Zyzzyva Turns Buttocks To Wall, Publisher’s Weekly Thinks I’m Hot

Posted July 6, 2007 by whatbecomesyou
Categories: Uncategorized

The Story So Far…Denver Airport, Que Bueno Resturant, Gate B32 (freelance). Dispaches continue; messages are coming from all quarters.

News flash: Publisher’s Weekly has dubbed the book “One of the hottest memoirs in the [LGBT] category this year…” in their May 7th profile of top LGBT titles.

(Okay, so my dispatches go by courier snail. Still, good news never goes out of style.)

Wait…Just Out writer Glenn Scofield Williams has called What Becomes You “…the best memoir I’ve read in a decade.” This, as of the first of July. Ha!
Meanwhile, Howard Junker, the editor of Zyzzyva, has reviewed the book at the Zyzzyva blog. Check out May 30, My Colleagues.

Blog of the Day: http://zyzzyvaspeaks.blogspot.com
Go, thou, and read. Support your local literary magazine.

Question of the Day: I invite media-savvy readers to consider the uses of the word “shrill.” To what groups of people is it applied, and under what circumstances?

Quote of the Day: Richard Burton talking about the American press, quoted in The Celluloid Closet: “…reporters keep asking me how I’m going to ‘disguise that magnificent voice to make it homosexual.’ They frighten me. Don’t they realize that some of the most magnificent voices in the theatre belong to homosexuals?”

Speaking of great pix, Zyzzyva was apparently not satisfied with the book’s graphic and accurate description of my penis. They want photos. Okay, but I am informed by (as yet) unimpeachable sources that if anyone ever posts naked pictures on the internet, civilization will fall. And I don’t stay over on the first date.

Clown.jpg

Speaking of great reviews, Angel Curtis at OutSmart Magazine in Houston says What Becomes You is “…the best book I’ve read this year.”

Kiss a queer reporter today. But since I don’t have a picture of Angel, or even a physical description, Howard Junker has my official permission to just send flowers.

The writer of the day is: Jim Shephard. Jim Shephard rocks. Fan club t-shirts are in the works.
Website of the Day: http://www.williams.edu/Individuals/jshepard/
Don’t forget to go forth and find his new book, Project X, which will make you laugh or cry depending on whether you have to wake up tomorrow and still be an adolescent.
Go, thou, and read.

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Esprit de Corps

Posted June 6, 2007 by whatbecomesyou
Categories: Uncategorized

The best question of the book tour so far comes in Port Angeles, Washington.  
 Port Angeles is a small town several hours’ drive from the I-5 corridor whose main claims to fame are a deepwater harbor and the largest male-to-female transgender conference in the Northwest.  The major economic products of Port Angeles are shore leave and lingerie.  First impression: breathtaking views of the Olympic mountains.  Second impression:  breathtaking view of drunk man in baseball cap, who hoves toward us at full sail, slews vaguely in the direction of the the Red Lion Inn, then leans very close before asking,

“Hey, don’t they have some kind of crossdresser’s convention in there?”  


This is not the best question.  It was, however, clearly a request for man-to-man confidential information.  It was honest, at any rate, so I drop my eyes in virtual shame as I admit that my traveling companion and I–one of us suffering from a desperate case of off-duty, and the other uncertain as to the exact organs required for confidential manliness–evaded it.  Therefore, dear reader, I am unable to report being invited to crash a party for transsexuals.  I am also unable to report encouraging a shy small-town wallflower to come out, or helping a troubled young transsexual person find her way.  Oh, well.  We all have our Clark Kent moments.


The best question comes a day later.  It happens, naturally, in a coffeehouse.   The small but plucky LGBT club of Port Angeles has invited me to speak.  I do so, and in the midst of my deathless prose I am asked the most brilliant question I have ever heard.  It comes from a young person with Asperger’s Syndrome and their friend, who is doubling as a kind of translator.  Translation was unnecessary in this case; Asperger’s, a milder relative of autism, causes people to be formal, detail oriented, and not generally inclined to party hearty.  I took an advanced degree in the History and Philosophy of Science and spent the next ten years studying bugs.  I speak Asperger’s just fine.  This person listens patiently as I go on for some time, and then says,

“Because of my situation, I don’t understand social interaction at all.  Male and female roles are equally alien to me.  I was wondering if you think it would be easier for a person like me to be female or male?”


