In which I continue my reminiscences...
Assuming Roles, Duties and Responsibilities
|See the screw slowly turn around
See it sink without a sound
Feel your head split with every turn
Feel the steel knob begin to burn
All is lost now, it seems that way
All is lost now, it seems that way
From one of my readers:
in all the dynamic you and your family went through, in detail. I bet it would make for a lot of drama and sell more books because of it, if it ia published. Without that it seems a little too abstract and philosophical for me anyway. But maybe I missed some of what you have posted.
All righty then...
I met my ex-wife in November of 1968, shortly after two suicidal periods. My first sexual congress was with her that night. I was in a fragile condition and began following her around. And having sex. And drifting mechanically in a stupor through spacetime.
I discovered that she and her friends boosted cartons of cigarettes out of grocery stores for a living. I should have walked away, but like I said, I was in a fragile place. She got caught once while I was also in the grocery store and I talked the cop out of taking her to jail. That became my job for the next 25 years.
|Seeing a face through broken glass
Seeing the patterns of your past
Feeling the earth shake, try to walk
Losing your reason, try to talk
All is lost now, it seems that way
All is lost now, it seems that way
By early December she was pregnant. We didn't know it yet when we hitchhiked to Joplin, MO, where she introduced me to her parents as her husband. We had planned to stay there for just a short time to catch our breath. But she was pregnant. In January I took a job as day manager at a Pizza Hut. No experience necessary. I met the requirements. She had told me that she was on probation for something she did prior to going to San Francisco. I don't remember if she ever told me what she had done. In March she told me that her probation officer had contacted her and informed her that she was only not going back to jail because she was pregnant and newly married. Oops. I never checked to see if her story was true. I did the "right thing" and we went to Miami, OK and had a quickie marriage performed.
So I had drifted into some roles. Husband. Father. I couldn't walk away from my responsibility to my child. My child needed me for a parent, however deficient I might be in the role of father. And she needed to have my ex-wife for a mother as well.
|Old man look at my life,
I'm a lot like you were.
Just one look in my eyes
And you can tell that's true
Twenty four and a half years we were together. I'm going to relate some stuff that is about me from that time period, but mostly talk in generalities about my wife and daughter. They don't deserve to be dragged through anything unnecessarily. And there is reason to believe that they will read this, if not now, then someday. Well, except for the money stuff, that is, and the law breaking, as you have already seen. Most of that is a matter of public record.
You could look it up.
I believe that when one takes on a task, one should perform the task to the best of one's ability for as long as it takes to perform the task. I knew that the decision to assume the role of father would mean around 20 years of submerging my own needs, of being the person people needed me to be at the time. I did my best. Only my daughter can appropriately say how well I performed that task. From my own point of view, everything I did with my life outside the classroom pretty much had failure written all over it. But I loved my daughter, even if I felt I had to hide from her in some respects.
|And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon,
Little boy blue and the man in the moon.
"When you coming home, dad?" "I don't know when,
But we'll get together then.
You know we'll have a good time then."
My daughter grew up around adults. She spoke her first word, "Toke" (meaning "Coke", the drink, not anything to do with drugs), in a highchair at the Pizza Hut. I tried my best from day one to teach her my values, my sense of fairness, the importance of being independent (something I couldn't manage myself), and to be responsible, which she would never be able to learn by observing her mother. I tried to teach her all of those things I was not taught, or wrongly taught, by my father. I tried to correct those errors in my interactions with her, when I had them, which wasn't as often as it should have been. And it wasn't often enough because nothing I could ever do would make me be her mother. And it was so painful to be reminded of that every minute of every day.
What my wife knew or understood or guessed about my self-image is again something only she can relate. I will only say that our sex-life was unconventional. I did what I could to appear "normal", if unconventionally hippie, and remain sane.
Chronologically, there were events: Since I had stopped moving around, I expected that the authorities would locate me. I was arrested by federal agents in May of 1971 in Venita, OK, shortly after accepting a position to manage Coach's Corner, a pizza and chicken place. Since I was never given a chance before, I'd like to say this now: "Coach. I quit." I spent two years in the military. I have written about that elsewhere. I attained the rank of Spec 5. After separation I used the GI Bill to return to college, finishing my undergraduate degree in 2.5 years with Highest Honors as top mathematics graduate in 1976 from Portland State University. I spent 5 years earning my PhD while a Graduate Teaching Fellow at the University of Oregon, the first graduate student to be given my own Calculus sequence to teach for an entire academic year.
