Sunday, May 26, 2019

Capitol Speaking

On Monday, May 6, 2019, I spoke in the rotunda of the State Capitol building in Harrisburg, PA.


So how did that happen?

Well, last October I reconnected with an old high school friend.  I hadn't seen Charnelle since graduation in 1984.  I think I first met her in 8th grade.  She was reading a book about the Doors, and I asked her about it.  (I guess in a way she turned me on to what would become one of my favorite bands.)

With Charnelle, Oct 2018

She invited me to a breakfast networking event for "minorities," since, as a transgender woman I qualify.  She said there would be movers and shakers there.  I'd been to similar gatherings before this, but they were exclusively LGBT.  I guess I suck at networking because nothing came out of those.  In any case, I went.

Almost everyone at that event were people of color.  I met many people, but seeing Charnelle was the real treat.  I spoke briefly at this gathering about how transgender people are not protected by hiring bias laws in Pennsylvania, and my personal hardship finding work.  My speech was short, direct, and ad-lived.  One of the people in attendance had a friend who works for a Pennsylvania state congressman.  She recommended me to that person, who invited me to speak at a press conference about a new bill being proposed in the PA statehouse.  This bill would extend hate crime protections to LGBT people.

That's right- PA has no such protections on its books.  Why?  Because both houses of the Pa legislature have been dominated by republicans for years.  And republicans, as a rule, hate LGBT.  It's even in their most recent platform (2016.  pp 11, 31, 35.)

Trouble on the steps?

So, that morning I woke early, troweled on my face, and drove 90 minutes to Harrisburg.  After parking, I walked a block to the statehouse.  There was a large crowd, maybe 100, in front- a rally.  The majority of the people wore red hats- it was a pro- second amendment rally.  I stopped for a moment.  Right wingers generally hate LGBT (as shown by their policies, comments, violence, etc) so I wondered if I would be accosted going up the steps to the door.  Shoulders back, I walked proudly up the middle.  While I got some looks and a couple of remarks, they let me through without incident.  On my way up, I passed many people posing for pictures.  Several flashed white power signs.

The front door was guarded outside by several police officers.  After entry, I went through a metal detector checkpoint.  Ahead of me was the rotunda, where I was to speak.  I'd say there were over a hundred gun people in there, some with signs.  There were MAGA hats of red and black.  There was a teen wearing full old style camouflage.  One big guy had Hitler tattooed on his bicep.  There I saw the only two people of color with that rally- a couple wearing matching "gun control is racist" t-shirts.


I met with my contact, and she took me to the office of the sponsoring representative, Kevin Boyle (D) of Philadelphia, which was in a neighboring building.  We waited there briefly, then went back to the capitol building.  As we left, we passed two large roving groups of gun people who were visiting every office they could.

When we returned to the rotunda, most of the gun people were gone- it was like a reset.  Cameras were ready, and a large number of women in red were posed on the steps.  This was AJC, a Jewish advocacy organization.  I was told where to stand, and Rep. Boyle spoke.

Seven other representatives spoke (including State Senator Farnese, the lone republican), then three other people.  Then, it was my turn.

Picture by Rep. Melissa Shusterman.  Didn't realize I was wearing the same dress both times

I'd been asked to "play nice" with my comments, so I did.  Sort of.  I wrote some bullet points on an index card, including some facts, figuring I'd tailor the speech to the remarks made by other speakers.  I pointed out that "a certain party" has Hate enshrined in their platform, and cited the page numbers.  I spoke about feeling safe, and about how the GOP stripped me of healthcare access.  In the end, I called upon the GOP to renounce hate (originally, it was going to be Hate AND Evil.)  And then, I was finished.

It wasn't my best speech.  I felt I rushed it.  Listening to the speech again, I absolutely rushed it.  If you want to see my speech, you'll find it HERE.  I put my phone on the podium, and recorded it.  The angle is far from flattering- I look like Jabba the Hut.

