Thoughts on 31

My 31st birthday was on Monday, and it’s been a good birthday week so far.

My parents came down on Saturday. We had brunch, picked up my birthday present (a new air conditioner), went to a movie, and ate pizza. It was a nice day.

Sunday was a lot of hanging out and tidying up the apartment. That night, we hosted a friend of a friend and his adorable dog on their way across the country. (Waking up Monday with a dog in my apartment was definitely a highlight.)

Monday I worked from home, both because it was my birthday and because I was hoping the maintenance guy would come and install the new AC. That didn’t end up happening before I had to leave for therapy, but it ended up being fine. Therapy was heavy, but good. I came home to find that my partner had picked up stuff for tacos, which was a delightful end to the day.

Tuesday I called off work. I wasn’t feeling great when I woke up, and I was still trying to get the AC installed (it took some pestering, but it did end up happening in the end). I spent a fair bit of the day processing what I’d worked through in therapy Monday night. And then, Tuesday night, I had songwriting class, which is always great. (I didn’t love what I’d written for this week, but that’s not the point of class. The point is that I wrote something.)

Yesterday, I went back to work. It was a pretty nondescript day, work-wise. But last night, I got myself over to Volumes Bookcafe in Wicker Park for an author conversation between Sarah Gailey (author of American Hippo, which I wrote about here a couple of weeks ago, and whose novel Magic for Liars was just released Tuesday) and Ferrett Steinmetz (who I was unfamiliar with but turned out to be super cool). It was a delightful event that reminded me how much I love learning about other creative people’s processes. I also had an exchange about names with Sarah while they were signing my book, where they told me they got to watch a young non-binary person use their name for possibly the first time at the signing the night before. It felt good to be recognized, especially because I’d been feeling like I was maybe not presenting queerly enough last night.

Tonight the great week continues, as we’re going to see Mary Gauthier in concert at the Old Town School.

Thirty-one feels pretty good so far. More settled than 30, but also maybe a little more willing to grow. It feels like it’s going to be a year of integration – connecting past iterations of myself with my present, listening to what I need and what I want and hopefully addressing those things. I’m looking forward to seeing what this next year holds!

Bleh

The weather in Chicago has returned to its pattern of bouncing all over the place, which means I am having a bit of a rough week. I’m achy and tired and having a hard time focusing. I’m anxious about some things that are kind of out of my control at this point.

But there have still been some happy things. Chiefly among them? This book:

American Hippo by Sarah Gailey

Back in February, our friend K came to visit one weekend. We ended up going to a new-to-us bookstore, and I was not going to buy anything (heaven knows I have enough books). But then I passed this book on a shelf, and I picked it up and read the foreword, and I was hooked.

Y’all. This book. It’s so good. Its premise is based on a real thing that almost happened in US history – evidently, importing hippopotami into the States to be ranched in Louisiana bayous was a proposed solution to a meat shortage in the country in the early 20th century. So this is hippo-riding cowboys, which is a delightful premise all on its own.

But the book is so much more than that. The cast is diverse across genders, races, and body types. No one really makes a big deal out of any of it, but there’s so much representation packed into the two novellas and two short stories packed into this book. I was sad to finish it, because I wanted to keep hanging out with these incredible (and incredibly flawed) humans. If you’re looking for a fun, quick read, I’d recommend picking this up!

The author, Sarah Gailey, has a new book coming out the day after my birthday, which I am excited about. I thoroughly enjoyed their writing style in American Hippo, and I expect I’ll enjoy whatever they’ve got coming next.

Doing the Scary Things

It’s Thursday and it feels like it’s already been a long week.

Over the weekend, my partner and I moved 16 bags of donations out of our apartment. We also went to IKEA and got a new bookshelf. It was an overwhelming weekend, but it feels so much nicer in our apartment now.

I don’t want to go into details just yet, but I did a hard, scary thing at work on Monday and Tuesday. It went better than I expected it to, and if things continue to work out, it’ll mean some positive change in my work life.

One of the things that made this hard was that I am not great at advocating for myself. I’m also not great at admitting to myself or anyone else when I need help/need to be advocated for.

I feel very lucky to have a partner and many friends who have my back and gently but firmly nudge me toward doing the things that will make my life better. Special thanks this week to friend K for pointing me in the direction of good resources and for helping me clarify what I needed.

