This blog contains 1000 posts. Posting to Blogger with such a large archive has become unwieldy. Also, your blogista, who is sewing a kesa, is not writing much at present. She has ceased adding new posts. Still-active links are here.

Monday, January 31, 2005

You're taken

We went out into the Coast Range, to visit an old friend who has recently lost her husband. She's a superb artist, working in mixed media; he did landscapes in oils and photography. She misses him terribly, and people have taken to having potlucks at her house to give her some energy boosts.

We had Friends Meeting in her living room, with the kettle singing softly to itself on the wood stove, and the sun coming in at angles through the tall windows. The house was once a one-room schoolhouse and the interior walls are whitewashed tongue-and-groove siding reaching to a height of fourteen feet, covered with paintings by husband and wife and their many artist friends. All the dishes are either by our friend or her daughter, a potter just reaching middle age -- though she doesn't look it -- who lives nearby.

After the silence, there was singing. Beloved sat with me, but I discovered my singing was making her tense. She afterwards reminded me that she doesn't sight read, and depends on the next person, and I was singing with the sopranos. She's an alto, really, but there aren't enough sight-reading altos in our crowd so she has to latch onto one and they just sing a third below the melody, making up their harmony as they go. When I sang baritone, I was actually easier for her to follow. How things change!

In thirty years, I have never been able to befriend the artist's daughter -- a wary creature -- but this time I got lucky. One of the few artists I know much about -- because she's so fascinating -- is Freida Kahlo, whose heart was broken by Diego Rivera, the muralist, and who died relatively young, after losing her right leg. I was drinking from one of the hand-built, slip-painted cups, looked at the portrait on it, and remarked, "This reminds me of Freida Kahlo."

"It is her! You picked up on that right away. See, there's the necklace and her brush, and on the other side is her pet deer."

"I wasn't sure, because you have the eyebrows separate, instead of straight across."

"That's right; she did that because she disliked her body and thought it too masculine, I think. So sometimes I honor that and connect them across, and sometimes I tell her she's more beautiful than she thinks, and I do her like she is in the photographs."

She was pleased. I was pleased.

After lunch, I moved into the kitchen, which must have been a broom closet at one time, it is so tiny. A friend came in to dry as I went, and we took everyone's dishes from them and they were pleased to have us do so. I raked off the few leftovers, washed in the sink, and dropped the beautiful, unique plates, bowls and cups gently into a steel basin of water one by one; she dried and put away. We talked about my transition and her kids, and while I felt her curiosity, it was of a kind I hadn't encountered so much -- just like a neighbor asking how the braces are going on Junior's teeth.

An extraordinarily pleasant feeling, to have one's issues taken as ordinary.

Everyone went up to the gravesite but a few of us; I sat around and read until the crowd got back, then went up there myself alone. The trail winds through alders and Douglas firs in deep shade, to a tiny clearing with a hump of dirt with an unmarked mossy stone at one end and a massive sword fern growing next to it. There's a bench to sit on so as to visit.

This man was my friend for thirty years. He illustrated one of my books, and gave me some lovely reproductions of some of his drawings and paintings. They remind me of Andrew Wyeth's early fall and winter landscapes. Seem "realist" until you get close, and see the almost abstract impressionism. His paintings look unflinchingly at the ends of things, giving a sharper appreciation of life-as-it-is. There's no way to say this that isn't trite in comparison to the work. He was the real deal.

I never told him I was a girl. By the time I was coming out to old friends, he was gone. He'd had a heart condition the entire time I'd known him. Still, the last decline was faster than I had expected, and when Beloved went to see him last, I missed the trip and went to a meeting instead, expecting to make it next time. He died two days later.


When some of the people left, that afternoon, including the dish dryer and her husband and kids, I got good-bye hugs.

The husband was really the only "young" man among the twenty or so of us that were there. When he hugged me, I picked up a bit of his scent -- the day had warmed up, but he had kept his sweater.

Whoa? What's this? Pheromones!

I never, ever picked this up on a guy before.