It is with virtual bowed head I admit that I misunderstood this question.  I am asked so often if men’s or women’s lives are easier, and I am often asked to confirm the questioner’s assumption that men’s lives are much easier and better than theirs.  I fear I have developed a stock answer.  It involves taking a lot of time to say that the grass is not greener just because it is on the other side of a high fence, and that at the moment, given there’s a war on and few support systems open to those of us of the male persuasion, it is rather brown and sandy and stained with a great deal of blood.  


This question was different.  If I understand it correctly with the benefit of hindsight, I was being asked if a person who finds it difficult to experience social connection, emotional expressiveness, and spontaneity would have an easier time getting along if the world assumed they were male.  Phrased in this way, the answer seems obvious.  A white-skinned woman who has limited fluency in social situations and as a result appears withdrawn and stilted, focuses on facts and things, and has few chances to experience intimacy or emotional freedom with others would appear to be handicapped indeed.  A white-skinned man with these qualities would seem more or less normal.


I have run into this issue before, though not in the context of sex-change and Asperger’s.  


My experience has been that in order to be seen as good middle-aged, middle-class white men, we are expected to behave like trauma survivors.  (As far as I can tell, the following list also applies to those of us of the male persuasion whose skin is dark, although on the shared quest to avoid poverty and prison a lot more smiling and nodding seems required.)  Good men are expected to be personally disconnected, avoid physical contact with anyone we don’t know well, keep our gestures confined and our movements slow, be emotionally distant, restricted to routines, to make and follow rules, avoid talking about bodies or feelings, serve and protect anyone we imagine to be small and weak, deny needs for reassurance or comfort, avoid intimacy (except for sex, or perhaps, especially sex), and display stoic behavior.  People who look like middle-aged, middle-class men and don’t behave like trauma survivors are going to experience a lot of trauma.  


The question for the day is:  why?



The website for the day (thanks to Karen Bradley) is The Laban/Bartenieff Institute of Movement Studies: http://www.limsonline.org.  Though it describes itself as women-directed, they might be on to something of interest to all of us in relation to this question.  



The book and I visit the Esprit Transgender Conference.  Most available surfaces are pastel.  Whether this design element signifies “ladies” or “chain hotel” is a point on which I am not qualified to comment.  The conference ID tags, along with many other surfaces, feature butterflies.  Mine is a Morpho peledes.  Knowing my butterfly’s binomial nomenclature comforts me.  

In addition to myself and a man I spot at the talent show wearing a green vest sequinned with shamrocks, the conference is a mix of men wearing women’s clothes, transgendered and transsexual women, their female partners (where are the men?), and those folks still exploring the nature and depth of their interest in ladies’ underwear.  (First generation transsexual feminism:  “You know, I have had it with criticisms of my look from people who spend three hours plucking and shaving every time they put on a dress.  I ‘dress’ every day and go to work, to the grocery store, do the laundry, for crying out loud!  I do not have perfect hair.  I have a life.”)  

I sympathize.  I have experienced the special kind of discomfort which comes with entering a space for gay men and discovering rather belatedly that one has joined the few fetish objects in a room full of non-gay-male people with a fetish for gay men. Apparently genital preference varies, but there’s a universal fantasy of perfect hair.

Of course, one could make the point that a room full of gay men is equally a room full of people with a fetish for gay men.  I would not argue.  However, the balance of fetish to fetishist in these cases levels out nicely at one to one.  (In theory at least.  In practice, nothing looks more like a genderqueer conference than a trendy gay men’s cruise spot on Saturday night, though the breasts in the latter are rather more firm.  The judgments, however, are equally firm.)  


At Esprit I am stunned with admiration that this particular diversity of people is not killing each other.  I do not know how they manage.  Seizing the moment, I scout for helpful hints.  I cannot say I discover their secret.  However, I can say there is a special kind of pride that comes with entering a space defined for your community and realizing the mere fact that the people in it are not killing each other. If the people here can avoid killing each other, anyone can.

