All posts filed under: Memoir

Reflections on My Decision to Change Gender

It’s been a long time now since, at age 53, I became a woman. Actually, I’m an old woman more than twenty years on, who walks sometimes with a nice fold-up cane, and has had two hip-joint replacements, and lives in a loft in downtown Chicago with 8,000 books, delighting in her dogs, her birth family, her friends scattered from Chile to China, her Episcopal church across the street, her eating club near the Art Institute, and above all her teaching and writing as a professor. Or, as the Italians so charmingly say, as una professoressa. Oh, that –essa. She retired from teaching, though not from scribbling, at age 73, twenty years after transitioning, “emerita.” Not, you see, “emeritus.” But of course one can’t “really” change gender, can one? The “really” comes up when an angry conservative man or an angry essentialist feminist writes in a blog or an editorial or a comment page. The angry folk are correct, biologically speaking. That’s why their anger sounds to them like common sense. Every cell in my …

The Man at the Arcade

It was March, 1987, and I was 15 years old. I was in the arcade on Wilson, in Uptown, Chicago, asking for quarters. I’d only recently been released from the mental hospital. I didn’t know where my parents lived. That morning, I’d made my way to the 51st Street Elevated, where I climbed the back of the station onto the platform and caught a train to Loyola. There I met up with some friends. I had new friends at the group home, but I didn’t like them as much as my friends on the North Side. That doesn’t explain how I arrived at the arcade on Wilson, though. Why Wilson, and not Dennis’s place on Clark Street near the 24th District? Maybe I had a meeting with my caseworker at the Department of Children and Family Services office, or something like that. We’re talking 32 years ago. Maybe it wasn’t March. Maybe it was April. I asked a man for a quarter and he said no. The guy kind of sneered at me. He had …

Memories of Life at Kingdom Hall: An Alberta Schoolgirl Waits for Armageddon

In 1909, a wealthy man from Pennsylvania bought a brick building on a steep street just south of the Brooklyn Bridge, across the river from Manhattan. Blocks away from where Walt Whitman had set to type the first editions of Leaves of Grass, a small, relatively unknown group that called themselves the “Bible Students” was regrouping, with this building as their hub. Their leader was feeling discouraged after another failed prediction that the world would end. But he was not deterred. Spending his days overlooking the same East River that had inspired Whitman to write verse, he rewrote his own inspired prose that warned of the world’s imminent, violent end and urged all to join him so that they, too, could live forever in paradise on Earth. Russell had always been interested in religion and as a young man had painted fire and brimstone Bible verses on fences around his hometown as a pastime. He met a man named William Miller, who had founded a religious movement, Millerism, which was the precursor to the Seventh-day …

Lessons in Forgiveness, from a Bicycle Thief

In the summer of 1993, at the age of 21, I ran through the streets of downtown Victoria, British Columbia, half-naked, wearing only a pair of boxer shorts and wielding a blunt chunk of metal, which I intended to use to bludgeon the thief who had stolen my bicycle. It had been days since I discovered my bicycle missing from my apartment. When I called the shop where I’d bought it, the manager told me that he had only sold two of this model, and as misfortune would have it, the other one had been stolen just the week before. A few days later, my phone rang and it was the manager of the bike shop, who told me that the other owner had spotted my bicycle outside of a downtown pub. The pub happened to be a mere three blocks from my apartment, so I didn’t even bother getting dressed. On the way out the door, I grabbed my roommate’s hefty u-lock, the weapon I intended to use to give my bicycle thief a …

George Faludy: Hungarian Poet and Hero for Our Times

Had the poet George Faludy not written in his native Hungarian—arguably the most impenetrable of European languages—he would, as many have argued, be world famous. He died aged 95 in 2006, his life spanning the First and Second World Wars, the Russian revolution, and the Nazi and communist takeovers of his country. Having achieved literary fame at 20, he would be imprisoned by both regimes and spend much of his life as an exile in France, Morocco, America (where he was a tail-gunner for the U.S. Airforce), and Canada, where he fled communism, only to find his lectures picketed and disrupted by campus leftists to whom his experience was an inconvenient truth. A ladies’ man all his life, he surprised the world by suddenly entering a gay relationship with Eric, a Russian ballet dancer, who’d fallen in love with Faludy in print and then rushed across the globe to find him. In his 90s, after communism fell and Faludy, returning to Budapest, achieved living legend status, he married a poetess 70 years his junior with …

