It’s Something You Learn

It’s Something You Learn

“I’d love to see that beautiful mouth on my dick.”

You think about what you would say in those situations

will all that verve telling him to go fuck himself, though

it’s difficult in the moment to actually say those words.

But it’s something you learn to say because

tonight it might be the corner of 18th and Van Ness,

tomorrow it might be at someone sidling up as you order a Racer 5

or waiting at 16th and Mission to catch the next BART,

hell, it could even be someone swinging by your cube.

But it’s something you learning to say because

it’s important to call out that kind of behavior,

to put the onus back on back on them,

after all, it’s something you learn to say.

In The Right Place

Pull out a fresh towel,

wipe down the plate,

one, two, three times,

top left cabinet, middle shelf,

grab the next one,

until the rack is empty.

 

There’s still (always) a full sink,

so run the water, pour in soap.

My parents probably wonder

where this person was years ago.

I do too, but it’s not like

anyone else is here to do them.

 

Besides there’s simple pleasure in

taking care of what I can,

right in front of me, making sure

everything is in the right place,

ready to go the next time I bake

cookies at midnight on a whim.

 

The bubbles are poised,

ready to attack.

So shut off the water,

drop the dishes in,

grab a sponge and

start scrubbing again.

Most Mornings

Most mornings I lie in bed,

awake before the alarm goes off

after eight years of 9-5s.

I reach for my phone,

(who doesn’t these days?)

nothing urgent, just reminders

of what I need to do today,

only half of which I’ll get done.

 

Most mornings I lie in bed

for a few more moments,

trying to determine whether I need

to slow down to take care of myself

or push myself to keep doing more

even when I don’t totally feel like it

but if the former were true,

I’d rarely get out of bed.

 

Most mornings I lie in bed

for those last few moments

wondering when two beers became too much

but there’s no time for that.

I cannot continue to lie

in bed, so I swing my feet over, sit up,

and promise myself an early night.

Me Looking Back

Was I really living before I had a brow lady?

I wonder as I arch my eyebrows in the mirror

I mean, really? This coming from the girl

who rarely makes time for make-up

with hair that insouciantly lives up in a clip.

But even those looks are practiced, looking like you look

like you don’t care is a look too, after all.

Perhaps I’m overthinking it, caring about how I look

still feels novel even if it’s not that new, besides

it’s really more about me liking how I look.

It took me a long time to learn to like the me looking back.

The Price I Pay

The Price I Pay

480 dollars

for a piece of paper from the county of San Francisco

along with another piece of paper I paid Hennepin County

400 dollars

for just so I can pay the Commonwealth of Virginia another

22 dollars

for yet another piece of paper to finally update two more pieces of paper for

168 dollars,

altogether a fraction of what I’ve spent over the years if I really did the math.

Some might say with all this money, I’m just papering over my old self,

though I am not trying to hide anything, just the opposite really,

no one asked me what I thought all these pieces of paper should say in the first place,

so this is just one of the many prices I continue to pay.

Transplants

Transplants

All this talk of San Francisco running out of space

feels so distant when you’re driving down the 5

over rolling hills, between fertile and fallow fields.

Just almonds and alfalfa, cars and cows, the occasional town.

Even in this discrete place we call The City,

I’m surprised by how many empty lots I see riding

through the Mission, how many dilapidated homes I find

wandering out Geary toward Land’s End, where I go to look

at a 75 year old bridge that continues to captivate so many like me,

surrounded by trees planted by those who tamed these

western dunes not that many years before that.

The trees, the buildings, the people, we were all once

transplants competing for a foothold, and I think if we look,

we’ll find there’s still space for us all to grow,

even in this discrete place we call The City.

I Never Will

That’s a clever announcement on Facebook

followed by the inevitable “boy or girl?”

As if those are the only options. 

As if you need to know. 

No one ever waits to ask

the person who could tell them best.

It’s a question I’d never presume to ask,

never presume to know.

