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

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Birthright Perspective

I was speaking with a coworker today.  She is graduating from Rosemont college with a Masters in Publishing.  She told me that the customer I just served was a Rosemont student- going for an MA in Creative Writing.  My coworker had heard this person, who teaches English locally, read her final project.

It was titled "Calm Your Tits."  It was a comedic look on how boobs are a pain in the butt.  She said it was extremely funny.

I asked how boobs are a an impediment.  She said they get in the way, they make things more difficult to fit, guys stare at them, etc.

I smiled.

I see it as a difference in perspective.  

Women grow up knowing that someday, they will grow breasts.  They will eventually menstruate.  They could become mothers.  They know these things will happen, as these things are their birthright.  This is how the human female reaches adulthood.

And to some women, their breasts ARE an annoyance.

But to me, and transwomen like me, breasts are a Godsend.  When we are teens, we see the girls blossoming and feel left behind.  We spend our lives wanting- needing- wishing- that we had that which they take for granted:  Womanhood.  

I started hormones in December 2012.  As most people, I started on a low dose, but eventually increased it.  I had no idea how the hormones would affect me.  I mean, I had an idea- I know biology after all- but how would they affect me personally.

As it turns out, I hit the jackpot when it came to my chest.  Large breasts run down my matrilineal line.  I am lucky and I know it.

Yes, I'm a goofball

It's nice to have SOMETHING go right.

I waited my whole life for my breasts.  I never thought I'd have them.  I thank God that I lived to see the day!  Do they get in my way?  Not really.  Are they inconvenient?  If you mean having to wear a bra- oh darn!

There are many parts of womanhood I will never experience.  I can never give birth, as I don't have the equipment, and never will.  That means that everything associated with the female reproductive system is foreign to me- such as periods.  As I can't afford surgeries, I will never experience having female genitalia.  

I transitioned mid-life, so I will always, physically, walk between genders.  For me, womanhood is earned Every Single Day.  It is something for which  I strive.  

That gives me a different perspective.  

Not right or wrong- just different.

Be well!