It was almost exactly 13 years ago that I had my sex-reassignment surgery. Currently I'm working on an autobiographical piece...my life's work, as it were. I work better with audience interaction, so I'm going to be doing some of that work here...so that people can, and hopefully do, actually interact, as they may so choose. Please remember:
- You don't have to watch.
- Of course it will seem self-centered. It's an autobiography. You have my permission to be self-centered when you do your autobiography.
This segment is longer than most will be...
|My plans are to first publish a few additional background pieces in addition to the previous Gender Workshops and indeed, all my other diaries, both here at Daily Kos and at Robyn's Perch. But the backbone of the summer will be the proto-blog online diary I did in 1994, reformatted for modern technology and annotated/commented upon from the perspective of an additional 13 years. T minus 3 days and counting.|
In early 1996, I was contacted by Trista Nelson who had taken on the role of organizer for the 30th reunion of the class of 1966 of Lake Oswego High School (it didn't look like that when I was a student).
Lake Oswego is located in Oregon, a few miles south of Portland, with the Willamette River (which we called "the river"), running northward to the Columbia, as its eastern boundary. It lies north of the Tualatin River, water from which was diverted via a canal to form Oswego Lake, way back when, in the iron days. Oswego, as it was known when I grew up, was intended to be the Pittsburgh of the West, a town driven by iron ore and smelting. We were told when we grew up that the old iron smelter was the first one west of the Mississippi. Here's a brief history.
When I grew up, rich people lived on the lake, on the canal, and on the river. My family lived in the part of town where the working people lived, the First Addition. The major portion of this story took place on the banks of one the river. My brother lived on the Tualatin. He is since divorced from his wife at the time, Aleut artist Vivian Ross (Viv's step-father designed the Alaskan state flag). The house referred to as "Jack's house" is actually Viv's house.
Perhaps against all better judgment, perhaps lacking any semblance of sanity, and after a couple of conversations with some old friends who offered their assurances, I decided to attend.
Some people will be identified in full, like Trista above. They have done well in their lives and deserve some recognition...and maybe some business. :-)
The following was mostly written as it happened. But I have edited.
As I drove to Memphis, there to catch my plane to Portland, my mind could not help but to mull the coming week and it's implications. Yes, it had been 30 years since my high school class had graduated and only 10 years since I had last been to a reunion with my classmates, but it had also been forever since they had met me, for the "Me" that they thought they knew had ceased to exist in a manner of speaking. The "Me" that they were to going to meet was a much different person in many respects. How would they respond?
Ralph Hyman, my therapist, had asked me to think about what my point was in making this trip. He was correct to ask me that, of course, and correct to worry about how the trip might adversely affect me...that's his job. He asked me to be sure to try and protect my inner child, my little girl.
From my point of view though, the trip was not about protecting her, but rather about letting my childhood peers know who she was and who she grew up to be. And that required exposing her to some danger, the danger of rejection.
I knew that the rejection would not be total, that at least Trista and Kathy would be there to welcome me, and they had assured me that there would be others who would be there to support me as well. Sometimes such trust has been difficult for me to completely embrace, though I was trying hard to do so.
As I boarded the plane for Portland by way of Dallas, I knew that over the course of the next few days I would bounce back and forth from confidence to extreme nervousness. Fortunately I had friends who would be helping me cope with the stress of the situation. With friends standing behind me and by my side, how could anything disastrous happen?
After landing in Portland I spent the afternoon with my aunt and uncle. I guess I see things differently than my siblings (that's nothing new) since I am the only one of the kids in my family that visits them (and I am the only one of the four of us who doesn't live in Oregon). Joan and Larry have been the connection to family roots for me, as much as I have one. They have accepted me the way I wish my parents would have, had they had the chance to do so. They don't understand everything, but I don't expect them to. Joan makes occasional pronoun and name errors, which Larry usually corrects, but it doesn't bother me because I know that they love me for who I am.
I called Mary Anne [transwoman friend from online--ed] during my visit and when she returned my call, we made arrangements for dinner. I have visited Mary Anne and Phoebe several times during visits to Portland, but I could tell that things were a bit more strained than usual. Mary Anne seems to be going through some major changes and Phoebe seems to be somewhat sad that Mary Anne is no longer the same person that she married. I guess only time will tell how it works out.
For my part I felt somewhat uncomfortable visiting there, probably because I was hoping the visit would not be in such an emotionally charged atmosphere. Dealing with other people's problems had not been on the agenda for my trip. Oh, well...I didn't expect everything to be perfect.
After dinner I cut the visit short, telling them I needed to get over to my brother Jack's house in Rivergrove fairly early. The truth of the matter was that I arrived at Jack's house several hours before he did. I discovered later that Wednesday is "golf and barbecue day" for him and some of his coworkers. So mostly I just relaxed, watching the Olympics on the tube, though I did make a phone call to Trista to inform her that I had not chickened out and was indeed in town and would show up at the reunion. We chatted for a bit and she told me that responses to her telling people from our class about my transition had been "fairly positive." The use of the word "fairly" got my attention.
