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.