Archive for June, 2013

Analogues (Keep Pushing)

There are certain facts about living in a place that one should always be acquainted with…where to get the best croissant, what bar has the best happy hour or the best patio, whether or not it’s worth your time to wait in line at a joint, and the such. One might argue that these are not facts since there’s a subjective element to it, but I would say they are the facts of our experiences in the places that we live. So I’m going to call them facts for the purpose of this discussion. In some ways, I already had some ideas of the best places to do certain things here that I knew I’d enjoy. Though I’d only been to one venue, I knew it was a good one and that there are a lot more out there. I knew where to find some of the best baked goods and ice cream. I knew finding cheap Mexican was not going to be an issue with the Mission at my disposal. I’d had the fortune of visiting not one, but two of the better beer bars in the area before I ever called San Francisco home. But there’s always more to know.

I find I am evaluating the San Francisco on the basis of many things that I also used to evaluate the Twin Cities: bands, beers, biking, and bakeries (you can see what’s important to me…I’d throw some non-Bs in there but it’d just ruin the effect). Band, obviously, haven’t been an issue. I’ve been to a couple all-local bills since I got here, one in Oakland, one on this side of the Bay, and no surprise the bills have been pretty solid top to bottom. There’s a lot of stuff to discover, with the prevailing sounds seeming a touch different than the Twin Cities, though they probably aren’t. A bit more garage than pysch, still plenty of worthwhile hip-hop, etc. I am sure in time I will get to know the bands beyond the ones that have made it out of the area, as there are always great bands in a thriving music scene that never make it much beyond their city or region for a variety of circumstances. And the venues themselves, they’ve been fun to discover. Beers have been a bit more slow-going, as I’ve known most of the bigger brewers in California for a bit now (and many of them have made it to points east so I’ve had them). I’m not gonna say I’m underwhelmed, by any means, but the Twin Cities have a brew culture that’s climbing lists quickly for a reason, and I am still sifting through the selection here to find a true go-to, though if they carried Linden’s beers more places, that’d probably settle it. Biking is good, if I didn’t live on the top of a hill, I’d do it more. But it also requires a strand of thought that shows some disregard for personal safety. You go down Market sometime and see if you agree. And bakeries…well, you’ve heard me talk about Tartine enough, right? Add to that a couple nice little selections I’ve found scattered about the 7×7 (you have to have a chocolate chip cookie from Batter) and I think that is going to turn out just fine too…

Still, I find that I’m comparing the places I go or the pastries I eat to their counterparts I know so well. There’s just not quite anyplace that has the sound and coziness of the Entry, but if I had to pick someplace that felt most similar, I’d say Rickshaw Stop. I could help thinking as I was watching Warm Soda that both from a quality of ventilation and oddness of layout, Brick & Mortar is a whole lot like the 400 was (rest in peace). I still haven’t gotten to the Fillmore, but I imagine it’ll slot nicely into the hole in my life that is First Ave (and was the 9:30 before that…seriously, you can’t ask for much better than that). Hemlock Tavern definitely felt like the Hex. For some reasons, it’s quite easy to put together the similarities of the venues. I find with the other items, it’s not as natural. But it’s still a search. What’s gonna be my local beer of choice when I don’t want to think and I don’t want too much in the way of hops but I know it’ll be everywhere? You know, that was EPA. If I wanted hops, it was Furious. Usually I was trying some new brewer or some limited series, and rarely did I drink anything that came from much further than elsewhere in the Midwest. Because I didn’t need to. But what’s gonna be my summer beer now that Oberon is not a part of my life? You know, these are serious questions that I try to sort out as I work my way through Speakeasy’s selections as they come up (decent and has been my go-to so far, but mostly due to the fact that it’s there). And while I know where to find an excellent chocolate croissant, where’s my chocolate donut that nearly approaches the amazingness that A Baker’s Wife produces? And can you get a good scone anywhere in this town, or is that just a non-starter? I may have already found something that slots into the taco-housed shape hole in my heart that Boca Chica left, but I’m still not sure which pizza place is going to make me forget I left Punch behind (probable answer: none).

This is, of course, all foolishness. San Francisco is its own city, with its own nuances, and there are things here or across the Bay that I couldn’t even particularly think about getting in Minnesota. Like vegan soul food. There are almost too many good shows to see. I’ll be able to ride the BART to go see My Bloody Valentine. There’s more than one major festival that takes place within city limits. There might not be a bunch of breweries right in the city, but I’m willing to look past that when you start looking at the quality of the cocktails. Or tap wine! Every hill you climb has a different view of the city, whether it’s from the cross up on Davidson or the byob radio tower on Bernal, each looking at the same city yet looking so different from the next. You wouldn’t think a couple miles would change the view all that much, but it does. And yet, for all the great views, the beautiful way the colors stack up in the east on a clear night around sunset, none of them are anything like the austere beauty of Minnehaha Falls if you are lucky enough to catch it on a particularly quiet day. And why should they be?

I probably won’t find a park anything like that here. I certainly won’t see any frozen waterfalls in this city come my birthday. But every few days, I still hike through the neighborhoods to see what it is they offer on my way to a new park which is walking distance. Whether it’s the fantastic drip coffee of Sandbox or the Basque Cultural Center, there’s always something fun to discover when walking. And walking is the best way to discover a city, to slow down and really take everything in. When I moved to Minneapolis, I did a lot of walking, largely a function of being unemployed and unable to do much else. I saw a lot of things that I said to myself I’d get back to. For the most part, I did. But it was a great way to see the neighborhoods, to walk the lakes, the figure out the geography of my new city. I am once again in a new city, and the walking once again helps me connect the dots, to fill in the gaps in my mental map of the city. I am slowly slotting records shops and bars into my mental map and figuring out what’s worth stopping at by each venue, if anything. But none of that gets at the heart of the comparisons.

The comparisons exist because they keep pushing me to find new things. I’d like to think I still made a good effort in the Twin Cities to continue to try new things. But, like anyone, I developed my habits. I can already see them developing here. I will not find replacements here, for anything. There are no analogues. Perhaps more dangerous, I am not just comparing across distance, I am comparing across time. But if it keeps me walking down Diamond into Noe Valley to try something that I haven’t been to before, so be it. I know in my head that the only true way to get something that I am missing is to get on a plane and go back. I assure you, it’ll be a busy week when I’m there next, full of trips to venues and way too much food and not nearly enough time. And in the meantime, the desire to see if I can find any place that makes a half-decent scone is a good excuse to not just go to the same places every day because they are convenient. That, in turn, gives me an excuse to see some parts of San Francisco that I might not otherwise. Soon enough, I’ll be more settled in this town, and the burst of discovery will fade a bit. But any walk can be a trip of discovery. There are places we walk by every day and hardly notice. So I will keep pushing to find those analogues. Even if I know they do not exist. Because in the process, I’m sure I’ll find something else.

Stops And Starts

Look around my stuff or poke around on my computer and you will undoubtedly see a lot of half-finished. Probably even more barely started. That’s what the last week has felt like when I’ve been typing. I’m certainly not required to have something to say, but, you, the reader, might appreciate it. So I’m trying to make an effort, and sometimes I’m starting to dash stuff down that starts with a feeling, and that feeling ends up petering out. Or I think about it a little more and realize that I didn’t really have much to say. There’s a couple entries for sure from the last couple of days that are like that. There’s a couple reasons why.