The press conference ended.  We posed for pictures as a group, then all was finished.  I said my goodbyes, and walked out into the brilliant sunlight into... another gathering.  This time it was pro-nuclear energy.  I walked around that crowd and back to my car.  As I was parked near the top of the parking garage, I had some great views, so I took some pictures.  Then, I went home.

Heading out.  One of the ADC women gave me a pin

Will my participation help?  Doubt it. I don't think that bill will make it out of committee, because republicans hate LGBT, and they hold the majority.  Still, I can say I spoke at the State Capitol building.  It gave me something to do. 

Be well.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Men of the Skull Chapter 50: Murder

Happy Valley was a fantasy land, especially after the two years I spent living in Powelton Village during my time at Drexel University.  (Back then, that was a dangerous part of the city.)  Looking at the Police Log, all one would see was petty theft and drunken fights.  Compared to the murders and armed robberies (I'd been mugged four times there myself) that was nothing. 

About twice a semester, a rape was reported.  I'd guess (with no statistics to back me up) that for every one that was reported, there were five others that weren't.  Suicides were reported sometimes.  I knew one of them. 

My point being, as a "guy" at PSU in the 80s, I felt safe.  And, as the "nice guy" (meaning "couldn't get laid with a string of $100 bills around my neck) I often volunteered to walk women back to their dorms/apartments as a safe escort.  "Campus escort" was a thing back then.  I soon gained a small reputation for it- the "safe guy."  Girls would seek me out near the end of a given Skull party for me to walk them home, and I did it.  No matter how drunk I was, I took this very seriously, and would never consider taking advantage of it.  They were trusting me, and I was going to do everything I could to get them home safe, by God!  Fortunately, it always ended up just being a walk in the cold which sobered me up. 

Then this happened.  Drug sting?  Big deal.  But Murder was... unheard of.  Yes, we knew about the murder in the stacks in 1969, when all of us were toddlers. 

The town was on edge for a while.  Stunned.  I don't think we were so trusting after that.  The stakes were raised, so to speak.

I didn't know Dana Bailey.  She sounded like a wonderful person.  I hope that her murderer is caught while her parents still live. 


Chapter 50: Murder
Monday, March 9, 1987 PSU student fatally stabbed
            My morning classes went by as usual except everyone seemed to be buzzing about something.  There were no Collegians around to be had on campus.  So as usual I went to the house for lunch.  Got myself a burger out of the big orange containers.  All of the brothers had their faces buried in newspapers.

March 9, 1987 Collegian
            I grabbed a copy and sat down.
            “PSU student fatally stabbed” was in the center of the front page.
            This was the first murder at Penn State since 1969.
            “Jesus Christ,” File said.
            “Anybody know her?”  Sauce said.
            “Dairy’s girlfriend works with her,” Garbo said.
            “I heard she hangs over at AXS,” VD said, his mouth full of burger.
            Saint walked in.  “Hey, you guys hear what happened?”
            “Yeah, that’s fucked up.”
            “Wonder what really happened?”
            “132 South Allen.  Where is that?”
            “Um, it’s above the McClanahans across from the flower shop innit?”
            “‘Apparent victim of stab wounds to the heart and lung area.’”
            “Fucked up shit.”
            “Where did she work?”
                                                “Corner room.”
            “How do you know?”
                                                “It’s in the fuckin’ paper dickwad!”
            “I heard she was tied to a chair with her throat cut.”
                                    “Where did you hear that?”
            “I dunno.  Around.”
                        “Full of shit.”
            “Fuck you.”
            I sat and read.  There wasn’t much in the article.  The only real fact was that a student was dead.

            The police sealed the apartment.  A few months later, the whole building burned to the ground.  The fire was labeled “Suspicious.”
            All these years later, the murder of Dana Bailey has not been solved.

Next Chapter

Friday, May 10, 2019

Funeral Today

Sometimes I feel like I go to far too many funerals.  I used to, but not so much anymore.  Prior to today, it had been a year and four days since my last funeral.  

I hate funerals.  Always have.  Funerals aren't for the Dead- after all, they aren't there.  They are a coping ritual for those left behind.  I've read many books on funeral customs, and have, many times considered going into the mortuary business.  

