Friday, December 28, 2018

Walking in a Graveyard on a Rainy Late December Day

I did this via speech to text, and did a light grammar/spelling edit, so this is unfiltered Sophie sh*t.


 I'm walking in the graveyard behind the Valley Forge Chapel. I come here often for the quiet; for the solitude, and to say prayers over those who stones are old and so probably don't get Prayers anymore.

It's been a difficult few days.  I'm almost out of my unemployment benefits, and things may go downhill fast.  Even Linda, my roomie and bestie sees the handwriting on the wall, because if I can't afford to live there, that will put her out as well, and that hurts me more than words.

Yesterday, Linda drove me to Limerick to pick up my car, which was getting some service due to a recall.  We drove through the town I grew up in- Spring City, and also through Royersford (which is the same town really just across the river.)

It was sunset into dusk when we passed through.  I couldn't help but think about all I've seen since I left Spring City those many years ago; about the people I've met, the places I've seen, things I've done- the changes in my life. I thought about those I knew who never left this area-who settled here after high school (assuming they finished.)

Spring City (via Google maps.)  The circle is where I grew up.

I can think of few worse fates than to be stuck in Spring City.  Somehow, I managed to avoid that fate, but now, as my life closes in on me, I think about how many of these people are doing so much better in their life than I ever have or ever will.  They have families- they have places to go; they are happy, maybe, not knowing what's out there.  What's the old saying?  Ignorance is bliss.

Walking here always lends me perspective. You can buy your lots long in advance here if you wish, so you would know exactly where your body will rot. and where it will lay in perpetuity.  Some of the stones here are very impressive.  There's one in particular that I'm looking at right now.  It has an arch and in that Arch is an angel reaching down from heaven, pulling the soul of the deceased to Heaven.  On that stone is the wife's name as well, but she's still alive- her husband long passed.  I can't imagine her pain.

There's a lot of Gaelic crosses here as well, and a lot of very old graves next to which trees are growing- the roots feeding upon the Dead.

It's raining harder now.  I'm standing in front of the graves of two different children- both infants.  One has a small Christmas tree, and the other a statue of an Angel. That child was born at the end of July and died in September 4th in the same year. Again, I can't imagine the pain that those parents have endured.

It's raining even harder now.  The sound of rain is always brought me peace.  I don't know why.  Maybe because it's the sky crying (to use the old cliche.). Maybe it's washing away the dirt in this world.  Someday I will hear it no more.  Someday, I'll be the Dirt washed away.  I'm okay with that.  I really am.

As I said, Death holds no fear to me: it's a friend.

2018 is coming to an end. I was with a friend of mine last night, and she told me that she can't wait for the year to end, because it's been one of the worst years of her life. I must say that my year has not been good at all either.  I spent most of it unemployed.  However, it is still not as bad as 2013. I still have no idea how I survived that year.

Heading back toward my car, and looking up hill, I see the Crypt of a Flying Tiger.  There aren't any of those left on this side of the Veil.  Maybe thirty feet away is the grave whose stone is shaped like a drum kit.  The person beneath it died in his early twenties by suicide.  I can't imagine how his parents feel, but I can't judge him.  I was 24 when I first attempted suicide.  I think about everything I would have missed- my daughter, my wife, some of the best people I've ever met in my life.  And some of the worst decisions I've ever made.

I usually visit this kid just to say hello; to tell him that I understand, and that I hope that his pain has gone away.  Much like when I visit Lisa- when I go down to Baltimore and visit the place where she left us, and I talk to her.

The year is ending and I'm in a far worse place than when it began.

God help me.

Be well.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Men of the Skull Chapter 38: Spring Schedule

After the first semester, I needed to get my act together.  I thought I'd done well, but the "D" in EDPSY really crushed me.  Lesson learned- go to every class.

What I didn't know was that, while I'd do better academically from then on, my "best" semester was behind me.  Maybe it was the magic of discovering this new (to me) campus- or perhaps it was the amazing spirit of a Championship football season.  I think it was because the excitement of meeting new people- a few women in particular.  My GPA would improve, and eventually I would live in the house with my fraternity brothers, but that magic was over.

But then, I was happy to be back home- home at Penn State, after holiday break.  A new semester lay ahead- a blank paper, if you will.  I was content at that.