Of course, she hadn't seen me yet, so I'm sure that she probably had questions in her own mind about how it was going to go. At least that would explain her reaction when we actually did meet in person on Thursday. I had decided to spend the day driving around town to see how it had changed. My drive included visits to LOHS, my junior high (LOJHS), and Forest Hills Elementary School. Trista lives across the street from the latter, in the same house she grew up in (Trista's mom was always our "class mother"), and as I drove by, I noticed her in her yard with (presumably) her son, so I stopped to say hello. She was more than friendly and said that she was pleased with my appearance (she seemed somewhat surprised by this, but I know that the image that is portrayed of us on the talk shows doesn't usually show the "typical transsexual woman" that I have come to know. In her words, "You look very feminine, very natural...like you were born a woman." I guess I can handle that reaction. :-)
Dinner that evening was another exercise in trying to take my mind off the coming proceedings. I dined at Old Wive's Tales in Portland with friends from the OWLS list (Older Wiser LesbianS...for lesbians over 40. I'm one of the founding members). I must say that my friends did a fantastic job of it. I sat between Jan and Sylvan and hence chatted mostly with them and had a very enjoyable time. We talked a lot about teaching, since that's what we had in common. My mind was still racing a mile a minute through possible scenes of the reunion, but my OWLS friends helped me to realize that no matter how everything went, I would still have friends.
Friday. The day of the reunion. All thoughts that morning and afternoon were about what might or might not happen. I watched the Olympics in the morning, then went for a swim. A friend called to wish me good luck and calm me down a bit.
It was cooler during the day than it had been the first two days of my visit, but as the afternoon wore on, it got much warmer and I started to doubt my choice of attire for the evening. As it turned out I should have listened to my doubts and chosen something cooler, but I had not brought many clothes suited for the unseasonably warm temperatures (for Oregon). Since I wanted my old friends to see me as I am most of the time (at least in formal situations), I chose my usual attire for such events: my long flowing teal outfit. By the end of the evening, it was drenched. So was I.
I left my brother's house about 5:30, though the reunion was not to start until about 7, since my rental car was air-conditioned and Jack's house was not. Few people in Lake Oswego use air conditioning. I took the long way there (i.e. I drove past several places of significance to me when I was younger) and arrived a little before the reunion was supposed to begin. There were about ten people there at the time including Trista and Vickie, whom I had known since about second grade; Peggy, whom I had not met until she moved into the district in high school, but whom I had dated on one occasion and spent much time hanging out with my senior year since we were both rather bohemian in our tastes in music (translation: we both liked the same kind of bohemian folk music); and Sue, whom I had also dated in high school. Trista and Vickie made me feel very welcome and tried hard to help me relax. Talking to Peggy and Sue was a bit more of a strain on me, since I had worried about how women I had dated back then might feel about me now.
Peggy seemed rather reserved (translation: I couldn't quite get a fix on how she felt), but Sue was more than friendly. I spent quite a bit of the evening hanging out with her and felt as if we were picking up our friendship just where it left off (well, except for the suicide note I had sent her shortly before my first attempt at it in 1967...though it came up in conversation late in the evening).
Shortly after I arrived, several other old friends arrived, including Hester, whom I had also dated (this was beginning to seem rather odd to me, since I had not dated that many times in high school). Hester reacted much in the way that Sue did and I felt much more at ease.
Members of the class were given name tags which included a copy of their picture from the yearbook, but I drew the line at wearing mine. So I wore a "generic" name tag without picture and hence was several times mistaken as being a spouse of a class member, mostly by my male class members. In most cases these were not the people I had come to see anyway, so it worked out fine. :-)
The rest of the evening included short chats with so many people that to recount them all would not only bore the reader to death but also be beyond my capability to do. But there were high points and a low point or two. Fortunately, there were many more of the former than the latter.
---I chatted with our entertainer for the early portion of the evening, a pianist and gay historian named Thomas M. (Mark) Lauderdale, who is writing a biography of Alan Hart (not available online; see here and here). I took the opportunity to explain to Mark why identification of Alan as being transgendered was important to our community. I don't know how much good I did, but it was an interesting conversation.
---I got a chance to chat with Terry Bean, a friend and classmate since first grade, who most of us had discovered was gay during our high school years. I discovered, very much to my surprise, that Terry was co-founder of the Human Rights Campaign Fund and long-time board member of the HRC. Serendipity is a wondrous thing. I was able to speak to him about transgender exclusion from ENDA at the behest of the HRC and he assured me that he would speak to the current president of the HRC in our behalf. Oh...Terry was our host. Terry was rich when I was a kid. He still is.