In any case, this one was a family funeral.  Zack Fanning was the 20 year old son of my cousin Sharon.  Sharon is a cousin on the paternal side of my family.  Her mother is my dad's sister.  The last time I saw her was at a family wedding in the early 90s.  Heck, it may have even been hers- I don't remember.

Ready to go South 

Zack died in a motorcycle accident at Reedy Point Bridge in Delaware.  In my paramedic days, I saw many of those, and none were pleasant.  Some still haunt my nightmares.  I'd never met Zack- never laid eyes on him before I saw him in the casket.  He looked like his father.

My heart breaks for my cousin and her family- I can't imagine losing my daughter in any way.  

What made this an... event... for me was that this was the first time all of them (except my cousin Brenda, Sharon's older sister) would meet the Real Me: Sophie.  I went to support my cousin- I can't imagine not doing so.  But... how would the rest of the family react to my presence?  I really had no idea.  Of the "male" cousins, I was the youngest, and our generation only had daughters.  Our branch of the family name dies with us, unless one of the daughters keeps her maiden name.  

The drive to the funeral home in Hockessin, Delaware was a little more than an hour on rainy roads.  The past couple of days this event was on my mind- what would They say?  Sharon has been very supportive in her messages to me since transition.  Not all of my family has.  So, it was an hour of second guessing scenarios and plans.  I'd put the last of my money into my gas tank, so if there were a lunch after at a restaurant, I wouldn't be able to attend.  What sort of people are Zack's friends? 

I needn't have worried.  Many of Zack's friends are, well, rednecks and/or bikers.  However, as Zack was a volunteer firefighter and worked for DelDOT, there were many firefighters and state troopers in attendance.  The troopers were in uniform.  Everyone was there for one reason only- to say good bye to their loved one.  No one even noticed me as I slipped in a couple of minutes before the ceremony began.  

Reedy Point Bridge- 135 feet of clearance

I was a little surprised about how few of my family were actually there.  As there were visiting hours the night before, I'm guessing that some paid their respects then.  I know my parents did.  In any case, some of my cousins were there, as were Sharon's parents- my aunt and uncle (of course.)  

The first ones I spoke to were Sharon and her husband.  I kept it brief, as I didn't want to intrude.  Next was Sharon's older brother- who, among my paternal cousins, was the one I was closest to.  He was there with his amazing wife, and their two kids, only one of which I'd ever met, and that was back when he was an infant.  He's in his 3rd year of college now.  My cousin Brenda saw me speaking to him, and joined us as well.  We spoke for a bit- it was good to catch up.  No problems with names of pronouns.

I then saw another cousin, this one who I hadn't seen in 30 years.  We spoke briefly.  The last cousin I saw was one whom I've had issues with online, as she is a rabid 45 supporter.

All of these interactions went well.  No problems with names or pronouns.  Was I surprised?  A little.  More relieved.

After seeing that last cousin, I quietly slipped away.  As I walked out of the funeral home, all of Zack's friends were firing up their pickups and muscle cars and leaving in loud and fast procession.  

On my way into the funeral, I noticed a truck near where I parked.  It had a lot of stickers and window vinyls all over it; most motorcycle related, and typical of an immortal 20 something.  One on the side window caught my eye: 

"But Did You Die?"

I didn't get a picture of it, and that truck was one of the line of vehicles tearing out of the parking lot as I walked to my car.  I couldn't help but think of the irony.

I lost my sense of being immortal while in my teens.  I saw so many deaths as a volunteer paramedic, and many of them were my age or younger.  I wondered about all of these people who today said goodbye to their youthful friend- was this their first taste of mortality?  Death is one thing when it's a grandparent, etc, but a whole different thing when it's a peer.  A friend.  A different sort of sting.

My cousins and I are old enough that some are grandparents.  Gray hair replaced the children I knew.  And them?  Their boy cousin was there in a black dress and makeup- a Woman.  

Milestones, hoops, and gateways.  I passed one today, as did all those kids in their trucks, and those family who saw me today.  Three different ones, but still...