The Confessions of a Male, Feminist Sex Addict

I had the privilege of growing up with wonderful females in my life—including my brilliant mother, who remains my hero, and my sister, who earned a PhD. My father has a penetrating kindness for the planet and all its inhabitants, including women, about whom he advised me: “Be their friend. Never cheat them. Love them.” My desire for female companionship started young. As early as sixth grade, I was drawn to intelligent, confident girls. As I grew older, I was fortunate enough to often have these attractions requited. In my teen years, I did not experience the stereotypically male desire for attractive, submissive playthings. I wanted smart, full-spectrum romantic partners who enjoyed sex but were not shy to assert their own needs, thoughts and feelings. My joy was my partner’s joy, and vice-versa. Later in adulthood, I would learn that sex, at its best, is the ultimate expression of intimacy. But I would also learn—at a much earlier stage in life—that sex, at its worst, is toxic, traumatizing, violent and dehumanizing. *     *    …

“Heroic Guerrilla”—From Revolutionary Militant to Saint

In 1954, my father was working for the Guatemalan Ministry of Agriculture as a veterinarian in charge of the artificial insemination of cattle. He was asked if he would like to meet a fellow Argentine—another recent graduate from the University of Buenos Aires, an M.D. named Ernesto Guevara de la Serna. He said sure. They met “almost daily to talk and drink un cafesíto.” Guevara was broke; my father always paid. They talked politics, as any university-educated Argentine of the period would; of the injustice, the poverty, and the callous indifference of the elites to the suffering of the poor. Nothing out the mainstream for the time and place. My father said there was no talk of Marx or guerrilla warfare. Guevara mentioned that he wanted to practice medicine in the countryside, but the Ministry of Health insisted that he join the Communist Party. Ernesto refused and told them that he would not join the Party in order to practice medicine. My father was not required to join the Party, I assume because livestock are not in need …

Aristophanes’ Orphans: A Disabled Trans Woman Surveys the Grey Zone Between Love and Fetish

Since I first read Plato’s Symposium, I have been fond of Aristophanes’ account of the origin of love. The tale goes something like this. Human beings used to be spherical creatures with four legs, four arms, and two faces divided evenly between each side. We also used to come in three distinct varieties. Men were those composed of two male halves, women were those composed of two female halves, and the androgynous were those composed of both a male and a female half. Everything was going swell for us, you might say, until the gods meddled, as they were wont to do. Fearing the power of humanity, Zeus sliced every human into two and had Apollo sew up the opening, with our belly buttons serving as a reminder not to test the power of the gods. Everyone found themselves feeling empty and longing for their other half, be it the woman you were attached to or the man you were attached to. Love was born out of the search to be whole. I’m fond of …

Take It from Someone Who Has Suffered Real Physical Abuse: Words Aren’t Violence

Fear of serious injury cannot alone justify suppression of free speech and assembly. Men feared witches and burnt women. It is the function of speech to free men from the bondage of irrational fears. — U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis (1856-1941) For the fourth time in the space of 30 minutes, the sound of a cell-phone text alert interrupted my college class. The professor, a gifted educator with an infectious passion for his subject, had made his no-phones policy clear on many occasions. These repeated infractions were too much for him, and he lost his temper. He shouted at us about maturity, respect and the convenient proximity of our classroom’s two doors, through which anyone more interested in their phone than his lecture was welcome to depart. One of my classmates said later that the professor had activated his “angry-dad mode.” Back at home, this professor is raising a house full of boys. He’ll talk professional sports with anyone willing to listen. He regularly shows up with a splint, bandage, or brace—always some injury …

Reclaiming Work as a Virtue

My father taught me a simple lesson: when the alarm clock goes off, you get out of bed, have a shave, wash yourself, put your clothes on and go to work. You’ve got to be resilient and you’ve got to be focused on what you want to achieve. Dad believed the measure of a person was whether or not they were a worker. He believed that working was a virtue. So do I. My father was Bundjalung and my mother Gumbaynggirr, two of the hundreds of first nations that existed across Australia before British colonisation. My Bundjalung ancestors had their first contact with white settlers in the early 1800s who came looking for grazing land. Like so many indigenous peoples across the world, this early contact included killings. But the initial hostilities gave way to a compromise with both sides showing a marked level of pragmatism. The settlers set up their sheep, later cattle, station and my ancestors lived and worked there, maintaining a good relationship with the station owners to this day. My grandfather …