Thursday, November 16, 2017

To be their keeper: thoughts on being an ally in observance of the Trans Day of Remembrance

Surrounded by university trans students,
Kelli shares her experiences as a trans woman at UVU's Trans Day of Remembrance.

I am in love with a woman, a human being, who is trans embodied. I am partner to a person who lives each day beneath a gaze that pathologizes her life experience and her existence. I stand beside her as witness to the endless barrage of judgment and criticism from a legion of privileged others. Some days it seems the world is unwilling to extend the reach of humanity far enough to ensure us both that she will be unharmed at day’s end.

These are the words of others—friends, family, and partners—about the trans persons they have loved who were lost to violence in 2017:

“She was a happy person who loved everyone and never met a stranger...He had a genuinely good heart...She was an honest, compassionate person who made an impact on those who met her...She was funny and entertaining, an inspiration. She helped others to learn to accept themselves...The sunshine of our family, a caring, passionate person who loved cooking and gardening...They were full of life and beloved by many...She was a light, always trying to make everyone around her happy. Assertive, charismatic and lovable, everything you would expect in a friend...A beautiful person who was charismatic and always joking around with her friends...An amazing girl who loved to make people laugh...She loved hard and just wanted to be loved and accepted...A playful spirit...A go-getter who enjoyed life...They were an incredible, inspirational member of our community and a constant fighter for human rights...One of the sweetest people you'll ever meet...She loved dancing and had a great outlook on life. She was very supportive of everyone.” 

These are the words of grieving allies. 

Becoming an ally is a voluntary act of brain revision. A surrendering. Our responsibility is to embrace first-person narratives and subjective realities that contradict enculturated expectations related to what may or may not be down there. At first we may believe this a simple gesture—the same comradery or compassion we would extend to anyone. But the role of ally also offers us keys to unlocking the prison gates of our own static, binary world view. In essence, the role is self-expanding. The more time we spend in an active ally’s capacity—offering emotional shelter and physical security to the spectrum of those persons residing outside our cis experience—the better we understand ourselves and our place on the planet.

This role, specifically, is the charge to demand safe space for trans bodies; to lend ear, support, and trust to trans experience. Allies must acknowledge the empowering importance in correct pronoun usage from ourselves and others. We must unfailingly accept the charge to offer affirming witness for trans identities when antagonists refuse to see or hear. We embrace the charge to educate the ignorant, and validate our trans loved ones.

Becoming the partner of a trans woman, at least in my experience, means the complete surrender of social comfort in exchange for empathic expansion and healing of my own unseen wounds. 

I canvass every room, peer through the glass even before we open doors, anticipate what’s coming, what’s waiting—who. Because they say, you never see it coming; that one time you let your guard down. And who knows why the hate seeps out. The problem is that it does. I confront trans antagonism and micro-aggressions everywhere we go. People who pass us in grocery stores, cashiers here at UVU, middle-aged married Mormon women at burger joints, waitresses at Indian restaurants we were dying to try, strangers speeding past us in trucks as we walk the Provo River Trail. These tensions do not focus around bathrooms. She perpetually absorbs disdain aimed at the center of her personal radius. And whether she notices or not, I have learned to quickly step beside her in that circle to meet the antagonist’s glare.

I want to speak to the weight of this oppressive gaze, especially in Utah Valley. We live in a community that boasts its own virtue; hails itself willing to comfort those in need of comfort, to mourn with those mourning. I grew up a part of this religious culture. I understand the principles by which one claims membership in the fold, and I am continually baffled by the intolerance and directed aggression toward transfolx in this area. The behavior I witness is incongruous with the tenets of the religion that produced the bedrock of my belief about how I am to proceed in a world filled with others. And we are all others. Charity is kind, it seeketh not its own. Love unfailing understands the precarious foothold of judgment. Communion is only complete when all are accounted for, found precious, cared for, succored in times of need. Regardless of the nature of our bodies, be it cis or transgender, all are necessary to move humanity in the direction of survival. We will not arrive if not together. We must be one.

