My Algorithm for Survival
Just last month, I was following my life's path.
Fat (working hard on fixing that),
Dumb (seems that way, as I get older),
and Happy (very)
when my path took an abrupt left hand turn and dumped me down a cliff into the swamp.
Emerging from the goo choking and sputtering, I stood up to look around. I was disoriented, lost in the swamp, my path no longer visible. I began to panic. I was confused, my existence was threatened. Where was my path? How do I find my way?
I have since emerged from the swamp. I have regained my path and am again on firm footing. I see the swamp now as the same crossroads we all see so many times in our lives as we travel our paths. My very special friend MaplePower introduced me to the concept of the trident in her road in her post. Many others have similar views of how their paths offer them choices from time to time. They usually include the three most recognizable: 1)instant and permanent escape from pain, 2)oblivion, merely existing in a life that holds no promise, and 3)following your heart. My swamp held more choices, some branches with obvious alligators guarding the entrance, but the algorithm I use to live my life should have made quick work of navigating through these. Instead, my life was in turmoil.
Looking back, I can see I had far more difficulty navigating the swamp than I should have. I know better. I have been there before, many times, and always found my way back to my path. The engineer in me wants to do a post-mortem. What were the turnbacks, how did my process fail, why was I so confused just because my existence was threatened and my world turned upside down? It was just another crossroads. I have survived many. Why so much trouble this time?
It actually was quite simple. I made the mistake of thinking this was a problem to solve. I actually explained the swamp I found myself in to my very special friend, my sister I whom I love (you know who you are) and asked her why I could not factor this problem domain, see the solution, and execute to schedule (we are both engineers, she gets this stuff). She gave me her engineer's answer, to the sister she loves, and said "follow the rules." Well, some rules were involved, I have to admit. But that just wasn't lighting up my path for me. But I did find my way out of the swamp. How did I do it?
When I was very young I got in constant trouble with educators and parents, and even some friends when I started to insist I was really a girl and my name is Allison. Got me in all kinds of hot water in grade school. I had to sit myself down and figure out how to deal with the conflicts between what my heart was telling me (do this, it is your path) and my brain (don't be an idiot. Only pain is on this path, do what I say and you'll survive). Sure enough, beatings and similar convinced me to utilize my brain to govern my life. The external pain went away, but the internal pain was shredding me to bloody ribbons. So I followed my heart instead of my brain, found inner peace, and got the crap kicked out of me. I had to sit myself down again to re-evaluate. And that is when I discovered my algorithm, how to govern my life, the way to get my heart and my brain to cooperate. It has saved my life many times and invariably led me to health (current weight notwithstanding) and happiness.
My heart is my supreme leader. It commands my brain what to do (life strategy). My brain is my general. It figures out how to accomplish what my heart says is to be done (tactics). When I let my heart deal with tactics, I get into trouble. When I let my brain decide strategy I get into trouble. When I task my brain to develop tactics to keep my heart satisfied, I flourish. I was very lucky to have discovered this simple algorithm very young in life. It has worked repeatedly. I listen to my heart. My heart tells me my desires. Happiness is in the pursuit, and sometimes acquisition, of my desires. My heart told me I needed to transition, my brain dealt with the details. It told me I needed steady financing, my brain implemented a plan (high demand professional career). It told me I wanted a house, my brain figured out a way. SRS? Brain managed the execution.
It has worked for me for many years. I always follow my heart. But for some reason, rising spluttering and choking in that swamp, I did not recognize that this crossroads simply represented my heart informing me of another, new desire. I mistook it for a tactical problem and tasked my brain to find the path. It couldn't do it and I was lost. My sister mentioned something that woke me to my problem, this was a question of desire, of strategy. Figure out what my heart wanted, and THEN task my brain to get it. Instantly my path became clear and I knew just which way to go. Precisely what to do.
And so that is the lesson to myself. I was lost, and wasted time using the wrong approach to find my way. I tried to think my way back to my path, when I should have felt my way back instead. The difference is distinct, as distinct as the difference between success and failure. My path is determined by my heart. How I navigate it is left to my brain. I must remember not to get these confused again.
