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Monday, August 08, 2005

The shock of an old name

I attended a book-signing and packing party at the home of a local member of an organization I belong to. The house sat well above the street, with a fresh-smelling staircase zigzagging up through some well-considered xeriscaping. I was ushered into the presence of about fifteen people, some of whom knew they knew me and some of whom didn't know they knew me, depending on how long ago they had last seen me.

I had coffee and cookies, chatted with all and sundry, packed books for shipment to fulfill pre-orders, and spent as much time as I reasonably could talking with one of the authors, my friend who was my roommate in Pasadena.

As the party began to break up, the group's secretary, who had last seen me two years ago, cornered me for some clarifications. She had an incorrect email address for me. I fixed that, then said, "But I've been getting chapter and national email both just fine at my other address."

She peered at me for a few moments over her glasses.

"Umm ... is [boy name] your husband?"

... !!

Now, in a way that was a lovely thing to hear, because it's independent confirmation that my presentation has become effective. I brought her up to speed.

But I also realized what a shock it was to hear "my" old name.

It really felt like it was someone else's name.

I had no idea the guy was so ... gone.

I could say, "no, he's no longer with us" and there would be some truth in that.

I could say, "well, no, I never married him but we were in a kind of a relationship but that's over" and there might be some truth in that. Chuckle.

When she asked the question I actually mentally pictured "him" in exactly the way one does when asked about a friend or an acquaintance. I didn't know I could do this -- it's a level of dissociation with the past about which I have heard very little, even from post-ops.

OK, if he's that person over there, in my mind, and I'm over here, where was I when I thought I was him?

I mean, I must not be too ashamed of him ... I've kept links to his old writings on the sidebar to your right. Some of it I've stolen, by changing the byline, some of it I've obscured by making the first name into an initial.

I'm not hiding behind that. Most of you know what goes in the "boy name" brackets above. The rest can find it out with little effort.

No, it's for me. It's very hard for me to hear his name. Maybe that will fade, I have no idea.

It's like if you wake up in the hospital bed and slowly realize that someone else took over your body and mind forty years ago ... and now you're coming back into yourself ... but nobody knows you, they only know this other person, the interloper, who has re-sculpted your body, changed your voice, and lost you a lot of your hair ... involved you in nested puzzle boxes of relationships you'd have never got into on your own ... provided you with descendants who have no clue as to who you really are ...

... and, worst of the worst ... you have no memories of your own. They're all his.

So you set about cleaning house. Medication will be necessary. New clothes, new deals, redefined relationships, new ID. And slowly you begin to have memories of your own. Eventually you are yourself even in your dreams. And then someone uses that other person's name ... even if they aren't talking about you, it still terrifies you ... even when you know they are "safe" to out yourself to ...

As if he might try, you, know, to come back.

But why would he? He was a very unhappy person, and even tried to die once ... maybe multiple times ...

I'm not sure. I mean, I'm not him, I don't really know what he did all that time.



A second incident along these lines occurred a few days later. A practically life-long friend, with whom I had lunch after going full-time femme, some five months ago, met me at an event and introduced herself.

When I responded, she was a bit embarrassed -- but old friends get over these things in seconds, if not instantaneously. We picked up right where we'd left off. But, again, how had I changed that much that quickly? Something has dropped away lately. Not even sure what.



Today, I went to a reception in the Library. Two of my colleagues, in the food line ahead of me, were conversing animatedly, and then one of them, a petite woman, picked up a water bottle she couldn't open.

The other one was a guy ... he reached for it, then, in a moment of sheer perversity, handed it across to me.

Nh? Had I flinched toward the bottle? Some shadow of a distant "gentlemanly" past? I can't tell.

"I bet she can open it."

I know he didn't mean anything demeaning by it; he hasn't, so far as I can determine, that kind of bone anywhere in him. Still.

So, ok, I took the bottle, popped the lid off and handed it to her. She eyed the bottle as if it had bitten her.

"Leverage;" I said, off-handedly. "I still have it. Can't be helped. But my strength is down more than fifteen percent." Shrug.

"Do you work out?"


"No, I avoid everything but hiking. Trying to shrink my shoulders."

Actually, I'd spent the weekend doing heavy lifting. There will be an event at my place; maybe fifty people or more. There's not really enough shade there for that on a hot summer day, so I have been tidying up -- read brush-cutting, tearing out fences, cleaning out outbuildings. But I know how depressed I get, doing these things in pants. So, unlike every other woman in the neighborhood, I wore a coral cami top and a long sari-style skirt the whole time. Even while pulling a fence post with a come-along and two sets of tire chains.

At the end of the day, I took a long, long bubble bath and did peels, wrinkle repairs and everything else I could find in the medicine cabinet to keep myself from looking like I'd worked outdoors for two days. And worked, and worked, and worked on my poor nails.

Only to be asked to open a bottle...

But, hey. Lots of victories lately.

As a friend of mine reminded me: "There are a lot of side alleys. Keep moving. Determination, I've heard, is just never forgetting that you have a goal. Don't sweat the small stuff."

-- risa b


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