---One of the low points: I talked with Trudy, who I had also known since first grade. Although she seemed happy to see me, she talked about her brother who is gay and about how she has no problem with that, as long as her brother and his lover don't express any affection for each other in her presence. In other words, she does have a problem with it.
---I chatted with Kathy W, who's a lawyer, and I mentioned that I was interested in knowing how the marriage laws viewed me. Her take on it was that as long as I had not gone through any legal process to change my gender, the law would view me as a male, so that it would be legal for me to marry my partner. I was to get a different legal diagnosis from someone else a few days later.
---In a short conversation with Steve, he repeatedly asked me if I minded if he called me by my former first name, even after I informed him that I did indeed mind (especially since his inquiries were apparently made in order to state his intention of not using my new name). I decided the conversation wasn't worth it and walked away.
---Teresa was wonderful, telling me that she thought it was great that I had found myself and come out of the shell I had seemed to be in during high school, that I was much more outgoing and seemed to be so much happier than she had ever seen me.
This latter reaction was not isolated. In fact, most of women, and some of the men, who I talked with expressed the same feelings: they were happy for me since it seemed that I was so much more at ease with myself. They were genuinely pleased that I was at last happy.
I stayed on until almost the very end, talking with anyone who wanted to chat. During the evening arrangements were made for anyone who wanted more time to meet with others, for the next evening at a local microbrewery.
I spent Saturday afternoon meeting with friends from the internet. Mary Anne and I visited with Michelle and Sharon at a motel in Portland, where Michelle was recovering from her surgery. Michelle seemed to be doing quite well. It is almost always a pleasure meeting friends I have known for so long and this was no exception.
Afterwards Mary Anne and I drove to her house where we picked up Phoebe and drove onward to a picnic at Candice Brown's, which was also a nice way to unwind from the previous evening's event and prepare for the upcoming one. With much anticipation but also much more confidence than I had felt the previous night, I left early to meet with my classmates at the microbrewery.
While the previous night had been a more formal atmosphere, the microbrewery crowd was much more laid back. About 30 of us attended, on a balcony overlooking the Willamette River. We told each other stories about things which had happened in high school, laughed about some of the stupid stuff we had done. I felt totally at ease talking about my past years with them. Most of the chatting was in a group setting, though I did have a long talk with Teresa, who I guess was either the only one interested or else the only one who threw caution to the wind and asked me about the "nuts and bolts" of my transition, about how I had felt growing up, and about who I really felt I was back then. I wish Terry and I had been better friends back then. We exchanged email addresses and promised each other that we would stay in touch. [I am sad to say that has not happened. I have a history of being bad at "keeping in touch." :-( ]
I left the evening's festivities with most of the rest of our class when they closed the balcony section. As we were parting I thanked Trista for her support for my visit and promised to return soon to build upon my "new" friendships.
On Sunday I had dinner with Candice and her family and talked about political and legal items involving transsexual people. Candice believes that my inquiries involving the right to marry for transsexual people are for naught...that any marriage that we might enter into could/would be easily voided by anyone who wanted to challenge it. Perhaps she is right, but I shall continue the attempt to find a definitive answer. It may be that the only way to discover the truth of the matter is to file for a marriage license and see what happens. (See here, here and here for more on this issue.)
I also tried to contact my younger brother on Sunday, but was unable to do more than leave a message on voicemail. Later that evening Jack said that he had asked Mike if he wanted to come over for dinner and was given a negative response. In my older brother's words, "I guess he's not ready to meet you yet."
On the other hand, I did overhear Jack refer to me as his sister, without my prompting, when talking to someone on the phone. It's strange, but I would have thought him to be the least accepting and supportive of my siblings before my transition, but he has turned out to be so much different than I thought he would have been.
On Monday I had lunch with a cyberfriend in Portland and then visited with Dyke Vandenburgh, one of my grade school chums who has a jewelry shop in Lake Oswego and made arrangements for him to craft some wedding rings for my partner and I, should we ever be allowed to actually marry. Of course, we'll have to come up with a design.
That's about it for the trip, except for the horrendous three-legged flight back that included sitting on the runway for an hour in Dallas waiting for clearance to take off in inclement weather and then the flight to Memphis by way of Oklahoma and Missouri to fly around the storm.
Of course there is also the aftermath of the trip, the analysis of what exactly happened and what everything meant. Not everything worked out perfectly (I really did want to "meet" my younger brother, but things happen when they are ready to happen), but I am very happy that I went. I learned that Thomas Wolfe was wrong, I could go home again, that my friends were still my friends, that the previous portion of my life is still important to me. And I learned that my future is whatever I will make it be. In a major way this journey was the end of my transition. I had come full circle back to my roots. While I cannot relive those years, this will suffice to lay to rest some of the demons that had haunted me.
The future is bright.
--Robyn Elaine Serven