Chapter 38: Spring Schedule

Monday, January 12, 1987 Senator blames Reagan

            I needed to much better this semester.  During the new semester I’d start my first student teaching assignment.  Because of that, my schedule was very strange.  The student would take up a full day either on Tuesday or Thursday, so I couldn’t schedule any other classes on those days.  That meant that Monday, Wednesday, and Friday would be very full days.

  • ENGL 100: English Language Analysis 9:05- 9:55AM.  Diagramming sentences- something I’d never done
  • ENGL 212: Intro to Fiction Writing 10:10-11:00AM.  I was looking forward to that one
  • EDTHP 115: Education in American Society 12:20PM-1:10PM.  Oh boy!  Sounded thrilling!
  • ENGL 444: Shakespeare 3:35PM-4:25 PM.  This could be cool
  • SPCOM 100A: Public Speaking  4:40PM-5:30PM  Required for all Penn Staters
I applied, and was turned down.

That was a lot of shit to stuff into a day, and a lot of very heavy books to haul around.

Those left my Tuesdays and Thursdays open for:
  • CI295 Introductory Field Experience for Teacher Preparation.  This was the first student teaching course.  I was going to sit around and observe a teacher at work, and then the class would meet in small groups to discuss our observations.

This also meant that either Tuesday or Thursday would be free days.  Now most people would use that opportunity to catch up on homework, sleep, laundry, etc.  Me?  I saw it as an opportunity to have another night of partying without worrying about waking up the next morning.
Still, I had to buckle down.  The last semester was my worst ever, academically.  If I wanted to graduate, much less eventually have any kind of career, I had to do much better.
Collegian, January 14, 1987

            Winter at Penn State meant a lot of grey days.  It was as if God used up all the world’s color for the autumn and had none left for a few months until he restocked.  Low dark clouds and drizzle or flurries were the norm.  A sunny day was so rare that it was almost reason for a party.  I’m sure it was for someone somewhere.  If nothing else, the bad weather was reason enough to stay inside and do homework.

Or drink, or have sex, or…

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Ten Years Gone By

I've written a LOT about "rediscovering myself."  In fact, the entire "MySpace blogs" is a record of those times as they happened.  (shameless plug.)  I've written about how I was "named" at Femme Fever.   Karen, the proprietor, did the makeup and asked what name I was using.  I told her but said it was not set in stone.  She stepped back and looked at me, as the makeup was finished, but I hadn't seen myself yet.  She looked at me and said "I have a strong feeling your name is Sophie."  She then turned the chair around so I faced the mirror and said "Say hello to Sophie!" I usually don't ignore strong feelings, so I kept the name.

The Second Picture of Sophie  "Reasonably Feminine?"

I went to that makeover with the thought that if I could look reasonably feminine, I'd continue exploring this side of me, and see how deep it ran inside of me.  I drove all the way up to Long Island, and found the place.  (I told Wife I was going to State College.)  I was scared out of my mind!  What was I doing? 

Karen was very welcoming, and she knew I was nervous.  I'd explained to her in our emails to each other that this would be my first time getting a makeover.  She'd seen this many times.  Her solution?  Before we would even really get talking, she took some measurements, and then handed me a bra and breast forms and said "Put these on."  I did as I was told, and so there I sat wearing a bra with fake boobs.  And she was right- it put me at ease.  It was like jumping into the deep end of a pool to get used to the cold water.  KER-SPLASH! 

In the first pictures, maybe the first dozen, I can see the fear in my eyes, then that fear subsiding.  (Most of the pictures from this session are at the very beginning of my Flickr page.)


We talked about what I wanted to do, etc.  I wanted to do "girl next door," "Bond Girl," "businesswoman," and "bombshell."  The orange dress was the Bond girl attempt.  Not very Bond-like, but oh well.  The next look was the businesswoman.  That was a change of clothes and a slight shift in makeup. 

Would you sit with the Girl Next Door?

We then did "girl next door."  That was back to the red wig.  I wore a turtleneck sweater and skirt.  All three outfits were with the same stockings,boots, corset, etc. so changing was fast.  The last outfit was very different.  I wore pantyhose, strappy shoes...and no bra.  The dress was holding up the forms... sort of.  It had the effect of making my boobs look either enormous or saggy. 