Going to Vegas with friends was a great idea, but it came at a weird time out here, a little over a month into living in San Francisco when I was finally feeling settled enough to let the terror of the situation sink in. I mean, I could care less for the town, but it was great to see friends. Yet, I felt like there was a large part of me that was not engaging and enjoying the trip as much as I could have. I spent the last couple days thinking about that, poking that region of my brain with a stick if you will, trying to figure it out. Here it’s almost July and I still haven’t sold my condo. I’ve received and rejected one offer, because if I’m gonna lose money, I may as well hold onto for a little bit to see if a better offer comes along. And I think it’s weighing on me more than I think. So I’m trying to pretend that it isn’t bothering me, hanging out with old friends. And I’m trying to pretend aspects of my new job don’t bother me either, like the fact that I barely see my new boss and apparently having some amount of contact with my superior is really important to me. Or having that relationship there where I’m not just communicating via e-mail, IM, and phone like I am with almost everyone else in my life. And then there’s just things I’m not learning until after I screw them up, and I’m not the kind of person who particularly likes to make mistakes, no matter how much I implore people just to throw me into situations. And all while that’s in the back of my head while I’m just trying to relax and play a game of Sheepshead and drink a beer with friends that, if I’m lucky, I get to see once a year, probably less now that I’m out here. I’m trying not to think too much about the facts, you know?

Because it’s hard to. It’s too soon to say that moving out here is a mistake. Because I don’t feel like it is. But it’s not too soon to be wracked with that feeling, to have it stop me in my path, to want to cry in the middle of an airport as I go back to someplace that I certainly live but does not yet feel like home. I logically know how long it took me to get adjusted to the Midwest. I know, if I look back, that I’ve always enjoyed changing scenery as a concept but not in action, that I want things to last forever even if I know well enough they won’t, and that if I look at all my stops since I’ve gone to Virginia, I’ve always had this feeling washing over that I am not doing the right thing, that I have made poor decisions. Sometimes, I’m sure I’ve made poor decisions. I can point to a few that I even knew at the time would end badly that I still did. But the places I’ve lived have never been those sorts of decisions (well, except for the first place I lived in Minneapolis…what a shithole. But the town was great!).

I also know that feeling goes away, and that it takes a while, and that there are a lot of long hours no matter where I live where I wonder about the decisions I’ve made and the decisions I’m in the process of making. I know that part of it is clearing out the fog from my map, of knowing how to get back Glen Park without having to call up a map on my phone after doing more than just going to and from work. Work is the same sort of way. It’s all a big puzzle, and I’ms slowly filling in little bits, trying to get a complete picture. Right now, I don’t have it, and what’s more distressing is I don’t even feel like I have something to look at to show me what the job or living here is really going to be like.

No matter how much I write about it, it’s frightening to say. We all know our social cues and know that people aren’t really asking how you are doing when they ask. Isn’t it the same when people ask why you moved, or how the new job is going, or if you like it? Is the response always because it’s California, or that it’s not just kind of boring, but frustrating because you aren’t learning fast enough, or that maybe it’s not really what you thought you wanted to do? It’s hard to find the moments to have those sorts of conversations, to really engage those thoughts, to think about what better means, to know that I would have way too much to think about if I’d stayed there too.

It’s a lot harder to say, no matter how awesome it is sometimes, that there are moments where it just feels like a big mistake. There are moments where I feel I’ve uprooted my life, and for what? But then there are moments like yesterday, where it felt palpably awesome just to walk around San Francisco because of all the positive energy, or moments like today where, yes, it does actually reach 80 in the city and it’s divine. There’s moments where I’m starting to feel like, as annoying as it is to finally learn something I should have heard about 3 weeks ago at work, I am actually starting to get this AML think like I thought I would. There are always going to be these moments where I have to engage myself and others honestly, where I have to admit that at the time things aren’t going well, or conversely, that they are.

So I should look back at those ideas. And engage them. It’s not easy to admit, even if things are fantastic in a couple years, that I have a big fear of uncertainty, and that this move has produced a lot. A lot of the things I love, exploring new nooks and crannies, hearing new bands, seeing new vistas, those are also the same things that produce anxiety, thoughts about whether I’m wasting my time going down California just to see where it goes, going to The Brick & Mortar tonight, or up to the top of that hill. It’s easy to stick with what I know. And it’s challenging to shake the torpor and try new things. But that doesn’t always mean it’s right to try new things. It’s hard to say that, though. All these starts and stops, it’s just me looking for justification. I’m afraid to say what I’m thinking sometimes because then I have to think about it more. And it’s uncomfortable how ambivalent I feel. I want it to be logical and either be the right move or the wrong move. And right now, it’s both, living here, it’s both right and wrong in so many ways, sometimes the triggers are overwhelmingly on the side of right, sometimes wrong. Sometimes the starts and stops are because the pendulum is swinging back, and I have a hard time engaging a certain thought or feeling unless I feel absolute on something.

But I always land back in the middle. And when I get the ideas out, I realize, like I said before, I could be thinking the same thing as I watched bands in Mears Park instead of a club here. It’s just the kind of natural feelings that any huge decision point will produce. Right and wrong in terms of our decisions are frequently constructs of looking back and ascribing value to our actions and decisions that we could not have possibly foreseen at the time. If I am ambivalent, it’s because sometimes I’ve made the right move and sometimes I haven’t when I think about taking this job, coming to San Franscisco, or even leaving behind many things in the Twin Cities that felt unfinished. But we always do that. There will always be starts and stops, things that get left behind, things that get picked up again. There will always be times where I feel like the right reaction is to smile, or to cry, or to do both. There’s that ambivalence again. It’s not about how I should feel. It’s about how I actually feel, and working through that. Sometimes, I stop because I don’t want to think about it, and that is why there are half-littered ideas and stories. Sometimes, like this, I just won’t really figure out how to say it, or exactly what I’m trying to say, but I’ll still make myself look at it and think about it. It’s a paradox that it feels both so right and so wrong to be here right now. But it’s the truth. Someday that truth will change. I will either say it’s right and still be here or it’s wrong and try my hand somewhere else. But those half-finished thoughts, like this entry, represent that look at a time when I didn’t know. It’s important to remember those times, even if they never make it off the cutting room floor. It’s important to realize it can be two diametrically opposed feelings at once. It’s important to realize that it probably shouldn’t make too much sense. And sometimes, it’s just important to stop thinking about it, and, at least for me, that always starts by writing…

Forget

While it’s certainly true of most places, there are some towns where it just feels like there are two distinct realities. San Francisco is certainly a town like that, though I don’t feel like my experiences as a resident have differed all that much from my experiences as a tourist. Still, you see different things. You don’t know where to look for the best random places, and while we certainly have tools at our fingertips to make it much better, with plenty of apps on our smartphones to help us discover the “real” city, there’s still a certain amount that one can only learn by being in a place so long. And there are still myriad institutions that exist anywhere that largely cater to the casual, the tourists, the people who won’t be coming back any time soon, or ever again.

