Saturday, October 29, 2022

Dear Jon

I lied, love
It's always you
From that first week
When you were beautiful words on a screen
(“I think," I said, embarrassed because I never get swept away, "I just met my husband")
To the last
When you were words again
A string of characters
Vulgar black on white
Inadequate binary
Yes or no
Good enough or not
Here or gone
Two banal colors
Concealing glorious heterochromia
Explosions of glittering prismatic hue
That bathed us in Portland
Where the vista of a whole life unfolded from your living room window
Where a panoply of treasure and trust billowed across the bed we shared
Where I teased you about the thermostat and enfolded you in my smooth skin
To warm you when you were cold
Where we laughed at the mess our loving made
"That table's ruined," you sighed
And I'd destroy it with you again and again and again
A thousand times over
Until I got perfect at the demolition
That bathed us in Baltimore
Where my grandmother said you had kind eyes
One of the last things she'll remember is that you made me happy
That bathed us in Virginia
Where the store clerk smiled because we gave her good vibes
Where my best friend took me by the elbow
With a sharp smile and knowing eyes
And whispered so you couldn't hear: "I like him"
That bathed us in Georgetown
Where fireworks and Prosecco and your kisses made a golden haze
My favorite 4th of July
Washington will always be ours
Sparkles on the river
Mimosas and smoked salmon
Train rides and hot days and gentle drunkenness
The first place you told me you loved me
By saying you couldn't say it
But that you felt it
So we came up with that ridiculous euphemism
A code word
That meant not just "love"
But OUR love
The love you bore for me and I for you
Silly and knowing and flexible
Stretching to account for my fears and yours
Pliant enough to absorb the sharp edges and render them soft
That bathed us in Christmas-morning snow
When you held a mirror to my doubt and showed me I could be wonderful without changing
The first inkling of my beautiful boyhood came from your mouth
Not mine
I love you for so much
But I love you especially for that
And for your laugh
The way it hitches in disbelief at me
For your mockery each and every time we go to the grocery store
Because I never know where I'm parked
For how you sputter at the mere suggestion of spicy food
For the absurdity that you're an Indian who can't eat curry
For our first date in a carwash
And our second in a candy aisle
For insisting I be treated well
Even when I didn’t
For when you used me as a thesaurus
For when I used you as a calculator
For when we dreamed of the desert
And then of the pines
And then of Vancouver
And then of Berlin
For Netflix nights
For scandalous asides
For the article you sent me---when I was already reading it, too
For knowing me so well you could guess my mind
Even a thousand miles away
For when you still missed me
And longed to see my face
For how you wept
When you read my Christmas card
For "Your presence makes me calm"
Because that was all I ever wanted to give you
For every answered phone call
For every returned text
For your hands dancing down my feet
And over my body
For your lips on mine
For the fierce hug at the airport
For, "Don't worry, Love. It's only eight weeks."
But then it was never.
For the tears you shed the first morning you woke up without me
Yours have dried
But mine just keep flowing
"You have to move on"
When so many say it
Mustn't it be true?
No white after Labor Day
Wait half a week before texting
Nobody can pull off bangs
Marble countertops are passé
Everybody knows
You certainly did
When you repeated their mantra:
"You have to move on"
So I told you I did
To give you that closure
And pretend I had it, too
It's the line I recite when people ask how I am
That we're better as friends
That I'm happy this way
"You have to move on"
So I told you I did
But moving on means letting go of hope
Not of you
Now hope is long gone
And it’s just you who lingers
I release everything else
Yet can never unclench my hands from your memory
"You have to move on"
So I told you I did
To acceptance of this absence
To peace with this ache
To the dating game
Where I look for the man who can be second best
A substitute for the only one I've ever loved
Pepsi Cola
Palatable if you don't think about it
Never the real thing
You promised I'd find someone right
But I already have
You promised he’s out there somewhere
But he lives in Portland
I’ve been in his apartment
I’ve counted the grey hairs in his glossy black mane
And the fears behind his crinkling dark eyes
And each time he was strong enough to overcome them
And the slowly ticking minutes
Since we began leaking away
And each bailout bucket
In succession they all overflowed
And the endless accumulated leagues
Since Mile Marker 21st of January
When he drifted beyond my soft touch
And each thudding second
Since the one when I knew I lost him
You asked me to believe
So I told you I would
"You have to move on"
So I told you I did
I lied, love
It's always you

