Friday, March 30, 2018

Lady Bird: A Transgender Girl's Thoughts

When watching Moonrise Kingdom recently my partner noted how much the character of Suzi reminded her of me. She said she could image that if I had been cis I would have been like her when I was twelve. Suzi loves music, her cat, and loves to read. She is also rebellious and has trouble behaving and fitting in. She's a misfit. So like me in many ways.

That conversation reminded me of my first viewing of Lady Bird. After watching the trailer, I bought tickets for the first ever public screening of the movie. This is because my absolute favorite genre of film is independent drama/comedies with a female protagonist. Plus I love Greta Gerwig's writing and actress Saoirse Ronan. Because we were the first to see Lady Bird, we even got to take marketing surveys.

Lady Bird tells the story of Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson, a high school student growing up in Sacramento, California where she attends an all-girl Catholic school. While she dreams of one day moving away to somewhere exciting like New York City, her family's money struggles make this unlikely. This is only one source of conflict between Lady Bird and her mother, a nurse who is constantly working hard to provide for the family. The film follows Lady Bird as she navigates her senior year of high school and a deteriorating relationship with her mother.

Even on first viewing, I loved Lady Bird.  It was the movie that let me, for a brief moment, get a glimpse of what my teenage years would have been like had my chromosomes not screwed me over. The character of Lady Bird is much like teenage me in so many ways that watching it was almost eerie. I grew up in the boring town of Augusta, GA and dreamed of one day moving away to somewhere more exciting. During my teen years my family was struggling with money and I was often in conflict with my own mother. Beyond that, Lady Bird's own personality, her style of teenage rebellion, and the way she handles school, dating, friends, and family was quite remarkably similar to how I was during those tumultuous years. As a transgender woman who never got to experience my teens as a girl, Lady Bird gave me a glimpse into what that might have looked like had I been cis.

When we first meet Lady Bird she's in the middle of an on-going argument with her mom about college. The two had just finished a visit to check out the nearby State school where tuition will be affordable for the cash-strapped family. This is abhorrent to Lady Bird. None of this is what she wants. She wants to go to public school instead of Catholic school. And she wants nothing more than to be done with high school so she can get out of her boring hometown and go somewhere exciting.

One of my most common arguments with my parents involved my religious schooling. I wanted nothing more than to go to public school like regular people did. My senior year was filled, not with bittersweet nostalgia like so many of my classmates, but with an incessant itch to get the heck out of high school so I could leave "Disgusta," Georgia and could go somewhere more exciting. For Lady Bird it was New York and its culture, and for me it was Athens, Georgia and its music scene.

The movie kicks off at the beginning of the school year, Lady Bird's senior year. She has been sent to the principal's office in response to her campaign for student council president. A perennial losing candidate, Lady Bird's campaign is mostly a way to show off her weirdness so she can stand apart from the other students. Her campaign posters are bizarre and I can't help but be reminded of my own weird student council runs. Like Lady Bird, I often found myself in the principal's office to explain my not-quite-against-the-rules antics. While my posters didn't consist of googly eyed lady birds or birds with human heads, they did have drawings of winged bowling balls and penguins dancing with spoons.

Being a teenager is really hard. What makes is even harder is that no one tells you how to do it. When you're slightly weird and don't fit in well the other kids can be brutally merciless. You can either emulate the popular kids and aspire to be one of them, you can be hopelessly out of touch with cool, or you can rebel against everything popular and embrace your weird side. You can forge your own identity that says to the popular kids "You're not so great. I don't even want to sit at your lunch table." You feel like you have nothing but your own weirdness to set you apart so you embrace it as a way to cope. Lady Bird portrayed this perfectly.

Of course Lady Bird, like all teens, is not immune to the allure of popularity. When her brash attitude and penchant for getting in trouble catch the eye of the school's richest, prettiest, most popular girl, Lady Bird takes the opportunity to lie about her family's income so she can work her way into the popular crowd. Ultimately though, she realizes that she doesn't feel at home with the popular kids and rejects them, preferring to go back to her true best friend back in the unpopular camp.