We discover later in the evening that the news has not reached Washington. Perhaps we should send them a delegation from Esprit. On the other hand, they could send us a delegation of automatic weapons and leave explosives lying about in the hallways of the Red Lion, and I’m not sure how well we’d do then. So the next time someone tells me how wonderful Norah Vincent is, I will be newly inspired to take a deep breath and count to ten before saying anything nasty.

In the spirit of diversity, I am invited to attend both the keynote speech and the talent show.  Though the entire weekend is a lovely process of watching my stereotypes explode like bubbles, there are highlights.  Permanent lipliner+Tina Turner hair=legislative process analyst.  Theories of socially gendered movement:  myself, lawyer, and building contractor.  Busy professional woman drops by, turns out to be the director of the National Center for Transgender Equality.  She knows who Tobias Wolff is; how many directors of Washington political action organizations read literature?  Elderly man in business suit with thick Virginia drawl arrives, asks if he can sit in on the keynote speech.  Sensing a putsch from the Who-Would-Jesus-Kill movement, I smile sweetly and engage him in conversation.  Turns out he’s a retired Unitarian minister, and the keynote speaker’s work for trans acceptance was a major inspiration for his own civil rights activism.  Attending her speech, I can see why.  


She speaks to the clip-on earring generation, with rigorous sporty blonde hair and a Scottsdale tan. (She and my sex-reassignment surgeon are apparently neighbors.)  Her name is Donna Rose, she is a transsexual woman, and she addresses us with clarity, eloquence, generosity, humor, and entirely without notes.  As I listen to her, two memories come forcibly to mind: 


In one, people with rigorous sporty blonde hair and tasteful eighteen-carat crosses, charged with leisure and money and smug in the imagination of women’s moral purity, fuel an engine which works tirelessly against me and mine–the destruction of the poor, the heathen, the lesser races, the sick, the queer, the different, all individually regrettable but of course our own fault, the consequence of our encounters with sanitary procedures as necessary by Natural Law as the prompt removal of a stain.  From where I sit, Donna Rose looks exactly like the image of these women, and this is what gives her so much power, because she is not an image but a human being.  She refuses to be so easy to imagine.  


In the other, a gay activist who looks very much the way I do now is keynote speaker at the first female-to-male trans conference in San Francisco in 1995.  The activist wears a gray flannel suit with a colored rather than a plain shirt, in order to represent a lesbian and gay organization, and refers often to notes in an attempt to inspire trans people to continue to be first out of the trenches against the machine guns of prejudice.  In spite of the notes, he is flustered, clearly used to making inspirational action speeches about the murder of Teena Brandon, Lesbian Heroine.  Protecting helpless female victims of Evil Patriarchy makes him easy to imagine as a Good Liberal rather than an Evil Patriarch.  As a result, he keeps bringing up the murder but forgetting to re-reverse the order of the names to Brandon Teena, or to refer to any of the murder victims with the male pronoun.  He starts in, forgets, remembers, apologizes, forgets again, checks his notes.  



After the keynote, happy children wander by, undisturbed by the rainbows exploding in all directions.  A bored-looking teenager is later revealed as a kick-ass drag king.  My sex reassignment surgeon Toby Meltzer (5’5″, trim, cute as a button) has a posse.  My companion meets Dr. Meltzer and swoons discreetly in the hallway.  I do not.  I am too busy giving him a free book.  Perhaps it’s a fetish, but there’s just something about a man in Armani.  


My big bubble bursts during the talent show.  I watch two people perform a comedy routine whose major sight gag involves a pair of giant breasts.  My Good Liberal feminist alarm (yes, I was raised in the Seventies) goes off.  By now I know enough to sit quietly and watch, and take some time to think.  I think about the Esprit audience; crossdressing men who are convincing or unconvincing female impersonators, transsexual women whose bodies can or cannot match our prejudices of how women are supposed to look.  I realize I have no way to know whether the people performing this gag are women.  I have no way to know whether the bodies they’re satirizing are women’s bodies.  I could be witnessing older men rife with sexism and heterosexual hubris, fetishizing women…Older women satirizing a culture that defines women based on natural sex appeal, offered for a fee in shrink-wrap from Victoria’s Secret…Straight men…or gay women…satirizing their own sexual obsessions…Transgendered people using laughter to draw the poison from their own dreams of perfection…Men satirizing sexist culture…sexist women…Or, as seems likely, all of the above.  I have no way to know.  