I suddenly knew a lot about him -- good lover, good genes, a good man all the way through, someone for a woman who deserves. I got all this in less than a second. It made me dizzy. I'm glad she has him, 'cuz she is a greatly deserving lady. It deepened my appreciation of them both. Heady stuff, nevertheless!

I got back to the house somehow, a little weak-kneed, popped in the door, closed it behind me, and leaned back on it. Beloved and the artists looked up.

"Wow," I said, grinning stupidly. "Uhh, that guy has nice sweat."

They laughed, and welcomed me among them by the woodstove.

"Remember," said Beloved with a glint in her eye, "'You're taken.'"

--risa b

Saturday, January 22, 2005

She screened me out ...

You may remember that a couple of posts ago, I was celebrating a milestone. It turned out I misunderstood. I'm out in the cold again, and I have no idea why.

Everyone else I know has had the experience of having a counselor in their corner and the world against them. With me, it seems like it's always the opposite. Why?? It would seem like it would be a professional kindness, by this time, to at least help me with my driver's license. Because I'm already in danger from my next traffic stop. And go back three spaces is no longer a viable option. I have been living as a woman full time since October 15th. And I will never live as a man again. Yet, she doesn't see me as really trans ....

When she screened me out, I cried, some, and pulled it together and thanked her and went down to my car, but in the car I fell apart. I would sob, lean my head on the wheel, then lean back in my seat, muscles tightening all over my body, and scream. This went on for about half an hour.

The counselor came out, carrying a rake, presumably on her way to garden somewhere. She saw me, parked behind her, red-faced, blowing my nose, and shaking.

She came over, knocked on the window. "Are you all right?"

WHAT? Do I look like I look all right to you? I mouthed.

She opened the door. "I have to make sure you're going to be ok."

"I'm a strong girl; I'll get through this. You should go on with whatever it is you're doing, because you have washed your hands of me."

After she drove away, I spent another half hour alternately crying and screaming. When I saw one of the neighbors in my rear-view mirror, watching the car, I figured it was time to move on, and somehow got the car running and drove over the mountain and down onto the freeway, alternately crying and shrieking.

When I made it home, Beloved, who was busy refurnishing Daughter's old bedroom, took one look at me and dropped everything to help me to a chair. I was shaking, colorless, and red-eyed. I told her what had happened and then started shrieking again.

"Thee is a wounded animal; let's get thee to bed." She helped me off with my things, and brought hot apple juice.

I had cried for six hours.

Called in sick yesterday and stayed in bed. Took antidepressants and stresstabs. Slept 13 hours last night. Talked with Beloved all morning. She came up with a plan of action while I was sleeping in, and I like it. More later.

She left for a walk, and I got ready to go to work (I was working Saturdays to have a weekday for counseling and doctors). Still a little shaky. Opened a letter from the lab. So, I have osteoporosis. That's nice. Least of my worries!

Back to square one. I've lost two years on bad counseling.

What to wear today? Guy stuff?

No. I am still and will always be Risa, and no one will ever take that away from me.

Because I know that I am not "a boy in a dress." I gave away the guy stuff, and I don't miss it. I couldn't go in drab now if I wanted to, and I don't want to! If you hear the sound of scissors on my wings, all I can tell you is it's not me snipping, nor any of the usual suspects. It's been wall-to-wall kindness out there.

So, it's the usual cami, turtleneck, garnet ear studs, Bill Blass slacks and top-stitched Mary Janes. A hint of foundation, lip-liner and eyeliner. Wave to the neighbors, buzz past the sheep, the cows and horses, admire the scenery.

Pull over and cry.

Redo face.

Drive on.

Not gonna let this be more than a bump in the road, unh-unh.


A letter about me went out from the university administration yesterday, asking everyone to show support. That's like, 4500 staffers, and 20,000 students. I got some really nice emails and an online greeting card from someone I barely know, but whom I've always admired from a distance. It was really sweet... And the voice clinic on campus has agreed to do a consultation with me, and they were really warm and welcoming in their correspondence.

My student workers, bless 'em, were at work in droves today and getting a lot done. We're building an online version of the card index to the major newspaper, and my crew has entered 398,600 records since February 15th of last year. Every 100,000 we reach means a party, so we'll be discussing if should do the usual table at the pizza place or something else. I'm so proud of them!