I’d never want to find out

but I never will.

Lucky

Do you remember a time when you weren’t you? Never mind, that’s a paradoxical question. You are always you and yet you were never this you. And you won’t be ever again. Perhaps a more honest way to ask that question is this: do you ever remember a time when you lacked the tools to lessen the distance between who you were and who the world around you perceived you as? Do you remember a time when the dissonance that caused was all that you could truly hear? Because I do. Coming out as a transgender woman didn’t change who I was; whoever she was, whoever she is, who she will be, they’re all me. Coming out and accepting myself for who I was simply signified the start of trying to live a more fully realized, harmonious life. I have always been myself; now I am just more myself.

Sometimes it’s hard to believe it’s been seven years since I made the most demonstrable efforts to be who I am. My life is not perfect, but perfection is Barmecidal. I have enough to satisfy my basic needs, and many of my wants, and that is more than many, and more than enough. I also had an easier starting point than many, not through anything I did in particular. If I have learned anything in the past seven years it’s been that. Life doesn’t work out for a lot of trans folks. Not through any fault of theirs. It’s easy to find the near-constant reminders of how society views us and how society treats us. So being with the same company for eight years where being trans does not hinder me professionally is a big thing. That also makes me an outlier. At least based on what I see statistically about what I hear anecdotally. That’s just one example of ways society needs to change and get better for trans folks. I’d like to think change is like a fault line, splitting open after so much pressure, causing great upheaval, but change can also be like erosion, slow, so slow you don’t even notice it at times. Both kinds work, and I’d like to shake things up more, but I can also slowly help carve out a place that many people slowly helped carve out before me too. They aren’t mutually exclusive ways of trying to make things better for those who are yet to come.

For a long time I thought there were things I had to do better; certainly I can be better as a person, but that does not mean I have to make anyone comfortable with my transness. I am neither required to make myself seem more cis nor immediately declare my transness to make you aware if you weren’t. The transphobia of others is not my fault. Yet it’s still my problem. It’s why I can still be fired in 32 states just for walking through the door as myself; it’s why GRS is required to update my birth certificate because that means I’m sufficiently trans enough for the Commonwealth of Virginia to deign to recognize me as female and I am lucky to even be able to do that; that’s why I’ve had people shout out me on the streets that they ought to kick my ass for impersonating a woman. All for having the audacity to get up and walk out the door every morning as myself after not having done so for the first 27 years.  Being trans doesn’t involve anyone being a certain way other than being their most authentic self.

Living like that instills you with a sense of furtiveness if you can manage it. I have never been terribly successful at it, but I have learned when the time and place is. Being trans has no bearing on a trip to Safeway, so it’s not like I’d bring it up. Until the cashier calls me sir. Then it becomes an issue. Then I have to decide whether to correct the cashier even though it’s not my job to educate others on demand. Then I have to decide whether it’s even worth it, because I’ll be frustrated either way and so many people are not worth the time. I don’t necessarily intend to center everything in my existence on my transness. But how can I not? I see how the world perceives me on a near-daily basis. I’ve seen that look countless times when I walk into public restrooms, when I’m trying on a dress, when I’m getting change at a register. Even if I am a more open person, I rarely let my guard down in regard to taking care of and looking out for myself. How can you blame me? Even if I’m fortunate, I’m still trans in a world that largely despises trans people. Most people I encounter aren’t overtly transphobic, but like any form of discrimination, it’s a folly to think of transphobia as only direct actions. It lurks in so many places.