I earned my PhD in 1981 and accepted a tenure-track position at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. During my three years there, both my parents died, I learned that my daughter was a lesbian (from observation, not because my daughter came out to me), and moved closer to insanity. I was so insane that I applied for a position at the University of Central Arkansas in 1984. I was nominated for the Teaching Excellence Award twice during my time there, one of very few mathematics professors at UCA who have ever been selected a finalist for that award (It's hard to fight "I hate math.") I gained tenure. And I was stifled, intellectually as well as emotionally.
|Crazy on a ship of fools
Crazy on a ship of fools
Turn this boat around
back to my loving ground
Oh no, oh no.
I "survived" by submitting to my OCD problems and by immersing myself in books. A member of Sigma Xi, I tried to keep current on everything scientific. I wrote my own abstract algebra text, which I used to teach my classes...but never published (inadequate self-confidence). I read just about every science fiction book I could get my hands on that was not written by the few authors I positively could not stand (e.g. L. Ron Hubbard). They were my escape...into worlds where I could exist, where the mind could be stretched to accommodate people like me. I really think I was finally set free when I read about and could identify with Han Qing-jao when Xenocide was released in 1991. I could see her in myself. I came out in 1992.
|We go out in the world and take our chances
Fate is just the weight of circumstances
That's the way that lady luck dances
Roll the bones
Meanwhile, on the real world track, life sucked. I had to worry about having enough money at the end of the month to be able to pay the bills for 24 years. Every penny I made went into my wife and very little was left over for anyone else. I think trying to keep me on the edge of financial ruin was her strategy for hanging on to me. Or maybe it was a compulsion or something like that. The world existed for the benefit of my wife (in her mind), so whatever she wanted she should have, whether she needed to steal the money from me or from someone else. A therapist (Kurt) I had when I transitioned said it was the most abusive situation he had ever encountered. I don't know about that. Maybe so. I had a phobia about money. I still do to some extent. I don't bother to keep track of how much money I actually have, and do much better that way. At least I'm not spending hundreds of dollars in bounced check fees (today's dollars) each month like when we were married. At one point in my life, we had a budget of $25 a month for food for three people for every two weeks...and might have $30 in bounced check fees at the end of the month.
I fixed things for her and fixed and fixed and fixed. So I did damage to her as well, by not stopping her. Eventually she was arrested for embezzling money from her employer...which just happened to also be my employer. Guess who got to pay the thousands of dollars back. And this was a couple of years before I came out...which I am sure didn't help my reception at all.
As all of this was going on around me, slowly, day by day, my body grew more male, my dreams became post-apocalyptic despair, and my world grew incrementally smaller. And this is part of what it means to be transsexual: being aware of all that at every instant, feeling the tick-tocks of testosterone flowing through my veins, which carried the keys to irrevocably change in my body structure, measured in drams of hope that were syphoned, balanced with the anger the drug brings to fuel the unconsciousness. It was killing me. My soul was being eaten. The world became a coffin and each day the walls of that foul box closed in...and the lid was lowered a little more.
|And she said "Please, please, I've lost my way
The current is too strong
And then one day I reached out and felt I could touch the walls of my world with each hand. My world had become the size of whatever room I was in at the time...except when I was teaching. Not even the books would let me escape anymore. I have started reading Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress three times now, but it conjures up memories I cannot endure. And I took stock. Here I was: 44 years old; longhaired, bearded hippy freak; both parents and all grandparents deceased for over 8 years; wife out of jail and having a boyfriend she was sneaking around with in an open kind of way; in debt up to my earballs; and daughter having moved out of the house for the third and last time a couple of years before, gone to live in Nebraska with the woman who was her partner for nearly 20 years. I was alone...more alone than I had ever felt before. All I could hear was the thump, thump thump of of my heart driving the drug on its destructive path. I was denied even silence, because of the constant ringing I have had in my ears since I was in the military, the karma I got for learning how to kill people.
Since that day, I have adopted with the following philosophy, which I have shared from time to time:
|Having lived on the edge of choosing to live or choosing to die for most of my life, I've already decided that whatever happens is happening in extra time, to use a soccer phrase. I do not fear death. We are well-acquainted. Each day I wake up and decide, I shall not choose to die today.
Today. Maybe tomorrow will be better than today. Maybe I can help tomorrow be better than today. I will do what I can today so that tomorrow I might not choose to die. Then I will see how I feel tomorrow.
Alternatively there is the following, written on a Father's Day for my Cafe Discovery column once upon a day:
It's Father's Day, a day which tends to distress me greatly.
O.E. fæder, from P.Gmc. *fader (cf. O.N. faðir, Ger. vater), from PIE *[email protected] (cf. Sanskit pitar−, Gk. pater, L. pater, O.Pers. pita, O.Ir. athir "father"), presumably from baby-speak sound like pa. The classic example of Grimm's Law, where PIE "p−" becomes Gmc. "f−." Spelling with −th− (16c.) reflects widespread phonetic shift in M.E. that turned −der to −ther in many words; spelling caught up to pronunciation in 1500s (cf. burden, murder). Fatherland (1623) is a loan-translation of Ger. Vaterland, itself a loan-translation of L. patria (terra), lit. "father's land." Father's Day dates back to 1910 in Spokane, Wash., but was not widespread until 1943, in imitation of Mother's Day.