Friday, August 12, 2022

The Boy Returns


Look at the history of this blog. Across its reach, strewn over this improbable fourteen years, you'll find trauma and abuse and upheaval and tumult of a sufficiently visceral quality to make your hair stand on end. Some of what I chose to share here is shocking, both in its quality and in its honesty--so much so that I've been dimly aware for a few years now that I might want to go back and do some judicious editing of the more jaw-dropping entries. I came to you all in the spring of 2008 as a literal teenager, and, basically, as a child, one who carried with him the legacy of intense and unrelenting hardship.

Is it any wonder, then, that I didn't entirely know myself? Any wonder that healthy processes of exploration didn't happen? Any wonder that escape into the opposite gender looked more attractive to me than did accepting the version of me who already existed? How could it not, when society had done so much to tell me that that version was distasteful? Disgusting. Contemptible. Wrong.

This is not to say that I wasn't on to something or that I'm not transgender. If one takes "transgender" to mean a person whose physiology and neurology are out of sync in terms of sexual presentation then I'd still say I more of less am a transgender person: my body is male in form whereas my personality, world view, communication patterns, and overall orientation are, always have, and always will be essentially female. That will never change. But to unambiguously be the opposite gender is one thing and to have substantial elements of it another, as I discovered to my own surprise and chagrin. 

I was looking for easy answers. A single checked box that would put me squarely in the category of "normal" when for my entire life I'd been an asterisk on every single list where I appeared. The exception. The anomaly. The odd one out. And as a woman, I thought, I'd simply make so much more sense. 

That was how, after four years of personal reflection and more than two years in therapy, I made the choice to begin a month-long trial of estrogen at the end of May. I'd explored and explored, and all I could do beyond that was take the leap. Granted, I took that leap with life-preservers firmly attached. I began on a low introductory dose of the hormone and planned from the beginning to assess where I was at the month mark. And then I waited.

Waited for the peace, clarity, and sense of rightness that so many transgender women report upon beginning a course of hormone-replacement therapy that floods their bodies with the substance they believe they ought to have had all along. 

It didn't come. 

Instead estrogen was, for me at least, a rollercoaster ride of emotions that saw my inherently anxious and neurotic nature ramped up dramatically, with the lows but not the highs enhanced and the overall volatility of my moods heightened in a way that made me feel as though I was constantly driving down a rickety country road with no seatbelt or shock absorbers. Which is not to say that nothing about estrogen was positive, because other changes happened. My, oh my did they happen.

Over a course of weeks I experienced developments that every medical guideline I'd consulted said would take months to occur. My body hair thinned to the point of being basically gone around two weeks in. My skin had softened and grown far more sensitive by about the same juncture. My libido died within literal days. And one day, three or four weeks in, I caught myself in the mirror and did a double-take.

Who was that? That person who looked so soft and beautiful and so clearly, unambiguously female? All my life I'd longed to be a pretty girl. And there she was, staring right back at me. A pretty girl. Her eyes were slightly more prominent and almond shaped than mine. Her skin was clearer and lighter. Her lips were fuller and their color a touch more vibrant. The face was mine, still, but mine in a way I'd never seen. Friends made comments. My gender therapist, who'd been seeing me for two years by that point, expressed outright shock. 

"My daughter has long blonde hair like you," she said in a text. "When you sent me that photo of you I thought for a moment that it was her."

Medical guidelines are unanimous in saying that changes to facial composition on estrogen should not manifest before about a year. I was at less than four weeks. 

The moment of truth for me came days before I completed my first month on HRT. I was getting dressed that morning, trying on a cute new slinky pink thing, when I realized that my nipples could feel every groove in the fabric as it slipped over my head and fell down my chest. That increased sensitivity, which an inspection immediately verified, was the very first sign that my breasts were beginning to develop. As with so many other things, this wasn't supposed to happen for half a year at minimum. But here we were.