--risa b

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Left it alone

I got an email from a disability activism/support group which I'd attended regularly, six years ago.

Under my old name, of course.

I thought about this awhile. It might be fun to see them. On the other hand, members are from all walks of life. More than half of them may well have voted for my oppressors in the last election.

But I had promised to myself, no more hiding. Everybody gets at least one chance to meet me for the first time.

So I emailed my correspondent and explained the situation, asking her to share my info with the others.

The next day there was an email from a young woman whom I remembered for her leadership qualities, sunny disposition, and terrific cooking.

It was a good one. I cried, of course.

At this group's meetings there are goodies afterwards, nothing heavy, so I prepared for my debut by putting together a plate of bell pepper, carrot, celery, tomato, broccoli and pepper cheese strips. In the center was a little dish of tofu dip, with a spoon. I shook out a little basil over the whole business, to give it a little more sophisticated look and flavor.

I wore my best outfit, black ribbed turtleneck, black slacks, black bandanna, black shoes, with silver accoutrements, including the little silver goddess pendant.

The evening, on the whole, was a great success. I can tell I don't have as much to offer here as elsewhere, for now. But I definitely felt warmly welcomed, and will be back.


This week I met a man, whom I hadn't seen in awhile, in his 70s, grizzled, wearing what writers call a "battered fedora," with large liquid eyes that seemed out of place with the rest of his face.

He asked me, with a wry smile, if I had been aware of my transsexualism when we met.

"No, I was trying hard not to notice."

"Yeah, me too."

I looked sharply at him. Did he mean him or me? His expression had become terribly sad, and I realized he was speaking of himself.

He looked up, eyes brimming with salt tears. "Yeah. Me too."

"You've never been able to do much about it?"

"Nah, ya live with family, ya take care of 'em, ya know how they'd, uh, ya know how they'd -- any, any way, no good, ya know? It wasn't gonna be good, I, uh, left it. Yeah. Left it alone."

The eyes held me.

"What's your name, dear?" I asked.

She told me.

-- risa b

Saturday, January 15, 2005


Went to the new counselor again and she pressed me some about my not wanting to show my feelings concerning last time -- which I call Black Thursday -- and I finally fell apart and cried, which seemed to help us both somehow -- I mean, I hear her saying she gets that I really mean it and ...

... suddenly we're talking about options and schedules and it starts to sink in ...

... that I'm going to get to be me.

I'm a girl.

I'm a GIRL!!!

I mean, I knew that. But now she knows that.

And if she knows that then it means my driver's license is going to know that. And that a surgeon is going to know that. So, it's not a question mark hanging over my head any more.

So I'm not some sort of indecent thing.

I get to live.

I don't suppose she saw the little jig that I did down at the end of the driveway.

Later in the day, I went to the tiny hospital up-valley, where they had re-calibrated the bone density machine for me, and everyone was so nice.

So I drove out to the rails-to-trails bike path along the river, and walked for a mile. No one was around. Only the cottonwoods, Oregon ash, black oaks, and a few crows got to see me break down in -- this time grateful -- tears.

So, today, after work, I went shopping. I called the Stayed-Home-and-Worked-All-Day Lady to see if she could go with me, and she couldn't, which meant that I'd, umm, have to go alone, and, uh, hmm, I'm dressed up an awful lot for shopping in a known-to-be-very-homophobic logging town, but, well, this was going to happen sooner or later, and since I've got two months' credit for Real Life Experience, better get on with it.

I'm now on several Mary-and-Martha committees (which are always, it seems, a lot more Martha than Mary) and need to buy enough stuff for three potlucks, plus a new coffeemaker, and it's now or never.

So I planned my approach. There was only so much cash on hand (a twenty) so I headed for a store not known for its posh clientele. Years ago, we went there when it opened, and for several years thereafter, when pretty much everything seemed to be in one-gallon or number ten cans. Since which time, it kind of got to be the neighborhood grocery and five-and-dime. For some reason they now have decent vegetables, at half what I'd pay at the nose-in-the-air store over by the university, so I parked there, gathered my courage, went in, and the place was wall-to-wall shoppers, all looking markedly grouchy, with screaming-meemie babies hanging half out of the carts.

