Air Quotes

When I started transitioning 11 years ago, my goal was to be able to wear a suit and tie without irony.  The irony is that now I rarely wear a suit and tie. If you’ve read my earlier posts, you’ll know I’m more of a Carhartt/Dickies kind of guy.

In the beginning, my needs were modest – almost embarrassing in their naivete and physical appearance-focused nature.  Flat chest, facial hair, deep voice.  As if that was all there was to being a man. As if that would open a door that I could walk through unscathed. I wasn’t prepared for the space between female and male or how no matter what phase of my transition I was in, my status would forever be qualified by invisible air quotes.

If you’re gay and live in a state that still discriminates against you, you’ll recognize the air quotes. You’re “married” to your “spouse.”  If you’re black you’ll probably recognize the air quotes surrounding words like “diverse.”  If you were born a woman, you have already internalized the air quotes around “powerful” and “competent.”

I was not prepared for the air quotes around “person.”

When I was admitted to the hospital after an emergency surgery, my attending nurse came to me in the late evening between my opiate induced naps, leaned on the end of my bed and asked, “Do you prefer to be called He, She or It?” I decided that I had to be nice to her because I was alone in my room (they couldn’t put me in a room with a man or a woman) and she was the person who would come (or not) if I pushed the button on the fob tied to the handrail. My face no doubt resembled the look my bulldog gives when he needs to pee and I’m the only one with opposable thumbs to work the door knob.  Compliant, hopeful, grateful for any scrap of dignity. Part of me wished I had a recording device so I could use it to retell the terrifying tale to sympathetic friends. Part of me planned my emergency escape from the hospital if things got too weird.  Part of me (larger than I’d care to admit) just wanted her to like me.

It’s that part – the part that wants to be loved, who hates it when people are mad at me, who cannot abide much conflict at all – that steered most of those early years.  I kept making myself smaller so that I wouldn’t be the cause of any friction. If I’m honest, that part steers me much of the time now, except for I’m better at it because I’ve discovered that most of the time, the person you’re dealing with isn’t very concerned with you at all.  They are so wrapped up in their own insecurities, fears and loneliness that they are posing for you just as much as you feel pressured to pose for them.

In the years since then, I’ve learned to be gracious without begging, to forgive slights without consenting to them, to be grateful while demanding respect.  Being trans in the world has changed, too. Even since I injected my first dose of testosterone, the climate surrounding gender difference has warmed. In many cases, trans people feel freer to buck the whole notion of having a gender at all.  It’s very exciting.  Even Facebook has now included dozens of options under the gender question in your profile.  You can pretty much customize as much and as often as you want.  The whole notion of trans and gender is deconstructed.  Screw the “please like me” impulse – we can thumb our noses at all the air quotes around “man” and “woman” as if we’re not enough of either to be human.  I should be elated!

And I am.

So why haven’t I jumped at the chance to claim my transness on the mother of all social networks? Good question.  And one I’ve been asking myself all day, even after being interviewed about it.

I’ve never hidden my trans status.  In fact, I disclosed it much to my therapist’s chagrin during a group workshop (that had nothing to do with gender) because I had some sort of neurotic impulse to be honest at all cost, even if it derailed the purpose of the session.

I’ve written blog posts, essays, letters and even Facebook posts about being trans.  I went to Washington D.C. and disclosed my status as a transman in a meeting with high-ranking officials at the Department of Health and Human Services for god’s sake. I’m not closeted.

And yet.

I’ve grown attached to my male gender.  It’s mine and no one else’s. I’m a man the only way I can be, which is different than anyone else in the world can be a man. It fits me like my Rural King hat fits me.

The door I thought would be so easily traversed represented the most difficult journey I’ve ever started, and I am no where near, even over a decade later, finished transitioning. As I write this I know I’ll never be finished. 

The truth is that none of us emerge from our lives unscathed. We grow into the people we become – and then grow again. The truth is that transition is not only a  human experience.  It’s the only human experience.

So I’m free to be the person I am.  I have a right to select the term that fits.  So, I’m male.

I also reserve the right to change my mind.


My Slim, Reasonably Sized Trans Wedding (and the Queer Marriage that Follows)

Not even my therapist could say the word.  The big “W” is a concept that she (my therapist) and I had long ago abandoned and let atrophy in our minds.  I went to her office just after Kris and I decided that

I cropped out the "Easy Breeze Trailer Court" address.

Legal Proof – exhibit A.  (I cropped out the “Easy Breeze Trailer Court” address.)

since I got legal proof from the grand state of Illinois that I am male, that we could (and would) get married in Missouri, arguably the least queer friendly state in the union.  We sat through a Katie Couric show about trans youth in her apartment (my therapist and I have a quirky relationship), and I waited patiently for the final fade to credits and inspiring daytime show music to break the news.

