1998: Christmas Remembered
| Time stands still - still - in parts of Mississippi.
From the time I crossed the state line, coming from New Orleans on Interstate 59, until I stopped for refreshments in Hattiesburg, I saw nearly no signs of human habitation. That's not too surprising; the Interstate is designed to present a pleasantly pastoral landscape. What was surprising was the lack of change on busy U.S. 49 between Hattiesburg and Jackson, a distance of nearly a hundred miles. A couple of fast food places in Magee were to only additions visible since I drove the road in 1993. One Mississippi tradition I was glad hadn't changed was the home cooked buffet at the Mendenhall Hotel, halfway between Hattiesburg and Jackson.
Jackson does show some change. Most of the new construction seems to center around the University of Mississippi Medical Center. My alma mater is expanding in all directions. More large office complexes and apartments have appeared in the northern part of the city, along with upscale subdivisions of absolutely huge houses, a phenomenon I'll comment on more in a moment.
My first visit to Jackson in four and a half years was a bit different from my expectations. It began with a familiar sensation, a subjective feeling of anxiety and tension, increasing as I drove closer to the city. Why did I feel this way, I wondered. What do I have to be anxious about?
The only definable anxiety I had was my worry whether I would see my son and daughter-in-law. This was my great hope and my source of much thought and prayer. I had written them to let them know the dates I would be in town. They didn't reply, but I thought they might try to call me in my room.
It was not to be - not on this trip. To my relief, I found that I accepted this outcome - I didn't like it, but I did accept it. The tensions disappeared and did not return. I was much more content on this visit than on the times I visited during my Real Life experience in 1994. I thought about the reasons for this.
One major difference is that much time has passed, and people are no longer remembering their dealings with me in my previous life. I've been away for years, and now when I return, the persons I encounter relate to me only as Becky. It's just like my life out West in many ways.
The main purpose of the trip was to see Lee Frances and several other long time friends. Instead of brief, superficial visits with large crowds of people, I spent significant time with just seven persons the entire visit. It was more natural and relaxing.
The friends I did see were a diverse bunch: black and white, men and women, physicians and laypeople. The one common factor was that they had not been a part of, or had chosen to opt out of, the "power elite." For example, Lee Frances (who has recovered well from her hospitalization, thank the Lord) lives in a trailer park. Joan and Patricia are technical specialists who are accustomed to following orders from doctors. Dr. George, my friend whose practice I covered for two weeks in mid 1994, is a progressive who has been a very strong supporter of the public school system. And Dr. Bob, who has helped to coordinate Lee Frances's medical care, has also faced life's issues on a deeper level than most persons.
Dr. Bob and I were catching up on each other's news when he made the reference to "F.N.E.J." I remembered immediately that my friend Dale, an attorney who was such a good friend at the time I was beginning my transition, had used the same phrase during our discussions.
"Fashionable North East Jackson." That's it.
It became apparent during the weekend that F.N.E.J. was a state of mind, rather than a specific geographical location. In fact, both George and Bob live in or near the Northeast area, but they are far removed from the life typical of many of their colleagues. Very few people with the F.N.E.J. mindset have remained in touch with me. I used to be very surprised and disappointed at this fact. Many of those people were my friends, and I felt abandoned. So, as someone who once tried to live the F.N.E.J. life, I've tried to enumerate those concepts and values which are important to them.
Number one: "Family Values." You can get elected most anywhere on a platform which emphasizes that emotionally charged phrase. Who could possibly be against the family? A common response to my transition was "how could he do this to his family?".
It's a fair question, and I do regret the pain my family may have felt at my transition. I tried to remain in the old role as long as I possibly could. Finally I reached the point where I could no longer sweep the truth under the rug, denying that a problem even existed. This "don't talk about it, and it'll go away" approach was all too standard in my immediate and extended families. I suspect there are many other families, even many others in F.N.E.J., who have their own dysfunctions which are denied and ignored as long as possible.
My family, and some of my friends, chose to deal with this problem by not dealing with it. It's their right to do so, but I grieve for the loss of loving relationships we still could have had, even though different from the past. I'll never lose hope for restoration.
Number two: Conservative, fundamentalist Christianity. So many people dismiss out of hand the idea that transsexualism is an innate characteristic about which I had no choice. Having no personal experience with the dilemma of my life, they find it so easy to pronounce judgment on my "lifestyle choice." They aren't open to dialogue on the subject. They have no idea just what it is that's so sinful about my life, but they think it must be "contrary to scripture" or "against centuries of church tradition" as some of them have said to me.
I've spent a large part of my life dealing with the spiritual aspects of being transsexual. I have peace about it, and I have learned to live a life of love and, hopefully, not of judgment. (I'm surely aware how close I am coming to being judgmental of F.N.E.J., and am trying to avoid it.) I wish they would afford me the same love and acceptance, and let my relationship with the Almighty be between the Almighty and me.
Number three (watch out, Becky!): Financial, material success and prosperity. This may be the visible way we identify the F.N.E.J. type. Yes, we all would like a safe, comfortable home for our families. But the excesses of high incomes are evident all over Jackson with the huge mansions in Eastover, Lake Trace, Annandale, and all around the Reservoir. Six bedrooms, four baths, and a three car garage...five thousand square feet...Cathedral ceilings (some complete with the stained glass)...they are quite impressive. The same opulence often carries over into their office buildings and, yes, their churches. Some churches occupy entire city blocks and more.
The Fashionable North East Jacksonians' unrestrained materialism was not threatened by my transition. They simply viewed it as an indication of insanity on my part: no one in his right mind would walk away from this life of privilege. I'm not sure if I was in my right mind then, but I feel pretty good about my sanity now, and I still prefer my more frugal way of life. I think I've learned to put possessions in their proper place, and I can use my property instead of letting it use and control me.
These are the defining attributes of F.N.E.J. They are - mostly - basically good people and I'd love to have them as friends, but it probably won't happen until they learn to deal with the issues I've raised in this essay. I can always keep hoping. In the meantime I can enjoy spending time with those who keep all these priorities in perspective.