If you let this go on much longer, I told myself. You'll have to buy a bra. And you'll have to wear that bra for the rest of your life.

And that did it. I stopped estrogen within days, and within a few more days had flushed my remaining supply down the toilet. Which begged an awful question: Where do I go from here?

For years I'd pinned my hopes, my validity, my self-actualization, on moving forward through life as a female, but the moment she began to come out I panicked and slammed the lid shut on the process. What did that say about me? Did it make me a fraud? Deluded? Someone, as I feared in the darkest and loneliest moments following that choice, who was incapable of happiness in either gender?

At some point in the days of crying and cataclysmic depression that accompanied the end of hormone therapy I remembered words that a friend, Raven, had spoken to me when I was living in Point Goldlace.

"You know, it doesn't have to be one thing or another," she told me when I confided that I was struggling with gender identity and considering transition. She was Athabascan, the mother of two of my students, and informed by both ample life experience and a cultural grounding that saw past traditional Western views of male and female. "We have a word for people like you: Two Spirit."

Two souls in one body. Not wholly one or wholly the other. Not in between. Both.

I think I knew on some inherent level that Raven was right even back then. I didn't want to see it because I associated malehood primarily with all the ways in which I'd failed to be a man, and femininity offered a welcome framework in which so much about me made sense and met cultural expectations. 

But the thing is, I liked certain parts of being male. Fit with certain parts of being male. And always had. My cluttered, messy nature. The ability, as a guy, to get out of bed, throw something on, and stride forward into the world with absolutely no fucks given. And my sexuality. God, my sexuality.

Male genitalia is fun. Gay sex is fun. The feeling of vigor, power, confidence, and vague arousal that comes after a session in the gym is fun. The way that lust can, in moments, absolutely overpower you is fun. 

So much of who I am interpersonally is female and when I was considering transition I naturally focused on that. But that focus caused me to overlook very real fears about not being female enough in certain particulars and equally valid fears that the male elements I'd have to sacrifice wouldn't be worth the trade-off.

What if, I asked myself in a moment of startling clarity about two days after stopping hormones. You're just a really feminine man? And what if it's okay to be that?

And I cried and cried and cried. Tears of joy--and of relief. For in that instant it was evident that the male form was indescribably more beautiful to me than the female form could ever hope to be and that I'd very narrowly avoided robbing myself of that form forever. I wouldn't have to move forward as a transgender woman, passing but always wondering whether I'd be girl enough for a man to love me or a crowd of people to believe that I was who I claimed I was. I'd move forward as a gay man. Boyish, soft, youthful, androgynous. As I always was before.

And good Lord, isn't that a glorious thing? To be the asterisk? To be the homosexual male who's a shade too pretty? Not many people sit in that spot, but I do and it's what I was made for.

This beautiful self-acceptance does not, to clarify, mean all facets of me are now resolved and that gender ambiguity won't--or doesn't--raise its head. The deep dive on transgender science I did in the many months prior to my course of estrogen led me to believe that the condition is basically an intersex disorder affecting neurology, and I still feel that way. I still feel, likewise, that if you popped me into an MRI machine and took a look under my hood you would see an engine that looked a whole lot more pink than blue. I don't think I'm not female. But I also don't think I'm not male. And I certainly don't want to undertake the course of surgeries, procedures, medications, and overall lifelong clinical intervention that would be required to let me live as a functioning woman.

All of that could one day change. Now, having experienced what I have, I know that estrogen therapy is always there and that I'd achieve extremely rapid feminization if I ever undertook the regimen again. But for now...I like my genitalia. I like the male hormonal experience. And I'm learning to live happily--maybe even, one day, proudly?--with my asterisk held firmly in hand. 