Lady Bird is, like many a frustrated teenager, rebellious. But she's not a bad kid either. We see her shoplift a magazine, smoke cloves, cigarettes, and pot, and drink. She also steals a teacher's grade book to help cheat in math class. She lies, she fights with her parents, but she's not really bad. They're all pretty normal teen actives. What I most loved about this was that Greta Gerwig managed to capture just the right level of rebelliousness and badassery.

Like Lady Bird, I wasn't a bad kid, though I did rebel plenty. But it was also mostly in normal teenage ways. I smoked cigarettes and cloves (it was the Nineties, cloves were a thing), drank but not too often, cheated in school but not too often, fought with my parents, and the only drug I ever touched was pot. It's so rare that a film captures just the right level of teenage rebellion. So often teenage rebels are depicted as truly bad kids who live to break every rule. But most teens aren't like that. Lady Bird is realistically badass. She rebels not because she's bad, but because she's frustrated by rules, by her parents, by her own struggles with school, and by her family's working class situation.

Money is something that's always on the mind of Lady Bird's mom. And she never lets Lady Bird forget that the family is on a budget and having trouble making ends meet. The family's economic situation is a constant source of tension. Her mom won't let Lady Bird go to an East Coast school because local schools are more affordable. Lady Bird's mom has taken it upon herself to be the disciplinarian and hard ass in the family, something she does with loads of guilt-inducing, passive aggressive comments about Lady Bird's work ethic, appearance, habits, and friends.

As I grew up in a family that was struggling with money, I find this easily relatable. My own mom took on the exact same role and never let up with passive aggressive criticisms or attempts to make my sister and I feel guilty about every little failing. I knew well what it was to feel out of place and rejected by my peers because my family didn't have a lot of money. Like Lady Bird's family, we shopped at thrift shops, drove older cars, and lived with a mom who never let us forget how much she was always sacrificing for us (whether we asked for it or not).

When Lady Bird does finally get to college, her dad gives her a gift that lets her realize, perhaps for the first time, that her mom really loves her but didn't know how to show it in a way that Lady Bird understood. Ultimately, as I grew up, I came to realize that my own mother wasn't the horrible person I thought she was. She loved me in her own way but was in a difficult place herself and unable to show it well. I was able to come out to my mother and she has accepted me as her daughter. And I think that Lady Bird, once she grows up, would be able to have a similarly improved relationship with her mom. 

Lady Bird is amazing movie; a funny, honest, realistic, and emotional look at coming of age and how that effects the relationship of a mother and her daughter. As a transgender woman who transitioned as an adult, I didn't get to experience coming of age as a girl or a mother-daughter relationship. That's why Lady Bird resonated so much with me. The character of Lady Bird, her personality, and her family, reminded me so much of myself that it was eerie. It was eerie how closely it mirrored my own teen years. Watching this movie was like looking into an alternate universe where I could see what my life had been like had I been cis. No other movie or media had let me see that and so Lady Bird will now be one of my absolute favorites.

Friday, March 23, 2018

My Georgia Trip

This past weekend Kath and I went down to Georgia to visit some family and see some old friends. As I mentioned in my previous post, I was kind of not looking forward to this trip. Georgia for me isn't "home." It's the place I escaped so that I could start my real life. Going back, even to visit family or friends, seemed unnecessary. Plus add on to that the fact that Georgia is a red state and I'm a transgender woman and well, you could probably see why I wouldn't be too keen on visiting.

But, Kath had never met my sister and her family. Kath was particularly excited to meet my sister's kid, our little nibbling (the gender neutral word for your sibling's kid) for the first time. Plus Kath had never been to Augusta despite having heard about in the town in great detail. As my novel American Transgirl takes place partly in Augusta, she wanted a tour of the book's locations and of all the places I had mentioned. It was where I grew up, so she wanted to see this town, even if I did describe it as a soulless hellhole of endless strip malls.

Our plan was to spend a couple days in Atlanta with my mom and her husband. Some Atlanta friends offered to take us out and show us the town. I've been to Atlanta a thousand times for flights, NBA games, or concerts, but had never really seen any part of the city. After that we'd spend a couple days in Augusta to see more friends and also my sister's family. There were multiple people to meet up with and hang out with each day. What can we say? We're popular. Well, maybe we were just in short supply.

