That's the point, isn't it?  Why can't people just Accept us for who we are?  Why do they demonize us, hunt us, kill us?  Why do they try to legislate us out of existence?

Sorry.  Derailed myself for a second.

I mentioned another theme.  It's something I am still contemplating.  I quote Jenny:

The question posed by the book is, how to we connect those two halves of our lives, so we don't wind up traumatized, as people living two lives instead of one, as people who are whole, with a full history that includes both before AND after?... 

Everyone I know has a before and an after of some kind.  It's the nature of being alive.  If you DON'T have an experience so profound it's hard to get over--whether its really good or really bad-- it's kind of like nothing ever happened to you.  And who would want that life?

I think about MY befores and afters.  (Hell, I wrote about the topic HERE)

As I read the book, I messaged with Jenny about my thoughts.  She was kind enough to discuss some points with me, and listened to me prattle on with my ideas.  I mentioned how familiar the characters seemed, and she replied "Everyone in this book is me."

And they are.  As with all great writers, the characters populating the story are facets of the writer's soul.  I see it in my fiction.  I see it in every book I read.  It is an inescapable Truth that we can only Truly write about what we Know, and so all characters will be a part of the writer.  And characters ARE the story.  One can put characters in the most foreign science fiction landscape or distant past event- it doesn't matter.  Stories are about the characters.  Without them, there is nothing.  This is why people like certain authors- those authors speak to their soul through their words and characters.

After all, Books do speak, right?

In Long Black Veil, Jennifer Finney Boylan spoke to my soul.  I finished the book a couple weeks ago, and I'm still pondering its message.  It haunts me.

It's a fun ride- a worthy ride... a book I recommend very highly.

Go to your local Brick and Mortar bookstore and buy it!

Eastern State Penitentiary