1998: Christmas Remembered
If I'd known I was gonna live this long, I'd have taken better care of myself.
Eubie Blake, at age 100
That's a very familiar quote, but what is unsaid is that the great ragtime pianist, Eubie Blake, did indeed pass away five days later at age 100 years and five days.
What in the world does this have to do with Christmas? Nothing except in the introspective world of my own mind. You see, my birthday is four days before Christmas, and on December 21 of this year I was fifty-eight years old.
The significance of this particular birthday has shadowed me for over thirty years. My father was born on September 23, 1909, and died on September 24, 1967, the day after his fifty-eighth birthday. He had metastatic lung cancer and had been in the hospital for several months.
Daddy died much too soon, but in my mind I didn't think I would outlive him. I looked up to my father as an ideal - he could do no wrong. He devoted his whole life to taking care of my mother and me, and never was unkind to either of us.
I compared this "perfect man" to my post-teen state of unworthiness. In addition to the usual turmoil of a twenty year old's emotions, I was burdened by my own special inadequacy, brought on by inability to understand my gender conflict: I am such a sick weirdo for feeling this way. Daddy would never have had such feelings. And now he is dying and I am surviving...
So, I've gone all these years wondering if I would live as long as Daddy did. Despite gaining a mature understanding of myself, realizing the reasons for feeling the way I did, I always had a nagging doubt that I deserved to survive. In the months leading up to my break with the old life, many days I didn't even want to survive.
I have alluded to the fact that I thought I might not survive the conflicts leading up to transition. Not every trans person experiences such feelings - fewer in this enlightened time than in the pre-information and support era. But there are still enough persons who write me, wondering if they can make it through the tough times ahead.
Sometimes we can only plan for a day at a time. If we focus on where we'll be in a year, it is too easy to despair. When one begins living full-time in their new role, she may not have a job or an income. It's crucial to stay focus on the present - know what needs to be done to get out into the world now, to complete the simple tasks.
In my transition experience I could find reasons to survive. I was lucky enough to have a small source of income, and since I didn't have to get up and go in to work in the early months, I could treat each day as a learning experience. I also looked back at those who emphatically told me I was making a mistake, and determined there was no way I would give them that satisfaction! Even now it is comforting to look back and know I proved the doubters wrong.
We must survive transition. There's so much more to life afterwards.
It's no secret that I, like most of my friends, am not happy over the results of our recent elections. It is hard to comprehend how a majority of voters in this country support a regime which has brought us a declining economy, loss of basic human rights for some of our own citizens, gradual erosion of freedoms for the illusion of security, isolation from our global allies, and an ongoing international disaster which will consume lives and resources for years to come. But they did, and they are quite happy with the "moral values" statement they have made.
Some of my friends are so distraught, they have considered leaving this country! Escape From America magazine reports the number of Americans looking to leave has increased drastically since the election. I have talked with those who have seriously looked at New Zealand as a place to emigrate. I can't imagine such a move - although I must admit, Vancouver BC is one of my favorite places. But it's cold up there! And emigration is just not an option I wish to consider. I'm still an American, dammit, and I am not going to let this crowd run me out.
We must not regard these people as our "enemies," no matter how they regard us. We are all still American citizens together. We must take the high road. It will be possible to live and work with persons with whom we disagree.
We must all survive. There may be decisions to make. Will trans people be under attack from the "values" contingent? Will we shrink into stealth and disappear while others take the heat for us? Or will we do our part to speak out, to say "What you are proposing is wrong - let me tell you why"?
I have friends who assure me the phrase "Your silence will not protect you" is a tired cliché, that I am wrong and their silence will indeed protect them. I hope they are right - if they are discovered, it won't be from me. But their attitude of superiority to those of us who are open about our lives is an anachronism, and it won't survive another generation.
We GLBT persons will survive because we are just the opposite - we are not ashamed to be truthful about our past and present. I still believe the truth makes you free.
So here it is, Christmas 2004. And you're still here! Congratulations, survivor! 2005 is going to be a year for you to shine - to discover new opportunities. Live long and prosper!
I'll close this Christmas message with the words from this Gloria Gaynor anthem which is played at every proper GLBT event:
It took all the strength I had not to fall apart
Go on now, walk out the door
Peace, everyone, and happy holidays.