Rest in Peace, Zack.  May the four winds blow you safely home.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Men of the Skull: Graduation

I'm posting this one out of order, as it's been THIRTY years since I graduated from Penn State.  While this is the last "story" chapter of the book, it is not the last chapter.  There are two chapters following- one is a "where are they now?" and the other is an epilogue that I'm rather proud of.

I'll break one of my rules here.  In the book (and this chapter) is a girl I call Sandi.  We were classmates and good friends.  Like everyone else, we lost touch.  I still wonder what happened to her.  So, I'll break my rule in hope that someone knows Linda Galati, '89 Edu.  If you do, please tell her I said hello, that I'm ok, and that my memory of her makes me smile.

I have mixed feelings as another anniversary of my graduation passes.  When I left PSU, I was deeply depressed.  I'm told that's not uncommon among college graduates.  I wrote this book trying to sort out my feelings.  
Graduation, May 1989

After I finished it (and this was the last chapter I actually wrote) I was no closer to my answers.  Then, a few months later, I dressed as Lois Lane for Halloween 2008.  Old mental and emotional barriers fell, and my answers were made plain.  Since 2014, I have lived my Truth as Sophie.  I am now at Peace.

Looking back at that distant time sometimes brings me to tears.  Memory provides "what ifs?" and regrets.  Regrets are a horrible thing to have.  I've been accepted to PhD studies back at Main Campus, but it will be FAR different.  It's a different place now.  For me, the most important part will be wandering the paths and studying as who I REALLY am- not a scared drunken boy howling in pain and depression.  People change, sometimes for the better.  I'd like to think I have, but the Jury is still out.

Chapter 186: Graduation

Saturday, May 13, 1989 Bush urges major shift in Soviet ties
            I spent the day wandering around again.  Many people went to the bars and drank all day or hooked up or whatever, but as I had very little money, I had to conserve it.  I picked up my black cap and gown.  I wanted to tell them that there was some kind of mistake, that I still had credits to take, that I still had friends- that I still had parties to attend.
            I knew it was over, though.  Last fall, Dave was gone- up to Rochester.  What would being here be like without Judy?  I couldn’t imagine it.
            That night, I went to the Skeller to see Queen Bee (the reason I saved all my money.)  I saw some people I knew from the summer before or from classes, and tried to make small talk, but Queen Bee was, as always, really fucking Loud!
You got to love me with a feelin', or you don't love me at all.
            Last call!  I ordered one last Rolling Rock and cheered as the band finished their encore.
            Instead of heading uphill back to the Bone, I headed uphill in the other direction: onto campus.
            Campus was completely deserted in the rain.
            The Lion was alone as well.  By then I was fairly wet, so I didn’t mind getting a wet ass by sitting on the Lion’s base.
            “Well, I guess this is it.  Next time I see you, I’ll be an alumni.”
            The Lion stared in the same direction that it had for all those years.  Cold stone.
            “I’ll miss you.  Stupid as it is to miss a hunk of stone.  I guess I’ll miss what you represent.”
            The rain splashed around us.
            “I don’t want to leave.  I never want to leave.”

Sunday, May 14, 1989 Bush calls for ouster of Noriega
            Graduation was scheduled for 1 PM.  The College of Education ceremony was in Eisenhower Auditorium, a little away from the bigger schools’ graduations, but that was ok. 
            My hangover woke me up around 10:30.  I slept on my old couch one last time, because at least I knew where it had been.  My parents were arriving in half an hour, more or less. 
            Somewhere in the house, someone was cranking the Dead.  It was appropriate.  If Skulls were going to graduate, to leave, it may as well be to the Grateful Dead.
Goin’ to leave this Brokedown Palace
On my hands and my knees I will roll, roll, roll
I showered, shaved, puked, and dressed in my blue polyester suit.  I was ready as I could be.