But there are some places where that sense of unreality is so great that it’s really like two different cities. Las Vegas is one of those places. I flew into town a couple hours ago to get together with some friends from college, and being that I got here a little earlier, I’m taking my prerogative to explore a touch more of the actual city instead of the fountains at Bellagio or somewhere else on the Strip. Hell, I rode the bus from the airport to the hotel. I’m a big advocate of the bus to and from airports. You just get such a different view of a place that way. I don’t want to say that Las Vegas is a sanitized place (far from it), but obviously, hopping in a cab, heading down to the Strip, and never really getting off it, one is going to end up with a pretty different impression of a place. I’m not really sure what I think of that place.

The entire town is already a strange construct, as any desert town is. Too much green, and way too many swimming pools as I looked out of my aisle seat. Not that I should talk. I live in an earthquake-prone collection of sand dunes and bayfill. I suppose one could argue that a lot of major cities are the confluence of human ingenuity and creative terraforming. But back to the town at hand…then there’s getting off the airplane into what essentially feels like a shopping mall. Not that other airports don’t feel like that, but there are an impressive array of stores in McCarran. More than I can recall seeing in another airport any time recently. But if you don’t have a window seat looking out at the Strip, you really know you are in Vegas when you see the slot machines sitting in the middle of the airport. It’s just so…jarring.

A good bus ride, though, and you get to see things that either you don’t want to or didn’t know existed. I actually passed a dollar store that advertised a gaming room. That really is an only in Las Vegas sort of thing (though I suppose I probably could have found something similar in Elko if I’d looked harder last month). It’s when you see the people who ride the bus, the strange mix of those noble souls like me that that are really just cheap (not that many here) and the rather large mix of people who have to ride it, because you pay for being poor with your time and your money. You get to see those people, sprinting across the near-changing light in front of traffic to make the bus because if they don’t, they’ll get fired from their job at Pizza Hut for being late again. You see the methadone clinics and the profusion of fast-food restaurants all offering one special after another that largely appears the same. I’m sure there are nice parts of Vegas that have nothing to do with the Strip, or the old casinos on Fremont where I’m actually staying. And then…

Then you forget. I actually walked through a neighborhood, and it looked fairly indistinguishable from the various neighborhoods I’ve seen elsewhere in the Southwest. Grass where there shouldn’t be, trees I wish we had occasionally in Virginia growing up (seriously, lemon trees are the best), and barely a soul out on the sidewalks and the bike lanes. But once you hit your destination here (and it’s rarely those in-between spaces), it’s flashes, it’s glitz, it’s cheap blackjack and cheaper roulette. Perhaps it’s just because I haven’t really been up to this end of town in ages, but I was surprised by odd combination of families wandering around Fremont Street at night (seriously, way too many kids) mixed with near-naked gladiators and slutty cartoon characters (sorry, no slutty pumpkins), and an even weirder things that I can only describe like Victorian Hello Kitty. As the sun sets, you forget the outlands here, the places where the people who actually live here go, and it’s all open carry and flashing lights and waterslides through fish tanks. You forget because you have to, but there are plenty of intersections where people need 62 cents more for that cup of coffee or a drink or just a little help, man. Still, that’s the same learned skill anywhere, pushing past people because if you stop when someone asks you for something, it’s over. They are a part of the real city too, a part of the city that most of us don’t want to look at too hard, a part of the cities I’ve lived in the past decade that are easier to walk by than acknowledge. And here your next distractions is just around the corner.

There is something in the back of your mind about any city that is a bit nagging, that you don’t want to look at in full, because then you have to acknowledge something that’s easier not to. There is this other reality, and it is sadly the reality of way too many people. And nowhere is the distinction more pronounced than someplace like Las Vegas, where most people are here for a good time, to spend money on gambling and girls and god knows what else, where no one is here to look at the other reality because for some, even if they can’t afford it, they came to escape it. And while it’s perhaps more pronounced here that this city exists to consume
(with you as the target). But forget that for a couple days. Forget the mounting bills. Forget that even a good payout at a poker game is going to solve that. That’s what you came here to do anyway.

Identity Theft

Last Saturday, the AP put up an article about gender flags on identification. It’s a decent article that lays out some of the issues inherent with a something that a lot of people probably don’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about. And it got the gears turning. I am not going to say that I don’t think much about being trans. However, I don’t think too much about the various hoops I’ve had to jump through in terms of paperwork since many of them were at least a couple years in the past, if not more. My legal name and ID have been updated for years now, showing the appropriate gender flag (or at least the gender flag that I feel is appropriate). I still need to get around to updating my birth certificate, but I haven’t since it’s a fairly cumbersome process of sending a court order that I have to go obtain into the state where I was born so that they can process a bit of paperwork and send it back to me. If it’s all in proper working order. Ignoring the fact that I can’t seem to find anyone who can really tell me what that involves in the Commonwealth of Virginia, there’s a several hundred dollar price tag that goes along with it, whether I get the court order filled out properly or not.

But now that I find myself living in California and in need of an updated ID. One of the unfortunate things about California is that dealing with their DMV is a bit…time consuming. Everyone I know who’s lived here has mentioned what a chore it is to deal with licensing and identification. And I have to think of that through the lens of someone who may end up having a bit more trouble dealing with it. Because another thing about California is that they require what is called a true identity document. When I got a new ID in Minnesota, I’m not sure if they required that. But when I switched from having a Virginia ID to a Minnesota one, it was also well before I came out.

When I initially transitioned, I didn’t update my ID. There was nothing to update. From a legal perspective, at least. And while it certainly led to a bit of confusion, I don’t ever remember an instance of being turned away from a bar or not being allowed on a flight. Still, even if I didn’t face any issues outright, it bothered me a bit. I tried to be nonchalant about it most of the time, because at least the name change was on me. Yet, here I was living life as I intended, and nothing against my birth name, but having a legal ID that still said Jeremy and a photo that certainly was me but wasn’t me (if you understand the distinction) always made me uneasy because I never knew what to expect. I never experienced problems, but a lot of trans individuals do. And worse yet, irrelevant of whether I experienced problems (or anyone else did for that matter), there’s still that fear that hangs over the experience for trans individuals. And embarrassment. And potentially, something more sinister. That’s all in the action of doing something that many of us do as a relatively commonplace thing in our lives in presenting identification.

I still remember the mildly insulting experience of legally changing my name. Here was this really gratifying benchmark for me, I had a couple friends with me to vouch for me as that is required in the state of Minnesota, and I have a judge who seems fairly insistent on using my legal gender. And really, what was I going to do? Talk back to a judge? No, I did what I find I have to do too often, I got what I came for and got out of there without bothering to say something to someone who was demeaning me while I was in the process of doing something really important for myself. To think I paid almost $400 for the privilege. I’m not advocating that the cost was too high. It obviously makes sense to price it at a point where it’s not so cheap so that anyone will do it, yet it’s cheap enough that the people who really want or need that service can attain it. And if that’s mostly profit for the state of Minnesota, so be it. That’s economics. But it’s not like I had a choice about who to go to for that service either. The money, though, isn’t what sticks with me. I can understand that. It was the lack of sensitivity in regard to who I am that struck me.