Most trans folk may not be lucky when it comes to how we are treated. But we are fortunate in that we know ourselves. We have been forced to interrogate what makes us who we are. I am lucky that I found myself in a world that does not go out of its way to support my existence. I am lucky to live a more fully realized life, a much more examined one, at least. Not because I’m smarter or better or anything, just because I had to figure it out. I had to decide. Did I want to be who everyone wanted me to be, or who I wanted to be? I don’t blame anyone for looking around and feeling like they can’t do that based on how our society currently is, especially if they’re trans. We need to make a more accepting, supportive world for people to interrogate who they are. Because everyone should be able to do that. Everyone should get to be who they are, not who they’re told to be. My lived experience defies what I was told was possible for so many years. Hopefully, just living my life every day can be a small demonstration of that. I am always in the process of trying to become more me. Perhaps I can help set an example or do something to help you in the same regard. That difference does not feel as large as it did seven years ago, when I really truly began the process of being myself, fully, without shame or regret. But there are always things I can do better. If I’ve got mine, the least I can do is something to help everyone else get theirs too. My experiences should be the baseline, not the exception.

My life is full of so many great people, and I have much better relationships with you now than I ever thought I would just by virtue of being myself, of being fully present. So, to everyone out there, wherever I met you along the way, whether it was just recently or years ago in high school, thanks for being there. I cannot stress how great it is to have so many supportive people in my life, people who continue to challenge themselves and grow just as I try to do the same every day. I do not take any of that for granted. I am lucky to call you friends, to know there are a great many people who support me, who do want a better world for trans folks. I look forward to whatever’s next and I can’t think of a better group of people to discover that with.

April 17, 1906

There’s a certain sense of doom that hangs over San Francisco. You see it when you look around and see so little from before 1906. Or the eastern span of the Bay Bridge. Or Hayes Valley. Or West Oakland. I’m constantly aware of that, living here. How could you not be? We don’t know when the next big one is coming, but we do know it’s coming and no matter what, we don’t truly know what it’s going to do. And while it’s doubtful we’d see something on the scale of April 18, 1906, it’s important to remember how little we truly know. I don’t think anyone went to bed on April 17, 1906 expecting much of the city they called home to lay in ruins the night after. We may be more aware, we may be more prepared, we may have better tools to deal with whatever comes next. But we may not. And it’s arrogant to forget that. We may be cavalier, joking about how the next big one will drive down housing costs, and we may put together our emergency kits and go over our evacuations drills at work. We do that to be ready, but we won’t truly know what it’s like, or how to act until it happens. The repetition of things beforehand? That is so we don’t have to think about what to do and we can just act.

San Francisco is undoubtedly an amazing place to call home. I consider myself fortunate to be able to. I never get tired of the views, of the ocean, or the bridges, or the characters that populate this place. At least, those that remain. But when people ask, am I telling them or reassuring myself? Am I in a bad relationship with the city I call home? Is this really a good place for me? Is this really a good place for anyone? But then you turn the block, look out over Outer Richmond, and catch the tops of Golden Gate and remember. You see the city from Alameda and it looks like a mirage. Perhaps it is. It certainly doesn’t feel like a real place at times. This city has you questioning why you live here and remembering why you love it in the span of one block. It might not be as foggy as they tell me it used to be, but the city still has an ethereal quality, blanketed in fog, with fog horns for white noise some nights if you live in Inner Richmond like me. If I keep telling myself how wonderful it is, perhaps I will believe it too.

I’m about to begin my third year here. It feels like half the people I’ve met have already moved or will be moving soon, half I barely see. It feels like I haven’t met that many people at all. Every year, it gets just a little bit more taxing to try to get to the shows I want to go to and make everything else work. Living by yourself is great, but I spend more time alone than you probably realize, though we have technology that ameliorates that these days at least. I love San Francisco, but city has its own problems, deep, creaking faults beneath its superficial charms. It feels like those things are never going to change, not when we have people seriously considering the idea of a moratorium on market-rate housing in the Mission, not as we continue to fight over a few street parking spaces that get in the way of making biking much more appealing and safe on Polk Street, not as we idly dream of a second trans-bay tube that’s 30 years away at best if it happens at all. Besides, I am not getting any younger, and my priorities as an individual shift as well. It isn’t just a pecuniary consideration. At what point does this city no longer have enough to hold me? At what point is the cost of living here too high beyond the rent?