Our first night out a local friend took us to Ponce City Market. It's an old factory that's been converted into a fancy, upscale hangout with shops, restaurants, and bars. Okay, it's a mall. But it's a mall for young people so there's good food and plenty of booze, plus you can walk around with drinks inside. We figured we would get food there, then find drinks and hang out with some friends. 

Okay, the Southern United States has many, many, many glaring flaws. But their food is amazing. The four food groups down there are fried, glazed, pork, and macaroni and cheese. Ponce City Market had a lot of interesting food choices, so we grabbed some craft beer from the stall that had like a hundred things on tap, and took a look around. We decided to go with the seafood po'boy place. The food was super good. Despite it being 30F in New York, it got up to a balmy 70F so we were able to eat outside. 

At first I was fairly nervous being out in Atlanta. It was a city I'd never really explored and while we were hanging out in a hipster place, you never know when a random transphobe or homophobe or just an asshole in general will decide to be a general asshole. Plus I also wonder if I'll pass or if I'll stand out. I might have gotten a couple odd looks, but if anyone clocked me they weren't rude about it or anything. For the most part people just ignored me as they would anyone else. All the people that I interacted with used the correct pronouns. My friends and all got plenty of ladies' so that was good. 

Attached to the market buildings is a park that's reminiscent of the Highline here in NYC. It's called the BeltLine and it's a re purposed railroad that's now become a walking trail and park. We found a spot and spent the next couple of hours hanging out under a random streetlight talking and drinking. And also taking pictures. 

It was funny because Kath said that this was the first time she really understood how I spent high school. I had told her stories of having nothing to do but hang out with your friends in a parking lot, hoping that maybe someone had managed to snag something alcoholic. The only difference was that we weren't endlessly smoking cigarettes. 

My friend is not only a fabulously stylish, she's also an amazing pastry chef. She's trying to start her own cafe. She's raising money by selling totes full of delicious homemade treats. Be sure and check it out. 

Heck, after the evening was over we even went home to my mom's house. So, it was kind of a lot like high school. Only we were old enough to drink. Either way it was a great time out and I must admit that I actually want to go back to Atlanta now. 

My mom does not live in Atlanta. She actually lives "just outside Atlanta." For those not from Georgia, "just outside Atlanta" is a region that extends from the borders of the city of Atlanta all the way out to most of state, and to well, Alabama and Florida practically. If your small rural town is at least an hour and a half from Atlanta you get to go ahead and tell people that you're from the greater Atlanta area. That's how it works. So my mom and her husband actually live in a tiny rural town in a red state. Fun! 

Yes, they had an NRA mug. My mom's husband actually has a bunch of guns and his own YouTube channel where you can watch him shoot them. No, I will not link it. But, they're not all bad politically. At least they're anti-Trump and plus they go to PFLAG meetings. So that's good. Sure, I had to share the backseat with a gun, but they've been super supportive during my transition, so I can't complain. 

Plus the conversation only ended up in politics once. Deeply hungover from my Ponce City Market adventure, I needed food the next morning, preferably greasy fast food. We had to run to the drug store anyway and there was a Chick-fil-A next door. Yes, they're an awful company, but my hangover convinced me to get a sandwich anyway. Oh my gosh it was amazing. And I felt so much better. Evil only got $7, so that's not too bad.

But, when remarking on my dalliance with darkness, I mentioned that I would never under any circumstances set foot in a Hobby Lobby. Yes, I mentioned Hobby Lobby and that began a short, conversation on why precisely people should have to pay for other people's birth control. That it benefits society as a whole didn't seem a compelling argument and so we thankfully changed the subject. It was my own fault. Ah well.

My mom's husband is actually a bit of a foodie. So he made us mai tai drinks with actual pineapple cups. That was pretty fancy. Actually their whole kitchen was pretty fancy. Suburban kitchens have so much space! They also made ribs and pulled pork for us and it was heavenly.

Speaking of food, Kathleen got to sample the uniquely Southern delicacy that is Waffle House. While it was long my favorite spot for late night meals, Kath had never been to one before. So, I introduced her to the glory that is hashbrowns scattered and covered. She said it was okay. 