Then I went through the mildly mystifying experience of updating my gender flag on my Minnesota ID. Before I’d gone to court to get a legal change of name, I made sure I got a letter from my therapist that might help navigate the rather unclear situation that is updating the gender flag on a Minnesota ID. From people I know, I’d heard stories ranging from “I just changed it on the form and they took it” to “they refused to change it because that’s not what my identification said” and I was hoping to mitigate that. In the end, I managed to get an updated ID that showed the correct name and gender. I didn’t pay anything extra for it. I didn’t have to jump through any additional hoops. But I had no idea whether or not it would actually come with the correct gender flag since my interpretation of correct and the state’s interpretation of correct may have differed even after I directly asked.

Now, I get to worry about that again. On top of my desire to not be insulted, I also don’t have a particular desire to go waste my time at the California DMV. I want to know what is going to happen when I go in there. Unfortunately, when you’re trans, you find you frequently don’t know what’s going to happen, even when you’ve read up on how it’s supposed to work, even when it’s a moment when you are trying to do a little thing that we all do with at least some regularity in our lifetimes (like, say, updating an ID). Certainly, I live someplace where I’m better equipped to update my birth certificate, or at least get assistance on it getting it updated. There’s a whole tab dedicated to gender changes on the San Francisco court site. But do I have to have an address established here before I can utilize those services to get my birth certificate updated, with identification showing it? Because if so, I have to get my ID changed first. Of course, some of this is my fault for procrastinating. But I also need a court order on top of the certified document that I was required to get from my doctor post-surgery. Which I unfortunately didn’t get until after I’d gone back to work. And while I kept thinking about it, it was hard to find the time to go into the Ramsey County courthouse to get an almost $400 court order that even the court might not have well understood.

All of that is tedious, and it makes me frustrated just reflecting on some of it in the past and some of it in the present. But then you get to the reasons people don’t want to make it easier. Now that I live in California, I suppose I have a bit more reason to be concerned with the words of someone like Assemblyman Don Wagner. It’s funny that Don Wagner should couch his concerns with making a gender flag easier to change in terms of identity theft. I just don’t even get that. I happen to be somewhat knowledgeable on both identity theft and trans issues, a quirk of fate if you will. And I just fail to understand how making it simpler to change an M to an F paves the way to identity fraud. I can’t figure out the logic because I can’t find it. How is claiming my stake to my identity causing a problem? It doesn’t sound like changing the birth certificate is just something that’s going to happen. I would imagine that there’s still going to be a bevy of doctors and paperwork involved. Even if you don’t have surgery. And I still haven’t figured out the crux of that argument. How is it aiding identity theft by making it a little easier for some people to do something that the vast majority will never ever think about or have to deal with? If someone was going to take my identity, I assure you, they won’t be too concerned about the gender flag on a piece of identification.

Still, I have to worry about my identity being stolen every day. No, not in the way that everyone thinks of it. I don’t worry about someone taking my credit card number much more than the next person. But I do have to be constantly vigilant as people steal little pieces of who I am, by calling me sir, or James, or he, or whatever else those fine clever people that I run into every day come up with. Every time I don’t defend myself against those sorts of incursions, because I’m worried about what might happen if I do, because I just don’t want to deal with it at the time, my identity erodes just a touch, as I’m stuck wondering why I don’t stick up for myself or whether it would have been worth it or even if it’s worth the risk to say something. When I have to worry about how much trouble it’s going to be just to get an ID that should reflect the same gender flag as my current one just because of a document that people pull out only a handful of times in their adult lifetime, I am really just left wondering. There are all these things that are trying to steal my true identity every day, small or big, that are trying to negate Jane, because it should be hard to do it or because they don’t agree with who I am and they must know better. I do not believe Don Wagner empathizes with my plight. He will never get challenged when he pulls out his ID at the airport, and he will never have to worry about getting the DMV to reflect his information correctly unless they misspell his name, and I’m guessing they’d apologize about that. Most people don’t even bother to acknowledge they screwed up my name. So, remind me again, who it is that needs protecting?

Oscillate Wildly

Everything is going to be alright. I find I’m telling myself that in a lot of quiet moments, as I flip sides on records and sit on a couch that is not mine, playing video games that I have owned for years because they, at least, do not cost anything more right now. Moving is stressful. Starting a new job is stressful. Leaving all your friends behind is stressful. Trying to sell a home is stressful. Trying to do it from 2,000 miles away is worse. Or maybe it’s not. At least I can’t get too fixated on it out here. It’s a fact that I need to sell it. But it’s not a reality that I’m focused on or can see every day like I was right there. The stresses have shifted. I don’t have to worry about how it looks when people come over. There’s nothing in it. That may be a problem in its own right, but that’s how it’s gonna stay until somebody buys it or I come up with some more novel solutions (anyone want to rent in Lowertown? Not sure my building association will allow that, but who knows?). In the meantime, I am basically double-paying, though I at least have a situation that makes it tenable in the short-term, though that’s obviously not any sort of long term solution.

At work, I’m still slowly working into the fold. But it’s just different. I’d gotten used to, over the past 6 years in general and definitely the last 4, having a boss that was generally not that far away. My boss doesn’t even work in the same city, he splits his time between the sites, and hasn’t made it to this site all that much yet. I have found that I miss that kind of access more than I thought I would. Granted, sending an IM or an e-mail isn’t that hard, getting on the phone isn’t too difficult, but there’s something about lacking that immediacy that just requires some getting used to, for me at least. And I’ve always been the kind of person who lives to wreck curves when it comes to things like training. Which makes starting a new job a somewhat boring enterprise at times. I learn by doing, even when I’m screwing things up, and the more I have to do, the more I can stay engaged and get into it. This is, of course, a problem for anyone who is stuck training me. But I just have the kind of personality where I like to plow through as much as I can, make some mistakes, learn from them, and refine. Right now, I wish the pace were a touch quicker. But hey, free life lesson, right? Not everything moves at the pace I want it to.

Whenever I’m someplace new, it feels like everything costs money. Even if I haven’t fully committed to restocking a kitchen yet (since it’s a shared one) or an apartment (since I’m just currently staying in the basement of friends), there are still little costs like kosher salt and light bulbs and hangers. And there costs that go along with learning the tough lessons of a new city, like not turning the wheels of a vehicle parked on a 3% grade (that was a $57 mistake). There are the costs of just getting to know someplace new to find out if there’s anything great for lunch nearby (jury’s still out…starting to bring in food more because nothing’s lit a fire under me). And whether it’s new brakes for the bike, new flats for walking, or a Clipper Card that doesn’t so magically refill as much as charge my credit card, there are the simple costs of getting around a new place. And while these sorts of things are largely a lateral shift (I did incur the same sorts of costs with regularity in the Twin Cities), it doesn’t feel that way. It’s as if, right now, I’m just more aware of those sorts of things. I wasn’t so much thinking about the $12 show before, but now I have to consciously process that cost in addition to the desire to see the band.