My attempt at "come hither"

Of all the outfits, I think the red one was the most fun.  By then, I'd been there four hours, and felt so alive! 

Before leaving, I bought the red wig (Karen said I seemed to "come alive" in it) and the bra.  I would later buy the red shoes.  I haven't worn them in forever because, um, I can't figure out how to put them on.

The date of that photo session?  December 8, 2008. 

It's been over ten years. 

After that session, I ordered a couple of items on ebay.  Within a few months, I opened a PO Box a few towns over- in Oaks, Pa.  That way, I could receive items, catalogues, etc. without fear of discovery.  I paid cash for that.

I continued doing research online.  I discovered that there was a Transgender support group near me- VERY near me.  They met (and still meet) the third Saturday of every month: Southeast Pennsylvania Renaissance.  I resolved to go.  I signed off of work and borrowed Wife's car (mine was in the shop.)  I stopped at a parking lot in Valley Forge Park where I attempted to dress.  All I succeeded in doing was breaking my cheap Fredericks of Hollywood corset I'd worn for Halloween. 

I arrived, but I wasn't sure if I was in the right place.  I saw a woman walking in the parking lot.  I rolled down my window, and asked her if this was Renaissance.  She was Rebecca Lohr, president of Ren at that time.  She is still a dear friend (and a gifted author.)  She told me I could go inside and change in the restrooms, as many people did.  I grabbed my things:  corset, bra and wig from Femme Fever, shoes, blouse, skirt... and the "breasts" I'd made for Halloween out of bird seed and pantyhose.  Once inside, a GG welcomed me, and directed me to the right place.  She was the wife of one of the officers, and is a wonderful person.  (I won't name her, as her husband is still closeted.)

And so there I was- badly dressed with no makeup.  The meeting was informative, and I met MANY people who are dear friends to this day (my "original gangsters" to be 90s about it.)  After the group went into session, I was taken aside to a room for newcomers, where that one officer and I talked about who Sophie was, and what I wanted her to be.  She gave me an analogy of a train, which I still use to this day.  This is being like a train.  Some people get off at a certain stop, and that's where they are comfortable.  That's their home.  Very few take the train to the end of the line- transition.

The Only Photo of me that night that I'm aware of

I found out that there would be a Christmas party that night at Shangri La.  I was invited, and I went.  The restaurant was RIGHT NEXT DOOR TO WHERE I WORKED!  I was so incredibly nervous.  Directly following the gathering was Angela's Laptop Lounge.  I didn't know that it was $10 to attend.  My dear friend Jone paid for me, as I had no cash.  Jone took me under her wing that night, as did so many others.  In any case, I made sure no one took pictures of me.  I wanted no evidence of my being there.  (I paid Jone back with drinks the next time I went.)

Still, pictures of me wearing that outfit exist.  I wore it again in March 2009 to Renaissance and Laptop.  I did my own makeup as well (for only the second time.)  So, Aside from the different wig (and different hose, and corset), this was my look that night.

March 2009.  I've gotten better at makeup since

My dear friend Jen Lehman (she called herself Jennifer Johns back then) told me when I mentioned it was my first time out ever "Pandora's box has opened!"  And she was so right.  It had opened.

Jen the night I met her.  She's gonna kill me for posting this!  :) 

That night was December 21, 2008.

Ten Years.

A whole decade passed since that night.  I've met so many since then.  I've lost some as well.  I've never forgotten the kindness shown to me on that first night out.  Those ladies are among my closest friends. I honor them by paying it forward.  I try to help "new" girls when I can.  As I don't go out often now, that tends to happen at the Keystone Conference.

I hid my Truth from myself, and my Wife.  I told her about Sophie in May 2012.  I started HRT on December 10. 2012.  Wife's mother threw me out of the house in August 2013.  A few weeks later, my dearest friend, Lisa, killed herself.  We were going to transition together.

After making plans and preparations for months, I started living my Truth full time on March 25, 2014.

First Day Full Time

Since then, people have come and gone in my life.  I planned suicide in September 2016, but I was too cowardly to carry it out.

And now here I am.  It's mid-December, and past 1 AM.  Insomnia strikes again!  I'm wearing my "PJs"- shorts and a tank top.  No bra. I'm drinking water and listening to the Grateful Dead on headphones.  I never thought I'd live this long.  I never thought that Sophie would ever be anything except a monthly occurrence- a monthly night out.  However, I didn't understand how deep she was rooted.  I didn't want to admit my Truth- even to myself. 