The path back to manhood is probably not as simple as a moment of profound personal revelation, if only because I don't seem to have quite made it to manhood in the first place. Even before estrogen I was smaller, weaker, softer, lovelier, than the other men I knew. Losing weight was like pulling teeth. Putting on muscle had always been impossible, even with rigorous diet and exercise supervised by personal trainers. My soft face had gotten me called "ma'am" since I was a teenager, which made sense given my female skull shape and lack of brow bone. My voice, androgynous and breathy when low, sharp and womanly when high, led to similar things on the phone. All of that felt incredibly validating when I wanted to become a woman. But all of it was still there when I decided to live as a man.

"The good news," my new doctor told me as she surveyed the blood results taken about three weeks after my estrogen therapy ended. "Is that your testosterone is already back to the baseline you had before you started estrogen. The bad news is that that baseline was not very good."

A gender doctor whom I'm likewise consulting scrunched her face in concentration as we discussed my situation over a Zoom appointment. 

"Have you ever been assessed for an intersex condition?" she asked. "I'd be really curious."

The path to male health has been eye opening and will have more developments yet. 

But I'm here. 

Me. BlackenedBoy who became BrightenedBoy, who's now a man but who will always carry something of boyhood--and girlhood--inside him. No path in life is perfect and mine has, perhaps, had more pitfalls and peculiar off-ramps than most, but I feel at last able to walk it in peace with how and who I was made to be. And I can find my calling, my partner, my place, without the immobilizing ambiguity that made these last years an agony of trying and failing to fit molds both male and female.

I'll return, soon, to offer details on how other parts of my life have evolved since the entry I left here last May. Thank you so much for your patience.

It's good to be back.

Monday, May 31, 2021

With Him


It finally happened: that job in Iceport. The one I dreamed of over four successive dark winters. The one I gunned for hard with desperation and then with ruthless, cold focus. It's mine.

And somehow all I can think about, as I walk the rose-strewn streets of Triantaphilon with Anthos, is throwing it all away to begin anew in this sun-drenched city. With bookstores and coffee shops and quirky little stores. With warmth and vibrance and endless waves of emerald-green trees beneath banners that proclaim welcome to people like me. With this man who looks at me through astonished eyes and tells me how beautiful I am. With his lips that say he'll want me, no matter what I decide. 

With him.

I have no idea what's coming or where I'll be when it does. What I do know is that I'm tired of living for other people's expectations, or for duty, or for the long game. I want to live for the moment. For the desires of my heart. For, at last, my happiness, which I've neglected so long in the service of literally everything else. For the right now.  And right now, walking beside him in the sunshine makes me feel more whole and more hopeful than I have in a very, very long time. 

This emotional rollercoaster is headed for a destination I'm not yet able to divine. Once it stops, I'm getting off at a port of my choosing--Alaska and career be damned. I've been so obsessed with following the path and climbing the ladder, with doing the responsible thing, that I've missed a beautiful and elegant truth: at any point, you can burn it all down. Start over. You don't have to continue investing in a choice that no longer serves you just because you've invested so much in it already. 

So many decisions. Now I just have to work out what I want.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

The Tides That Shift So Suddenly


A whole lot has changed in five months. 

I'm not even referring to the election, though I would be remiss not to take this moment to address the on-the-fence equivocators who so kindly informed me that "life goes on" no matter which side wins: life didn't "go on" for the people who died in the Republican coup attempt on January 6. Nor for the half-million who perished in the pandemic. Nor for the hundreds of families permanently destroyed by acts of incalculable cruelty carried out on our southern border on the order of a failed one-termer who does not dignify being named. Remember when armed traitors were prowling the halls of Congress, hunting the Speaker of the House and the Vice President of the United States with the express intention of summarily executing them? 

I sure do. I remember it because I was one of many progressives who cautioned, for years, that the anti-democratic rhetoric being espoused by the one-termer was calculated--and likely--to provoke political violence if left unchecked. None of you wanted to listen. I hope you carry the weight of that smugness, of that determined and intentional ignorance, every day. I hope you know what nearly happened in this country and I hope you know that, on however infinitesimal a level, you played some part in it by refusing to see what was in front of your face and by disbelieving the people who shouted unheeded warnings again and again and again. 

But I digress. And the failed one-termer deserves no more of our time or attention, does he?