I felt like I had to justify what we were doing by telling her that I was taking charge of my legal rights as Kris’ partner, and that ultimately it all made sense even though I had spent the better part of 9 years in her office working through anxiety, depression and one unfortunate bout of ulcerative colitis (too much information?) linked to my gender expression and the problems that go with it.  Also, if you haven’t guessed, my therapist is a lesbian in a long term relationship with her partner, who she can’t marry in this state.  I sort of felt like I had sold out.  Like I had abandoned my queerness to become Mr. Kris Kleindienst.

I expected her to want to dissect why I thought I had to get married and talk about my inner trans/gay phobia or something, but instead she just put her hands over her mouth and then said that it was wonderful news (and that she and her partner are going to Maine to get married).  As we talked about it we kept saying things like, “When I told my sister about, well, you know, the thing we’re going to do…”  Neither of us could utter the words “wedding” or “marriage.”  (Therapists have issues, too.)

ringThe fact is, I kept thinking I had to justify my decision to marry Kris to everyone.  “Mom, I’m doing this because it protects me and Kris.”  “Friend, Kris and I have been together for 11 years, so it won’t be like anything changes.”  “Staff of the bookstore, this isn’t an April Fool’s joke, and it’s not a big deal but…”

I even stayed up at night trying to justify it to myself.

I heard Kris justifying it to other people with things like, “Fuck the state of fucking Missouri.”  In fact, she didn’t describe our wedding without a string of expletives for at least the first week.  I didn’t take that as a bad sign.  Kris is frequently colorful, and we were both terrified.

The wedding itself was a utilitarian affair.  We, and several of our close friends and family, were ushered by a bailiff with a whistle into the cavernous courtroom dedicated to just this event in downtown St. Louis and took our vows while our three year old nephew insisted that his monster truck was more interesting.

It was actually perfect.

For a while afterwards, I played with the idea of being a husband in my mind, and it felt like I was getting away with something, and also that I was finally able to settle into my life with Kris.  Even though we didn’t feel like we lacked a marriage before, having one reminded us that we were here with each other on purpose.  Still, the mechanisms and language were and are foreign to both of us.

Last week I went in to 5/3 Bank to see about opening up a new checking account after our current bank whose name I won’t mention but whose name also connotes the first Monday in March in Illinois (and only Illinois, and only fairly recently – in fact, schools only started taking this holiday when I was in Junior High, but I digress) started disabling our debit cards when we made trips over 20 miles past the Poplar Street Bridge.

I had the beginnings of what would become an all encompassing ear infection and had kept thinking I was screaming when I was whispering, then couldn’t hear answers.  Conversation with anyone was becoming even more awkward than it usually is.  So when I explained who I was to the greeter (and there is no other word to describe this person even though he didn’t wear a smock and direct me to the closeout sale on antiperspirant) he asked me about my accounts.  I explained to him that I wanted one for me and one for my wife, which to me sounded like I had only thought the word because I couldn’t hear anything.

I could tell I did actually say the word because while explaining that we do in fact still use paper checks sometimes I noticed that he was noticing my hand gestures.  I talk with my hands more than any straight man I know, and since I couldn’t hear him, I was apparently overcompensating by acting out the words joint checking account so he could understand me, which made me look more like a flaming queen than I usually look (which takes effort).  I could see the wheels turning in his head.  He assured me that transferring money from my account to my “wife’s” (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) would be no trouble at all.  There was yet another long moment of awkward silence where I tried to decide whether to assure the man that I wasn’t a delusional closeted gay man or try to be more butch.  I decided that there were other branches of 5/3 Banks, one was even closer to my house, and that I would probably never have to talk to him again, so I continued my game of deaf charades and changed “wife” to “partner” and back again to “wife” and then just to Kris with the “she” thrown in for good measure.  It’s good to keep your banker guessing.

I haven’t been back to the bank yet, mostly because I’ve been stoned on Vicodin and sundry other medications for the aforementioned ear infection, but I will go back.

It’s a strange thing, this circling around, being so queer we’re straight again – “lapping ourselves” as our friend Amanda put it.  There seems to be this conflicting sensation of having to come out again about stepping into another closet. Augusten Burroughs wrote a good op/ed piece in the NY times about his similar struggle with the husband/wife beast which gets at part of what I’m talking about, but this other piece – where I have a wife (that Kris is a wife) is another kind of weird.

I’m not sure I am or ever will be at a point in my life where telling someone I have a wife doesn’t make me feel like I should be wearing gym socks and cowboy boots, holding my harm around the little woman’s shoulders protectively, patting her hand and talking to my friends at the Masonic Lodge about how she and her friends prattle on.

I suppose this, like every other damn thing in my life, will have to be redefined, reworked and reworded a few hundred times before it’s recognizable as my own.  I can’t wait to see what that looks like.