This also just happens to be a really packed week outside of work: therapy, volunteering, hanging out with friends, playing D&D. It would have been even busier, but a couple of things were canceled last-minute. It’s a lot, and while it’s pretty much all good things, they’re still things that take energy. I’m tired.

Tired, but grateful. Grateful for good friends and a patient partner. Grateful for the slow but hopefully real turn toward spring. And grateful for that new IKEA bookcase, which has expanded our library into something really beautiful.

I’m feeling pretty under the weather today. The cold I caught shortly before Christmas has ebbed and returned at least three times now, and I’m very ready for it to just be done. I made the choice to work from home today to try to recover a bit more completely.

Despite feeling physically off, it’s been a decent week. Here are some things that I’m happy about right now:

  • On Saturday, my partner and I went with a friend to the penultimate day of the Science of Pixar exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry. IT WAS SO COOL. It blows my mind that there are people in the world who can take math and science and turn it into art like that. After going to see the Pixar exhibit, we parted ways with our friend, and my partner and I went to 57th Street Books, which was absolutely delightful. It has a very rabbit warren feel to it – winding rooms of books all connected as you go deeper into the store. I got Binti, by Nnedi Okorafor (which I proceeded to devour in one sitting on Tuesday evening – it’s a short book, and very good), and we also got a puzzle and some Chicago-themed holiday cards.
  • On Monday after work I had a consultation call with a potential new therapist, and we set up our first session for a couple of weeks out. Based on our phone conversation, I’m hopeful that this will work out – it’s a bit of a trek to get to her office, but I think it will be worth it.
  • Tuesday night was the first songwriting class of the year. I’ve taken a couple of sessions off from songwriting classes at the Old Town School of Folk Music, and I was weirdly nervous going in. But of course, it’s a delightful group of people, and I’m looking forward to digging back into writing, which has fallen a bit by the wayside the past few months.

Now, fingers crossed that I can kick this cold!

A Quick List

I am writing this post on the bus on my way to work. This is mostly because I had no idea what to write about yesterday. I still don’t, but it’s Thursday, and therefore I need to write something. So how about a quick list of things from the past week?

  1. I saw Wonder Woman. Again. This time, my partner joined me. It was just as great the second time around. 
  2. I’m almost done reading a book I bought last week – The Library at Mount Char. To say that I like it would be…if not inaccurate, then an oversimplification. It’s a weird book, and I’m pretty sure it’s crossed my usual threshold for book violence several times. But it’s riveting. There have been a few times this past week that I completely lost track of my surroundings while I was reading, because I was so deeply engaged in the story. It’s definitely well-written. It’s weird. It’s pretty gruesome a large part of the time. I haven’t felt this unsure of my opinion of a book in a while. I guess we’ll see how I’m feeling in another 65 pages, when it’s over. 
  3. I am extraordinarily grateful for our little window unit A/C. It’s been hot and humid in Chicago all week, and I am not enjoying it. If we didn’t have that window unit, I’d probably be a super cranky mess all the time. 

A Summer To-Do List

My brain is feeling pretty fried this week (not helped by the sudden spike in temperatures and humidity outdoors), but as we flew through spring and seem to be arriving rather abruptly at summer, I’ve been thinking about things I want to accomplish over the next few months. Here’s a sampling:

