Sunday, March 12, 2017

Burns and Boylan

As I have mentioned many many times before, I have Scots blood.  MacIntosh clan.  Mum is from Ayrshire, Scotland, and that's also the home of someone famous.

Robert Burns.  Greatest Scots poet in history.  Probably responsible for the entire Romantic period of poetry.

Robert Burns

I KNOW you know something of his.  You've sung one of his songs.  Seriously!  Auld lang Syne!

Anyway, when Burns went to Edinburgh, he was a provincial, and he knew it.  And he played to it.  He was flavor of the month among the sophisticates and rich folks of the time- the "rustic" poet.

I'll come back to this.

Last Wednesday, February 22, 2017, GLAAD board member, reality TV star, and author Professor Jennifer Finney Boylan spoke at her alma mater: the Haverford School.  It's a very exclusive all- boys private school with an impeccable academic reputation.  And it's really expensive.

In any case, I finished work and drove down to the school.  I was lucky to find a parking space!  I walked into the building where the event was held, and asked a friendly security guard to direct me to the event.  Outside the lecture hall was a group of tables where books were being sold, and staffing it were two managers from the bookstore where I work.  They were doing a brisk business.

I went into the hall and found a seat, then decided I should use the Ladies room before the reading started.  I walked to the doors, where two boys dressed in school blazers were stationed.  I asked one of them where I may find the restrooms.  He said "the Men's room is over there" and he pointed.

Seriously.  Misgendered on this of all nights?

I glared at him, and he then said "oh the ladies room is down a little further."

After taking care of business, I re-entered the hall.  As I walked down the side aisle, I overheard two older women speaking.  One was wearing a fur coat.

"What do you call someone like that?  Him?  Her?  It?"
"I know it's all so confusing."

I kept walking.

I found a seat next to an older woman with short blonde hair.  She breathlessly told me how a friend of a friend has a trans-son, and how brave he is, but especially his parents, because after all just think of what people will say and yet they support their new son and its a shame they'll never have grandchildren now and so how do you know Jenny?

Then my dear friends Jone and Christine came in, so I moved to sit near them.  I hadn't seen Christine is a long time, and seeing Jone is always a treat.

We sat and talked before the show.  Jone told me about two different groups she is attending now in the city.  You see, Jone is VERY rich.  She has started and sold several businesses.  She is very proud of her accomplishments, and she has every right to be.  And, she is very generous with her time and money, especially to trans causes.

So she is making contacts galore in these groups.  One is for LGBT executives, and the other is for women executives and they meet at these fancy places, and talk about things and network, etc.  I commented that they wouldn't let po' folks like me through the door in these places even if I could pay whatever fee they charge for the meeting (which I'm sure is considerable.)  She said she would bring me as a guest.  I somehow don't see that happening.  Even my best (only) suit would look shabby to them.

So there I was, sitting in the front row of an event at the exclusive Haverford school in a room full of rich folks, waiting for the Woman of the Hour, Professor Jennifer Finney Boylan.  She took the stage after a gracious introduction by the school's headmaster.

This talk was different from others I've seen her give.  She read different things this time (her columns instead of her books,) and seemed almost wistful.  I understood why- after all, one of her beloved teachers was sitting in the audience.

One of the pieces she read was about her tutelage under John Barth, and his Theory of Plot: “the gradual perturbation of an unstable homeostatic system and its catastrophic restoration to a new and complexified equilibrium”

After her readings, she took questions.  The first was from a graduate of the school (class of 90-something).  His question droned on and on and on... literally for minutes.  I said to Jone "What is this- his doctoral thesis?"  Seriously- he just kept going and going.

One of the questions was from a girl seated in the front row.  If she was trans, I couldn't tell (and that is a good thing.)  She seemed young- mid teens.  She asked about coming out and acceptance.  Jenny sang her a song that brought tears to my eyes.