A bit of this trip was spent in rural Georgia, including our drive between Atlanta and Augusta. This was where I really got nervous about dealing with transphobia. Hipster Atlanta is one thing. Anderson Acres is another thing all together. We made a handful of stops at a couple different gas stations and at a truck stop. Thankfully no one seemed to notice anything off about me at all. Even down in rural Peach Country they gave me "ma'ams." So that was seriously nice. Either I pass, or even country people are just nicer than I'm giving them credit for. We made it down to Augusta in one piece. 

Our first stop in Augusta was actually dinner out with my sister, her husband, and some high school friends of mine. One of my friends had already met Faith and so I knew that would be cool. Another though made me kind of nervous. My best friend in high school was a guy and I'm always more nervous coming out to guys. Guess I've just always been more comfortable with women. He and I drifted apart in college and I hadn't seen him in almost twenty years. But, thankfully it was all good. No one mentioned my transition, though I bet they were dying to ask questions. Honestly I wouldn't mind questions as long as they were reasonably appropriate. Ah well. 

Kath got to try pimento cheese for the first time. It's a Southern food that consists of cheddar cheese, mayonnaise and pimentos. My friend was absolutely adamant that Kath try it. Now, truth be told I've never eaten pimento cheese either. But, I kept my mouth shut. I can eat cheddar when I want cheese. No need to add mayonnaise to anything. 

After dinner, we went back to my sister's place where we hung out on the porch with some beers. It was a wonderful way to spend the evening. I think it got both Kath and I rather jealous. New York City is amazing, but a porch to hang out on is really nice too. Despite my earlier nervousness, I ended up having a great time with everyone and it wasn't the least bit awkward or anything. 

And I officially confirmed my suspicion that I now look a lot like my sister. This was our first time hanging out as sisters, and it was our first time meeting our little nibbling. They were a bundle of fun energy and as I was the new aunt, they would not leave me alone. Yes, it was definitely fun getting to play and be imaginative with them but after about ten minutes I ran out of gas and had to have some time with the grown ups. 

For lunch though, we went to the nibbling's favorite restaurant. It was actually one of my favorites from back in the day. Nacho Mamma's is a standard burrito joint, but when I lived in Augusta it was one of the only places downtown. 

Downtown Augusta was our hang out back in the day. At one point it was a bustling downtown but White Flight hit it pretty hard back in the Sixties and Seventies. By the time I moved to Augusta in 1991, the entire downtown area was deserted. Anyone who could afford it had moved out to the suburbs, to the endless sprawl of strip malls, chain restaurants, and subdivisions. We disaffected teens hung out in the abandoned downtown for lack of anything better to do. As my sister was quick to point out though, the downtown area had been getting developed in the years that I left. Kath even found it charming and pretty. 

Because Augusta is right on the border with South Carolina, we hopped over the river so that Kath could officially mark the Palmetto State off her fifty states to visit list. 

I had to admit the new parks were actually quite pretty. Though apparently infested with alligators. Unfortunately, we didn't spot any gators though my sister has seen them a few times in that area.

 All in all, it was a surprisingly fun trip. I had a great time with family and friends. And even though we were in the deep South I didn't run into any trouble travelling as a transgender woman. Sure, it's Georgia, I think we'll need to go back.

Friday, March 16, 2018

The Prodigal Daughter Returns

New York City has been my home for sixteen years but five years ago I achieved an important milestone; New York City finally surpassed Augusta, GA as the place I have lived the longest. Many of my formative years were spent in Augusta; junior high, high school, some of college. Though I've lived in many different places, it's generally where I claim to be "from." If you've read my book American Transgirl, then you know that it's where I took my first steps out of the closet.

Augusta, GA, if you're unfamiliar, is the protypical sleepy suburban town. It has no culture, no real identity, and it's known for only a rich, elitist, racist golf tournament. It consists of nothing but endless strip malls, parking lots, corporate businesses, housing subdivisions, McMansions, and a decaying and rusted mostly abandoned downtown. It was the kind of place weird kids like me longed to escape. And I finally did in 2002.

