Last week, when I was trudging through the fifth circle of the hell, where the wrathful fight each other on the surface, and the sullen lie gurgling beneath the water, withdrawn “into a black sulkiness which can find no joy in God or man or the universe,” (this plight is also known as looking for an apartment in Chicago in August) the only refuge I had from my days’ nightmarish encounters was the comfort I found by staying with an old friend, D. D was my religion professor at that expensive private school in which I spent my undergrad years*, he also is active in the LGBT community in the form of bassist extraordinaire in a hip post-punk trio.** He is a champion for all minorities, and one of my personal heroes. We had fallen out of contact after I went to grad school and he started teaching in NYC, but my Facebook account finally made itself worth having when D friended me there just weeks ago.
So, I was having a shit time the first few days of apartment-hunting, and was pretty stressed about it, when D told me he was going swimming and had an extra pair of trunks. K*** encouraged me to go and so I thought fuck it, I’ll go! And then I thought, no I couldn’t! Or, could I?
Hmm. Well, lemme try on the trunks…they fit. Also, D is a great person to go try my new chest out with.**** I have a immense respect for D. He is incredibly intelligent and very compassionate and really stands up for what (and who) he believes in. I felt I would be safe with him. When we got to the gym and D signed me in as a guest, it was cracking me up to watch this poor kid at the desk read my ID and register my legal name and gender and all the while D, so naturally, is all “he this” and “Eli that” and it makes perfect sense to him and to me (and I didn’t even have to, for once, go into the long explanation of transgender issues when coming out to D***** as trans) but this desk kid kept trying to steal glances up to me, while being discreet, and it was a great deal of fun to watch someone else squirm for a change. I don’t mean to be mean-spirited, but she was perplexed and couldn’t quite figure out who she was signing in, her only saving grace being that D and I were the only ones standing there, ergo, I, Eli, the confusing he-she, is the one being signed in. D also asked for the key to the family changing room because he knew I would be more comfortable there, and well hell, this whole sweet exchange of watching D just treat me like a regular person was nearly enough to choke me up.
Here I was, on the precipice of going topless in public for the first time with my new chest, and more to the point, my new identity, and I felt pretty safe and secure and more confident than I had in recent memory when trying something new and scary. Dare I say…I felt entitled.
But rather, the kind of entitled that comes from feeling liberated from marginalization. I felt entitled to be treated humanely. I felt I deserved the respect with which I was being treated. I felt like one of the people, you know, just a regular person going swimming with his buddy. I felt like I had done nothing wrong by existing. That kind of entitled: entitled to the space my body needs just to exist.
That day, when D and I were changing into our trunks and he was showing me how to spit into my goggles to keep them from fogging up, I felt like I belonged. Even with the F on my ID and the lack of a top piece to my swimming suit, I felt like I had just as much right to swim in that pool as everyone else did. My gender incongruence felt accepted. No one at the pool gave a shit whether of not I had a top on–they were more interested in their own day at the pool than my wardrobe. And that is as it should be.
I had a great time: D and I did some laps (I did 7! 7 whole laps! That’s 300 yards, people.), and talked in-between about stuff, my gender choices, his band, our experiences with the queers and I just fucking relaxed for a change. The water felt great on my body, and the laps opened up some of the tightness in my chest from the surgery. I have already found the gym I am joining when I move home, it’s a little further away than I would like, but it has a pool.
Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli
*And, it should be noted, was one of those professors that believed in me and encouraged me and was really fucking awesome.
**Trust me, they are way cooler than I make them sound. I sound like their mom/press agent.
***Remember that graduate degree? Well, we can’t all afford to be flying here and there looking at apartments, so when the time came to move home, I was chosen as the one to go be the eyes on the ground, as it were, because, as K and I both know in our hearts, I am “the picky one” and God helps us if K were to go home and pick a perfectly fine apartment but one that had a neighbor who played their t.v. a little too loud, or one that had a centipede here or there. Eli would fucking lose it. For the length of a lease. And don’t nobody wanna hear all that shit for months on end, not even Eli.
****Of course, K is the perfect person to go try my new chest out with. But D is equal parts fearless and logical, and so it was his bravery I was tapping into to give the dude trunks a try. Actually, in much the same ways K is those things, fearless and logical, and so without her there, D is the perfect person, in this situation, to try out the new chest. I love them both in different ways for some similar characteristics, I guess is what I am trying to get across here.
*****One of the people in his band is a trans dude, and D has been a part of the queer scene for a very long time, and so this is not his first day on the job, as it were.