Plus, I realize shortly thereafter, I perform a show with a sight gag involving a pair of giant breasts.  


Of course, those breasts are a cast of my own.  Does that make them not offensive?  I certainly found them offensive at the time.  They seem quite a lot funnier now that they’re made of foam and held on by removable straps.  
Is that a fetish?  Beats me.  


At the end of the day, I know only the generosity of the people who invited me here and made a place for me at their table.  And if I cannot tell by looking whether what I see is supportive, offensive, insider or outsider commentary on men’s, women’s, or other lives, maybe there’s something wrong with any system that pretends there is one universal answer and we can walk through the door and know what it is.  Perhaps what’s wrong is our tendency to fall back on a simple shortcut; good is what we do, bad is what they do.  The spandex Republicans and cloth-coat radicals of Esprit (and not a few cloth-coat Republicans and spandex radicals) offered me much more than our name-brand liberal and conservative communities, whose moralities are mirror images, identical but reversed:  Women are good, so men are bad.  Men are good, so women are bad…and so on, ad nauseam.  Our conversations about race, color, politics and religion seem to follow the same pattern.  As the lovely people of Esprit have the courage to make visible, one prejudice and its opposite can be–in practice–impossible to tell apart.


The word for the day, sayeth Merriam-Webster, is fecund.

Coming Home

Posted May 23, 2007 by whatbecomesyou
Categories: Uncategorized

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.”

Welcome to Atlanta

Posted March 2, 2007 by whatbecomesyou
Categories: Uncategorized

I have come to Atlanta for the Associated Writing Programs conference. On the morning of my 42nd birthday I am scheduled to sign copies of What Becomes You. I vaguely understand I am some sort of debutante. As usual, when at a loss for appropriate protocols I consult Saint Quentin (Crisp), who assures me I have officially entered the smiling and nodding racket. I check my equipment and discover I can both smile and nod. Thus feeling fully prepared I board the plane. I am leaving the previous scene of costume-related agonies to the reader’s imagination.

I’m very curious to see Atlanta.

Atlanta looks like an airport. Then like the inside of a van. After a while, Atlanta looks like a hotel room. But first there is traffic. All traffic looks alike. So in spite of the fact that I’ve been up since four in the morning Pacific time, which in Atlantic time (Atlantic time? Is there an Atlantic time? Where the hell am I?) is half past the separation of light from darkness but well before the creation of the animals, I don’t collapse. I go to the window. Because even though it takes me fifteen minutes to figure out how to open the hotel curtains, I really want to see what Atlanta actually looks like.

Atlanta looks like a scene from a Phillip K. Dick novel. I am duly impressed.

In spite of the giant glowing UFO-on-a-stick hovering just outside my window (it attempts to conceal itself between a couple of buildings so tall that in a stock market crash oxygen masks will drop from the ceiling of each cubicle, but I am not fooled) I collapse and sleep dreamlessly. I am leaving the previous scene of hours of frantic late-night work to the reader’s imagination.

In the morning the conference begins. At 9 o’clock I eat breakfast with three extremely accomplished and sophisticated women writers of a generation older than my own, each of whom independently reports horrific nightmares involving their pursuit by punitive male authority figures. They ask me what I dreamed about. I smile and nod. This seems to work.
Two representatives of a generation younger than my own approach. They report that last night a white dove flew into their window and rebounded just in time to miss the grasp of a gigantic hawk. The hawk apparently also rebounded off the window. No casualties were reported.

I attend panel presentations about writing.

New information:
1. the phrase “blood relatives and body parts” describes the sorts of things one is encouraged not to mention in an essay. However, it may instead have been the sorts of things men are encouraged not to mention. Obviously, I’m not quite clear on this subject. Oh well. As my Melodrama teacher used to say, better a brilliant failure than a mediocre success.
2. Good news. A distinctive personal voice is okay.
3. A panelist mentions both Andrea Dworkin and Mary Daly as two of the greatest essayists of the twentieth century. I decide not to invite him to my book signing.
4. These Appalachians are really on to something.
5. Journalists are cool.