And so, as our trans comrades put off the shackles assigned them at birth to thrive, to embrace lives of authenticity, we as allies must be ready and willing to arm themselves in their defense as if we were defending ourselves. We must see with changed eyes, hear with changed ears, speak with changed lips. To be human is to journey through embodied perceptions that carry us back to awareness of our lonely selves and the burning desire for belonging, rightness in our skin, rightness in our community. 

In the movie Cloud Atlas, (screenplay adapted by the sisters and trans women Lana and Lilli Wachowski), the character Sonmi-451 declares: To be is to be perceived. And so to know thyself is only possible through the eyes of the other. The nature of our immortal lives is in the consequences of our words and deeds that go on apportioning themselves throughout all time.

May we, as allies—friends, family, lovers—secure the safe road ahead for the transgender community as an integral part of the broader communal constituency. Let us remember those lost and in so doing, let us commit to live—to know ourselves and others through continual deeds of acceptance and love.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Between thumb and forefinger


For every morning I wake up and it occurs to me again that somehow I ended up with her, when I never would have presumed she would think to look my way, let alone desire a conversation with me—here's the pinch. I never saw this coming, but every time she takes my hand, or I slip hers into mine, and the fit is soft and warm like a small animal, I'm willing to be struck again. And those dark eyes, their secrets that she only tells to me. I want to be lost there, caught in the blissful storm until the skies are wrung dry. She has changed my whole world. She has given me everything.


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Cold start

I told her that while this malady runs its course we would write. She's a queue commitment of three papers on religious philosophy & gender, while I rarely give prose more than passing thought. I admit this is an odd shift for me, when in recent memory I began day in, day out peeling off two essays at a time. That compulsion produced years of journals, emails, and blogs, that dissipated into single entries on rare occasion, belabored poems, emoticon-laden texts. I'd say I don't know what happened, but I do. A stroke. The attention of dozens of strangers. The critical eye of biologically linked voyeurs. A death of faith. A love affair. Private fodder that I used to write about, but that seemed to gain little attention, suddenly open for public scrutiny. And because the meat of what I have to say is the soft underbelly of my fragile self, I grew cautious, nervous, burdened with the requirement to adequately explain—no, justify—the workings of my private life. Writing turned chore rather than a relief, a vulnerability instead of my strength and protection. When I started, I didn't have the slightest idea that I'd write anything anyone would fuss about, because when I started I was not fussed about. But I've told her I want to try again, especially when she requests that I address topics we regularly face. I need to write, for all the reasons I feel vulnerable. I don't know how to start, and so if for days at a time I write silly, disjointed dither, I apologize. The flimflam linguistic spurts often get the engine churning. At least that is the hope. 

Every day. Words.

You needn't read them. There's little here to fuss about.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Meeting the world's gaze


The willow leaves cut negative space from the afternoon sky. I don't want to over-explain, only offer what is necessary to perceive. We add up the days, cut a year in half, and her sum is I've learned to measure quantity in what is yet to come.

In that I've learned another collection of glances. Where, for two years, if I was seen at all, it was only from behind a wheelchair, and the strangers' eyes that met mine were saintly, smiling, and sad; now the gazes are quizzical at least, when not filled with disdain. I do not understand why we aren't allowed to simply disappear into each other, or the given cityscape. 

What of our pairing?

My fears are threefold:

(1) They assume she is a man.
(2) They assume she is a woman.
(3) They assume that no matter the answer to (1) and, or (2) that they are free to make a judgment regarding her fingers interlocking with mine.

I rarely feel completely secure in public. More often than not I am scanning crowds for possible antagonists, ready to lock eyes with the first contemptuous expression, letting my steady glare tell our onlooker everything they need to know. 

I will defend her with my body. I will defend her with my blood.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Loving Kelli Potter is one of the most remarkable things I have ever done



Crow’s feet. Pointing
in directions taken. All wrong.

Spring fling melted
into a slow summer tango—

a liminal romance &
you offer me ways to live:

creams and vapors,
a softer place to lay.