Then she solicited the Haverford students in the room for a question.  As part of her answer, she mentioned a point she'd brought up during her lecture at St. Joseph's University just over a year before.   She said that (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.

She finished her wonderful talk and was met with a standing ovation.  She then went to the lobby to sign books.  I waited until the line began to get shorter before I joined it.  Behind me were two women who had attended an exclusive all- girls school: the Baldwin School.  How did I know?  They told me.  We chatted briefly about education.

When it was my turn, Jenny gave me a big hug.  We chatted briefly, and I introduced her to my two managers.  She was also kind enough to sign my copy of Stuck in the Middle with You.  She'd sent me that book years ago to review.  She was also kind enough to pose for a picture.

Me with Professor Jennifer Finney Boylan

I finally left, walking with Jone and Christine.  We hugged, and I went home.


How did this all make me feel?

Well, there's a reason it's taken me so long to write this blog entry.

I was rubbing shoulders with the Rich folks.  I do this every day at work, but in the capacity of a Servant.  A lackey.  "And be quick about it- I'm in a hurry!"

I KNOW I'm the intellectual equal of almost everyone I meet (yes, I have hubris about SOMETHING) yet almost everything about that night made me feel... inferior.  I don't speak Latin.  I don't have a fancy private school education.  I didn't attend an Ivy.  While I hold an advanced degree, it isn't law or medicine or an MBA from Harvard.  I work retail.

I have been unable to find a professional job in so very long.  For so very long, I've been earning below poverty level wages.  Usually, if I do something fun (like the Keystone Conference) I'm doing so because of someone else's generosity.

My professional life is Shit, and that extends into my personal life.  And after wallowing in shit for as long as I have, I now believe I belong there, and that is all I deserve.  That I don't have a place among Educated people- among Professionals.  Peers.

I've lived in shit for so long, I now believe I AM shit.

Going back to Robbie Burns:  Burns died on July 21, 1796.  He was 37.  He died poor, despite his success as a poet.  The rich folks' fancy shifted elsewhere and that was that.  After his death, he became the celebrated Legend that he is today among Scots, and literate people worldwide.

And while I can write, I am no Burns.  But, I believe that if my Writing ever sees success, it will be after I am gone- dying Poor.

Just as happened to him.

Be well.


  1. Sophie -

    You are not shit. Don't ever believe that!!!!

    Are there things you try to do to help keep people from misgendering you?


  2. HI, Sophie. I am sorry if my reading--or the circumstances around it-- left you feeling puny. You're right that my "presentation" at these sorts events has morphed over the years. I'm less concerned with Trans 101 these days, because I keep thinking everyone must have finally gotten the memo-- although your experiences make it clear that everyone clearly has not. But also because as an artist (sic) my attention and passions have changed over the years. The short piece about the necessity of love felt timely; and the long piece about teachers was, as you note, germane to the occasion of being back where I began.

    It is hard to spend your whole life on the outside. You describe being on the outside both in terms of gender and also in terms of social class and income. The Main Line is unique in this country-- I always forget how strange it is until I go back there (which now that my mother is gone, I almost never do). There is a kind of baked-in privilege there that seeps into everything. People are politically liberal, but emotionally conservative.

    I never understood it until I got out of there. After college I lived in poverty for a half-dozen years, and it nearly did me in-- that feeling of being on the outside, having no resources either financial or cultural. I clawed my way back into academia after a decade of failure. Now I am safe, in some ways, but I carry the memory of that hard time with me always, and I still live my life as if loss were just a motion away.

    I cannot solve the world for you, and you didn't ask me to. I do want you to know, again, that my heart goes out to you, that I know you are a brilliant and loving soul, and you deserve a whole lot more than the place you are, and not only financially. But surely that.

    I am hoping new opportunities arise for you.

    Your note did put me in mind of that William Gibson quote-- something like, "When you find yourself depressed and wondering what is wrong with you, don't forget the very distinct possibility that your real problem may simply be that you are surrounded by assholes."