I eat salad with big shrimp.

I go to a panel on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered community. The panelists talk for an hour about lesbian and gay community. Reginald Harris, a panelist from both gay and African-American writer’s groups, mentions that our definitions of community include a number of “loose ends,” or unanswered questions. I raise my hand. The only visibly trans person in the room, who is not me, is eventually acknowledged. She points out that none of the “LGBT” panels at the conference have included or even acknowledged the existence of trans people. She asks if perhaps she should assume trans people are considered a separate community, unrelated to lesbian and gay people? Panelists look contrite. I stand up, introduce myself, and point out that in spite of my surgical scars I have yet to identify a dotted line along which, even for a conference as important as AWP, one could successfully separate my transsexual parts from my gay parts.

I eat pot-au-feu in a revolving restaurant.

The restaurant’s panoramic windows are opaquely feathered with clouds. As we enter, these cause the whole place to resemble one of those carnival rides shaped like a wooden barrel, which spins at an increasing rate until the bottom drops out. At this point, you are prevented from falling only by the centrifugal force pinning you to the walls. Luckily, at breakfast one of the experienced writers provided tips for avoiding seasickness. One of the younger generation, while remembering stories of her childhood on a disused Coast Guard cutter, has noticed that the lighting is provided by bulbs embedded in enormous metal nests suspended almost directly above our heads on long bronze chains. The chains are slowly but visibly swaying.
The sky clears. The view is dazzling. The wine is excellent. The food is excellent. The conversation is dazzling. It is revealed that technology, when thoroughly saturated in art, develops extraordinary new levels of tensile strength capable of life-saving applications yet to be fully explored, as well as a vastly improved fashion sense. I note the lighting fixtures lack saturation. A member of the younger generation shows me where, hidden behind a new skyscraper, he used to live. The wine is really excellent. I eat some of Hilda’s scallops. I consult on the view with the locals. We conclude that a nearby bank tower is formed entirely from spun sugar. (Dixie Crystals are apparently a preferred construction material here in Atlanta.) And that when we rule the world we will indeed utilize the revolving restaurant as our headquarters, but the fixtures will have to go.

After an astonishing amount of creme brulee, we descend seventy-five floors in an elevator bolted to the outside of the building and made entirely of glass. I stagger back to the hotel with the younger generation and those of us who no longer qualify but are unwilling to admit defeat. Those older and wiser have elected to travel by cab.
In a spirit of completion, I stop off at the late-night party. A hired musician in a gold lame jacket is inviting women up on the stage for the men in the audience to judge. The music, like the band, is a rainbow of human harmony united in a single purpose. The young women seem to be enjoying themselves. I consider joining them, but decide I am more or less off duty. I do not notice any men dancing together. I attempt to encourage a few, who politely decline. So I dance with a graduate student in fiction from Florida, and while I am not at my best and there is not really enough room for her motor chair to be at its best either, we both have a good time. When the singer in the gold lame jacket feels the need to change into a hoodie before delivering a rap song, however, I decide the evening has passed its peak.
Let me not fail to say that in my brief adventures outside the hotel, I discover Atlanta is filled with beautiful men with less restrictive ideals.

The next morning Hilda and I sign books. An astonishing number of people visit us and say things so flattering that I am sure some of them must be thinking of someone else. As the day moves forward I discover I am wrong. By 11:30 in the morning, we have sold every copy of our book the Press has brought. Sometime during the afternoon I stop by the bookseller’s room to drag Hilda to lunch. After an hour of helping her give people order forms for our book, I achieve this goal by threatening to carry her out on top of my head.
The next afternoon I speak on a panel with Stephen Dunn, Rosellen Brown, Lee Martin, Hilda, and Mimi Schwartz. I am still not sure quite how this happened, but it was very, very nice.

After the panel, a teacher from Florida tells us a city manager there with a 14-year history of successful public service has just been fired and ostracized for the crime of being transsexual. The teacher wants to find a way to bring us to Florida. When the bat-signal shines, my job is frequently to put on a nice shirt, casually mention that I also am transsexual, and continue to breathe in and out.