On top of that, I feel alone in this endeavor. Or perhaps that’s not the right way to state it. I feel distant. Like I have all these friends in all these places, but those places are not standing next to me as I watch a band or sharing a drink with me as we discuss planned trips or which records to buy. This is the least surprising of all the elements, to be honest. I know it takes a long time to get comfortable with a place and meet people, as one of my friends expounded upon recently. So that one really doesn’t come as a surprise, but perhaps it gives me a little too much time to dwell in my own space in my head. Too much of that is rarely a good thing for me. Though I’ve gotten better at it as the years have gone by, I still have a tendency to overthink things. And one of the anodynes, for me at least, is staying active. Which is what makes the slow pace and hyper-awareness of the high cost of living so frustrating.

Hell, right now it feels like nothing is moving at the pace I want it to. It’s the converse of the feeling that everything was going right in late April, as everything was slotting into place. Then, everything magically came together, and I didn’t focus too much on how much I was spending in time, money, or effort to get those things done. Now it feels like there’s long stretches of nothing, everything costs too much, and sometimes it’s just not worth the 40 minutes it’ll take me just to get somewhere to find out the show is sold out. And it will probably continue to feel that way for a while. But slowly, the businesses between Market and California on Kearny or Montgomery not only become familiar, but known. It took some trial and error, but I know where my favorite caramel latte is between Market and my office. Soon, I’ll know which venues I’m better off getting a beer or a mixed drink at, and which ones I’m likely better off not getting anything at all. Or which ones are likely to sell out, or when the bands normally take the stage, or all those little things that just come with familiarity. Plus, there are still unexplored vistas at the tops of hills, giant sundials, and plenty of bike rides to go on that don’t drain my accounts at an egregious rate. And I have yet to track down those damned parrots.

Still, there are those creeping thoughts, at the periphery, as I put down a Brust book I’m re-reading for a second and look out the window at a still unfamiliar scene. What if it everything is not going to be okay? What if it doesn’t all pan out? I’d never really thought about that idiom much until I heard the tour guide at the Mechanic’s Institute mention it in relation to the gold rush, and it occurred to me that it’s probably an idiom that San Francisco helped contribute to the lexicon. Obviously it’s not an original thought, but it was the first time I really ever processed it. Perhaps you’ve always known. It does seem fairly obvious now that I’m thinking about it. So I guess if things don’t pan out, I’m left with the same options as many a person who’s been coming to San Francisco in the past 170 years. I can either reinvent myself as I go out here, whether that’s how I think of what I do or where I live or who I am, or I can end up retreating back to wherever I came from. Moving is a perfect opportunity for reinvention, after all.

I find that I oscillate wildly between these attitudes and the various stresses and pleasures they bring. Some days, when I wake up and I’m rolling down Diamond to the BART through the light mist of June Gloom, it’s almost palpable, that sense of dread. Why did I move here? But then I step outside at lunch, and it’s blue sky behind the Bay Bridge as I look down California and it’s just beautiful; that’s part of what makes it so great out here: Even the city itself seems manic. It’s at those times I remember it never was going to be easy. I have a choice to make. Am I going to live here? Or am I going to worry about living here? It is a subtle difference perhaps. However, I could be having these problems anyway and I’m not alone in these feelings. If I didn’t focus on them much in the Twin Cities, it had more to do with being inured to them than not having them.

There are going to be moments where I’m going to doubt everything, where I indeed feel the pressures of the decisions I have made, past and present. Sometimes it’s just the salient reminder I need to make a slightly better decision, like eating the food I already made and brought in for lunch or finally getting around to the last few things I’ve been meaning to get up on eBay. They are balanced on the moments where there’s no pressure, when I have a scotch and soda and I am learning about Sam Brannan and his legacy with the city with some rather raucous amateur historians because it’s not that much, not really. Living here doesn’t mean spending everything I’ve got. But I also can’t stop doing the things I enjoy. I truly wonder when it’s going to balance out. Perhaps it will not and I will constantly find myself bouncing between the promise of this city and the terror of it. You know, just like the last 10 years.

Own Yours

The other day, in one of those occasionally good serendipitous moments that Facebook provides, I saw a link through an artist I follow for an online campaign for Diana’s Transgender Surgery. It was just one of those little confluences of events that happened to appear in front of me. I looked at it for a second, and it was a lot of pretty standard info (at least, for me…I have been through that rodeo) about the costs of surgery, etc, and all of that. And I thought to myself, no, I don’t know this woman, but I am sure I can find a few bucks to donate. Initially, I wasn’t planning on saying much of anything about it. I didn’t post it to my wall or make a plea or anything like that, and while I’m glad a friend saw it because my action still posted to my wall (I guess…never can tell what does and doesn’t go through these days), I wasn’t explicitly out to say anything by it. But like many things in life, it’s got the wheels in my head spinning a bit.

In my entry spent reflecting on my five years of being out, I definitely made some points about the fortune I’ve received. After all, I have probably spent less than $22,000 on my entire transition, considering it adjusted against costs that would be normal. Right, while some amount of what I spent up front was to replace my wardrobe, at a certain point, we’re all buying new shoes. I expect a certain number of doctor’s appointments over the course of a year, so it doesn’t really matter about the precise nature of them. At this point, any costs are relatively normative to day-to-day living. Paying a little more every month for estrogen isn’t all that much in the grand scheme of things. If I have spent $22,000, it’s been a cumulative sort of affair, building over the course of 6 years of medical coverage and sundry costs. I’ve had pretty much everything subsidized by the medical industry as someone who’s had the fortune to live and work in a state that has pretty great medical care.

I would be remiss if I didn’t note I also work for a pretty great company. Say what you will about Wells Fargo. I’m sure you have your opinions. But know that they’ve provided a workplace that has never really caused me to worry. Know that they’ve provided me with insurance options where I spend a fraction of the actual costs for the things that I have received and continue to receive. Know that I qualified for FMLA like anyone else would when I took time off for my surgery. Know that transitioning on the job, while it was a first for my boss and his boss, was such a non-event that it’s a bit amusing to look back on. Know that, in large part, my employer made quite a bit of my transition move from the hazy “how the hell am I going to actually do this?” column into the “Yeah, I can do this” column. Not just by paying me so that I could afford it, but by providing me with immense benefits in addition to just my income. And know that that’s not true of a lot of employers out there. Plenty of individuals still manage to make transitioning work without that kind of infrastructure, but at far greater costs. I’m not saying that anyone should have to work at Wells Fargo just to make their transition possible. What I am saying is that it sure would be great if more employers were like Wells Fargo in those regards and it’s important to remember plenty of places aren’t like that.

With that in mind, I pondered, why can’t I take a few bucks and pay that forward? Look, I’m not going to say that I’m rationally making decisions all the time. Certainly, a confluence of events occurred before I was even aware of this individual campaign. And it’s definitely a good cause. But it has caused me to reflect, in the larger sense, why don’t I do more to help? I am not particularly active in the sense of giving my time or money back in regard to trans issues. Though I am fairly vocal about just being out, it’s not like I take a lot of time beyond that. And it definitely matters that I am willing to be vocal. I respect anyone’s individual decision to not be as vocal if he or she (or wherever on the scale that person may identify that’s not quite covered by that) doesn’t want to be. No one says you have to stand up and start waving a banner, but if not me, then who?