  • Read more. I’m about halfway to my Goodreads goal for the year of 17 books, but I’m hoping I can surpass the goal this year (unlike last year, when I finished reading the last book for making my goal late on December 31). I’m currently on the third book of Maggie Stiefvater‘s Raven Cycle (which I’m thoroughly enjoying, but trying to savor, as I’m still 28th in the queue to get the final book from the library). I also need to pick Janet Mock‘s Redefining Realness back up, and work through some of the other queer books on the shelf that I haven’t gotten around to yet.
  • Spend time outside. Over the weekend, I discovered that I am more allergic to sunscreen than I used to be, which is depressing, and I’ll need to find an alternative at some point. I’m also allergic to basically everything outdoors, so spring was a little rough. But the longer, sunnier days and the greening and blooming of everything outside has me feeling a lot happier than I have in a while, and I feel a lot more centered when I have the chance to spend time getting a little fresh air. So bring on the antihistamines and natural sun block!
  • Knit all the baby things. And some socks. We have two knitter friends expecting babies this fall, and I’ve finally decided what I’m making for them. I’m bad at deadline knitting/knitting for people other than myself, so the sooner I get started, the more likely these projects are to be done by the time the babies arrive! I’m also busting through all the toes of my socks (I’ve gained at least a full shoe size since starting on testosterone, and now all of the socks I bought in the women’s department are too small, but men’s department socks are still too long), so I need to work on remedying that, as well.
  • Write more songs. I haven’t decided yet whether I’ll be taking a songwriting class over the summer (though I need to figure that out ASAP), but regardless, I have a long-term project I’m experimenting with (the first installment of which is up on SoundCloud), and I want to keep working on churning out new music.
  • Write more, period. I want to do a better job of keeping up with the one pen pal I still keep in touch with, as well as writing to some other friends, because there’s nothing quite like finding a friendly note in one’s post box. I want to get back into playing around with storytelling (fiction and non). I want to try writing poetry that doesn’t need to be accompanied by music, which I haven’t really done in years. words make me happy, and I want to get back in practice using them for more than electronic correspondence and the occasional creative project.

Confessions of a Storyteller

I’ve always loved books.

There is a video, somewhere, of me at age two, sitting on the floor, surrounded by what was probably the majority of the books that usually lived on my bookshelf, holding one upside down in my chubby little hands as I looked at the camera and declared (in the present tense), “I read!” several times before launching into a story that I’m certain made sense in my head but was entirely incomprehensible out of it.

I still remember the moment when I actually did read for the first time. I was three years old, in my parents’ bathroom, studying the pages of Green Eggs and Ham, and as I looked at the book, suddenly the sound of the word in my head (I had the book memorized) connected with the letters on the page, and I realized I was reading. It was magic, and I was hooked.

I was the child who broke the heart of more than one teacher who was forced to tell me to stop reading, because I was also the child who would inexpertly try to hide whatever book I was currently reading behind the textbook I was supposed to be studying in an effort to get through a few more pages during class. I never had a huge number of friends at school, but that rarely bothered me. I had a huge, active imagination, and books were the catalyst through which I could visit exciting new worlds.

Really, I’ve just always loved stories.

I knew, even as a child, that stories had the power to make otherwise inscrutable concepts accessible, to create a shift in perspective, to bring laughter into dark and dismal places. As an adult, I am even more impressed by the power that stories have to effect change. Particularly as a queer, transgender adult whose life doesn’t fit nicely into the generally accepted queer, transgender narratives (“I knew I was gay in kindergarten!” or “I knew I was trans when I was three years old!” – not to say that there is anything inherently wrong with these narratives)…I am increasingly convinced that it is imperative that those of us whose stories differ from the “mainstream” of queer culture tell those stories, because as more of us claim our own narratives, fewer of us feel alone.

I’ve been telling my story in bits and pieces for years – I took my first fumbling steps out of the closet almost six years ago, and have used storytelling as a means to process my personal evolution. However, last week I received a request from a family member for a narrative of my journey from straight, cisgender woman to queer, transgender man, and I realized for the first time that I have never actually written it all down in one place. (Granted, the story is ever-changing, and there will never be one complete account. But it had never crossed my mind that I’ve been working exclusively in vignettes, capturing a moment here and there, and never a longer story arc.)

So over the weekend and into the beginning of this week I’ve been writing it all down. As I am writing this Wednesday morning, I have more than 3,200 words…and while I have the bulk of the major events of the past six years down, it is still far from complete. It doesn’t include many of the vignettes I’m sure I’ve written down before – like coming out to my best friend from college when I had the world’s biggest crush on her, or how I started identifying as a gentleman years before I ever identified as transgender or genderqueer, or what it felt like the first time a stranger called me “sir” (which also happened well before I identified as anything other than cisgender).

I’m an inveterate storyteller with a story so full of plot twists that I’m having trouble telling it in a way that is both coherent and complete. I suppose, if I have to pick one over the other, I’ll go with coherence. (Choosing coherence over completeness will also increase my chances of getting this sent out within the week, like I promised.) Still, now I feel like, at some point in the near future, I need to at least try to get a (mostly) complete narrative down as well, even if it’s only for me. Particularly as I move into the strange new world of male privilege, I don’t ever want to forget where I’ve come from.