Archive for May 2007

Coming Home

May 23, 2007

I’m sitting in a coffeehouse in Victoria, British Columbia. A very young woman whose x-tra high-top Chuck Taylors are lined with faux leopard serves me organic free-range shade grown coffee and a gluten-free vegan biscuit as the stereo system in the background whines gently.

(current soundtrack: “I’ve Got to Leave Old London Town”)

Let me just say that if I never see another teddy bear holding a symbol of Canada’s indigenous native peoples and dressed as a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, I will fail to be devastated.

A couple of weeks ago I was in Nebraska. An electric moment of revelation now occurrs at regular intervals as I wander through Tourist Mecca. While sitting in a diner whose restrooms are decorated with images of James Dean and Marilyn Monroe, respectively, I finally realize what’s happening. I am recognizing Interior Canadians–those from the provinces, meaning, in this case, provinces other than British Columbia. The shock to my hindbrain comes from the way Interior Canadians walk.

(current soundtrack: “You Are So Beautiful”)

Canadians from the provinces use the Midwestern Lope. After forty-two years my hindbrain still leaps to attention at the sight of a good Lope. For most of my adolescence, I practiced it obsessively. Some of us at this age learn something useful, like juggling. I practiced the Lope to the point of despair. It consists of leaning backward at an acute angle as the feet forge relentlessly ahead, a slow rhythm of great ground-covering strokes which produces the impression of being drawn irresistably forward–probably against one’s better judgement–by some combination of animal need and the horizontal gravity of time. (It helps if your legs and feet are narrow and very, very long.) The Lope is distinguished from the Deadhead Stroll (aka R. Crumb’s “Movin’ On”) by hunching the shoulders forward. They almost but not quite catch up with the feet. The feet have already entered the future whose prospect the shoulders are bravely accepting. In other words, the torso forms the shape of the letter C, and your fate can’t be avoided; it’s too late, you’re already there.

(current soundtrack: “…big boys don’t cry…big boys don’t cry…”)

In addition to forming an energy-efficient natural spring, the C protects your soft underbelly from unexpected punches to the gut. Since the body leans backward from the hips at a slight but distinct angle of resistance, Midwestern women tend to seduce from below. (It helps if the torso is narrow and very, very long.)

(current soundtrack: “…make a man outta you…I’m a woman (she’s a woman)…”)

Compensation is provided by a reverse curve in the neck, which thrusts the head slightly forward, lifting the chin. (It helps if the neck is narrow and very, very long.) The head rides the body like a ship on a stormy sea. Correctly performed, the Lope leads to calm at eye level. Bobbing is discouraged. Bobbing is punk, and punk is a rage against fate, which is bound to get you nowhere and probably wastes something vital and expensive.

(current soundtrack: “Papa Was a Rolling Stone”)

Growing up in Nebraska in the seventies (where the soundtrack in Victoria still seems to be), I swallowed the Lope whole, digested it down into its component parts, and reassembled it in my body. I practiced the Lope until I was eighteen, at which point I was forced to the inescapable conclusion that if all your component parts are wide and very, very short, any attempt to Lope will only succeed in making you look like a mime.

At home in Nebraska, What Becomes You was reviewed in the local paper by a presumably happily married man who has practiced law in Nebraska for the past fifty years. Meanwhile, Hilda and I did a number of events at local bookstores and organizations. If you’ve never walked into a room and immediately received a standing ovation, I highly recommend it. To be so cheered for the finesse with which one occupies space, has mass, and continues to breathe is an exhilarating and humbling experience. There’s so little you could possibly do to deserve it. Similarly, if you have never looked out over a sea of faces and found your substitute teacher from the second grade, whose laughter is angelic and infectious as she describes the time she saw you hide behind a door to avoid the Devil’s Bargain (gym class or study hall), or shook someone’s hand and rediscovered the junior high teacher who gave you and all the other wierd kids a place to go, the one adult at school who never worried that your favorite music or clothes meant you were about to become a mass murderer and who thought you actually might be better off playing Dungeons and Dragons in the library and watching Spiderman cartoons…I highly recommend it. It’s not often you get to say thank you to the people whose small ordinary gestures along the way allowed you to live.

(current soundtrack: “All I Need Is the Air That I Breathe”)

Other instructive moments:

I was very nervous indeed before reading at the University to people interested in gender studies and LGBT topics. Hilda was very nervous indeed before reading at a luncheon group of influential older Nebraska women. And after a wonderful interview on the public radio station where I used to volunteer as a teenager, the middle-aged straight white man from Nebraska who had just been so welcoming to us read an editorial in which he lambasted mindless conservatives, whom he described as middle-aged straight white men from Nebraska. Authority takes interesting forms in our lives.

(current soundtrack: “Double Vision”)

The reviewer for the Lincoln Journal-Star concluded that the primary theme of my writing in What Becomes You is hatred of Nebraskans. This category might or might not have included exclusively right-thinking normal people, but, to my complete surprise, it did not include me. Two interviews in the past two weeks have asked me what’s been the most difficult experience I’ve had as a trans person. To be perfectly honest, it had never crossed my mind that anyone in my home town might read me as a big-city sophisticate, an ignorant outsider from a land of bizarre customs who passes through the midwest just long enough to pass judgement on the Vast Wasteland–its living rooms and televisions, churches and schools and bookstores and malls and LGBT reading series and coffeehouses. When I was a Nebraskan as yet woefully ignorant of bears in Mountie suits, wierd-looking writer people with ethnic names would occasionally fly in from some big city on a Coast to visit the Provinces, and pontificate at us over dinner in funny accents. Me and my best friend used to make fun of them. We thought we were real Nebraskans. My gay, wealthy, international-travelling, Latvian friend Ivan and I. And I, well, you know. Among other things, I left.

(current soundtrack: “Black Water”)

When I was growing up, local radio played this song incessantly. I hated “Black Water” more than asparagus. I hated “Black Water” even more than “Stairway to Heaven,” and if you grew up in the seventies you know this is really saying something. If you had asked me when I was sixteen exactly why I was so desperate to get out of Nebraska, “Black Water” would have been on my top ten list. It’s on the stereo now at Serious Coffee in downtown Victoria, British Columbia, not far from the cafe where the bathroom doors are painted with Marilyn Monroe and James Dean, all in another country. Coming in the glass doors of Serious Coffee, I see my reflection walking toward me. Somewhere along the way I have developed an oblique variation of the Lope. In other words, my body remains more or less straight while my elbows and knees forge relentlessly sideways in great ground-covering strokes, a rhythm against the vertical gravity of time. I progress forward as a seemingly accidental consequence of my continuing evasions of fate.

I look like an American.
I also look a little like Popeye.

(current soundtrack: “Still Crazy After All These Years.”)

The question of the day is: What’s the relationship between an outsider and an insider?
The word for the day is: Prothalamion, which Merriam-Webster informs me means “the preparations for a wedding.”