One of the points that came up when I was looking a little bit more into Diana’s story is the point of visibility. It took me a long time to just even wrap my head around the concept of being trans and find a term for that I can at least identify with. And before you have a term for it, what do you have? Certainly, there are trans individuals who just know what is right for them? But for me, it was very difficult not being able to name it. It was just this inchoate feeling deep down. And while plenty of people don’t have that problem, it was a big issue for me. I believe it just has a lot to do with the way that I process the world. The simple act of appellation was just really important for me. Not that it’s a one size fits all sort of affair. Plenty of people aren’t really particularly keen on transgender as a term. Which is fine. But there needs to be some sort of working terminology. For me, there’s a lot of power in words (I know, you’re shocked).

Along with not having a term, I didn’t have any role models in regard to my gender identity for a long time. If they were there, I didn’t know where to find them in the suburbs of northern Virginia. And while I’m sure that I could have looked a little harder in college, I made a pretty conscious decision to just put away any questions along those lines for four years, for better or for worse. Even in the Twin Cities, though, I had to look around to find role models in regard to my gender identity. Now some of that may just be the circles I run in. Look, I’m not saying I expect to run into trans individuals all hours of the day, everywhere I go. Statistically speaking, I get that. It’s not like every other trans person is exactly packing the 7th Street Entry on a random Wednesday. Or really any other if you ask me. What I’m saying is until I moved into fairly specific spaces, like CSH, it’s not like I saw a lot of other trans individuals with any regularity. Then again, you’d expect that from someplace that largely caters to the gender questioning community by providing care.

So perhaps I am doing something just by going out there and doing whatever I do in the small spaces that I occupy in my life, by going to the Turf or whatever. Even here in San Francisco, even if it’s not true, I still feel like the only trans person in a crowd a lot of the time when I’m at the Rickshaw, on the BART, or wherever else I may be. Then again, statistically speaking, there’s a reason for that. And who knows how much of a role model I’m being just by being there in all the spaces I am in every day? At work, at a show, or wherever else that may be in my day to day?

Also, I should consider the more sobering realities. I am incredibly fortunate. Stories like Diana’s remind me of that. Not that I intimately know her details. I know what’s up there in regards to the project, which is at least enough to drive home the fact that something as simple as good insurance coverage is something I should not take for granted. And if I need other reminders beyond that, looking at something like this really drives home the fact that I am an outlier, in a good way. I am on the higher end of most of the positive measures on there, in terms of income, in terms of not facing discrimination at work or in housing, in terms of my access to care. I would be remiss not to at least remember that from time to time.

Hopefully, I’m helping to create a better world every day, in my own little way, just by being who I am, by being willing to talk about it and share my story. But I can do more. And I should do more. This time of year, I’m always a little miffed. PRIDE is certainly a great thing, and it makes for a festive June. I can’t wait to see what San Francisco has to offer in those regards. But there’s also that niggling feeling of relegation (the T always comes last, as I once heard). It’s great to see society making strides when it comes to gay and lesbian issues. It really is and I wholeheartedly support it. One of the things I lament most about leaving Minnesota is that I didn’t wait a few more days for the party to start in Saint Paul when the gay marriage bill passed. Because it really looks like it was a magical thing to be there for. As a society, though, we’re still catching up on trans issues. There’s just less awareness. So it can rankle a little when I go to PRIDE events through work (which I haven’t done in a while) and still feel like I’m doing the educating in terms of concepts around gender identity. Isn’t this supposed to be a space where that shouldn’t be the case? Again, though, it comes back to a question I asked earlier: If not me, then who?

It’s really easy to feel like the token. It’s really easy to be frustrated, left wondering why I’m always trying to explain things. It’s really easy to just say fuck it and not deal with the problems right in front of me. It’s really easy to say I’ve got mine. It’s really easy to say that it’s not going to make a difference anyway. I feel that I have been doing a bit too much of that recently. It’s hard to change. It’s hard to figure out the best way to reach people. It’s hard to put a lot of effort in and feel like it’s going nowhere. It’s hard to make sure everyone gets what they should. It’s hard to make a difference. And it should be. If I’m not happy with what I see when I look around, on a larger scale, what am I doing to make that difference? I have done it on a personal level. That’s what transitioning was all about. Being authentic, being who I am, and sharing that with everyone. With the help of a lot of great people and a lot of great resources, I own mine. Now what can I do so that you can own yours?

Here And Now

One of the aspects of San Francisco I’ve always loved as a visitor and that I’m still loving now that I live here is how distinct the neighborhoods are here. Not that it isn’t true in other places, by any means. But here, there’s an almost palpable sense when you cross between one neighborhood into the next. For whatever reason, things just shift a little, so that as you roll down out of Glen Park into Noe Valley, it’s quite noticeable. Perhaps it’s just the overall sense of neighborhood pride, perhaps it’s because the hills make good dividers, perhaps it’s not worth trying to find a reason. Who knows? All I know is that there’s no mistaking things when I walk through areas that I’m someplace else. Even if it’s a relatively short walk, like it was, say, last Wednesday when my parents and I strolled from my workplace in the Financial District to get some Italian in North Beach. Sometimes, each part feels like its own little city. Hell, even only being 5 miles away from some things, it feels like I’ve entered a different world.

Last night, I rolled over to the Richmond, which was a first for me. I’m sure there’s a lot of nice things to say about it. But it’s never really come up. And it did feel like a fairly different sort of place. Like being in Inner Sunset, but being that much further. Still and all, it’s a part of San Francisco, but it’s definitely a part that I knew next to nothing about. Certainly, I’ve skirted around the edges of it on bike, or driven through it on the way out of town via Golden Gate. But I’ve never really stopped and poked my head around. The views are a little different, for sure, as could be said anywhere in this city. I don’t know. Scope is a funny thing in this city, and I still marvel at how different something is even when it’s only a couple miles away or just around the next hill.

I was over there for The Soft Moon, who ended up playing a ripping set at Neck Of The Woods in Inner Richmond, a strange sort of club that definitely seems more geared toward the dj and dance crowd. Not that you can’t move your body to to the wonderful darkwave sounds that The Soft Moon and Tremor Low played. Obviously there were some people who did. I wish I had some pictures of the girl in the mask dancing. But there’s also a nice rocking edge to the Soft Moon that felt a little weird there, like it would have been more at home at, say, Rickshaw Stop. Either way, it was a great set from a band I’ve been meaning to see for quite a while now. And I got to a specific place that I’ve been meaning to get to in terms of the venue and a general place that I’ve been meaning to get to in the Richmond. I am, after all, curious to get a feel for the city, and at some point (hopefully soon, you hear that prospective condo buyers?) I’ll be dipping my toe in the rental market here. And while I already have this idea of where I’d like to live, there’s a difference between what I can afford and where I can end up. Of course, half the trick to this city is timing, and the other half is getting to know it.

Which is another reason last night was great. Even if the venue was only so-so (decent beer prices, but odd sight lines. Plus, like I said, didn’t seem as geared toward rock), it was good to get over there and see it. It’s good to learn that Burma Superstar is only a block away, and that there do seem to be a decent number of good places over there, if I find myself in the neighborhood again. Plus, there’s an ice cream place (Toy Boat) open til midnight across the street from the venue…how can you beat that? If nothing else, I learned a little bit more about the city, as I slotted in another small puzzle piece. Not that I will ever master it. I was still discovering parts of Saint Paul after three years, and I still have a few spots on my Minneapolis map that are a little foggy after a decade of living there. So I have no doubt that there will always be little urban mysteries for me to unfold.

