Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A Dream from the Other Night

Late last week, I had a Dream that stuck with me.

First a little background- as I've mentioned before, when I was in college I joined a fraternity. In May 1985, I joined Phi Kappa Sigma (Skull House)at Drexel University.  Then I transferred to Penn State, where, eventually, I lived in the fraternity house there.  How this came to be is a long and complex story, and truth to be told isn't the happiest tale.  That said, I wrote a book about it, which was never published.

Skull House, PSU 1987. I took this from the apartment building across the street.

Anyhow, I graduated from Penn State, but didn't really keep in close touch with too many of the brothers until Facialbook came along.  I visited as often as I could over the years, but the place I visit the House most is in my dreams.

Yes really.

Usually when I dream about the House, it is many times larger than it really is, with parts under construction and a massive three story foyer.  Its always like the House as viewed through a funhouse mirror.

I've only dreamed of myself as Sophie there a couple of times.  In any case, I'm always whatever my age is at the time, while the brothers are all exactly as they were all those years ago.

SO... This Dream.  It was Homecoming, and I went to the House for the alumni reception, not knowing what to expect.  I was wearing a black cocktail dress that showed just enough cleavage to be interesting, pumps, and modest jewelry.  In this dream, there were other people who in the dream I knew were fellow alumni, but who I don't know (random dream people generator at work again!)  In this dream, the active brothers are "current" meaning I don't know any of them.  A couple of them wonder who I am, and why is an unescorted woman wandering about the first floor of the House, having a drink.

These two guys, dressed in mismatched jackets and slacks, come over to me and ask me my business there, and I tell them that once upon a time, I was a Brother there.  They looked me up and down and started to laugh.  I then completed my part of the fraternity "challenge" (used to identify brothers from other chapters, alumni, etc) and they were stunned.

Word passed quickly that one of the alumni is transgender.  But no one else challenged me.  Or even spoke to me.  I stood looking at old composites and scrapbooks (one of which I worked on back in my day) sipping wine and tolerating the occasional stare or laugh in my direction.

The letters are the only set I have from then that still fits me

I walked  out onto the large porch, wine in hand.  It was night, and the spotlights shown up on the house like they always have.  I always thought that being on the front porch at night was like being on a giant stage with all of PSU as the audience.

So I was out on the porch and one of the actives approached me.  He was young and thin, almost gaunt, like I was during college.  He came over and said, "excuse me, are you him, I mean her?"

And I said "if you mean am I Sophie who was a brother here, yes, I am."  And I smiled.

He looked very shy and nervous.  "Um, so you're transgender?"

"Yes.  Why?"

"I was kinda wondering if I could ask you a few um questions."

"Sure," I said, "but it'll cost you a drink."  I held out my plastic cup.  "Cabernet please?"  And I smiled.

And it being a Dream, he went and got it with lightning speed, and he had one for himself as well.

We toasted to Phi Kappa Sigma, then I said "ask away."

"What is it like?  Being a woman?"  he said.

"It's wonderful.  I'm finally at peace."

He looked around to see if anyone was watching.  Then he said, quietly, "I think I'm like you, and I'm really scared."

I put my plastic cup of wine on the ground and hugged him.  "It's going to be ok" I said.

Then the alarm woke me up.

I really wish I could return to that dream.  I want to see how this person dealt with it all.  How did the fraternity react?  What did she do about it?

I guess I'll never know.  But I can hope that this person in my dreams had a happy ending.

*UPDATE*  There is a bit of a sequel HERE at TG Forum.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Raven's 21... but I'm Not Anymore

This past weekend in New Hope, PA was another of Jen Bryant's Raven parties.  In fact it was the 21st, and there were the requisite jokes about it being legal and all that.

Ha ha hee hee ho ho.

Red Carpet at Raven 21

Jen Bryant has really become the beautiful "face" of the Philly transwoman.  She's an ad executive whose transition has been covered in newspapers.  And she's been a force in the community for some time, joining Angela Gardner in picking up where Sandy Martin left off in arraigning safe events for the greater metropolitan trans community to gather.  And Philly has a rather large trans community.  Someday I keep telling myself I'll write an article about the Philly trans scene from the perspective of a transperson (as a few have been written by cisgender writers.)  But I digress.

The weekend featured the usual events- the gathering at the Ramada on Friday night, lunch and shopping during Saturday, then the red carpet and dinner at the Raven, followed by the party.  Linda Lewis and I attended the Ramada thing then the red carpet and dinner.  We dined with Sandy Empanada, Ally Raymond, Hayden, Veronica, Karen Kendra Holmes, Kira Morgan, and John.  A wonderful time was had by all.  For the record, Linda had Chicken Awesome while I had Chicken Mediocre.