And as we entwine, cradled
like crabs, limbs clutching

the cardio echo of the other,
I ask if you might be kept.

And rocking, breast against breast
you confess your fear of cages.

I toy with thoughts in an adjacent room;
you are a better hostess than I,

admiring self reflection in tall grasses,
the dandelions gone to seed,

insects, a surrounding conundrum of beauty,
cicada static: variations on a theme &

you emerge.
Like a child’s fascination with what is not within the box—

We pour ourselves into ill-fitting molds
until cracks appear.

Count the futile attempts before the clay holds
true to its design and we discover intent.

Pretense or predisposed,
prepositional and packaged like ladle and broth:

cupped hands and waiting lips reaching
for the reciprocated gifting that is.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Bloom


When you've been emotionally crushed, ground into fine powder, and your sense of self scattered like ashes, the resurrection is all the sweeter—the return of love, astonishing. 

I want every day with her to pass at a belly-creep. At the same time I'm eager to watch the days accumulate; a future stitching together, one eternal moment at a time. I am helplessly entranced by her, comforted, put at ease, both grounded and catalyzed. Her patterns of energy rest and flow river-like. The sheer dynamic range of everything she is and knows rivals ten thousand jigsaw-puzzle nights. She invites invigoration; she invites calm and concentration. 

I sing praise for things unimagined. For things that figure themselves out. For things altogether beautiful and right.

She asks me, Did I ever see myself with a trans woman? And I did not. 

But how much of anything that I've lived was premeditated? At any given time I saw myself residing in one of two states: loving and alone. 

And how can I help but be entwined in the former when she is in my life? When the sun breaks through the clouds and deepens the contrast of a previously flattened outlook? When every day is saturated by the slow shift of delicious time in her presence, holding her in my arms, laughing and soaking up the new brightness? How, when I am utterly enraptured by her gentle kindness, her ferocity, her delicacy, her gleaming brilliance? How when the bloom is entirely unanticipated and I am taken unaware?

Friday, July 14, 2017

Esoterica and stuff


I have a chip in my pedicure.

Instead of measuring twice and cutting once, I'm sitting on my couch.

900mgs of lithium is about 225 mgs too many for me to feel the free-flow of linguistic waters. Ideas come and climate change does as climate change will. 

She tells me we're in a monsoon. I could use a drink, but we're teetotaling these days. Kind of.

I need a five-year plan. You know, one more thing I can screw up beyond all recognition.

Only this time I plan to screw it up by getting it right. Can I make that sort of a deal with the universe?

If you're reading and taking this seriously, you're half right.

You wouldn't know it, but I smell incredible. It's estrogen, but I couldn't tell you if it's hers or mine.

She's incredible. Really. I wish I could tell you how happy and found and loved she makes me feel.

I want to bring her endless bouquets of flowers, want to touch the softness of her skin until I'm absorbed in it.

Maybe everything will be okay after all. How can you even know what you're looking for until that thing finally figures itself out and emerges from the cocoon? How could you even guess at her beauty, at how blinded you'll be by her sparkle? 

You only live by the rulebooks if the jargon isn't non-sensical. 

There are infinities upon infinities. Try flexibility.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

How this flower blooms is no one's business but the petals'


It may seem odd, but I've been open with Mr. PNU since the beginning. Once I realized the thrift-store shopping trips, afternoon tea, and dancing escapades were evolving, as Kelli puts it into "flying sparks," I let him know. 

The situation was never easy, even before she crept into the picture. The woman I was three years ago died, replaced by a barely living shell. My feelings for him, while still tender were not the feelings of a wife for her husband. I dutifully performed for him, for everyone. And as we spent more time together, Kelli saw through my charade. 

The conversation between the three of us shaped the decisions of the following weeks. Mr. PNU left with his parents for Arizona. We formally recognized the separation. I gave Kelli much of the free time that suddenly bloomed. I worked at a redefinition of the self, and a pattern of life began to emerge. My husband knew I was conflicted, as did Kelli. We each struggled with past anxieties. She pulled away for a time, defining what she needed, and then came back into focus. We communicated. The talks wove on until Mr. PNU returned to Utah to move into the assisted living center four blocks from my home, where I explained my decision and the driving emotions.