Things have a way, once it seems they're fixed in place, of shifting rapidly beneath you, and I can't tell if that's effort or luck or some serendipitous combination of the two, but I sure am grateful. I was in a rut. A rut of many facets, some old and some new, but all converging to make me feel as though I was stuck. Wanting to leave the village system but unable to break out. Looking for a partner but coming up blank. Aware of my gender identity but too scared to act on it (and, by implication, consigning myself to a half-life wherein I saw my true self but never moved towards her). And then it broke.

The breaking came in phases, of course, and each one of them had in common my decision to push, unrelentingly and without apology, until something moved. 

"The Bible says You give us the desires of our hearts," I prayed during one especially fraught night in October. "And that You don't put on us more than we can take. Well I've hit my limit. I'm done. I am tired of asking You for the same things over and over again and getting absolutely nothing. If You won't help me, then I'll find help elsewhere."

If my threatening the good Lord above to go outright pagan doesn't illustrate the level of exhaustion under which I was operating then nothing really can, and to say that I was at my wits' end would be to sanitize the situation considerably. I was lonely. Tired. Unfulfilled. Purposeless. And just not willing to do it anymore.  We Christians are told to trust meekly in "the plan," believing--often despite significant circumstantial evidence to the contrary--that God has our best interests at heart and that He will enact them if only we have the patience and fidelity to accept that He'll give us what we need. 

You know, I tried that. But The Plan seemed to entail me spending a whole lot of time miserable and isolated while the rest of the world danced in sunshine far, far away. So I decided it was time for a new plan, God willing or, well, not. 

One of the first rungs popped in January. 

Teachers operate on year-long contracts that are issued each spring in advance of the following school year, and as this particular district sends them out criminally early--within weeks of the New Year, whereas other localities don't send theirs until March or April--I knew pretty quickly that I'd not been extended an offer to return for the Fall '21 term. When my repeated good-faith questions about what exactly had happened and if I needed to improve somehow were met with conflicting--that is, dishonest--answers, I mentally moved on. Made some calls. Did some interviews. Viaborea wound up hiring me back after all, no explanation given--and then seemed shocked and shaken to learn I'd pursued employment elsewhere. 

"Are you not coming back next year?" asked Mr. Coin, my principal. He'd shuttled me into an empty classroom and looked harried. "I just got a call from HR in Iceport asking about you."

"Oh," I responded, trying to hide both my surprise and my delight. "I mean, I didn't know if I had a contract yet with you guys, so I did sit for an interview. But I didn't think anything of it when I didn't hear from them for a little bit."

"Well, you know we'd love to have you back."

You know what they say, Boss Man: play stupid games--win stupid prizes. You should've loved to have me back on January 1.

The fate of that position, Iceport being the competitive place that it is, remains uncertain, but a handful of very complimentary phone calls with those involved in the hiring process has left me optimistic. I'll learn within the coming weeks if there's a spot for me in the city. 

"And we can be roomies!" Miss Violet, a teacher friend from Point Goldlace, crowed into the telephone when I apprised her of the newest developments. "Boo, this is going to be fun!"

Another rung popped in October, or at least began to, and the thing that nudged it upward was--of all things--an instant message.

I honestly don't remember what I said. I was on a subreddit, not even a proper dating site, so whatever missive I typed out to the cute guy with the wavy hair and the kind eyes was surely a banal compliment--"Sweet t-shirt, bro!"--but pleasantries yielded quickly to deeper conversations that betrayed a startling level of commonality. 

"You know, I really enjoy talking to you," he messaged one day. 

"Talking to me would sure be easier if you had my phone number," I playfully pushed back.

Within a week, tops, I was aware of something that I found disconcerting because I am not, ever, the person who lets their emotions carry them away or who jumps into relationships.

"Black Dress Girl," I told one of my best friends from back in the Lower 48. "I think I might have just met my husband."

Anthos, this man who's introduced so much possibility into my life so quickly, is thirty-two years old (his birthday is four days after mine, a fact that will prove insufferably adorable if we wind up together in the long term), and that may account for the cautious approach towards our dynamic that he was happy to share with me. Both of us were aware of the high level of compatibility we shared. Both of us knew the implications such compatibility could have. And both of us chose to take it slow. 