Veronica, Ally, Me (slouching), Karen, Linda

But the basis of this entry happened later.  Dancing had started.  I'd had a wonderful conversation with two lesbian women about the meaning of womanhood, and about how singing brings people together.  (This happened in the Raven's piano bar.)  I walked out to my car to drop something off, when I encountered someone I knew.  She went elsewhere for dinner with friends, and was quite drunk.  She was belligerent, in my face and just annoying.  And in her, I saw myself as I was.

I saw Lance.

And I felt ashamed.

For so many many years I saw alcohol as a refuge.  I KNEW I could out-drink anyone, and used that to prove my manhood.  And when I got drunk, I became an asshole... just like this person was.

Don't get me wrong.  I know this person, and she's normally very even tempered and pleasant.  She's just started her journey towards full time after a few false stops.  She's a good person.  But drunk?

And I wondered how many people in our community thought that of me.

You see, my alcohol intake has decreased sharply.  I just don't want it any more.  I hate the feeling of losing control that I craved before.  I hate the sickness in the stomach.  And I'm sick to death of hangovers.  Since my DUI a few years ago, I have REALLY cut back.  And I thank God for that.

I drank a bit after Lisa died, but I learned that alcohol was no longer the hiding place that it once was for me.  It was a broken crutch.  I needed to Grow Up and face my demons.  And in many ways I have- by admitting to myself and the world my True Self.  And by walking through the Darkness back to the Light.

By seeing my drinking for what it was.

I drank a LOT in college.  And I was proud of it.  Not long ago, after I came out to an old friend, she said that I'd developed a reputation in recent years as a Drunk.  And I couldn't refute that.

What could I say?  She was right.

I'm not 21 years old anymore.  I'm 48.  And I'm no longer pretending to be a male anymore.  I am a Woman.

 At Dinner

Growing up takes many steps and a LOT of time.  I will never fully grow up.  A favorite song of mine by Marillion stated that "Without direction, there is no Childhood's End."  And now I HAVE direction.  I have found that which I never had:  Myself.  Sophie.

And I'm no longer ashamed.

I no longer find shame in being a Woman.  While I still have secrets, and always will, the Big One is out now for all to see.  I am not ashamed to say I am Trans.

Some may still find my behavior shameful or even shameless.  It used to be I'd make no apologies.  But I'm tired of being the Asshole.  I saw myself in that parking lot in the Raven (and I bumped into her a few times inside as well) and didn't like what I saw.  But at 48, I can say that I can change... and HAVE changed.  The angry young man has been replaced...

By a Woman at Peace.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Embers: A Year Without Lisa Empanada

September 16, 2013 was a very dark day.  The sun rose and my dear sister Lisa Empanada awoke, knowing that she would not see the sunset.

She planned to kill herself that day.  And she did.

She started a paint compressor in the back of a filthy paint van, laid her head on a pillow, and let the fumes kill her.

Or rather Tom did.  I've discussed this before.

In any case, it was a year ago that she died.  And on September 17 is when her Wife, Sandy, and the rest of the world found out.  The body was found by a nearby homeowner.

I won't rehash these events.  They're hard enough to think of as it is.  I discuss them in detail here and here.

So much has changed in a Year, both in my life and in the world.  It's a year that Lisa didn't experience.

No one saw it coming.  In retrospect, all the signs were there.  But we chose not to see them.  You see, that was Lisa's genius- she had us all thinking she was Happy and that the Darkness had passed her by.  Even her therapist didn't see this coming.  Lisa knew we were watching.  And she knew we'd try to stop her again.

And she was determined that no one would this time.  She succeeded.  And her prize?  An urn on a shelf in her bedroom.  Scattered ashes.  Relics spread through her friends.

Embers after the Fire of her life.

This year has been brutal.  In many ways, I've become tougher, as I didn't have her to lean on for advice and to council me out of my own Darkness.  I am transitioning without her.

I can't help but wonder what she'd think about the flowers and balloons left at the site of her death.  What would she think of myself and other wearing her dresses on occasion?  What would she think of the small urn in which I keep part of her ashes on my shelf?  What would she have said when I finally went full time?

Sometimes I think I can hear her whispering in the back of my mind.  They are words of comfort and encouragement.  Is it really her or just echoes and fantasy?  I'll keep my answer to myself.

In a year, I've found a place to live.  Linda Lewis entered my life, and is an amazing friend.  She has been a mentor and co-conspirator.  She has seen me laugh and cry.  Just as Lisa did.  But, and this is no slight against Linda, she's not Lisa.