But I love urban exploration. I love taking a walk just to see what’s that direction, and going by a dozen businesses that I’ll probably never get to that still start slowly filling in the gaps in my mental map. I love how, even if it’s not even been a month, things are starting to slot into place in the general sense, but there’s still so many hazy little pockets waiting to be filled in. Every day feels like an exciting journey. I have not yet fallen into too many routines, though La Corneta and Tyger Coffee are definitely becoming good little Glen Park go-tos when I don’t want to think too hard. I know I’ll never get to all of this city any time soon, and I certainly won’t try everything that piques my interest, just due to nature of how much there is here. I will continue to get the know the bars and restaurants around the various venues of the city, and the bakeries and taquerias will pull me into new neighborhoods, down streets that I just haven’t thought to go down before. So will the parks, whether it’s the view from Coit Tower during the daytime or Twin Peaks at night, or just a quick little hike through Glen Canyon anytime.

This weekend’s no different than the past few in that sense. Though it looks like it’ll be bookended by trips to Oakland instead of just things on this side of the Bay. And Oakland in it of itself provides so many opportunities to get lost, to explore, to see what’s there, whether it’s someplace that makes me a little homesick or someplace that does some damn good beers that aren’t just what everyone else is doing or just another venue. Sometimes, it’s hard, looking at a bunch of pictures from Northern Spark or photos from shows I had tickets to, wishing I was back there for it. Sometimes, I just a damn blueberry buttermilk scone and I just don’t know where to get a good one here yet. Sometimes, I want to be two places at once. But I can’t be. There’s nothing wrong with that feeling. But, like usual, I have to just put it aside. Moving is hard. Getting to know an entire new place, leaving a lot of great people behind, that’s all extremely challenging. I honestly get why people don’t want to do it. But there’s no sense in dwelling on it, not when there are so many places just around the corner. Because if I do, how am I supposed to find out what the beer selection is like at the venues around here? How am I supposed to find out there’s entire (beautiful) restaurant based around grilled cheeses?

The beauty of the modern age is that I can still stay connected to what’s 2000 miles away, just like you can still stay connected to me. But I can’t live there. Hopefully, some of my thoughts and pictures and experiences will spark some pleasant memories, or perhaps just your sense of wanderlust. And for me it’s the same. I look at the pictures, and it’s still a little sharp now, but the edges will fade a bit over time. I will always have a great base of knowledge of the Twin Cities, but already, those pictures in my mind are getting a little yellow around the edges. I’m sure, even in a month, things will have changed that I would have noticed that perhaps you do not, living there, seeing it every day. We don’t just experience a place, we experience a time. And to really experience that? I have to fully commit to both being present and in the present, here and now. Trips like last night, they bring that into relief. There’s nothing wrong with looking at the photos, liking them, or commenting on them, throwing tweets back and forth. Honestly, it’s fantastic that I can exchange messages with people across time zones with such ease. But there’s a band playing right in front of me sometimes, and a couple hundred people there. Sometimes, I’ve just gotta put the phone done and pay attention to what’s right in front of me, to talk about the art of waiting for a band with the person next to me, or to figure out what else is off the beaten path from the guy I just shared a couple drinks with on the brewery tour. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got someplace to be.

Identity Crisis

Though I suffered a bit of a hiccup in the last couple months before moving, I managed to carve out at least a decently earned reputation as someone who spent the past two years biking to work (at least when I medically could). And it was most certainly earned when I spent enough time to accrue roughly 4,000 miles on my bike, though, in fairness, a lot of that was because of trips to Stillwater or Prescott or wherever else you’d be amazed you can actually reach on a bike with a strange minimum of road riding. I spent a lot of time on my bike, going to work, going to shows, even going to a Thanksgiving one year (good way to work off what you eat). But the biggest part of that identity was that I was a bike commuter, whether I really was that much or not.

Reputations have a habit of sticking with you once you develop them. We all know that. So even when I was barely riding the past couple months due to, well, the chaos of trying to plan a cross-country move that I didn’t necessarily think was realistically going to occur when I applied for the job, I still got a lot of questions about whether I biked that day, where to park a bike at the WFHM campus, and such. Not that these were unwelcome, mind you. I’d rather have the reputation of a bike commuter than a lot of other things, even if I didn’t feel like I was earning it all that well recently.

And now that I’m here in San Francisco, I’m barely earning it at all. Sure, I have biked to work, but it takes almost the same amount of time it took me to go 11 miles in the Twin Cities just to go slightly over 5. Bike infrastructure here could, uh, how do I say this politely…use some work? Rolling down Valencia is all fine and well, and depending on the time of day, Market’s okay, but it can also feel like a death trap as you dodge myriad other bikes in various states of attention, pedestrians, runners, buses, cars, taxis, and whatever other deathtraps MUNI can throw at you. It’s really taxing to ride here. And that’s not even getting into the hills.

Of course, some of the greater length is also just simple geography. I knew it was hilly here. But where I’m currently staying? Let’s just say the view is nice, and the climb is possible, but not the most thrilling in the world. Plus, there’s a stop sign or light every couple blocks, and short of the bike lane on Valencia being timed, I haven’t had a whole lot of luck hitting any of that stuff at a time where it’s nearly as quick as rolling down Summit was most mornings. But hey, at least there’s bike parking in the garage under my building…just don’t leave the bike overnight or you might not see it again. Not because of theft, but because of the garage rules. I’m not sure I want to test that one out, either.

But the final problem is just that BART is so easy. And it lets me do things I haven’t been doing nearly enough of recently, like read! It’s actually kind of nice to just stand on the train for 20 minutes a day and flip through a book. Of course, I’m not getting exercise other than the incessant walking that this city inspires all of us to do. But the real kicker of taking BART is that it’s really easy, not all that expensive, and not time-consuming. Or at least not any more time consuming than any other way I’d get to work, and as opposed to wondering who might hit me, I just hop on, hop off, and roll down Montgomery. I want to keep being a bike commuter in the one sense that it’s cheaper and easier. But there’s something to be said for the ease of good public transit.

Some of it may change. I may ultimately decide no matter what the troubles that bike commuting is still just a nice way to go. Probably not quite the same level of exercise it was before just by simple virtue that it’s a shorter ride, but still something that’s better for me. Because if I’m not doing it then, I’m gonna have to remember to carve out time to exercise. The converse is I’m going to have to carve out time again to keep reading if I want to keep that up.

