I woke before dawn, as usual. But this day I was not working my usual thirteen hour marathon between my two jobs. No, today would be longer, but FAR more pleasant.
When the sun finally rose on Tuesday, July 23, 2013, the day was rainy and gray. In the shower I shaved my legs and chest, and then, after getting out and changing blades, my face. After a little more prep, I went out into the dreary dawn.
My destination for the day was a familiar one; in fact one very dear to my heart. I was going to Penn State University's main campus. I do this many times a year, but this time... this time I'd be going as a Woman for the first time.
Why? I saw it as an important step forward. PSU is my "Happy Place"- the place I think of when I am depressed to try to cheer myself. To be there as Sophie, to be there as the REAL me... priceless. I'd been planning this for weeks. As I was still crushed by the news of the previous Sunday, this would be exactly what I needed.
Besides, I wouldn't be going alone. I was going up to Amanda Richards' place for makeup, and she was accompanying me there. She hadn't seen the campus since 1983 (she's an Iowa alum) and wanted to go. And she offered to drive!
So in the early morning gloom, I headed toward Allentown.
On the road to the turnpike, I passed an electric sub-station with many transformers. As I drove past it, a bird landed on the transformer and disappeared in a bright white flash and POP.
Feathers and yellow smoke. Several crows were startled and flew away into the rainy morning sky.
I arrived on time and filled with three diet cokes. Amanda was there within a minute. As I drove up, a mutual friend (we'll call her "Q") called me. We were talking and it turns out that she and Amanda were in the same fraternity (different universities and times though.) She asked if I'd mind if she stopped in during my session. Sure!
I was half way done when Q arrived. The discussion towards our Greek experiences, and colorful stories they were!
Later, Q sent me the following in a text (reprinted with her kind permission)
"I did find the juxtaposition between "frat-bonding" and all that getting made up kind of ironic and funny, thinking "oh, if they can only see us now.""
Soon enough I was ready and we were on the road. Due to traffic, we were delayed here and there, and listened to Quadrophenia as we went.
At one point we stopped for snacks at a "redneck" gas station and minimart. I confidently strode across the parking lot. Too confidently- Amanda said I was walking like a guy. I received some looks, but no comments.
After a few hours, we arrived at Penn State. I directed her the back way into town, through the fraternity areas. Soon, we arrived at our first destination: my fraternity house. (#1 on the map below.)
(The map is by Penn State University, and is used without permission. No challenge is intended to the copyright status as it is used for educational purposes.)
(I added the arrows and blue text)
Amanda parked the car in the House parking lot. There was a guy with two co-eds unloading his car and carrying things into the House. He looked at me, and I smiled and said hello. He looked away. It occurred to me that I was a brother at the house before he was born. I carried a yellow nylon mesh half shirt on which were my fraternity letters. I used to wear it way back in the mid-80s when such things were in style.
At my Fraternity House
We were going to use my camera but it was dead. Fortunately, Amanda brought hers. And her camera is FAR better than mine!
I couldn't help but wonder what my brothers would think if they saw me. They were for the most part a very rough group- very much into the guy thing. I know that there were at least two gays in the house, both closeted, and maybe two others I wasn't sure about. And of course, there was a TG: Me. My fraternity has no national policy on LGBT issues, preferring to let the chapters decide. My chapter has no policy on it. I know that when I was an active, being proven gay was a one way ticket out the door. I can only imagine the fate of a transperson.
Wearing my Letters
Amanda took a series of pictures from various angles. Then we walked back around the building to the car. The guy was still there, unloading his things. He looked at me casually, then turned away. For a moment, I thought of tossing him the shirt I carried, now twenty eight years old. But I didn't. I earned it, despite everything else.
From there, we drove across campus to the Nittany Lion Shrine (#2), which was surrounded by blue tarp. It was being renovated! Re-landscaped! No pictures there! I was really disappointed as Lion pictures were one of the major reasons I wanted to make this pilgrimage.
Cest La Vie
Oh well. Amanda took some pictures from across the street and near the sign explaining what was happening.
Sign Me Up?
We then hopped back in the car and drove across campus to our next destination: Beaver Stadium.
We parked and I walked over to where the Paterno statue once stood. Amanda took several pictures of me imitating the statue's pose, but really looked goofy (and fat) so I'm not posting them here. Instead I posed at the spot. (#3)
Joe was here.
And in front of the stadium.
#1 in my heart!
And more there.
Are you following me?
Then we drove back to campus, where we had dinner at one of my favorite places: The Deli. (#4) The Deli has an immense beer selection, but neither of us had one. After dinner, we went to a clothing store, the Family Clothesline (#5), where I bought some more Penn State tops (so you don't keep seeing the same one.)
At the Deli
Then we walked down College Avenue, enjoying the sunshine. No one gave me a second look that I noticed. Amanda asked some questions about the sights, and we both admired some of the scenery. ;)
We stopped at Moyer's Jewelers (#6). I wanted a new pendant, and I wanted it to be a silver Nittany Lion. My online research showed that this place had one at a good price.
From there, to my favorite bar while I was a student: Zenos (#7). This place has an amazing beer selection. Here we both had a drink. I encouraged Amanda to check out the writing on the bathroom walls, which were usually pretty good. More on that later.
From there, we went to our last stop: the only bar I never entered either as an undergrad or any time... until then. Chumleys (#8) is an LGBT bar. We walked in, and it was far smaller than I always imagined. There was a transman behind the bar who was so very nice, but I misgendered him. (If you're reading this, I'm really sorry!)
I had a few drinks there to celebrate the day, and the fact that I was REALLY there- I was at Penn State as MYSELF for the first time!
After a while, we slowly walked back to the car and headed back to Allentown. As always, the trip back seemed far longer. On the way, Amanda introduced me to band she knew well, but I'd never heard of: Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers. They're a Pittsburgh band, and were straight ahead good time bar rock.
We arrived at her studio, where I cleaned up and changed. From there I went home. I arrived at 1 AM: twenty hours after waking. I was SO tired!
But what a day it was! I was glowing! I walked around and no one cared about my being transgender. I was at peace in my Happy place in Happy Valley. This was the first time here. there will be many more, God willing.
I mentioned the graffiti in Zenos. I'd never been in the Ladies room there before, and I'm happy to report that the graffiti there is just as fun as in the men's room (which I never intend to see again.) One piece stood out, so I took a picture with my dying phone camera.
The words are perfect for who I am now and where I'm going.
I hope all of my readers (especially the Super 70!) have a place as special to them as Penn State is to me, and may your thoughts of it bring you comfort.
May it shine a light on you.
Candid near the Lion Shrine