So.  A Year.  How did I mark it?  By spending the 16th and 17th with her widow Sandy Empanada.  I took off work to be with her in Baltimore.  But she wisely decided that she didn't want to be home on that date.  The house that Lisa completely re-did for her is reminder enough.  So she decided to take a week in Ocean City, Maryland.  And she invited a small group of friends to join her.

I drove down on Tuesday, Sept 16th.  And I cried a good part of the trip.  I wanted to get it out of my system, as I wanted to be strong for her.  I wouldn't be of any use, nor any fun, if I were a blubbering idiot.  I stopped to see my parents briefly.  Mum made me lunch.  After the visit, I headed to Ocean City, and found the Carousel Hotel.

There I waited in a cabana bar on the beach.  I met a couple there from Pittsburgh and we got to talking.  They bought me shots of Jamisons.  They burned going down and set me stomach afire.  Sandy arrived with the beautiful Veronica after the outdoor bar closed, and they met me at the inside bar.   We then had dinner at the hotel restaurant.

Sandy, Veronica, myself at the hotel bar.

What Sandy didn't know was that her daughter Tiffany was coming down to surprise her.  She was coordinating this with Veronica.  When the three of us went to the Greene Turtle across the street, she missed us by minutes.  She knew what our next destination would be, so she raced ahead of the bus we rode.  The bus ride was dominated by two very drunk women in their late forties hitting on some young guys.

We were walking along the boardwalk, when standing at the side was Tiffany!  Sandy looked at her, twice, then realized that this woman was her daughter and not a random twin.  The look on her face was priceless.

Tiffany was a breath of fresh air.  She's extremely funny, and livened us all up.  Which was good, as my stomach was on fire and my brain numbed by pain.  I did my best to keep smiling and contributed an occasional comment here and again.  But I was very down, knowing that a year before, Lisa lay dying then dead.

I was failing at my job of keeping Sandy's thoughts from despair, as I couldn't do it myself.

We then went to the Purple Moose for a bit.  Then had our picture taken at one of those dress up places.  We ended the night at Dead Freddies, where Sandy and Veronica both had a huge 40 oz plus strawberry daiquiri/margarita with beer.

We finally went to bed at 2:30.  And Veronica was up with the dawn.  And a beautiful dawn it was.

We went to lunch and lurked around the boardwalk for a bit, shopping.  I bought a necklace extender.  Veronica bought an outfit.  The day was sunny and beautiful... like the day the year before when I drove like a madwoman to see Sandy upon hearing of Lisa's death.

At  Seacrets

It was a quiet subdued day.  We spent a lot of it in the hotel room, on the balcony looking over the water.

Each of us our own thoughts.

Tiffany left first.  I left soon after.  I had a long ride home, then a trip to Boston the following day.  Sandy and Veronica walked me out to my car and we hugged.  I knew others were coming the following day to keep Sandy's mood up.  I couldn't help but think that for my part I wasn't good company.  I was quiet.

I cried a good amount of the way home.  Not a cleansing good cry, but a slow stream of tears that lasted an eternity.

And for all that, there was no closure.  I wonder if there ever be.  A year ago, I said goodbye to my sister.  I asked how my heart will feel in thirty years.  I still don't know the answer to that question.  But I can say that one Year hasn't been enough to calm the storm that she left in my soul.  I still miss Lisa desperately.  Most of the world has healed, but some of us has not.  Cannot.  Will not.  Am I obsessed?

Lose your sister, then you can judge me.

I still love you and miss you, Lisa.

My Urn for Lisa

Monday, September 15, 2014

A Happy Birthday

On September 13, 2014, I turned 48.

But this story doesn't start here.  Nor does it start on September 13, 1966.  Although technically my story started there.  But that's neither here nor there.

No, today's post starts a couple of days before the 13th, on September 11, 2014.  It was a rainy, miserable day here in south east PA, and I was waiting at the PA DOT Drivers licencing center in  Malvern, PA.  I'd been waiting for over ninety minutes when finally called.  In my hand was a form signed by my therapist stating that my true gender identity is female.  I also had a money order for $12.00 as that's what the PennDOT site said I needed.

And the guy processed my form and said "that'll be $27.50."  "But the website said it was $12," I said.

"The price went up," he said, very matter of factly.

And so I left.  I couldn't get more money, as my ATM card had been compromised the weekend before, and the replacement hadn't arrived yet.

The next day, I returned.  My ATM card had been replaced, and I procured another money order, this one for $15.50.  I waited my turn again, but this time had the proper amount of money.  Not long after, I had my new drivers license, with an F where gender was indicated.