We talked remotely for five months, at one point consciously skipping out on meeting during the Christmas holidays, before he got on a plane to Alaska in the second week of March. I was off school for spring break and his job was remote, so we AirBnb-ed it for a week and decided to see how things went. 

The result: a resounding okay. 

"I don't feel those fireworks for you," I told him during one of our frequent conversations of refreshing insight and candor. "I mean, I like you. A lot. I just don't think those fireworks are something I feel."

"I don't feel them for you, either," he said. "But I've been in relationships where I did feel the fireworks, and I can tell you: it doesn't last. That ends really quickly, and then you're left with the person and whether you can deal with them."

I check a lot of boxes for him. He checks a lot of boxes for me. We have similar life goals and similar ideas about what a relationship should be. 

"You know what my favorite part of this week has been?" I queried him towards the end of our stay. 


There had been plenty of romantic or at least romantic-comedy moments, from the stunning drive down the Seaside Highway to the afternoon spent at a resort to the moose-evasion we'd had to pull in the neighborhood where we'd rented a place. But any of those instances would make too much sense.

"We were getting ready to go somewhere and I was still in the bathroom doing my hair, so I called out to ask you to start the car. And then I realized, 'Oh, my God. There's someone to start the car. I don't have to do everything on my own.'"

He crooned with laughter as the words hit home, his eyes glittering knowingly. 

"My favorite part was cleaning the kitchen," he confessed. "You were just like, 'You do this and I'll do this.' We just really tackled that as a team. Neither one trying to avoid helping. We went after it together."

I'd unloaded the dishwasher and he'd gathered the trash. It was magical. 

We decided ahead of time that we'd talk at the end of the week and decide whether we wanted to proceed with a formal relationship. We did. So when on Sunday, March 21, I drove Anthos to the airport, we parted as boyfriends. This relationship is not perfect and there are certainly obstacles to making it work, but we've both reached the same conclusion: that we'll overcome those barriers if we decide that doing so is worth it. That creates decisions to be made, but not to be made right now. I'm flying to his West Coast city next month and we're taking it from there. Step by step. Self-assessing along the way. 

And it's a good thing we're being so flexible, because just last week the universe dropped another bomb on me: a year after my interview was indefinitely postponed because of Covid, International Organization reached out to say that they're resuming the hiring process and want me to come to Marble City this summer. 

"It seems like for the longest time I had nothing going on," I told my father by telephone not long after. "And don't get me wrong: I'd rather have too many opportunities than not enough. But it's a lot to juggle."

"That's how it goes, though," he said. "One week there's nothing and then the next you have five job offers. When it rains--"

"I know. It pours."

Monday, November 2, 2020



I’ve prayed and I’ve prayed. I’ve worried countless hours. In the morning I’ll cast my ballot and, after that, will have done all I can do. After four years of horror it seems unbelievable that things should come to a head in less than a day, but here we are.

Across the country businesses are boarding up, people are sealing themselves behind locked doors, and individuals are stockpiling weapons and food. It is difficult to envision any scenario wherein Trump’s backers are not moved to violence, whether of the exuberant or the enraged kind, but should he lose—and please, merciful God, let him lose—then both he and they will be incalculably worse. And then there are those, nominally on our side, who are all too eager to torch and destroy should the vile man remain in office. I hope each and every one who would pillage takes the time to vote instead.

It feels like the entire future hangs on the precipice and yet all roads lead to catastrophe anyway. I don’t know how we got to this point. I just hope we can get past it. 

Monday, October 19, 2020



If one word could define my life right now, that word would be "impermanence." Or maybe "unsustainable." "Precarity." "Transition." "Crisis."

Take your pick. 

However you slice it, the inescapable conclusion is that I'm living in a moment which cannot persist. This is a pause at a threshold. A foot hovering above a gas pedal. An eagle-eyed crouch at the starting line. It cannot be, shouldn't be--mustn't be--a way of life.

