I’ve always believed in magic. The kind of magic that allowed a little Spanish woman from Honduras, my grandmother, to divorce her ogre of a husband and single-handedly raise two daughters on a seamstress’ income in the United States of the 1970’s, despite only knowing limited conversational English.
I believe in the magic of making something from nothing, just as my grandmother did when she stretched each dollar to ensure that her two princesses were always well-educated, impeccably groomed and treated to those mainstays of American culture…ice cream, movie outings and hamburgers, every once in awhile.
I believe in the magic of supplication. Of asking for help and summoning assistance…be it from God…or one’s family…or one’s own inner reservoirs of untapped fortitude in order to endure the otherwise unendurable. I believe in the magic of family that supports one another in those times of great need, like my grand-uncle helped his sister those many years ago.
I believe in the magic of time travel, for when my grandmother tells me of those days, the past comes alive and through the windows of her eyes I can see every tear, every fear…every unyielding hope that brought her from there to here. I make that journey with her and know that magic exists.
I believe in the magic of filling a grandchild’s Paterson-poor holidays with a treasure trove of toys bought through scrimping, saving and layaway plans. In the magic of multicolored lights, popcorn tins, a glazed ham in the oven and the symphonic strains of friends and family swirling throughout the living room of a tiny third story apartment, stretching it beyond its limits and, for that day, transforming it into the grandest of palaces.
I believe in the magic of inheritance. For that same woman’s magical strength of will has been passed down from mother to daughter to me. I believe in the magic of the undying dream, which resulted in a much sought-after home for my mother and a much sought-after son for my aunt. I believe in the magic of the seemingly impossible and the magic of transmutation, for I became what I ought to have been through the same magic that’s swelled through the veins of three generations of my family’s women.
I believe in the magic of recording this for posterity’s sake, so that this magic never disappears from the world. I believe in the magic of sharing and the way that sharing can make ideas flourish and spread like ivy…so I share this fable, born of magic but grounded in truth with any and all who will listen. I share this magic with you.
Alright. First off, I hate judging ANYONE, really I do. But I’m a human being, so I do it anyway. That being said, I’m really irritated about certain high-profile people in the TG community who shall remain nameless but who’ve been in the spotlight recently. I don’t want to come across as closed-minded, because I don’t feel that I am…but I am offended. Offended by some girls who think that what they’re doing, either in the adult film industry or as “burlesque” performers (i.e., strippers), is helping the community out. Despite your delusions, girls, having men view you as a sex object for your plastic parts is not doing me any favors, I’ll tell you that right now. Some of these girls even go so far as to insinuate that they’re helping to garner respect for all trans people everywhere through these public appearances. May I ask how? How can you garner respect when you’re devoid of respect for yourself…and when this utter lack of respect becomes painfully apparent through the choices you make in your everyday life, from what venues you decide to attend to what clothes you wear? Still, a lot of these girls are too caught up in the whirl of admiration they get for their “work,” that they really do think they’re, dare I say, positive role models. Many of them do have their own positive attributes, beauty or some less savory skill…but a pretty face alone does not a role model make.
A quote from Candy Darling comes to mind, said to a co-star during one of her first Warhol collaborations, “Why don’t you try developing your brain instead of your bust?” Intellect is the sexiest thing around. And intellect dictates, by virtue of common sense, that if you want to be viewed as a role model, you set a good example…primarily through your interactions with whatever target group you’re hoping to influence…not with rooms full of sex-starved fetishists looking for a good time and a glimpse of your under-bits. It’s not only in poor taste, it’s offensive to me. Personally offensive. I try to keep an open mind about certain people’s circumstances, but, I really feel there’s little justification for engaging in such a lifestyle in today’s day and age. My family wasn’t wealthy by any means, and as far as trans-girls go, I’m pretty damned cute…still I was never tempted to make “easy money” by exploiting that and debasing myself. How can you presume to call such money easily gained when it comes at the price of your very dignity?