Fast forward to Saturday, September 13.  It was another rainy day.  During the day, I saw Wife and daughter.  I was in male mode.  A compromise.  The highlight of the afternoon was Daughter's "birthday surprise:"  a twenty minute "magic show" which was a rambling improv narrative as only a six year old and her toys could do.  It was incoherent and precious as all hell.  I felt the love for sure.

That night was a party.  Last year, I spent my birthday alone.  That really tore at my heart.  This year, I decided I would throw my own party.  Coincidentally, Angela's Laptop Lounge was a week early due to a Raven event the following weekend.  So I would have my party at Angela's event.  I used facialbook to invite friends- both trans and cisgender.

After seeing Wife and daughter, I returned to the apartment.  My roomie Linda was already made up, so I jumped into the shower, shaved, and did my makeup and hair.  I decided to wear an LBD, as did Linda.  Her dress would get more compliments but that's ok.

Me in an LBD

Linda drove.  Our first stop was McKenzies to see our friend Valerie, who bartends there.  We stayed for a little then went off to Baxters, where the party and the Laptop Lounge were being held.

When we arrived, there were two couples having dinner and one bar customer.  Angela was already setting up.  Soon enough, my guests started to arrive.  Some brought gifts.  Eventually eleven people would attend my "party" and I was grateful to see all of them.  I really appreciate that people took time out of their weekend to see me.

Dancing with Katie to the Grateful Dead

As I mentioned earlier, I didn't drive.  As I suspected, people started buying me drinks.  And yes, I got drunk.  The biggest hit of them all was when my "Big Sister" Mel bought me a MacAllen scotch.  That really threw me over into drunkland.  But I didn't get stupid about it.  As the night grew late, people would buy me shots over my protests and I gave them away.  I knew if I had another drink I'd be sick, and I didn't want that.  I gave several of them to the wedding party.

Oh I didn't mention them?  Right around 10:30, guests from a nearby wedding started to arrive.  The reception was over so this was the after party.  Overall, there were maybe thirty of them.  At first, they stayed to one side of the bar, away from the TG women.  As the night went on, curiosity, the desire to dance, and, undoubtedly, alcohol took hold and they mingled with us freely.

And in this way, it was a good night for education and outreach.  Heck for most of my friends, I was the only transperson they'd ever met.  Now they were mingling with a broad cross section of our community; from CDs to fully transitioned women.  Everyone was respectful and really seemed to enjoy the Night.

Eventually, I'd had enough drink, and my dear friend Elizabeth (now back from Istanbul) drove me back to my apartment.  After she left, I contemplated sticking my fingers down my throat, but decided against it.

I was hung over like crazy the next day.  The weather cleared and I went to a church fair with Wife and Daughter.  Oh what a long day, but Daughter had fun.  And when it was over, I went back to the apartment and collapsed on my bed.  I slept most of the day.  I cvan't handle the drink like I used to, and that's a very good thing.

So that was my birthday weekend.  The only word that describes it for me is Magical.  I saw so many people and really enjoyed feeling special for the day.  Normally, I hate when people make a fuss as I don't feel I deserve it.  But I decided that I'd let people make my day special for me, and that I'd accept it.  And they made it special.


Thanks to all of you who came out, and to those who sent me birthday wishes on facialbook.

And thank You, dear readers, for staying with me through good entries and bad.

With Linda at the Party

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Last Talk- a Year Later

September 7, 2013.  It was a Saturday.  Here's what I wrote about it then:

"I found Lisa near one of the bars.  She'd changed clothes as well.  She saw my mood, and we sat one a stone ledge in the lobby and talked.  And drank a bit.  

We discussed being a good parent.  She hadn't liked my idea of getting them a house.  And she felt that the only way to be the best possible parent to my daughter was to be a complete person.  

To transition.

I cried on her shoulder.  She also suggested that I be myself for the long drive home the following day.  

We hugged, and she held me closer than ever.  We parted ways, as I headed back to my room for some much needed sleep.  I turned and waved to her.  She waved back, smiling.

It was the last time I saw her alive."

The Final Night

That was a whole year ago today.  One full year has passed since I laid eyes on one of my best friends.  "My transition sister."  Lisa Empanada

She wrote about that night as well.  This is from a Facebook post:

"I miss you daddy" forced the tears to well up. Upon hearing about this, it caused a lump in my throat seeing the tears flow from a worried 'Daddy' who needs to focus on being the woman she is, in order to be the best parent she can be. All I could do was hug her...Dad to Dad.

I've written in this blog that I realize now that this was her saying goodbye. That our last hug which we held longer than before was meant to be Final.