But I don't know what replaces it. Having figured out, at least a little bit, where I am, I can't work out where I'm supposed to go. I pinned a lot of hopes on a path forward with International Organization and was overjoyed when they selected me for an interview, but all that has been placed on ice owing to the pandemic. As has, it seems, much of the world.

It is bizarre and temptingly egocentric that my personal entry into an existential waiting room has coincided with the rest of the global population doing the same thing. At least up here, things seemed to be getting better throughout the late summer and into the early fall--until, suddenly, they weren't. Until, suddenly, the sickness was everywhere. 

 On Monday, October 12, I returned from my lunch break around 12:30 in the afternoon--returning from my apartment, as it were, which is one of the benefits of living in the same building where you work--to find the students stuffing backpacks and slipping on jackets. 

"What are they all doing?" I asked Mr. Coin, my newest principal.

"It's in the village," he responded, eyes dark. "The busses will be here at 1."

And then they were gone. 

No one seems to know for sure when they'll come back, but the outbreak spreading in the community is clearly uncontrolled--even some of the teenagers are becoming really ill--and the inclination seems to be that we should opt for caution over quickness. We may, Mr. Coin confided, be expected to work remotely until the middle of January--which inspired a brilliant conclusion on my part followed by an equally swift moral torpedo.

"So, if we're not going to be in the classrooms until January...can I just peace out to the East Coast?" I asked. "There's not really any point to being here."

"I don't see why that would be a problem," he answered. "If the work is remote it makes no difference where you do it from. Let me ask around and I'll let you know if we're good to go."

We're not good to go.

Because even as I imagined the joys of an extended holiday homecoming--hanging out for a month with my grandmother, popping over to see my best friend and her son, surprising my sister amid the stresses of her senior year of high school--I saw the pitfalls following close behind. My grandmother is 78. Aunt Crazy, the redoubtable loon whose admonitions that "it's hard out here to be a pimp" and questionable professions of fondness for cocaine have long enlivened family gatherings, is around the same age and in poor health.

And then there's Sweet Aunt. 

Sweet Aunt, who's shown kindness to anyone she's ever known. Sweet Aunt, who turned away from an upbringing my father couldn't overcome and raised a compassionate, brilliant, hard-working son. Sweet Aunt, whose breast cancer had reached Stage 3 before they found it a month ago.

"I'm scared," she told me by phone when we spoke recently. "The treatment they're doing is very aggressive and it's going to take a lot out of me. Your cousin came over the other day, and I thought, 'He's too young for this. Too young to have a sick mother. He shouldn't have to see this.' And it's a three-hour drive each time he makes the trip."

"But don't you know," I countered. "That he wants to be there because he's such a great person? Because you raised such a good man?"

"That's what Uncle Mustache said," she answered. "He asked me, 'Wouldn't you do anything for your child?'" She started to cry. "I said, 'Yes.' And he told me, 'Then you have to let him do this for you.'"

I can't be the cause of any more danger befalling this queen of a woman, who even with cytotoxin flowing through her veins could think only of the child to whom she's given everything. He's an accountant now, married to a doctor. Last summer they bought their first house. 

The draw homeward is like a harpoon hooked right into my heart, and I can practically taste how badly I want to answer its pull. But not at that risk. Not at that cost.

"What are you doing for Christmas?" I asked Miss Violet by telephone. "I think I'm staying in Alaska."

It would be the second year in a row, though the naive version of me who existed in the autumn of 2019 couldn't have known that. I remained then because my bank account couldn't quite absorb the cost of heading back east. Now, in Viaborea, I have a well-padded wallet against which the price of a first-class ticket home is no obstacle. But other obstacles have emerged.

It's hard not to see some cosmic alignment in the world being on pause when my entire life is so totally, resolutely, inescapably frozen in place. Think about it. I know that I'm almost certainly a transgender woman, but lingering doubts and the difficulties of navigating hormone therapy in so isolated an environment have stayed me from transition. I know that I need to be in an urban environment but am not sure how--or if--to break down the door into Iceport. I know that I don't want to be a teacher forever but, with my most credible alternative held up in Covid-related paralysis, haven't found another course.