My Favorite Accessory
There are some things I really enjoy about being femme. Fashion is certainly one, I delight in putting together my outfit for the day, portraying just how I feel, as appropriate to wherever I happen to be going and whatever I plan on doing that day. Shoes, in particular, I guess. Earrings, of course. I would hate to be a guy, not able to wear my bangles and dangles, skirts and heels. But from my earliest days I have had a favorite accessory, one that I just cannot seem to do without. My handbag.
Some of my earliest memories as a young person struggling to present myself properly involve my handbag. Pencils, erasers, calendar for homework assignments and personal phone book, mirror, brush, trivial money (never as much as a dollar); the important trinkets of my childhood were always with me, in my handbag. Carried that thing everywhere, a cast-off of my mother's. Very good quality leather, too old to remain fashionable enough for her, perfect for me.
I recall she was quite distressed when she first realized I had rescued this essential bit of my style from the trash. She fussed until she realized how important it was to me, and then only predicted, "You'll see."
Well, I did see. I took great punishment for being a little boy that insisted on carrying a handbag. But it was worth it. Just one more piece of my way of presenting Allison to the world. And such a joy to have, too! All my neatest stuff went in there, to be with me always. No more uncomfortable lumps in pockets! No more forgetting that my favorite 1923 penny was in those jeans, lost somewhere in the laundry. A great place to carry my prizes, like the bright pink lipstick sampler my mother gave me 'cause she hated the color.
I have long since lost that handbag to the passage of time. And a dozen more super favorites too. I've only really misplaced one, left behind at the table at a restaurant on a shopping trip in Manhattan. No chance of ever recovering it, the bag and all my most personal possessions immediately vanished. I don't think I've ever felt so personally violated before or since. And I had this most wonderful credit card wallet in there, too. Soft as a mouse's skin. Haven't seen the like since.
I remember when I first discovered Stone Mountain bags. The supersoft leather, the smell, the styles I like so much. So many bags are really ugly, aren't they? Huge, carpetbag models in fake leopard, or supershiny vinyl, in harsh or calideoscope colors, with large hoop handles or vulgar or gauche decorations. Or the otherwise very nicely crafted models that are covered in buckles and zippers, loops and tiny external pockets. I am not on an adventure in the wilderness, for goodness sake! My handbag is not a backpack! But the nice ones are so pretty; classic styling that goes with anything, with that wonderful leather smell, and feel. I guess I am old-fashioned, but now days I prefer Coach. I must have 8 of them, plus perhaps another 8 from other labels that I like, and a couple of satin evening bags of course.
I like shoulder bags. Good quality, with a strong, long strap that I can hang from my shoulder. I like the feel, the reassurance, as it bounces against my side as I walk. In school, binder and books held to my chest on difficult days, or down, against my hip on confident days, my bag helped reassure me that I was OK. My stuff was with me. I had the style I wanted to present. Even today, carrying my laptop or briefcase to the office or on business trips, my bag represents safety and reassurance. With nothing else, the keys, credit cards, ID, money, and other essentials in my handbag represent the power to get me wherever I need to go, purchase whatever I decide I must have, the means to relief from pretty much any difficulty I may find myself in. Just having it with me gives me confidence.
I have to feel sorry for men. No handbag. They shove their overstuffed wallets in their back pocket, distorting the leather as it molds itself to their posterior, ruining even the finest suits as it wears a hole through the fabric, destroying the fine cut of their clothes, and form, as it jutts out like a huge wart on their behind. So unsightly. Must be uncomfortable to sit on such a lump all the time! I can only imagine.
For years I changed bags with the season, and then also for the outfit. I still do that sometimes, change bags so the colors coordinate well with my outfit for the day, but not all the time. After all, most days I just go to work, drop the bag into the file drawer in my desk, and only retrieve it to go home. Stopping in the grocery store on the way home? Who cares if your bag matches your shoes? Not me.
But then, there are those occasions when that simply won't do. Evening bags are essential for evening wear, and nothing makes me feel so elegant as an evening bag (well, except for diamonds, I suppose). Just my license, keys, cab money (just in case, you never know), lipstick, tissue. The essential essentials. And matching colors with my shoes is an absolute requirement when I am in a suit. Glasses, scarf, bag, shoes, jewelry: all must coordinate if I am out with other women. Or traveling. Or shopping for clothing, shoes, or anything expensive. My bag is an essential part of my look for any of those activities. Strangely, just as important as it was to me when I was a child. Part of my presentation.