Last night.  "Reasonably Feminine?"

My Truth.  I am a Woman Named Sophie (roll credits.)  That's who I've always been, even if I didn't want to acknowledge it.

Ten years ago, I took those first steps. The journey never ends.

Be well.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Men of the Skull Chapter 37 Cold Night

There's an old saying:  "Once is an accident- twice is a decision."

So once again, I did something despicable.  Why?  I was desperately lonely.  And so was she.  I played right into her plan.  Thing is, I knew there would be consequences.  I just didn't care that night.

So began my second semester at PSU.  In many ways, it was a great time.  All it cost was my honor, and my self respect.


Chapter 2.37:  Cold Night

Saturday, January 10, 1987 Memo Links Iran Deal, Hostages

            We lay on the couch together in the dim light.  Outside, the snow fell and the wind whistled between the buildings.  And we huddled on the couch holding each other.  We had the one lamp on its lowest setting, and the radio was on, but the volume was low.  97 QWIK rock.
            “Everybody have fun tonight!  Everybody Wang Chung tonight.”
            What the fuck was I doing?
            She was dressed in a long Kelly green knit sweater dress.  Very soft.  Her perfume was light and delicate as a snowflake outside, and I could feel her breasts press gently against my chest as she breathed.  Together we were warm. 

            Christmas break was over.  I came back home to PSU that day, escaping the hell of life with my family.  My roommates would be back in a day or two.  Her roommate would be back tomorrow, weather permitting.
            Funny how after only a few months I saw Penn State as home.
            Break was over.  The Nittany Lions were National Champions.  My second semester loomed- and I had to do better than the first.  1.8.   My God.  Guess I wasn’t as smart as I thought I was.
            She nuzzled my neck gently. 
            “Mmmm.  You’re so warm” she almost whispered.
            “So are you.”
            We lay there silently for a few more minutes, and then she started slowly, gently caressing my back.
            “Can’t you hear, can’t you hear the thunder? You better run, you better take cover.”
I invited her over because I knew she was back, and I wanted to see her.  And I was bored.  We started the evening eating Domino’s pizza and playing cards.  Rummy, War, Snap, whatever.  We had no beer so we couldn’t play drinking games.  Just soda.  So we drank that.  As the night grew darker, colder, we decided just to lie around and talk: me on the loveseat and her stretched out on the couch. 
Lounged around for a few minutes, talking about break.  What it meant.  What we wanted for the next semester.  Then she commented about how cold it was, and she invited me to join her on her couch.  After all- it was OK: it’s not like anything would happen.  We’d talked about that. 
So I did.
A few minutes of silence later, she asked me to turn down the lights a bit so she could watch the snow fall outside.  So I did.
I was really clueless.

“Take my hand and we'll make it I sweah-uh!  Wuh-OH! Livin' on a pray-uh!”
So there we were lying on the couch, and she’s caressing my back and it feels really good (especially after helping people on the floor unload their shit all day.  I was too fucking nice for my own good.)
“How does that make you feel?” she half-whispered into my ear.
“Feels great!”
“I’m sure it does, but how does it make you feel?”
Did I mention I was incredibly clueless?
“You might think I'm crazy, but I don't even care.  Because I can tell what's going on.  It's hip to be square.”  No, it’s not, Huey.
Of course, lying on the couch with this girl; her ample breasts pressed against me; she’s caressing my back; her breath in my neck and ear, I mean- DUH!  I was getting really excited.  And she had to know. 
Time to say something stupid, Lance.
“I’d rub your back, but you probably wouldn’t feel it through that thick material.”
“No one said it had to stay on.”

I rolled off the couch and stood up.  She sat up and looked at me with a kind of half smile, head cocked slightly to the right.

“If we do this, then no one can know” I said quietly, nervously.
“Fine.”  She pulled the dress out from under her, and I helped her pull it off over her head.  It was very heavy.
“Now you have to keep me warm” she said, smiling.  All she was wearing was a shimmering white satin bra that cupped her beautiful breasts perfectly, and skimpy white panties.  She’d kicked off her boots a long time ago.  Sure I’d seen her breasts before, but presentation is everything!  Hypnotic!
She laid back down, and I next to her.  We kissed deeply.  And I caressed her back.