I think about her every day.  And I think about what we spoke about.  She was emphatic that to be the best parent I could be, I had to be the best person I could be- the most complete person.  That meant going full time.  It would take me over six months, but I did it.

I wonder if she hadn't died and thrown me into the Darkness if I would've done it sooner?  Who knows?

Lisa and I had spoken many times about our transitions.  We were going to support each other through it- transition Together.  Sisters.  She had been all but full time for a few months, but hadn't gone the full way yet- she was still male for work.  

She was in Male mode when she killed herself.  I still maintain that Lisa wouldn't have done that- but Tom did.

Am I a better parent as Sophie?  Well, I hardly see my daughter.  She misses me- she tells me every time I see her.  And I tell her I love her.  Am I a better person?  Absolutely.  My anger is gone.  My need to hide and to challenge all who would get close are also gone.  I hardly drink anymore.  

I have learned to cry.

Lisa showed me how sad I could be and live.  I still cry for her.  My eyes are tearing up even as I type this.  

So.  Was Lisa right?  I would have to say Yes.  As a better person, I CAN be a better parent.  And I'm trying to be that.  The road is hard.  So very hard.  Harder still when I rarely see my Daughter.  I'm especially afraid when she says something that I KNOW came from her grandmother.  MIL.  

My life is a work in progress, and will continue to be one until that day, many years from now, God willing, that I see Lisa again.

I have more to say on the subject of Lisa, but I'll wait until the anniversary of her death to do it.  After all, that's coming very soon as well.  

The Final Picture I took of Lisa.  One Year Ago.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Random Thoughts at the Start of September

1.  I'm trying a different format for this entry.

2.  I blatantly stole it from my very talented friend Katie R.

3.  With her permission.

4.  Yes, really.

5.  Labor day has passed and with it two anniversaries.

6.  A year ago on August 28, I was thrown out of MIL's House and that same day I was elected into Vanity Club.

7.  I'd be lying if I said that the anniversary didn't affect me.

8.  A LOT

9.  Like Darkness wise.

10.  A few weeks ago, a local teen transman threw himself in front of a train.

11.  That started to look very attractive.

12.  Beats a shotgun.  I don't own one.

13.  In any case, I kept thinking about my daughter.

14.  I think my not living with her and her mother has done some damage, and I want to see her grow to be a woman.

15.  So I'm still here.  Really.  This isn't a ghost typing.

16.  Or is it?

17.  SCC is this week.  I can't afford to be there.

18.  I wish I could.

19.  Maybe it's for the best.  SCC was the last place I saw Lisa Empanada alive.

20.  Yes I'm thinking a lot about her these days.

21.  My birthday is coming up.  It will be my first as my true self.

22.  I've invited many of my cis-friends to join me at Laptop Lounge (which early this month.)

23.  Laptop is early because a Jen Bryant Raven party is on the third Saturday- the 20th.

24.  It's then because there was a conflicting event at the Raven on the 13th.

25.  That conflict is NOT my birthday, even if it's on my birthday.

26.  I'll be 48.

27.  Anyway, the idea is for both sides of my life to interact and meet and maybe have some fun.

28.  Oh, and to get people to LL because Angela wasn't sure about how a re-schedule would go over.

29.  I try to help my friends.

30.  I will also be at the Raven Party on the 20th.

31.  Sandy Empanada and Ally will be there.  As will Hayden.  And many more of my friends

32.  And maybe some friends I haven't met yet.

33.  It's a hot day here today.  And humid.

34.  Summer's almost gone, but not quite.

35.  I mean, Penn State has already played a game!

36.  In Ireland!  And they won!

37.  Go Penn State!

38.  If money is available, I intend to go up to PSU before Christmas, if only for a day.

39.  I'm still struggling to make rent every month.

40.  Linda and I need a roommate to share expenses.

41.  No luck finding one yet.

42:  The answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything.

43.  I never read that book.

44.  Hey my geek cred comes from reading comics and working in the gaming industry.

45.  I worked for 13 years in the hobby games industry.

46.  I did freelance editing for TSR (Dungeons and Dragons), worked at a games distributor, and spent nine years at Games Workshop.

47.  But I still never read Douglas Adams

48.  I'll be 48 this year (didn't I mention that?)

49.  I read Tolkein though.

50.  I only read the first book of Game of Thrones.  I was forced to by a boss at the aforementioned GW.  And he spoiled the ending of the book for me.  So I never read another,

51.  That was 13 years ago.

52.  In any case, this has gone on long enough.

53.  Be Well!

54. Obligatory Picture