 April 28, 1989  Last Collegian of the semester 

Dad, mom, and my older brother, John arrived around 11:15, just when the rain stopped.  Dad wore his usual mud brown suit and mom wore a purple dress which was offset by her orange dyed hair.  John wore a shabby black suit.  He hadn’t showered, shaved, or even combed his longish hair, and he wore black “Terminator” sunglasses.
“He slept all the way up since he came in at five this morning” dad said, glaring at John who drooled just a little.
I knew how he felt.
We somehow managed to get a table at the Gingerbread Man.  I needed food and hoped I could keep it down.  The crowd was strange, half in suits the other half in shorts.  After lunch it was about 12:20, and I had to get to Eisenhower.  I walked them up Shortlidge Avenue to the building, and went inside, cap and gown under my arm, stomach churning.
I pulled on the gown- backwards at first, and found my place.  We had one rehearsal.  I was behind Sandi.  She was so excited I thought she’d blow a fuse. 
“Oh my God, Lance!  Can you believe it’s really happening!? Oh, I shouldn’t have worn these shoes, I am so going to fall right on my face on stage!”
Her cap and gown had decorations indicating honors.  Her mortarboard was bobby pinned to her immaculately styled and sprayed hair at a perfect 45 degree angle.  She looked really good.
My gown was simple black.
“Yeah.  It’s happening” I said, forcing a smile.  “Did you go out last night?”
“No, my family came down from New York.  We thought we’d have the big dinner last night since every place will be packed tonight.  Did you go out last night?”
“Yeah.  Went to the Skeller to see Queen Bee.”
Sandi laughed.  “You Skulls!  You’ll be drunk the day of your own funerals!”
That didn’t make much sense.  Smile and nod.
We made a little more small talk as everyone ran through the ceremony once.  The auditorium was already getting pretty fucking hot.
After we finished rehearsal, we had ten minutes for whatever.  I had to take a leak, then I needed aspirin and water.

At 1 PM exactly, we filed into the auditorium and sat in our assigned places near the stage.  Parents and whomever were seated behind us.  The Dean of the College started by apologizing for the air conditioners being out.  So that was the problem!
Hey!  It’s fucking hot in here!  Can we get moving?
Finally, we lined up and were called across the stage one by one for our diplomas.  As Sandi was on the step above me, I had a great view of her nice ass.  She turned and said “Oh my God!  This is it!  Good luck Lance!  Hope I don’t trip!”
“Good luck, Sandi.  You won’t fall.”
Her name was called, and she strutted perfectly on four inch heels across the stage- the picture of confident womanhood.  That was the last I ever saw of Sandi, and it was a great image to remember her by.

“Lance Kandler”

I mounted the stage and walked across to accept my diploma and out the door to a reception type area.  High fives and tossed hats.  And too soon, parents.
 April 28, 1989  Last Collegian of the semester  I'm not crying- you're crying

My parents, brother, and I walked across campus toward the House.  From there, we’d go back to Spring City, leaving my home for the past few years- the first true home I’d ever known.  My family and I walked without speaking- like we were coming from a funeral.  Walking down a path some distance away was Judy, her brother, and her mother.  My heart leaped and died in a moment.  They were laughing and happy.
            Judy’s group waved to me from a distance.  She smiled at me and held my eyes for a moment.  I waved back.  Tried to smile. 
            I watched them walk down the path and turn the corner.
            “Who was that?” my mom asked.
            “A friend” I said quietly.  “Just a friend.”

            It was over.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Incidents and Accidents

Drove up to Penn State Tuesday- full of Hope (when will I ever learn?)  I was meeting with my advisor to find out why I'd received nothing from the Student Aid office about my fellowship.  I needed THAT to get an apartment up there, seeing that I'd been unemployed for over a year.

My appointment was at 1.  I arrived at 11, stopped at an apartment complex, then to downtown State College for a quick lunch at Baby's.  My friend Michaela was there.  Great seeing her.

An Idiot with False Hope, at Baby's

Went to my appointment.  Well, I understood that I had a fellowship (full ride). Nope.  Refused. Nothing. No money.  If I want to go for my doctorate, unlike EVERYONE (and I do mean EVERYONE) else I'd ever known who went for their PhD, I would have to pony up the cash first.  Is this because I made waves already?  I'll come back to this.