“Take these broken wings And learn to fly again And learn to live so free.”

Several songs later, we were in my bedroom, and she was pulling off the last of my clothes.  We fell into the cold bed and scrambled under the covers.
We rolled around for a minute of so, kissing greedily, then I rolled on top, she wrapped her legs around me, and I entered her. 
The radio was still playing in the other room, but we couldn’t hear it through the closed door.  The snow and wind stroked the window next to the bed.  Couldn’t hear it.  All I could hear was her gasping and breathing, and the sound of our motion on the bed.
Then she gasped out
“Oh…God… I love you!…. I love you!”
I stopped.  “What did you say?”
She opened her eyes.  “Nothing.  Nothing.  Don’t stop.”
So I did.  But not for long.  I was still fairly, um, inexperienced.
Soon we were holding each other, listening to the wind and the snow.  Then she got up to go to the bathroom, picking up her panties as she went.  I put my underwear back on and went out to the living room to gather her clothes. 

We met at my bedroom door, me carrying her dress. 
“I don’t think green is your color,” she said, smiling.
“Maybe I wanted to be a little bold- y’know, try something different.”
“You don’t have the legs for it.”
We went back to bed and cuddled under the covers for a while, listening to the snow and wind.  Then, she looked at my clock, kissed me, rolled out of bed and got dressed.  So did I.
I walked Virginia home through the thickening snow.  We didn’t talk.  Too cold.  At her apartment door, she turned to me and smiled.  Her eyes were clear- happy- dancing.  I’d never seen her happy before.  She kissed me lightly on the lips. 
“Night” she whispered, then went inside.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Men of the Skull Chapter 29: Letter

In many ways, this one is cheating.  I didn't write this.  "Judy" did.  All I did was change the names.  I even left her spelling error there.  This was a handwritten letter in blue ink on a piece of notebook paper.  Obviously, I still have it.

Judy handed me this letter late in the day, when I ate dinner at her place with her and her roommate.  She asked me not to read it until I returned to my apartment.  I remember mixed feelings when I read it.  Part of me was confused- how could she not know her own heart?  Part of me was thrilled.  She left the door open for us to talk, and become closer.  And that's what I wanted.

Remember, that earlier that day, I'd screwed up any chance with a relationship with "Ashley."  I was in a bad mood that night.

"Informal Composite" picture: September 1986.  Yes, that sweater over tucked in collared shirt was the fashion then.

Now with hindsight, I know what it means not to know one's own heart.  I should've known then, but I'd buried my Truth under so many layers of denial, Pain, Rage, and alcohol, that my heart was all but dead.  The only thing that it longed for at that time was Judy.

This is the last of the "in-between" chapters that were requested (bet you're sorry you did that!)  That completes the narrative through the fall semester of 1986.  I still have gaps to fill between already posted pieces in Spring 1987, which I'll do.


Chapter 29: Letter

November 18, 1986

            I can realize now that you don’t know where I stand.  But to tell you the truth, I really don’t know where I stand myself.  I guess I have a lot of thinking to do myself.  Actually, I believe it is all based on feelings on my part.  I have never been one to understand my feelings.  I know that sounds real encouraging to you but I am being honest.  Maybe you can help?!
            I know I am interested.  Yesterday when I ran into you around Old Main, my heart stopped when I recognized it was you.  I was so glad to see you.  But, put me in the situation with you and Virginia I feel uncomfortable and often say to myself it isn’t worth it.
            Then there is Richard as well.  Between the two of you I don’t know what to do.  I’m happy with him.  I am not turning to you because I am dissatisfied with the relationship.  This I know for a fact.  When you told your roommate, Rich, that I am devoted to my boyfriend it was very true.  I am devoted.  However I do get lonely and I feel very comfortable with you.  You make me feel special.  This I have not felt for a while.  It is not that Richard does not make me feel good about myself because he does but it has been a long time since someone new has expressed interest in me.  You are a sensative person and caring at that.  These qualities are often unusual and it is great seeing them in you.  This is what has held my interest.
            You will be here soon and this class is boring me to death.  I just wanted to write down a few thoughts and feelings to share right now with you and maybe we will discuss them later today.  Till then-