It may seem odd, but I was completely forthright then about how I saw the future coming to play. If and when our continued marriage meant unbearable financial hardship for either of us, or if he decided a dissolution preferable for any other reason, I would support and aid him in finalizing a divorce. In the meantime, I had no desire to end our legal union, but instead held the indefinite intention to visit and interact with him freely and regularly as an estranged member of my household. I had no desire to remarry nor cohabitate, but outside of my interactions with Mr. PNU I would see Kelli, as I had fallen in love with her. I promised I would not flaunt my relationship with her in front of him. They were longtime friends, after all. I knew the sensitivity the situation required.

Two months have passed since I clearly laid down my plan and my estranged husband agreed, although we've revisited the topic as often as he needed. I have explained, we are poets and philosophers. History provides us with scores of similar arrangements, all meant for the good of the group, as well as the wellbeing of each participating individual. The sad truth of the arrangement is that neither one of us participates without recognition of the bedrock of grief that lays beneath our feet. There are no perfect outcomes. Mr. PNU will remain horribly disabled and in need of constant care. I will never see the return of the husband who brought me such joy and companionship. And Kelli, after years of loneliness, in choosing to be my partner and companion, understands the ambiguous loss that sometimes bubbles to the surface of our gingerly fledged romance.

In exchange for this lacking perfection: relationships nurtured and salvaged; love, support, and compassion offered; resentment and loneliness thwarted. No one is stranger to the oddities of this arrangement. But if the strangest facet is that we are each privy to and agree with the details of this, the best possible arrangement for the three of us, then let that be enough. Let rest easy the moral superiority that might come from outside the bias edge of our triangle.

Friday, June 9, 2017

June blue

The quality of morning light changes. Where in February these skies were bent a China blue, now they pitch and glow a powdery hue beneath an overlay of kirigami birch leaves. Crickets join in the morning birdthrong, a whistle-twitch chatter of new day, where winter pressed them silent. 

The ladies are now comfortable in my presence and I in theirs at the odd a.m. company meeting in Her backyard.

We take tally, a cost/benefit analysis. The world is less kind than once imagined. The arms I choose now, hungry for authenticity and passion. 

All these from whom I sense abandonment were not present in the first place. They were waving limbs in the ghostly distance. Always. I was often my own comfort. I've not been abandoned, merely ever alone.

And thus, when I answered a call for friendship and discovered the downy soft hollows of my weakened heart filled, I must remember that the eyes and their judgments are a mirror of barren efforts.

I was withering and  I answered a call. 

The judgments are empty projections. Nothing more. I did not fall. My feet never left the ground. 

She bubbled up blue and craving the empty curves of my hopelessness—a cradlespace, morning light and the bearable heft of my arms. 


Monday, June 5, 2017

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Recapitulation

I don't know how to tell you what I want to say. I've begun, and then again, multitudes of sentences, combating paranoia, grief, mistrust because of deep betrayal, and my ongoing vulnerability until the incomplete drafts flood my catalogue of recent posts. 

Still, in my silence, you come back, waiting for what's next. As do I. But I've still not resolved how to proceed. My closest confidants tell me I must not give in to muteness, to write even if it is unshared. And there is so much to write. Much felt that needs emoting. 

Today I am sore from wandering into the mountains. I am sore from the hours I trod the path, whispering the problems through my teeth. Sore from the welling up and spilling over that predictably occurs in order to mend the frayed edges of the self. I am contradicted. Twisted by love and loss, ambiguous resolutions within the self, and the finality of certain physical states. If this were all a test—and I don't subscribe to that view—the answer key is an unraveling of narrative systems and illogical faith. Were this a test—and, try as I might, I see no other solution to the equation of that possibility—a passing grade means the teacher and the syllabus disappear. Loneliness. Demands for existential meaning in the face of ridiculously failed recipes for hope. If I wanted to turn around an re-enter the classroom—take the test again for a different score—I would find the door evaporated. There is nothing there remaining to hold on to.