Dignity. That’s what it SHOULD be about. Our journey to ourselves is a beautiful thing. We follow our paths, compelled by one of the strongest forms of loyalty a human being is capable of possessing…that undying, unflinching pledge to our very own souls that we will be what we were meant to be. Why cheapen such a beautiful experience? To “get there first” by coming up with money for surgeries? That’s all well and good…but then where are you? Where is it that you ‘got to?’ And what did you truly become? It is true that in many cases, desperation drives us, but ignorance should not. We should always be mindful of what we’re willing to sacrifice and what we’re hoping to gain, ensuring ourselves that one does not outweigh the other and that we can live with such choices after the fact.
Part of what I hope to do, both by studying at school and by going to different government agencies to discuss my past, is to put a very real, very human face on what science has labelled an aberration, under the heading of “transgendered.” I’m someone who’s done a lot of growing up, just like you…or you…or you. And it’s been hard, but I struggled through and did it right. Now, I want to give back to the youngsters by helping those who help them understand better what struggles they go through…and who knows, maybe I’ll eventually go back for my MSW and help these kids directly as a social worker. Either way, I help. Even now and as someone who helps, goddammit, I have a right to be upset…our kids deserve better and so do you girls, yourselves! Respect yourselves…it’s daunting to trudge this path with honor and self-respect, but it certainly is not impossible…and don’t let anyone lead you to believe otherwise.
Hey guys, so this is that snippet I promised you a few weeks ago of the fantasy story I’ve been working on…It’s centered around a Mystic named Martine who just so happens to be a Eunuch, as well. In this scene, Martine is roused from sleep by a vision of impending doom. I’ve never written anything like this before…so, hopefully it isn’t completely atrocious…but if it is…lie to me, anyway and tell me how amazing it is…no, j/k…give it to me straight!
Black clouds of sulfur darkened the horizon. I could smell the stench of destruction. Bright flames swirled amidst the grey shambles of Arcadia’s Royal Palace. I find myself running. I can hear my own footfalls slapping the dry, ashen ground as the frigid pearls of sweat rain down my body. Behind me, there are men giving chase. Men in elaborate suits of armor, glinting gold and crimson under the torched city’s light. I know this, though I only see them in my mind’s-eye. I know what I’m running from. What am I running to?
Just then I spot Calliope, my childhood friend and the resident court jester. Her bright garments, now blackened by coal. She is in disarray.
“Calliope! What’s going on? We have to get out of here!” I shout.
“Martine. Look up and you can see.”
“What? See what?” I ask as I tilt my head toward the sky.
The black clouds break at that very moment, giving way to a ray of sun and a torrential downpour.
“The flames…of magic.”
“Magic? Are you saying one of the mages did this, surely they weren’t powerful enough to?”
Calliope stood silent.
“Was it those men…they caused this?”
Still no response.
“Did I? I couldn’t have,” I murmur incredulously.
“Whenever there’s a sun shower, it means a fox has married.”
“Calliope, what are you saying? Why can’t you answer me?!”
Then the light seized me and it was over.
This was the third time I’d had this dream, and each time it made even less sense. I’d told Calliope, who’d of course thought it was the result of over-work and recommended I take a vacation. Recreation was her panacea and in her eyes, there was nothing it couldn’t fix. Morgana, my other friend and Court Herbalist brewed a tea for my nerves and gave me some bitter herbs to chew daily. They hadn’t been working.
I couldn’t help but re-visit my dreams, not only because I was the Chief Court Mage and took dreams very seriously as a matter of habit, but because this dream did what no other had…it chilled me to the bone. I felt this was a vision, a premonition. I’d had them before, owing to my nature as a Eunuch. We were a culture of mystics, prone to seeing beyond the veil of ordinary existence. I was no different, however, I kept telling myself that this dream wasn’t, couldn’t be. Though I suspected in my heart that it was.
What caused the fire? I had the ability, which had taken years of dedicated training to perfect, to supplicate the elements, bend them to my will, speak to the spirits, the raw essences of the very fibers that comprised our world. I could beseech the Spirit of Earth for a good harvest, or the Spirit of Rain to send a downpour, and indeed, would whenever our crops grew dry. In this way, my presence at the Royal Court of the Arcadian Empire became a necessity to our people. As a rule and a show of respect, I usually stood aside and let nature take its course, but whenever the energy became unbalanced as it was prone to do, I’d intercede and marvelous things would happen. There was pride in what I did, but also a deep reverence for the true power behind the mystic…the Spirits themselves.