I might not change bags every day like I did when I was younger, but I have developed a critically important habit because of that. Every Saturday I turn my bag upside down on my bed to sort through my treasures. If I don't, in three weeks it would be too heavy to lift! Everything seems to find its way in there. Wallet, keys, lipstick, shopping list, badge for work, mirror - sure, all of the essentials. But receipts seem to breed in there if I don't keep a close check, as do tokens, pennies, loose bits of this and that. Pens in particular. Business cards. I swear they multiply by themselves! A good sort through is simply part of my weekly personal maintenance regime now.
Ever see a woman hunt desperately through her bag for something? Her keys are in there somewhere, she just knows it. I like my bags to have 3 pockets. The one in front: badge and keys; middle (usually with a zipper): wallet, brush, glasses; back: pen, tissues, shopping list. I even keep a bandaid, and a tampon. Not for me, of course, but have you realized just how many times someone has asked you for one? Happens all the time. Organization works. I can find what I need virtually instantly, just by feel. Very handy when I am in a potentially unsafe space and need to keep my eyes up and open. Also very handy when my hands are full with packages or umbrella or whatever and it is inconvenient to have to paw through stuff to find what I need.
How could I get along without my bag? I really don't know. Aside from the comfort it provides, the fashion statement I make, or deliberatly do not make, and the lovely feel and smell of the fine leather, I just simply could not get by without it.
Yes, all things considered, my favorite accessory.
Ever notice how much fun it is being trans? It's not fun for you? What are you doing wrong? Ah, come on, admit it. Expressing your proper gender, your real self, is a blast! Sure, it may cost you your family, your friends, and your job, but it's so much fun, isn't it?
Come on, express yourself. Who are you? My, but don't you look good in flannel & jeans. Broad shoulders, hard chest, stubble that scratches my face when you kiss me. Oh, that's not you?
OK, so nice to be with such a handsome man in that white dress shirt, tails, bowtie, and shoes so polished I can see my reflection when I look at your feet! Better? Good. Me, I'm the Tinkerbelle in the pink cocktail dress with an updo, diamond earrings, and dyed to match pumps. So nice to meet you! Now lend me your arm, your lady wants to dance.
How can this not be fun? Oh, you don't really think you look that great in a tux, is that it? But you want to. Admit it, you know you do. So I don't have the fabulous figure I long for either, but I do in my heart. Just like you do in yours. Kiss me my sweet, and let us dream our little dreams together. Waltz me around the ballroom and tell me how pretty I am while I enjoy the rapture of your arms around me. Come on, it'll be great.
Seems like a dream, doesn't it? But sometimes dreams do come true. You can make it happen, in the way that works for you, the way you need it. I did. Sure, I'm the Tinkerbelle, and the beau of my dreams does wear a tux. She actually married me in a tux for one of our weddings. We've been married 4 times. To each other. Sound strange? Then consider that when we first got married 22 years ago no one would officiate or record it, the town clerk didn't want to know about it, and Donna's family didn't want to hear about it. The second time Donna's priest married us in his Catholic church, but God didn't want to know. That was OK with me, God and I never had words for each other anyway. The third time the State of Massachusetts was actually interested, we got a license, and a Justice of the Peace officiated at a very nice open-air ceremony in a town park. We had all the trimmings, but no family members from either side. The last time was in Connecticut, with a different Justice of the Peace, in our home with friends. Still no family.
How many people get to get married to their lover & very best friend for life four times? How many couples do you know that revel in their gender expression so much that that in itself is a cause for celebration? Our joy for life, and in each other, is only magnified by the fact that we are doing it AS OURSELVES, when just expressing ourselves has been such an incredible journey in itself. But to do it together? Fabulous.
Ever notice how much fun it is being trans? I do. Every day.
That Awful Pronoun, an Essay
That awful pronoun
Let's face it
Let's face it, my parents are getting old. They're both 80, she has Alzheimer's, he has had colon cancer (removed successfully). Where she once was a strong and vibrant woman and he once took up 'space' in any space he occupied, they are both fading; mere shadows of the powerful people that once ruled my life. Let's face it, my parents are getting old.
As the eldest child, and only daughter, I had to fly out to Washington to visit. They greeted me at the airport, barely recognizing me with Pool bleached hair shortened because the hairdresser had to cut off all the dead ends. I've been putting on weight for years and just this year have been swimming daily to take it back off. It's been working, so I looked smaller too. It was so bittersweet to see them anxiously scanning the faces of all the women coming down the jetway, looking for their daughter. The light in their eyes when they saw me made me feel warm inside.
