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Friday, November 18, 2005

Day of remembrance

I'm very, very tired just now.

My grant money has just about run out, so I'm spending more and more time, including weekends and evenings, getting as much done as possible before submitting the final report. There will be a home page with at least three and at most fourteen newspaper titles, searchable, and more than a million records. Since the final publication date is set for September 2006 I'm not too worried about the 130,000 records we haven't done yet. I should be able to fit that into my regular budget as a project for my reference and shelving workers, which is how we did the 102,000 records of the student newspaper index.

I'll be throwing a pizza party today for my student workers in honor of their 700,000th record on the Oregonian index, so I stopped at the country grocery store on the way in to town to pick up some 2-liter pops and chips. The last time I was in there, I was read as a guy with pink fingernails. "My son does that, too," confided the cashier.

This time I was all me, and the manager rang me up himself, chatting self-consciously in the way that older guys do when they think a lady's attractive.

Well, okay ... I suppose I shouldn't disagree with him!

The way to carry this off, unless you insist on either being a martyr or a hellion, is to walk like a countess. Head up, shoulders back, proud, offer thanks in your best voice, and tip generously where tipping is indicated.

:::

I have attended my first women's support group! It's called, aptly enough, "Women in Transition," and is for women over 55 who are experiencing things like "empty nest" or being newly retired. It was a potluck, and I didn't have the time to put anything together as I was coming from work, but earlier in the day I had provided snacks for an event and so I brought the leftovers, some of which we actually used.

There were nine of us. After dinner, we sat in a circle in the living room, introduced ourselves, talked about where we are in our lives. Where I am in mine, I think, is mostly realizing the unintended yet very real harm I have done over the years.

When a six-year-old transsexual gets it that he or she (or she or he) can be humiliated, ostracized, punished, or even killed for showing her/his true nature, there's a shuffling of the deck, a desperate search for the cards that can actually be played. I can do this, but not that. I can say this, but never that. The self disappears from public view, and is replaced by a constructed persona. To make this persona work consistently, one must believe in it oneself. So, later, the coming out is such a shock to those who thought they knew someone, or even loved someone, who in a sense never existed.

For them it's not a birth, it's a death.

A sudden death, as when a car strikes a bridge abutment, and they realize with horror, while hearing about it on the evening news, that they're talking about someone they know -- or, rather, knew.

Once you have opted to cast aside that persona, one after another of your family, friends and associates has to come to a decision whether to acknowledge the "new" you as you. You don't get to transition alone; everyone gets to do it with you.

Or not.

Like my dad.

And over the decades, the inconsistencies, the panic-driven behaviors, have left a visible trail of damage across one's personal history, even if one never does come out. What price survival?

:::

We held our Day of Remembrance Tuesday the 15th, so that local folks could go to the one in Portland on the weekend. We couldn't get anything reserved but the University's cavernous ballroom, in which our small crowd of under a hundred people seemed a bit lost. As people came in, they were given either a pink or blue balloon, and during the presentations, "gender police" would bust people they regarded as not having the right balloon, a well-done little performance piece. "Allies" that were non-trans stood up to the "police," making a useful point. Something loud was going on in the next room, unfortunately, so I couldn't really hear the speakers, but they were well received. Then we all trooped out onto the terrace to hold a short vigil in the cold, damp night.

We set up 24 tea lights along a wall, and a friend of mine and I lit them one by one as the names of this year's victims were read. When the period of silence ended, I extinguished each candle, slowly, almost ritually, one by one, and was definitely tearful by the time this was done. I looked up, and saw that others were similarly affected.

Too much blood.

-- risa b

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