Parenthetically, the sites for the day are:
www.bradenton.com/mld/bradenton/news/nation/16829553.htm
www.cityonahillpress.com/article.php?id=436
The question for the day is: why are the pronouns in these two articles different, and what is the significance of the expert sources quoted and the ways their expertise is identified?
The action for the day is: those so inclined may politely communicate their opinion on the case to the city of Largo, Florida at: Commission@largo.com

Hilda and I celebrate my birthday by eating at Trader Vic’s. We share a Mai Tai. The staff give me an orchid and write “Happy Birthday” on my dessert plate in chocolate.

At midnight on the last day of the conference, I drag Hilda bodily out of the last University of Nebraska Press event. She is clutching the savaged remains of a stack of book order forms.
While Hilda loses conciousness beneath the weight of her Armani jacket, I watch a film in which the hero discovers he is the protagonist of a work of fiction. And while he is not the sort of hero who saves the world through lifelike karate-chop action but rather the sort of hero to whom events inexplicably happen, he finds it is nonetheless possible for such a hero to both save lives and change his own fate.

On my way up to bed I am invited to stop off at the room of my fellow future rulers of the world, co-conspirators from the revolving restaurant. They have a view of the sky. On their window, faint but definite as a trick of the light, are the prints of wings.

The word for the day, says Merriam-Webster, is profligate.

The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze

Posted February 20, 2007 by whatbecomesyou
Categories: Uncategorized

A word about the first person.
The word of the day, in fact.
Apogee: the highest point in the trajectory of an object (or a subject) shot or thrown into the world. This the point at which time slows down, leaving us (the object? the subject?) suspended at the moment where rising meets falling and it is no longer possible to distinguish them. Less poetically, it’s as high as you’re going to get before you start falling. Or the location of the curtain between its rise and fall. Interestingly, we also use this word to mean the very best of everything.

Since I’m not rehearsing right now and I should be…wait…I feel an aside coming on…
[Thanks for asking, Juniper Alan. My next official performance is:
Thursday 8 March, 10:45-11:45am
Lewis and Clark College Gender Studies Symposium
Templeton Student Center Council Chamber
Portland, Oregon. No tickets needed.
I’ll also be signing books March 3d at the Associated Writing Programs conference in Atlanta, for those of you who are there. Wish me a happy birthday. Then Nebraska, March 26-30.
]

…I’m going to talk about museums. We’re back–still in the first person, suspended in time. Which puts us right smack dab in the middle of the museum, home of Objectivity. Or Object-ivity, depending on where the word falls on the line. The line that leads to the apogee, remember? Okay, returning to Earth now.

So let’s say you’re walking into a museum to understand, just at random, the Roman Empire. You come into the Roman Empire section and the first thing you see is a cup with a cracked edge, carefully repaired. Then a pair of earrings. A photo of a pyramid where if you look closely, you can see somebody scratched “Joe was here” in Latin with the tip of a sword. Then there’s a little model of somebody’s house. Next to it is a reconstruction of the picture on the wall by the garden, a bawdy or religious scene concealed or revealed according to the chance of preservation, the taste of the museum’s curator, and the current social conventions concerning the private parts (private parts?) of Romans or Emperors, or ourselves. A diagram of a city which is really kind of abstract, but here’s a couple of pieces of concrete from the street in front of the house with the garden, or a raised block from a crosswalk designed to keep the horseshit from getting in your sandals. All the way at the end there’s a really big statue of someone whose name we can’t remember, but he’s got a mole on his eyebrow. He’s wearing tall sandals that must have been hard to keep horseshit out of, and a skirt and a really wierd haircut, and he’s got the same line between his eyebrows that you get from worrying too much.

And when you leave you think, hey, the Roman Empire.

Objectivity. First person.
Museums are usually associated with: science, art, and people who live far, far away from us.
My name is Aaron Raz Link. I work in the museum.
I’m going to go rehearse a show about my sex change.