Those men in my dream. They were…invaders. Nothing of them looked familiar, it was all foreign and menacing. If that type of fire broke out, well, I suppose they could have set fire to the kingdom, but our magical barriers and protective measures would surely have proven mightier than any invader. Then again, how could I know what they were capable of? Perhaps there did exist, beyond the wall we lived behind, a kingdom of stronger means than ours. But that was why the wall existed in the first place, to keep us hidden from the outside world…that world where magic could not thrive, where fantasy went to die. Long ago, we’d all been part of that Golden Age, but our cousins…they let their baser feelings take hold of them…that’s what was passed down throughout the generations, anyway.
If what transpired in my dream were any indication of times to come, then it would seem that the tales were all true. But that fire…what I asked Calliope still weighed in my mind. Why did I feel that I was responsible for it? For the very fall of my home? Did something go wrong? Did my powers betray me? Did the Spirits fail me for once? This type of senseless anxiety was getting me nowhere. I suppose the only thing I could do, was wait for the next night.
So…recently I was diagnosed with TMJD or temporomandibular joint disorder (erroneously, yet widely, known as TMJ) which is basically a mandibular joint issue akin to arthritis, where there is a misalignment of the muscles. Boxers get it after too many knockouts to the jaw and so do anxiety-ridden tooth-grinders. Guess which one I was. Imagine being in excruciating ear pain for a week or so, not being able to talk really due to the pain but still being asked questions every five minutes, having to sustain yourself on a mostly liquid diet because eating solids feels like you’re swallowing daggers and knowing that there’s no cure but “waiting it out” until the next flare-up. As you might expect, it’s rather awful.
Currently, I’m doing well, but every now and then I’ll have a flare-up, usually when I’m stressed. I’ve read that TMJD is more common amongst menopausal women on hormone-replacement therapy, and by extension I’m assuming, transgendered women who are not only hormone-laden, but also perpetually stressed out…so in my case, it makes a lot of sense that I developed this. However, I’m also keenly aware that the initial trigger for my jaw issues started one Thanksgiving weekend long ago, when in my engorged holiday mind-set, I decided to raid the fridge for leftovers and sunk my teeth into some stale chunks of french bread, unhinging my jaw like a cobra and hearing a tell-tale ‘pop,’ which I assumed was perfectly normal. Only, after that, every time I would try to stretch my mouth open, the left side of my jaw would click. I thought it was nothing but then this happened years later. At first, I thought it was an ear or sinus infection because I was prone to those and because it felt like one, but upon consulting an Ear, Nose, Throat Specialist, I was told that wasn’t the case.
So, what is all this preamble leading to? I want you girls out there to keep healthy, of course! ^_^ So, if you’re dealing with this terrible ailment too, here’s a list of tips to keep those flare-ups few and far between!
1) DON’T STRESS THE SMALL STUFF…WHICH, BASICALLY, IT ALL IS! Seriously, I know I’m stealing this phrase from somewhere, but that’s because it’s good and also, very true. Go meditate yourself! Nothing’s worth ruining your health over, so as difficult as it is, try to just let whatever stressful thoughts you have drift on by. Don’t force yourself not to acknowledge them, because forcing anything is a stressful process in and of itself. Just let them pass through you. Unless, of course it’s a thought like, “Oh I have to pick my son up from daycare,” or “I have a deadline…if I don’t do it, I’ll get fired,” those you should probably deal with. But everything else? Nah…
2) USE A MOUTH-GUARD AT NIGHT! They’re like 15 bucks at Target, so price shouldn’t be an issue. Honestly, I started doing this whenever I have a flare-up and the next day I feel waaaaay better. You may look funny, but at least it’s in the bedroom where crowds won’t see you.
3) AVOID COOL AIR DURING A FLARE-UP!! Air-conditioned rooms, blasts of fan-swirled air on the face…they’re all bad during a flare-up because they make the muscles contract in a way that makes your jaw ache so much worse.