I almost ran away.

I mean ... I was wearing a red bandanna, hoops, makeup, a ribbed turtleneck (I know, that's all you ever see me in, but it's a cold winter), carrying a purse ... and needing to go to the ladies room ... if anyone said, "jump," I would have broken my neck on the ceiling.

But nobody said it. Nobody even looked at me. Not from the left. Not from the right. Not from down the aisle, coming my way. Behind me, I don't seem to care about.

I was invisible. This hadn't really happened before, you see. I wove in and out, picked out two red bell peppers, two orange ones, two green ones, two yellow ones, some baby carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, and a small brick of pepper jack.

But they didn't have good dip, which I didn't expect them to anyway.

So I checked out ... nice chat with the register 'girl' ... and headed for the next place, a kind of miniature big-box membership store that's employee owned, and wheeled my cart around awhile ...

... with the spiro-induced need pressing on my bladder ...

... and went to have a look at the door to the ladies' room.

Almost ran away. Again.

But then there were two large women coming out, either of whom could boss a logging crew and break a mirror at one hundred yards, blindfolded.

Now I'm not one to judge anybody by their looks ...

... but in my heart I thanked them for not being supermodels, and stepped in.

And everything was [flush, wash hands, check mirror] fine. As in anticlimactic.

As in what had I been worried about all that time?

So I picked up two boxes of cookies and two boxes of wheat crackers, an eyeliner, and a coffeemaker, and paid with my new credit card: cardholder Risa S. Bear. And chatted with the register 'girl.' (Young as they are, these are women. And they work SO hard. If they look like they'll put up with a kind word, give 'em one.)

Now for the tofu dip. I drove across the highway, entered the neighborhood's upscale grocery, wandered around lost, asked for directions, got the dip, got in line, paid, stepped out ...

... by now it was getting dark. There was ice on the railings of the cart return zone. Best get home.

But all my missions were accomplished. I had shopped, solo, as a housewife, for two solid hours.

For some folks, that might not be a big deal, right?

But it has been one of the best days of my life. At the end of one of the best weeks of my life.

so, as my dear friend Joy says:

"Life is good ... and I can prove it."

-- risa b

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

A man of impeccably conservative stripe

An old friend, who had been a big supporter of my poetry in my guy days, happened to spot me at the service desk as he was preparing to exit the Library. He'd been pretty quiet since I came out to him, which I had kind of expected, he being a man of impeccably conservative stripe.

But not mean, as in the new fascists, just -- conservative -- like they used to have. A thinking man. So I had some hopes there.

He came over, and stood across the cherrywood countertop from me. About four seconds of silence, then he shifted his weight, and we went through about four more. Hmm. Another four might be fatal.

I must have looked very different from most of his memories of me. I had once weighed 215 pounds, walked with a heavy shuffle, showed considerable male pattern baldness, and had a penchant for wearing ties, even when no one else in the library did, with medieval or Renaissance themes on them.

Today I was wearing two-pocket jeans, size 13, by Bill Blass, a grey ribbed turtleneck from Chadwick's, garnet ear-studs, matching nails and lipstick from Mary Kay, jingling silver bangles, and weighing in at about 175 (gained a little over the break: hey, be nice). It was still early enough in the day for me to be at my best, with shoulder-length hair, even with all the waves in it.

I figured he would swallow his tongue, so I had better break the ice.

I leaned across the counter, cupped my chin in my hand, and came as close to batting my eyelashes at him as I dared. "Any and all questions are o.k." I smiled.

He cleared his throat, and, bless his heart, was able to ask kind things, especially about how it was going for the Hard Working Lady, who's been married to me for 28.5 years. After all, he's read all the love poems I wrote her ... as the conversation proceeded, he seemed to realize this was a friend he hadn't lost, and began to move on from my situation to topics of mutual interest in the most gracious manner imaginable.

