My head in the hand sink in the morning under the cold water spigot and now, my chest hanging out in the manner of a woman’s, with the hormonal levels petering out, the muscle tissue gone soft. I did a set of 10 push-ups but I don’t think it mattered. We drove into the city to the flower and garden show and on the drive over got to talking about transgender rights with the kids (loosely crossing over into discussions about gay rights), and Dawn said when she was that age she didn’t know any kids who were identifying as anything but kids, and neither did I. It wasn’t until I got to Starbucks in the ’90s I met my first gay friend, and started a drinking club with him and a few others, including a Navy SEAL friend who was definitely not gay, the time he left his sunglasses at a gay bar and asked if I’d go back with him to pick them up: trying to look casual in the afternoon walking in and nodding to the others and then walking out, like normal. We all just liked to drink, we had that much in common.
And it was around that time at Starbucks I got an email from a friend I’d lived with in Pittsburgh, who explained in a kind of cut and paste fashion that he was going through the procedure himself, and tried to simplify the explanation because I really didn’t know a damned thing about it, I thought it was tied to one’s sexual preference: I didn’t know or really want to.
Dan was one of the most guy-guys we knew, with the Metallica poster in the kitchen, the band giving middle fingers to the camera and scowling: and Dan, frying everything he ate, drinking canned beer, laundry everywhere. We lived in a house with five guys, dogs, cats, and there was the Halloween, that defining moment maybe, we had a party and Dan came down the stairs dressed as a woman, we all thought that’s kind of weird (it didn’t seem like him, to do that) but everyone said how strange, he actually looked good.
And at least one time the two of us were out of our minds somewhere and it looked like he had something to say but didn’t, and I wondered if he was going to tell me or try to talk about it then, but he never did and I don’t blame him.
In his email Dan described a key moment in utero a message was supposed to be relayed to a chromosome but wasn’t, and that was the reason he felt like a woman inside a man’s body. And I just didn’t understand what that meant for his sexuality, because Dan had the occasional girlfriend, at least I thought so. It was like trying to do the calculation on Daylight Savings time between time zones that did and didn’t recognize it and what that meant for the real time, I just couldn’t complete the circuit, the thought.
He said he’d be changing his name to Dana and left a number which I tried to call but he wasn’t there so I left a message saying I was happy for him and that was the last time we ever talked, he was in upstate New York and me, in Seattle.
Dawn heard an interview on NPR with the first transgender mayor, out of Oregon: although he cross-dressed and had gotten breasts done that’s as far as he went, so he still identified as male.
She got in touch with him for an interview and drove four hours each way down and back, as a possible film adaptation about his life, how it culminated with an angry far right Christian group that showed up with signs saying God Hates Stu and so on, which only roused the townspeople to come out in defense of their mayor (which they did by staging a cross-dressing protest that drove out the angry Christians); Dawn talked about film rights with Stu and Stu’s girlfriend, but then her friend Aldo took it over, got it workshopped even, and Dawn hoped she’d get some credit at least, if it ever got produced.
The kids said it really shouldn’t matter who wants to use which bathroom, that it should be a person’s rights…and Dawn said we live in a progressive part of the country here, not everyone thinks like that. It is easier not to know why people wind up that way, to keep some distance from them. And to lump them together in a bucket.
At the end of the day the kids got their hair trimmed with teal-colored streaks and I thought to myself I wonder if that’s the next thing they’re going to try to take away, kids getting their hair dyed, young.