4) HEAT, THEN COLD, THEN HEAT!! Hot compress to the jaw (not too hot, but here’s a tip…heat up some salt in a frying pan then bundle it in a towel, it stays hot longer), then a cold compress, then another hot compress all while slowly opening the mouth to condition the muscles to be okay with that sort of thing.
5) NO CLENCHING, NO GRINDING!! Rest your tongue on the roof of your mouth, leaving a space between the top and bottom rows of teeth…like singers do!
6) JAW MASSAGE!! A quick fix, but when that flare-up hits, you need all the help you can muster. A quick massage in circular motions of the jaw and ear area is a big help, calming spasms and generating heat to relax away tension.
7) PUT DOWN THAT STEAK!! Or corn, or apple, or carrot, or practically any other hard food that forces you to open your jaw wide in order to eat it…at least until after your flare-up’s over.
There you have it, my dears…TMJD is a rotten break, but like everything else in life, not insurmountable! ^_^
Family is a wonderful thing. And I don’t mean exclusively blood-related family, but that sense of community and “you can count on me” that you get from a group you consider yourself to be a part of, be it comprised of relatives, friends or any other type of person.
But, as transpeople, can we always count on our families to be there? The harsh reality is that we can’t. Many of us live in fear of our families. Still others, like myself, have faced disappointing attitudes despite being from tightly-knit families that otherwise have had no significant problems.
When I first began my transition, my grandmother wanted to have me visited by a pastor because she thought I was insane and her antiquated solution was to drive that insanity from me through spiritual warfare, which to me, seemed much crazier than anything I was doing. The real obstacle was a lack of understanding and dialogue. But sometimes, despite numerous attempts at fostering that kind of open dialogue, there will be people who are unwilling to or are not yet ready to listen. That kind of stone-cold silence can breed a resentment in both parties that ofttimes isn’t easy to shake. People don’t remember words or actions, but they’ll always remember how you made them feel. Still, it’s important to let go of resentment eventually. It’s fine to be angry, and in our situations we need to allow ourselves the benefit of being mad, but it’s equally important to not stay angry the rest of our lives. For me, my anger was channelled through isolation and self-improvement. I’d read, do exercise, watch old films, study how-to videos. My only ally in those days was my mother. As is so often the case, family can be a double-edged sword. Some members will protect you through thick and thin, while others can’t wait to cut you down.
I am blessed to say that I had the benefit of a truly loving mother, whose compassion and empathy saw me through those days of isolation. Some might say that isolation was self-imposed, and in a sense, it was, though it’s also true that I was driven to it. From my own experiences, I can say that isolating yourself is one of the best things you can do in these situations. Walking away gives both parties time to reflect and examine their own biases. It always helps to have friends who understand, but not everyone has that luxury. And during a transition one really needs to rediscover oneself as one’s own BEST friend. Whatever you do, don’t let your anger drive you to self-destruction. So often in our community, we resort to drugs and alcohol and other vices that will only hinder our chances at a successful transition and mar us forever.
During my transition I recall another family member’s attitude. How she told me she didn’t want me to come over her house dressed as a female because I ran the risk of confusing her two year old regarding gender identity. So I stopped going to her house, there was no compromise. And I think it’s important, that we as transfolk, establish not only a firm identity as our true selves, but also a firm sense of what we are and are not willing to compromise. Understanding is great, but only when it’s reciprocal. Sometimes, this will entail conflict and accusations of being selfish. Guess what? That’s okay. It’s alright to be selfish. This is something that’s taken me years to realize, sacrificing yourself doesn’t gain you anything, it doesn’t make you noble, it makes you a puppet, controlled by the whims of others. As a transperson, you’re your own ally and advocate. Fight for your right to exist, without apology and without excuse. The people who truly love you just may come around eventually. But they may not. And learning to live without them is a harsh reality that one just may have to accept.
In my own case, they did luckily “come around,” but I realize it’s not so simple for other transpeople and my heart goes out to you. It’s never easy, but know that you are worth it. There’s only one life and its yours! Whether family ties are meant to be double-knotted or unravel themselves completely, depends not upon you, but on them and the place they’re in emotionally. The inherent urge for freedom is never an illness and it shouldn’t be treated as such…but hatred, bigotry, fear…those are very real illnesses and we shouldn’t let them infect, control or hold us back from achieving our own dreams and strengthening the most important tie we have…to our souls and to our selves.