As I begin my third year, I wonder if that would be better anywhere. Many of my issues are not place-specific. I feel constant stress about changing anything in my life, and you might too if you are trans and you are in a good situation in a lot of ways. I have found the thirties somewhat trying as my life has diverged from many of my friends because I do not have kids and I still like to go out on a Tuesday night. I had those same problems in Saint Paul, too. As much as I love San Francisco, it cannot solve problems like that. This is one of the best places for me to be professionally. But I still wonder, is it the big one I should worry about? Or is it all the little shifts that are constantly happening that I don’t notice as much? It’s not the earthquake you have to worry about anymore, it’s the notice of rent increase from your landlord, the eviction that turns your place into an Airbnb, the loss of any amount of income that allows most of us to maintain the tenuous balance we call living here, the loss of friends that help make a place something more than coordinates. Most of us aren’t prepared for that, no matter how much we’d like to think it. Every day here feels like it’s April 17, 1906. Until suddenly it’s April 18, 1906.

The Framing Business

One of the biggest issues I had to overcome in being authentic and true to myself was learning to stop lying to myself. As a trans woman, society certainly gave me good reason to, and continues to show me why, at times, I feared and worried about being myself. But I rarely worried about the economic disadvantages I might face or the fact that I be attacked just for walking down the street as myself. No, I worried whether I’d be laughed at, whether or not I’d fit in, whether I’d be pretty to be honest. And came to the conclusion I would be, I wouldn’t, and I definitely wouldn’t. I turned out to be wrong and they were vain things to worry about, foolish in retrospect. There are usually bigger concerns than wondering whether that dress looks good on you if you’re trans, though sometimes that matters to, and it feels good when it does. I have a hard time thinking of it as internalized misogyny even if it was as I didn’t really think of myself as a woman then, but certainly my idea of who I was or could be was influenced by a misogynistic construct of who or what a woman could be in our society. And whatever that was, I didn’t fit the definition.

Once I stopped lying to myself about who I was in that sense, I realized the other problems in my life were still there. Which perhaps sounds obvious to you and even me now, but at the time, the process of coming out was pretty consuming and I was fairly focused on it. I was lying to myself in lots of ways though. I’d like to think I’m a generally honest person, but who doesn’t? They may have felt necessary at the time, and probably were as I was trying to navigate my identity as a woman and not necessarily ready to share it, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t lies. Perhaps the other ways didn’t get to the core of my identity, but they still mattered. Coming out gave me the tools, but I still had to use those tools to tackle the other issues in my life. I still had to stop lying to myself about the false constraints that I put on myself, about the worship of busy-ness, about “not having time”. After all people with “less time” than me still seem to get a hell of a lot more done. I had to stop lying to myself about what was possible.

Sometimes it wasn’t necessarily outright lying as much as it was framing. I still spend a lot of time thinking about how I think about my life. I’m not that different than I used to be, believe it or not. Or perhaps I am, but the changes have much more to do with what I think is possible, trying to making those things happen, and how I choose to use the time I have in terms of what I do. There are inextricably other factors tied into it that I cannot deny, like where I live or how much I get paid, but they are difficult to separate out at this point. Some I earned; some I did not. I can and should acknowledge them, but like many things in life that I cannot change in the sense that they are what currently exists, they are just factors. I can work to change them in the future, for myself and hopefully for others, and likely they’ll change in ways that are beyond my control, but I try not to worry too much about that. I stay in my lane and try to take care of what I can because there’s so much that I cannot that I’d really rather not spend my energy on. Though you really can get quite a bit done if you think about it.