I mostly want to go hide somewhere, so I'll mostly be watching men play golf. Go figure.
Last year I wrote the following, which flashes back to an even earlier post in another SpaceTime. Think of it as a way for me not to have to write something new.
Once upon a time in the City by the Bay, up where the longhairs roamed, a guy (from all outward appearances) was once again rejected from a place of belonging and tried to end it all...again. Fortunately for our story, he was too stoned to figure out that if he needed something sharp to slit his wrists, all he needed to do was break a window. If 20/20 hindsight had any power, he'd have been dead long ago. But he's not...
What does one do when one is so excruciatingly depressed about not finding a way to fit in even with goddamned hippie freaks? Our protagonist ended up at the I/Thou Coffee Shop, next door to the Straight Theater, playing chess. And winning. One could keep playing if one kept winning, even if one didn't have enough wherewithal to purchase anything. During the course of the the run, a young woman sat down to watch. She asked if he were a virgin. He lied and said, "No." She offered our hero a place to sleep. She took his viginity.
On such events are history hung. There would be no story if he had told the truth.
Mucho drugs later and events involving stealing cigarettes for a living (not me, her), we ended up in Joplin, MO, in her parents' house with her pregnant. And me trapped by the ethos of my past. I had a responsibility.
So here I was trying to be a father when I was still really hazy about why I had to be a man, looking at at least eighteen years. Of course, I had some role models to try to emulate. They would be my own alcoholic racist of an old man who never once said he was proud of me or his father, who called his wife Woman (It wasn't until after I transitioned and returned to Oregon for a visit that I learned that my grandmother's was Lillian). Or television characters from Father Knows Best, Donna Reed and Ozzie and Harriet. I guess I tried to navigate everything as best I could. I did the full 18 and a few more out of fear and ignorance about what to do next.
And I raised a damn fine child. Here's something I wrote about her back in 1996, on the OWLS email list for lesbians over 40 (I'm one of the founding members).
My daughter is a lesbian, something I think I had an inkling of when she was in about 4th grade. I've been positive about it since junior high, at least. I tried to be there for her if she ever wanted to talk but knowing that it was something only she could decide whether or not to tell me. Actually, Jen never did tell me. She told her mother and I got it from her. Maybe Jen knew that I already knew.
High school was hard for her. She had a lesbian friend in junior high whose mother was also lesbian and used to hang around over there a lot. But then we moved to Arkansas and it became a lot harder for her. She made some friends in drama class (that the teacher was a lesbian was a poorly kept secret) but she seemed to have trouble fitting in with the people here.
She eventually went to Lincoln to visit some friends who went from UCA to University of Nebraska for grad school. While there, she met Julie, her partner, and they have now been together over seven years. Last year they bought a house. It was Julie who got me on the net and subscribed to the Sappho list. She worked as a bookbinder at the UNL library.
I can't tell you how pleased I have been that Jen had found someone she loved and somewhere she fit. She had friends there...she wass known as an excellent dungeon mistress amongst her friends (get your minds out of the gutter :) I'm talking Dungeon's and Dragons...hehe). At the Brandon Teena Vigil, I met one of her friends, a professor at UNL, who told me that Jen has been a very vocal supporter of transsexual people in the community in Lincoln. I can't tell you how proud this made me feel. And Julie was doing grad work in Women's Studies looking at the transgenderism of Willa Cather and its influence on her writing (Willa Cather attended UNL dressed as a male, calling herself William Cather).
I visited them several times and I think Jen was really happy with her life. As my .sig file says, that's really all that is important. It's certainly what is most important to me.
We decided long ago that "father" probably wasn't the appropriate term for my relationship with Jen. I am her parent.
Jen will be 39 this August. She and Julie now live in Santa Cruz, where Julie works and studies at UC-Santa Cruz and Jen works at a Kinko's. We get together whenever I am in the Bay Area. I'm Julie's parent-out-law.
But there isn't any Parent-out-law Day and I have to suffer through this one, during which it will be displayed 6 to 10 times every hour, exactly how I should have been a father to my child, when all I really wanted was to be her mother.
Times change and my daughter's life story does not end there. She has since given birth to my two grandchildren, Rachel and Zach.
But that is her story to tell.
I shall possibly be told...
...that was not enough "detail", but I refuse to succumb to prurience and don't think intrusion into the lives of my ex-wife and daughter need to be part of my autobiography.