I've identified a slew of needed changes--that I uniformly cannot act on, at least not now. What gives?

And the backdrop to all of this, fittingly, is the ongoing disintegration of a Republic that will receive either a qualified reprieve or a death knell in a little more than two weeks' time. A week ago, mindful of what life as a trans person and a liberal during a second Trump term might look like, I hopped into my car and drove down the highway. To the edge of a happy realm ruled by a kind queen.

I knew, of course, where the border lay. Knew that place was on the other side. But I had to see it. I just had to see that it was real.

The boundary of these two great nations is not, incidentally, guarded on the Canadian side--go figure--and so, though I came with the intent only of peeking into Canada, I wound up blazing straight across the demarcation and into the Yukon Territory without being any the wiser. When the road signs changed to kilometers and provincial flags started waving in the wind, I got a hint that maybe something wasn't quite right.

"Wait a minute, did I just...? No fucking way."

If you're going to accidentally wander into another country, though, you might as well stop to take pictures, and the respective governments had conveniently provided a lovely pagoda perfect for quiet reflection. A line in the gravel--or paint on a bench--was all that separated me from a country where no one went without healthcare. Where every child who wanted could attend university. Where people like me were respected and protected. Where the government worked for its people. 

I knelt before that marker and clasped my hands in prayer (a habit that, doubt and temptation aside, I can't seem to quite shake).

The day may come when I have to cross this border in a very different way, I told Him. For a very different reason. If it comes, please bless my journey. Please get me there swiftly. Please keep me safe.

Had you told me at any point in my childhood or adolescence that I would stand a credible chance of needing to flee my homeland as a political refugee, I would have regarded you with a slight amount of incredulity. Then again, the whole Plague-2.0 and being-a-woman things would also have thrown me for a loop, so I guess 2020 has put a lot of stuff out of whack.

And am I woman? I don't know. I mean...more or less? I guess that's the best answer I can give. I feel like a woman (inwardly, duh). I'm pretty sure I think like a woman. For as long as I can remember I've idolized, emulated, aspired to, and wanted to be like, well, women. Rose DeWitt Bukater. The Pink Power Ranger. Rachel from Animorphs. Amelia from The Princess Diaries. In my youth, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera and Kelly Clarkson. In my adulthood, Meghan Markle and Taylor Swift (a living goddess if ever there was one). Those were my girls. Sometimes, joining their ranks feels impossible to the point of comedy--and I, whoever the hell I am, should give up on that lest I become this contemptible she-male thing that repulses both genders while passing for neither. 

Toxic thoughts, I know. Not representative. Not helpful. And hormones work wonders. But the Dark Night of the Soul comes each evening like clockwork. Who among us doesn't slip into its depths from time to time?

Every now and again I can't see any path forward to a happy future, and that scares me more than most things in this very scary world. How, I sometimes wonder, will it all end for me? The other night I had a dream that I again attempted suicide--not, in case anyone is worried, an item on my to-do list--and my grandmother was weeping over me.

"I can't believed it happened twice," she cried. "I can't believe it happened twice!"

I'm in sort of an odd place here. I have ironclad job security. A paycheck heavy enough to knock out a medium-sized child. Financial security. A clear career trajectory, at least if I stay in my current field. And yet I've seldom felt such a paucity of purpose or hope. I pray, day in and day out, that all of us get better soon. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2020


It seems masterfully selfish, irresponsible even, to write about something as prosaic as my new place when large parts of our country are literally on fire. But I'm here. Here in Viaborea, settling into a routine, decorating my apartment, devising lessons plans and activities and, potentially, a sharp exit across the border that's ninety miles away.

Next to thoughts of I wonder if the kids will like this? bubble up ones like You can't be like those people in Germany who waited too late to get out.

So I'm watching from my Arctic perch. Painfully aware of how little I can actually do, and of how much in my own life is deeply unsettled. Soon, I'll return and tell you the story of how I got here and how things, national and personal crises aside, are playing out. 

What heavy stories we're all living now.