My only option is to continue to tread forward, weep, rest when weary, love when the opportunity permits, and then plod onward again. How else does this go? Where?

The past two years are bookended by the path before it, and a path leading away; all hedged in on either side by indescribably breathtaking vistas, always when least expected.


Friday, February 24, 2017

Unfolding the inner woman


Kelli has been a facet of my life both large and small since I married my husband. They go way back to Mr. PNU's undergrad, where they studied philosophy at BYU. They were colleagues in the philosophy department at UVU, she came to our wedding, and when my husband fell to stroke six months later Kelli answered the call of duty to take over Mr. PNU's classes and finalize his grading. She's visited my husband in the hospital, in the nursing home, she came to his forty-eighth birthday party, and a few weeks ago we joined her for tea at her apartment.

Except for Sunday tea, every time we'd interact, I called Kelli "Dennis." She came out last summer as a transwoman. And a month into HRT (hormone replacement therapy), I wrote her about the thoughts and feelings her transition elicited in me.


"On my morning walk I thought about what you said yesterday, about people seeing you as a man. I think the coolest thing, for me personally, about you coming out and going through transition, is that I have acute issues with men who seem to see me as entertaining for being assertive/rejecting male-imposed sexiness/not needy or submissive enough. And so even though I identify as far more masculine than feminine, and I prefer the company of men to the company of women, I am terribly intimidated by them. As [Kelli] emerged, something happened in me to relax that intimidation, and as I think another woman expressed yesterday, I came to see you as an ally, as someone who "gets it", and the more I think about this transformation you've undertaken, I'm learning that you get it on a level I never will. Anyway, I love you. I'm proud of you. I do think about you a lot, and if you are ever in need of sharing pizza or funky clothes (I think I'm a little bigger than you) my door is open. We're not that far from you. Feel free to not be a stranger."

Mr. PNU and I had Sunday afternoon tea with her a month ago. When we left my husband remarked at how she seem calmer and genuinely happier. He said, "She is hands down the best logician I know. One of the sharpest, most powerful minds." And he's encouraged me in supporting Kelli however I can. 

This past week she took me up on my offer of closer friendship.

Whereas, I initially met "Dennis"—uber intimidating professor of analytic philosophy, whose intensity and ferocious unhappiness likely escaped no one—Kelli is exquisitely buoyant and soft. While I admired Dennis from a safe distance. Kelli is, however, delightful and inviting. When she came out, it was as immediately clear that puzzle pieces long missing were finding their rightful place. And I think she will agree with me in observing that her transition isn't performative, but congenital and long overdue. The performance works because it aligns with the emotive experience that gender is. But the dysphoria. The body confusion, where biologic sex organs do not match perceived gender, drives her to work hard at femininity.

"I will always work at passing. In how I dress, how I move my hands and use my voice," she says.


This week I saw her performance first hand. And what I find most interesting is that when her self-consciousness drops away she is the most captivating, the softest woman in a crowd. I saw it on the dance floor at club Area 51 as she and I were approached two or three times by men. I saw it as she giddily held second-hand dresses to her breast in between racks as Deseret Industries. I saw it in the audience of Eve Ensler's play, Vagina Monologues. I saw it as we walked together to the women's restroom and she slipped with no hesitation into the stall beside me. But most notably I witnessed her inherent femininity in the privacy of her front room where I photographed the developing softness of her to help dispel the dysphoria entirely.








In time her breasts will become fuller, her face and legs continue to fill out, operations are expensive but someday she may take the final step of removing the reminder that the brilliance of her woman's mind came wrapped in mismatched paper. She has already discarded decades of depression, self-destructive behaviors, and suicidal ideation known to many genderqueer people prior to fully expressing their gender identities.

As she continues to unfold we'll try the photography experiment again. But already, she is a gift. 
One I find I instinctually call woman.