 On the way back from PSU, my mind was swirling.  I was maybe three quarters home when, at the Morgantown exit of the PA Turnpike, I encountered a serious two car accident.  Debris was all over the road. 

I slowed down (I had to- so much debris) and yelled over to the first car to ask if anyone was injured.  There were, so I pulled over and ran back to that car.  At this point, I didn't see the second car.

Car 1 was hit from behind coming onto the highway.  It rolled four times before coming to rest almost perpendicular to the side of the road.  All airbags deployed. In the car were a young mother, father, and a young toddler.  The toddler was in the baby seat when it happened, and had superficial bruising from the restraints, and a bump on the head, probably from flying debris.   Mom had head injury (concussion?) and an injured ankle.  She kept calling and texting people.  Dad had superficial cuts that, while bleeding, were not bad.  All three ended up being transported to the hospital.  They were the first group to whom I went.

Eyewitnesses (a mom and daughter who pulled over) said there was a second car, that they thought sped off.  I looked down the road, and saw a car pulled over on the left, and a tractor trailer pulled over on the right further down.  There was a burly man standing outside the car.  After stabilizing the young mom, I ran down to the other car.  That man was the truck driver, on the phone with 911.  The driver of Car 2 was trapped.

He had a nasty bloody head injury, and a broken nose.  The windshield had a large star indicating his head hit it.  No airbag.  He was conscious, and also kept calling people.  He told me not to open the driver side door as he was leaning on it (not that I had room to open it.)he told me his hip hurt, and by the angle, I saw that it was broken. Blood and debris were everywhere.  I crawled into this car to help. My dress was covered with blood and car fluids. I stayed in that car, trying to stop the bleeding and keeping him talking until the rescue squad came.  "Rescue 69" had been in service than less than a month, and it was shiny.  (The station number was 69.)

The rescue squad had to rip the roof off to get him out.  They were still removing him from the car when I pulled away.

It's been a while since I've seen injuries that bad. I was shaken. 

I remained calm when told I didn't get the fellowship.  I remained calm while speaking to student aid.  I remained calm while at the accident scene.  I remained calm through play rehearsal that night...

And after rehearsal, I got in my car and lost it.  I cried my eyes out.  My hands were shaking badly.  I had a blinding headache.  I cried intermittently through the night. 

So, I was informed that despite what I was told previously, I did not receive a fellowship from PSU.  That means if I want to go for my PSU, I need to pay.  At least this year.

My whole going for this was contingent on me being paid to go.  To me, that meant that they WANTED me there- that they thought I and my studies were worthwhile.  Now, I'm just another paying customer.

There are 3 major considerations now.  In reverse order:

3)  Linda.  Uprooting her to the middle of nowhere, where she, like me, would be starting over.  She was considering transitioning to full time while there.

2)  Would the time/money be worth it?  Will I be able to find a job?  Will my research really make a difference?  Or will I be an overeducated retail worker?

1)  I see Wife and Daughter maybe once a week.  I've missed so much of my daughter's childhood.  If I go, I'll see them maybe once a month.  If that.  Wife is not a huge fan of State College.

So.  The paradigm has shifted.  I've gone from "Yes, come here because we REALLY want you" to "meh.  You got the money, we'll take it."  I'll be putting myself deeper in debt.  And for what?  A long shot.  Hail Mary.

I really have no idea what to do now.  I'd always dreamed of teaching at PSU.  That dream was going to come true.  Now, not so much.  I can hear a familiar voice in my head telling me how worthless I am, and how I should just forget it because I'll never be good enough.  In harmony with that is my own inner monologue saying "why f**king bother?  It's not like you'll make a difference.  Nobody wants you there- nobody needs you there- you're just money in their coffers."

Some of my dear friends have suggested that I just go somewhere else- that my love for PSU is clouding my judgement.  That may be true.

However, when I attended PSU, it was as Him.  And when I graduated, I was deeply depressed.  Maybe I want Redemption.  I want to wear the graduation gown as ME- a woman.  I want a chance to show PSU the power of a Transgender scholar. 

Now the question with which I'm faced is... do I dare eat a peach?