Perhaps, though, I’ve just reached a point where I’m no longer much of a bike commuter to work. We all look at things as immutable in the sense that we believe we are going to do our regular activities at some unchanging pace. You think because you do something every Thursday that you will keep doing it every Thursday. And then you don’t. And then it’s like it never happened. Things fill in the other spaces in our lives so quickly. It doesn’t mean I won’t miss being a bike commuter if I suddenly find that I’m really never doing it to anything anymore. I will. But there will also be justifiable reasons, and I will fill things in around it. I’ll figure something else to do to get the endorphin rush, whether that’s as simple as running more or making time for longer evening and weekend bike rides once again. Perhaps, though, after a little more getting used to the city, I’ll realize that is how I want to get around, because I’ll be wanting to hit things up that aren’t easily done on the BART and it’ll give me greater flexibility. I shall see. For now, though, I hang up my mantle as a bike commuter and hope to pick it up again one of these days. It joins a collection of a lot of other things still hanging in that same place that I thought I might pick up again some day. Might be time to go through those again, see which still fit, and whether it’s time to pull any of them out again. Like any wardrobe, some pieces are done after a short while, but some, you just need to put away for a bit to appreciate.

Five Years

Do you know what it feels like when the best decision you’ve ever made in your life also feels like the worst decision you’ve ever made sometimes? I say this honestly. It’s not some thinly veiled attempt for pity or anything like that. I just say that as someone who’s trans and someone who’s both basked in the wonderful aspects of being who I am and the terrible aspects of a lot of other people in the face of the decision to be who I am, not who others would like me to be necessarily. Minor indignities if you asked me, considering. I have never once felt in danger just for being who I am which is more than a lot of trans people can say out there in the world. I have never feared that my job might be gone tomorrow. I have never feared that I wouldn’t have a roof over my head because of it. I suffer the being called James on the phone and dealing with people who will never get pronouns right, and people who have known me for years and still have trouble getting it. And you know what? You aren’t supposed to get it. You never were supposed to get it. I don’t even think I get it myself, whatever it is.

More than five years ago, I made some decisions. But we all like tangible dates to latch onto, and I’m no different. Five years ago (and one day, if were getting technical), that was the initial fruition of a lot of decision-making, and a lot of saying, you know what, I’m not comfortable with who I am because I’m not being who I am. More than five years ago, I sat down with a lot of people, made a lot of phone calls, and I started answering questions that I still answer today. Five years ago, I had just moved into a small ten unit place in Uptown, what would end up being my last Minneapolis residence. Five years ago, and not for the first time, I rolled over pretty much my entire wardrobe (though I’ve kept a few things over the years). Five years ago, I asked you to come along with me on this crazy journey, if I knew you then. And for the most part, it’s worked out.

I say for the most part not because I expected it to go any other way. Just because life doesn’t always work out as you’d like it. And in a lot of ways, there are still things I haven’t figured out. I knew than that transitioning wasn’t going to solve all my problems. And five years later, I can confirm it. It certainly didn’t make me any better at navigating relationships, something I’ve largely chosen to avoid. It has made me better at admitting when I’m not happy. It did make me a bit more willing to admit my mistakes, as I’ve had my share. It definitely has made me a bit more open and willing to let people in. And the longer I’ve trekked on this road, the more I’ve realized that those are their own unique issues, that each require a certain amount of work and care on their own. And certainly, being willing to be who I am has helped me realize that you just never know what is right around the corner if you are willing to follow it there.

Whether what’s around the corner is a collapsing friendship or an old friendship renewed, the best $12 you’ll ever spend on a piece of clothing or a $40 mistake, a drink to remember or a drink to forget, a condo in Saint Paul or a basement in San Francisco…well, we all just have to find that out on our own. I realize now as I’m sitting here that in a lot of ways I was in the same position 5 years ago. I was someplace unfamiliar, and even if I had a lot of friends saying they’d support me, it was really this whole big unknown of not really getting how things would be once I transitioned. How would people really take it? I felt quite alone. Not that I was. And as I sit in a basement looking out at the faint orange lights of the suburban end of San Francisco, I once again feel alone. And yet I know I’m not. If anything, even when I’m by myself, I’m less alone than I ever was at any point in my life prior to transitioning.

Life is full of a lot of twists and turns. It’s foolish to think of them as inherently understandable things. There’s not some script to how this goes. June 2nd, 2008 was just another day for a lot of people. It’s quite an important one to me. But that could have been a lot of other days for me. If it’s significant of anything, it’s just the day that I got there, the day when I finally actualized a lot of the feelings that had been kicking around in my head for way too long. It could have been five years sooner or fiver years later. Looking forward, it was impossible to ascribe any sort of importance to that day. Looking back, it’s impossible not to.

And yet, there’s still that nagging feeling. What if I’d put it together sooner, the fact that I wasn’t being honest with myself that I wanted to transition, all that? It never goes the other way. I never wondering about the terrifying reality of never getting there, of never being willing to admit, except in tiny, private moments who I really am. That’s just too hard to think about. And worse yet, there’s the nagging feeling of why. That’s also hard to think about. Perhaps not too hard, though. Why me? But again, this isn’t about pity. It’s no easier to me to understand why I am the way I am than it is for you to get it. It just is. The sooner we’re all working from the same point in that regard, the better. This is just who I am. It’s not a bad joke or cruel design or anything like that. Because the converse is that I live in a time where the worst of it is a few odd looks and misplaced pronouns. Not everywhere, of course, But that really is the worst of it for me. I moved from one of the best places to live if you’re trans to another of the best places to live if you are trans. Not that it magically makes everyone better people or anything like that. But I did just move 2000 miles for a job that 30 years ago may have been laughably hard to get just for who I am. Even in a progressive place like San Francisco, I’m guessing. Times have changed, and we’re changing with it. So it’s pretty easy to put aside that nagging feeling. As I often say, I went through the experiences I needed to go through to get to where I am. It’s not fate or coincidence or anything like that. It just is.

And where I am? I made a decision that five years ago I could have in no way foreseen, to leave my adopted homeland of the Twin Cities and see what else is out there, to give up my security to see what else there is. I had a hard enough time seeing where I’d be next week then, though. I had a lot on my mind, in fairness. Of course, five years ago, I made the same decision to go someplace that I could not predict and I gave up the same things. That journey, of course, wasn’t bound to units of measurement in any meaningful way. There are a lot of echoes I see as I go through a quiet time and try and put my life back in order and figure out where I’m going. Five years ago, a lot of things just didn’t seem possible. I just didn’t know how I could do them. Not that this is a “you can be anything” sort of speech. You can’t be anything. But you can be you, whatever that may be. I am that I am, as Huxley might say. And I’d say I’ve done a damn fine job of being myself the past five years.

Still that central question hangs there. How do I escape that feeling that the best decision is sometimes also the worst? How do I deal with the fact that I’ll never quite fit in, that I’ll never have a certain body of knowledge, that for all intents and purposes, I’m missing a common language with a lot of the other people in my life? But I already answered my own question, a couple times now. I’m not supposed to get it. Even when people share an experience that’s commonly shared, it’s a vastly different experience for each person. It’s not about getting it. It’s a perplexing and paradoxical sort of question to ponder, one that I never really considered five years ago. And no, I wasn’t really expecting you to remember, or to fete me. This is definitely not to chastise you for not getting it, as I hope I’ve already made clear. It is, after all, a much more important day to me than it is to you. But it wouldn’t have been nearly worth it without everyone else. So, this is to say, for those of you who’ve been there all along, or those of you I have gotten to know along the way, thanks. Thanks for making me feel that this is the best decision. But mostly, this is just to say, thanks for being there.

 
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