I stayed a week. They invited their best friends over for dinner one night, we went out to dinner for my birthday, and the rest of the time my mother and I played at playing the organ or we just sat in the sun room and talked. They have a university nearby that offers their Olympic pool to the public from noon until one. I usually swim 90 minutes, so I was there early to be sure to get in as soon as I could.
I'm used to my health club. Bright, polished, with all the amenities for upper-class suburbanites. Seeing the ladies' locker room, a square open room with benches in the center and small rusted, beat up, stickered lockers was a bit of a shock. But I was alone, no big deal. I stripped and went to find the showers. OMG, a single 20 x 20 titled room with showerheads every 4 feet around the walls. No big deal, I started taking a shower.
As I was finishing up and the clock was approaching noon I heard a gaggle of young women's voices coming rapidly down the hall.
Turning the corner, laughing and talking, they came into the shower room and immediately started stripping bathing suits and showering. Perhaps two dozen oh so young twentysomethings in perfect physical shape surrounded me as they passed around shampoo, liquid soap, and conditioner. It was deafening:
"... and then he said, where's Sherry I haven't seen her for a week... and I can't understand how I got a B on that paper, that was easily an A paper... Saturday? Yeah I think we can make Saturday... OMG is this another yeast infection?... who's got my shampoo?... and Sally's hair looks so awful the way she did it, don't you think?... they were only $10.99, I thought you'd like 'em... I hate this suit, the label's scratching me... Eric asked me out, do you think I should go?..."
None of them gave me a second glance as I continued to wash shampoo out of my hair and prepared to put my suit on.
Curiosity got the best of me and so I turned to the young lady closest to me and asked, "are you a swim team? Preparing for a meet?" And then it happened, that awful pronoun.
Time stood still. The racket dimmed. I felt like I'd been slapped. I'd just been ma'am'd by a grown woman.
"We are all in a one-week training course to be lifeguards. My name is Ashley. You here for the public swim?"
"Yes," I said, quickly regaining my composure. "My name is Allison. I hear you have a lovely pool."
"Oh yes, it's the best in this area anyway. Well, have a great swim, we'll all be back at one to resume our class. We only get an hour for lunch you know."
"Cool, perhaps I'll see you then. And I expect to be here every day this week for the public swim. It was nice to meet you."
I went swimming. An hour later, exhausted from having pushed myself to do my 2400 yards that I normally do in 75 minutes on a really good day in only an hour, I dragged myself back to the showers. It was the same thing all over again, only this time they were already suited up and were just rinsing down before doing their warm-up laps.
"Hey Allison," Ashley said, "what did you think of our pool?"
"Absolutely marvelous," I replied. "See you tomorrow."
By the end of the week I had made friends with most of them. At least I knew their names and they knew mine. We had shared casual conversation on a number of topics and I was particularly gratified to have several of them complement me on how well I was swimming. They were very polite and made a point not to say, "for someone your age and weight."
I flew home after my time with my parents was up. It was a good trip. We all three enjoyed getting together again, renewing our bonds, and feeling loved. Donna picked me up at the airport and asked me, "How did it go?"
"Great." I told her what we did, what I had for dinner when we went out, about their friends that they wanted to have meet me, and about the pool. Thinking to make her jealous for a moment, I told her about the lifeguards in the locker room.
She wasn't jealous at all. She laughed and said, "and how did it make you feel to be nude in a room full of naked beautiful women?" I surprised myself as I thought about the answer. I can think of any number of emotions that I would've had should I have found myself in that position at various younger ages of my life. But there I was, standing there soaking wet with soap in my eyes and my hair full of shampoo and as I think back on it, aside from being crushed at being ma'am'd, my first emotion was intimidation. It didn't last long but for that first instant I thought about how my sagging boobs, sagging arms, and sagging belly contrasted so poorly against such perfection. As the intimidation passed, I felt wistful for lost youth and jealous of their toned bodies. How was it possible that that was all I felt?
Donna said, "You're a woman. How else would you feel?"
Yeah, I thought. She's right. I'm a 56 year old woman comparing myself to young beauty. How else would I feel? AND I was Ma'am'd. Let's face it, I'm getting old.