But back to the framing business. I really do think how we think about the circumstances of things has an impact along with all those other factors. I don’t mean this in a power of positive thinking kind of way, though. You can do all the right things and still fail, still not get your opportunity. Life might not work out and it might be because of circumstances outside of your direct control. Which is shitty when you think about it. I’d like to think we can move toward a world that gives everyone a fair chances, but it’s pretty obvious that’s not the world we currently live in. As an example, consider creative endeavors. There’s a lot more that goes into being a successful musician than writing a few good songs. Lots of people write good songs. There’s some luck in getting them played in the right places. Sometimes tenacity can create that luck; sometimes you just start off with better connections and resources through nothing you did or earned; sometimes you never even get that chance. Sometimes you squander all those resources and it still works out somehow. Which isn’t to say hard work isn’t a factor. It is to say that I think framing something as “if you work hard and put in your best effort, it will work out for you” isn’t any necessarily true, and is possibly a damaging way of looking at things. Though I guess that depends on how you think of things working out. There’s so much we can’t control. You might feel like the deck is stacked against you. And you could be right.

I’ll admit, thinking about things like this occasionally makes me want to throw my hands up in the air and say what’s the fucking point? But as I talked about previously, I try not to look at it in a pessimistic fashion. Of course it gets to me sometimes. But the last several years have taught me that my definition of possible sometimes needs some work. Not in a grandiloquent bullshit “you can do anything” kind of way, though. More in the sense that each day I work harder to be a better person, the person I want to be, and plenty of days I still fuck up at that. The definition constantly shifts. But I know I’m a person who no longer lies to herself about who she is, and philosophically, that filters into the ways I think about everything else. And it’s very easy to look back and realize what you thought was impossible even a few short years ago is something you’ve suddenly done. And while it’s good to have goals, it’s also amazing how much things can change in a year, let alone several.

Of course you still have to try, and of course it’s still good to have goals, tangible goals that are neither impossible nor too easy. Sometimes that means breaking the seemingly impossible ones down into more doable steps. Sometimes it just means taking the time. Sometimes that time is years. That’s how long it’s taken me to get truly comfortable with who I am, both in terms of how I think of myself and who I see in the mirror each morning. There were a lot of false starts, and simply coming to terms with my womanhood definitely did not magically solve them. Some of them have been influenced by the relative fortune I’ve experienced. Some of them have just been influenced by a change in how I think of myself. Some of them have been influenced by taking better care of myself. We all have to find the things that make us who we are, and I am still working to find those aspects. I probably always will be. I may naturally be a competitive person, it may be something I use to drive me. I may get piqued because of it from time to time, but we are all on our own journey and in a lot of ways it’s futile to compare myself to other people. Because I’m me.

For my part, I had to stop saying to myself I don’t have the time. I had to stop saying I wanted to do something in an unqualified manner. I do have the time, I just might not choose to use it. I do want to do that, but not as much as all these other things. Perhaps that isn’t a beneficial way for you to think about life, but I think it’s disingenuous how often many of us say we don’t have the time. They may be little white lies to get out of things, but I also feel that influences how we think about our lives. It’s agency, after all. Choosing not to do something is an active decision; saying you don’t have the time is a passive one. Of course we have to take care of things, we have to make sure we eat and the rent gets paid, and I get that some people have less agency in regard to how they take care of that. I get that a lot of people have to use the time they have to do a lot of things they don’t want to, more so than I do at least, and that there are some people who truly probably do not have time in the sense that they are already using all of it to try and take care of those things. Even a few years ago I don’t think I would have truly been cognizant of that. But that is not something I can say, and I do not feel it is something I should say because I don’t think it’s true of my life. It doesn’t mean I’m always making the right choices, or even using my time all that well. But I’m not this person that things just happen to. I’m this person who makes choices about how she lives her life. I am a person with agency who decides to do these things. Or who decides not to. Some of those decisions work out; some do not. And again, while some of those things are influenced by things I didn’t necessarily do a whole lot to get, some of those things are influenced by things I very much did do something to earn. And I plan to take advantage of those opportunities. I’m going to use that agency to keep trying every day to be the best version of me. Whoever I end up being.

 
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