Idea for the day: the uses of projection. For instance-by speeding up or slowing down the speed of projection, we can make the living creatures in a movie seem far away or close to us, quaint or important. Silent/historic film is usually projected at faster than life speed. (in audio, projection might use speed or pitch–high pitch and low having some interesting cultural values. Musicians, please respond…) David Attenborough’s team used the technique of slowing projection to draw the viewer’s attention to the lives of small or “exotic” species in the BBC series The Life of Mammals.
Book of the day: Understanding Comics, by Scott McCloud
Plug of the day: Elsewhere Artists Collaborative. http://www.elsewhereelsewhere.org
Question of the day: When do you use the first person, and what do you use when you don’t?
Song for the day: “The Man on the Flying Trapeze.”

Beau Ideal

Posted February 14, 2007 by whatbecomesyou
Categories: Uncategorized

Welcome to What Becomes You, the Blog That Becomes You. It crosses state lines to reach you, carrying infective agents for the powers of good.

This is an interactive blog about representation: how we are represented and how we represent ourselves in writing, science, performance, politics, movies, academia, comics, public health, professional wrestling…I cast a wide net. Myth, metaphor, transformation, and a good laugh. “We” is the group of your choice. Or maybe I mean the group people keep trying to introduce you to at parties. Or maybe that’s the other group, the one you’re supposed to be dating. Or really not supposed to be dating. Maybe we should have a war…

Maybe you can tell me.

This blog is here because I’m an historian and philosopher of science and a performing artist… and the author of a new book…and a person interested in race and gender and sexuality and power and status living in, as the Chinese curse is said to say, “interesting times.” Since I chose “male” as an accurate term to represent me, I had a sex change, and I wrote a book about the experience with Hilda Raz. The book is called What Becomes You. In my day, folks have chosen male, female, not white, white, gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, blue-collar jock, sensitive helping professional, and pointy-headed intellectual as accurate terms to represent me, so clearly I’m likely to find it all pretty interesting, and be from Mars. Wait. Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. That must be why I had the sex change.

Since I have just written a memoir about a whole series of very private subjects–in other words, taboo subjects for public discussion–my side of the blog is partly a travel journal about the process of becoming a public figure. It’s a fascinating process already, partly because everybody who is on the internet–or in politics, war, or the entertainment business–is a public figure, which is something we really aren’t talking about and should be. And because what people aren’t talking about is really interesting. As a transsexual, my “private” or “personal” life–my social adjustments, my sex life, my family life, my medical needs, my inmost personal secrets–have already been public for years. It’s Wednesday afternoon, which means decade-old video of my internal organs is probably being shown to med students somewhere right now. So my privilege is not having the option of the kinds of privacy that keep most people silent about dangerous and important ideas. I can be a guniea pig or a participant-observer. I figure I’m ahead of the game. Welcome to the future.

In addition to the continuing cliffhanger saga of life out loud, I’ll bring some:

Interesting sites/books/media about representation (plug of the day)
Interesting questions I think we should be bothering to ask (question of the day)
Interesting quotes that have come my way (quote of the day)
Interesting ideas brought up by all the above (you guessed it…idea of the day)
and a word for the day…your viral horoscope.

All this so we can engage in unregulated interstate transport of ideas. I know you’re out there…please leave trade goods on the virtual beach.

Today is Valentine’s Day. Since this is the inaugural blog, I will engage in shameless self-promotion so you can get a clue who I am and what I do.
Plug for the day–What Becomes You, my new book with Hilda Raz.
Question of the day–There’s now an established format for sex-based identity groups: “straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered.” A gender-based format in radical communities is “women and trans.” If people who have crossed a gender boundary are segregated as a result, with whom are they segregated and why?

The idea for the day is that objects which absorb light become warm. Objects which reflect light remain cool.

Quote for the day, from the BBC via Malika’s Indian Transgender Blog (www.malikatv.blogspot.com)
Tax authorities in one Indian state are attempting to persuade debtors to paying their bills – by serenading them with a delegation of singing eunuchs [hijras]. Eunuchs are feared and reviled in many parts of India, where some believe they have supernatural powers. Often unable to gain regular employment, the eunuchs have become successful at persuading people to part with their cash. The eunuchs will get a commission of 4% of any taxes collected…Bharat Sharma, a revenue officer, told the Associated Press agency he was pleased with the eunuchs’ work.

‘We are confident that their reputation and persuasive skills will come in handy,” he said.

The word for the day, says Merriam-Webster, is Beau Ideal.