My replacement arrived, so I offered to walk him back to his building, and we got caught up a bit on literature and the status of his parents' lovely place on the coast -- still for sale, sadly. He'd love to buy it. (We'd love to visit him and his wife there, too!)

As we got there, he took that little half-step that men do, and held the big glass door for me.

"Thank you! It's getting easier for me to accept that."

"Good thing, too."

I mentioned that recently another man friend had taken me to lunch ...

and taken my coat ...

and held my chair ...

and that I'd caught him ogling, but I think I was meant to!


"Just letting you know how it's going to be out there. Heh, heh."

"Well, as you know, I'm taken."

"So am I, my dear, so am I."


I have discovered that I like working the front counter of our department again. No, actually, I love it. It's not my responsibility as I'm not a Librarian, merely a Supervisor, but I do train all the work-study students who staff the desk, and the department seems happy for me to fill in all around the edges.

I'm extremely hearing-impaired, which turns out to be a plus. I know how to train patrons to adjust to my differences:

(patron whispers)

"I'm sorry, I'm quite hearing impaired. This is a research library and actually you may speak in normal tones here." [BIG SMILE]

With some, especially those with accents, I may actually resort to my pocket talker to understand. I put on my headphone, point the mike at them, explain the device a bit, and we go on from there.

Every transperson should have such a cool disability, especially if they work with the public. It seems to disarm those who might otherwise choose to be disdainful, and gives us time to discover each other's humanity. Then I help them with their inquiry, or find them someone who can. Always try to leave 'em grateful!

As a result I get to try out my woman's voice, mannerisms and walk in the most supportive and nonthreatening environment possible.

And I'm the grateful one when I think about that.

-- risa b

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Gonna be fine

We got in between a storm and another storm and walked along the cliffs for a couple of hours. Just before sunset, as the black clouds were rolling in, we saw a small whale breaching about five times. Our guidebook says it was a either a False Killer Whale or a Short-Finned Pilot Whale. There was also a dead sea lion that a gull was working on ... sad but natural. Life = short.

In the motel room, while Beloved slept, I checked out the tsunami on the news channels. Inexpressibly sad; one wants to help, but one worries about the way money buys things that just pile up on runways, then disappear into the black market. I have the skills, but I'm not young anymore, am needed here, etc. etc.

We're members of the Society of Friends, which means that we have a reliable service organization that's efficient to support for this kind of work: the American Friends Service Committee. So I'll be able to contribute through that ... but I kind of miss being young and resourceful in a more direct way. But maybe I can work directly with them, or with the Friends World Committee, later, if I live to retire.

While on this trip, I discovered that my 5-o'clock shadow is coming back with a vengeance. Either there is some problem with my electrologist, or the HRT is less effective than it was. I also don't feel as feminine as I feel I should. There's been no reduction in bust, so I'm not sure what to think.


Went to work after an 11 day layover. Work helps. Having people call me "Risa" or "Steffi" and visit with me about girl stuff helps! My identity re-stabilizes. I advised a student on nail polish, and a couple of the others, who acknowledged it was good advice, laughed with her and they called me "mom." (!!)

Afterwards, at the mayor's swearing-in, more of the same. New friends, old friends, people are happy to see me and I'm happy to see them -- and they are all women. Some kind of barrier has dropped; I don't feel judged -- I feel trusted and included.

I told Beloved about all this, and she agreed that this is actually a major, major plus for me, that the conversational and affective woman-to-woman bond is, for me, a deep-seated psychic requirement which I had been denied by circumstances.

I told her of meeting a friend to whom I confided that I'm finding it difficult to face the new counselor, because of the high need that good counselors have to establish beyond their own doubt that you are not mistaken.

"And I've faced the estrogen decision 423 times now, and every time the answer has been yes!" -- and of course I tuned up to cry. This little woman, who towers over me in years, experience, authoritative personality, and wisdom, took hold of both my elbows and looked me fiercely in the eye.

"Girl," she said, "never mind what anybody says or asks you. You know who you are.. So you're gonna be fine!"

Sniff. Snurk... "Yes'm."

-- risa b


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