Since then I've only been back twice. The first was maybe three months after I left. I was still feeling a little intimidated by New York and a quite a bit lonely. But visiting Augusta didn't help me. I saw some friends and stopped by some old haunts, but it felt perfunctory. I was out of place in a way that I hadn't quite felt before. 

The next time I visited was nine or ten years later. This time I kept my visit to family and didn't bother seeing any old friends or old favorite places. Augusta was still the same though. They had improved downtown by leveling several square blocks of condemned and empty buildings but the vacant lot "parks" didn't feel like too much of an improvement. This trip reminded me of just how happy I was to have left. New York was my new home.

Both those times I presented male. In fact I hadn't told anyone about my gender dysphoria, my dressing up, or that I had thought seriously about transition. 

But I'm about to go back again to visit family and some old friends as well. This will be my first time visiting my old home town since I've transitioned. All the people I've seen know that I'm transgender and that I've transitioned.

Like any trip down South, I'm of course worried about encountering transphobia, and potentially even harassment or violence. That's something I just have to deal with. As I'll be with groups the whole time that feels a little better. And of course I'll also have to deal with the TSA at the Atlanta airport and that's always a potential issue.

Still, I'm kind of excited that I'll be able to go back as the real me. It feels a bit like returning as a conquering hero. I've had the courage to finally come out. I live as who I am now and I live my life without apology. And now I'm going to visit the city where I once felt terrified going to the mall to shop for dresses. It was a town where I went to Wal-Mart at 2am to buy makeup, shoes, or underthings, because I was worried about being spotted by family or people from church or my boss. It was the place where I first dared to take steps outside as a woman, and now I'm going back as the woman that I always knew I could be.  

Let's hope all goes well. And lets hope the pollen isn't bad. We shall see. We shall see. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

A Dream Come True

Okay, the above is not a great picture, but it represents something superbly important; a dream come true for me. This picture was taken Saturday. I went out with a good group of friends to a restaurant here in Brooklyn. We had food, a gummi candy platter (instead of cake), and a healthy amount of drinks. That sounds like a great birthday, but why is it a dream come true? Well, let's take a trip back to the wild and wily days of 2006.

Back then, I was still mostly in the closet. I officially identified as a crossdresser, though I was beginning to change that to "genderflux," which I think today would be called bigender or gender queer. Most of my friends didn't know. My family and coworkers definitely didn't know. I still wasn't quite willing to admit that I was transgender, even though I spent most of my time online researching transgender topics .

See, I had an active life online. Not only did I have my own website (yes, the url was the same as it is today), but I also had a burgeoning YouTube channel and I had a fairly lively Myspace Page.
For those of you who are too young to remember, or missed the great Myspace days, Myspace was quite different from Facebook, almost the opposite. Myspace was a place to meet people and make new friends. It was totally normal, and even a compliment, to send someone, even a complete stranger, a friend request. If you do that on Facebook people think you're a serial killer or something. But on Myspace it was cool. I had a boy and girl Myspace pages, and plenty of friends from around the world. Many of these people, I'm still friends with today.

Many of my friends were transgender women. Of course they were. And I would post up all my best photos, and chat with them, and ask them about what hormones were like. But, there was one friend in particular that I remember. It's stuck deep in my brain, because this photo produced in me a deep and abiding longing.

That picture was my transgirl Myspace friend, a cute blonde model type, was seated at a table, out at bar or restaurant, with her head on her hand, elbow on the table, and a little half-smile on her face. What's more she was surrounded by friends. It was such a simple moment captured yet to me it was beautiful beyond words. Though she was transgender, my friend was just another girl out on the town, hanging out with her friends. That was what I longed for.

I wanted to be a girl. And I wanted to be just another ordinary girl. And I wanted to be accepted socially as a girl. I wanted to be a girl to all my friends. And I wanted what was in that picture. I wanted that to be my life.

Twelve years later, I looked at that picture above and felt like my wish had come true. Sure, I have been going out and presenting female for ages. Yes, I've been out with friends a hundred times, but for some reason, when I looked at that photo it filled me with happiness. Something that I had once dreamed of and hoped for, had become a concrete reality. 

Transition is slow. It's difficult. It's expensive. It's stressful. But when you see a pic like that and realize how far you've come, it really is worth it.

Here's to all our dreams.