A bald man with a mustache sweats buckets under the hot blaze of Summer. His straw hat and Guayabera shirt facing a losing battle against the orange sky. A sky on fire.
A middle-aged woman stands nearby fanning herself, her teased-out cascade of dark waves tumbling onto bare shoulders marred by the occasional liver spot. The personal pocket of air she struggles to maintain with that cheap sandalwood fan is her only means of triumphing against the heavy haze of the day. Her mustard-colored halter top, a remnant of disco days long-gone, clashes with her sun-tainted skin.
Under the thatched roof of this tiki bar in the middle of nowhere…no, in the middle of somewhere, somewhere very real, strangers gather and drink and wait.
A large woman in a brightly colored, bush-like bathing cap and a navy blue bathing suit with white polka dots sips a Mai Tai that’s more fruit than fluid. Atop her plump face rests a pair of rhinestone-studded, tinted cat eye sunglasses. She lets out a muffled belch before addressing her fellow bar mates.
“I sure do wish there were a pool in these parts. Such a nice day for a dip in the pool, don’t ya think? Name’s Laura Lee, by the way. Laura Lee Fitzgerald.”
The woman spoke with a thick, guttural voice in a decidedly Midwestern accent. Upon seeing that none of the other denizens of the bar was acknowledging her, she resumed drinking her Mai Tai, through lips painted redder than a fire engine.
“A Bloody Mary, please,” said the halter-top with the fan.
“Coming up,” answered the androgynous bartender dressed in a full tuxedo with a short, fringed bob cut as blunt as their conversation.
Within seconds, a blood-red drink slides down the counter and the halter top looks longingly through the liquid at days she knew full well she would never see again.
“My hair used to be red like that. It was red…but bright! So bright. Just like this…drink,” she said as she continued to beat her fan against the stale air.
“Everything changes,” said the man in the Guayabera shirt in a thick Spanish accent.
“Boy, ain’t that the truth!” exclaimed the large woman in the bathing suit, henceforth known as Laura Lee Fitzgerald.
And again, they ignored her.
She sipped noisily, now that she’d reached the bottom of her drink. Disappointed, she pulled her lips from a straw whose tip was stained a sloppy scarlet.
Through the searing air, a pool of green-blue came into view. Laura Lee Fitzgerald brightened up at once and abandoned the remnants of her last drink there on the table.
“I knew there had to be a pool, I’m goin’ swimmin’!”
The woman ran through the thatched door, cutting her way through palm trees and bushes that seemed more rubbery than shrubbery.
Back in the bar, the halter-top who used to be a redhead, but no longer was, drank her Bloody Mary and looked out the door at the green hell that surrounded them. She hated the outdoors.
“Hey, she didn’t pay…that woman!” she commented as she fanned.
“She’ll pay,” the bartender said confidently, without looking up from the counter.
Outside, Laura Lee Fitzgerald dipped a chubby toe into the lily-pad laden, cyan waters. They were crisp, cool and chlorinated. Her kind of scene. It was a tad murky though, what with all the plant life, but still something was better than nothing.
“Nice and cool. Well…only one thing to do. Cannonball!”
The large woman pinched her greasy nose with a set of pudgy little fingers that seemed almost sausage-like. Then she launched herself like a great navy blue, polka-dotted rocket, ripping through the air in a moment of sheer rapture before hitting the seemingly bottomless depths below.
From the bar they saw it, the gigantic green maw gaping wide open and then clamping shut on a pair of bloody, flailing, fat legs.
It’s teeth were big enough to spot from miles away and vines dripped from it like an external nervous system. Satisfied, it sank back down beneath the lily-pads and poolside reeds.
The halter top downed her Bloody Mary in one fell gulp.
The man in the Guayabera lit a cigar…as Cuban as he was…he could remember.
The bartender mopped up the counter with a dirty rag, that seeped a rust-red liquid with every squeeze.
“So…what’s your poison?” in the same indifferent tone as before.
The Cuban laughed a dark cacophony as rich and loaded as the coffee he used to drink.