Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Heaven Can Be Yours Just for Now -- or -- So How Far Back Does This Go? (Part 8)

All the lovely ladies in their finery tonight,
I wish that I could know them one by one.
All the handsome gentlemen with loving on their minds,
Strolling in to take the ladies home.
Gordon Lightfoot.  An old song playing in my head on a frosty autumn morning.  Down the hill, up the next on two wheels, spinning the cranks 15 miles from home to work.  All is normal, all is OK in the final decade of the 20th century.

And it almost was.  I had been given a choice of diagnoses in 1990, and I chose the one that would preserve a marriage.  Anti-depressants for a year, out of management and back to technical work, attitude determination for Hubble again.  The recipe was good, and it almost worked.  It was the most normal decade of my marriage.  The secret was out, 36 years of pressure had been released, the white noise of my life had receded.  Could it all have been a delusion?
Bless you all and keep you on the road to tenderness,
Heaven can be yours just for now.
A Saturday morning in 1991, my son in the carrier seat on the back of my bicycle.  We're off, just the two of us, to Sligo Creek Park to play by the creek and on the swings.  Another weekend it's the Renaissance Festival.  Then it's the B&O train museum.  It's the age of pumpkin patches, nursery school, and childhood wonder seen again through the eyes of a parent.
All the gentle strangers who by nature do not smile,
To everyone who cannot hold a pen,
To all you heavy rounders with a headache for your pains,
Who dread the thought of going 'round the bend.
1992.  "Dad, let's go basement and cut pipe."  Our basement becomes my son's weekend playground as I rip out the old plumbing and heating system in our Takoma Park bungalow.  He plays with pipe fittings as I cut old steel pipes out of the ceiling and sweat new copper into place.  The solder sizzles and burns my fingers.  Must finish before the first frost.
Bless you all and keep you on the road to better things,
Heaven can be yours just for now.
1994.  Monthly IRCHAD meetings at the Naval Observatory for donuts and an international seminar on "Astronomy and the State, U.S. and Russian Perspectives."  Then it's off on a camping and driving trip in an ancient Cadillac through upstate New York, Canada, and New England.  It's just my spouse, my son, and me, a mutual friend joining us mid-way.  I see Maine for the first time and fall in love with a state.
To all the lovely ladies in their finery tonight,
I wish that I could kiss you while you knit.
To all the ones who learn to live with bein' second-guessed,
Whose job it is to give more then to get.
Mid '90s.  Pointing control lead for Hubble's Mission Scheduling System.  Spline algorithms.  We throw out everything to do with the High Gain Antennas and start all over again.  It's the best technical work I'll ever do.  I receive a Space Flight Awareness award, and my spouse, son, and I go off to Kennedy Space Center to see a night launch, stopping at Disney World on the way.
Bless you all and keep you with the strength to understand,
Heaven can be yours just for now.
Cub Scout Pack 432.  Pack chairman, newsletter and web-site author and editor, tireless promoter.    Webelos Weekend and Pinewood Derby.  Then it's Troop 432.  Monthly camping trips, weekend hikes, car washes, summer camp, and bicycle merit badge counselor.  Take the tandem so the young ones can finish in the back stoker seat if they tire.  Swim meets, school events, help with homework, weekend events at the Brazilian-American Cultural Center.  Best of all, it's bed-time stories.  Nursery rhymes give way to  Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Master and Margarita. 
To all the little dreamers with a dream that cannot last,
To all the sleeping giants who must wake.
To every man who answers to the letter of the law,
And all the rest imprisoned by mistake.
College Park Bicyclist Coalition.  Become an advocate for bicyclist rights on U.S. Route 29.  We win. 

Two aunts and a sister-in-law, marooned with us because of illness.  Hopeless, awful, bizarre, and wonderful all together.  TV Globo and Brazilian soaps.  Little English to be heard.
Bless you all and keep you with the faith to let it pass,
Heaven can be yours just for now.
Summer vacations in Ocean City.  Long walks on the beach, jumping through waves.  Throwing away money on the boardwalk just for fun.  Sand sculptures, Thrashers french fries, chocolate malts at Dumpsers.  Summer novels.  The sound of the surf that lulls us to sleep.
To all the lonely sailors who have trouble beeing seen,
To all of you with heartache that remains.
Maybe sometime later you might swim back into shore,
If someone could relieve you of your chains.
1998.  An unexpected phone call at work.  "Dad has had a stroke, meet us at the hospital."  The father with whom I could never speak has softened since my collapse in 1990.  I can still see him scooping up ice cream for my son, his grandson, his funny bowler hat on his head.  I miss you Dad.  There is so much I still want to tell you.  He leaves us three days later.

Gordon Lightfoot.  An old song playing in my head on a dark, cold winter evening.  Down the hill, up the next on two wheels, spinning the cranks 15 miles from work to home.  All is normal, all is OK in the final decade of the 20th century.
Bless you all and keep you all on the land or on the sea,
Heaven can be yours, just for now.

* * * * * * * * * *


Gordon Lightfoot from the Cold on the Shoulder album still echoes through my head on cool autumn evening bicycle rides, be it in Washington or in Maine or in Bucharest. . . . 





Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Odd Joys of International Travel while in Transition

I just spent two weeks in Maine with my sisters.  For the first time, we were together as four sisters, not three sisters and a brother.  One of the chief orders of business other than talking and eating plenty of Maine seafood was to outfit me with an expanded professional wardrobe for the fast approaching time when I will end my double life and will begin coming to work as Robyn.  My sisters were my fashion committee, and we devoted the rainy afternoons to this task.  We had a marvelous time.

What I want to write about here, however, is not the vacation as such but the unexpected, nicely odd experiences I had flying between Romania and the U.S.  Since I still have my guy passports, both diplomatic and tourist, I purposely dressed in drab, unisex travel clothes.  I expected no problems, but I was wrong.

Photo from my Passport
It began in Amsterdam, where I needed to change flights and had to go through security again.  Something  triggered  the detection scanners, and the security agents indicated they would need to pat me down.  They were speaking between themselves in Dutch while I waited, but I caught enough words to understand that they were uncertain whether I was a man or a woman and whether a female or male agent should have the honors.  Surprised, I interrupted in English, explained that I am a transsexual in transition, and told the male agent it was OK to proceed.  When he was finished, he said, "Thank you, ma'am."

On the flight to the U.S., it was ma'am the entire time from the cabin crew.  I was thrilled to be taken as female even when I was purposely trying not to, but I began to worry about passport control in the U.S.  Sure enough, the young officer at passport control in Detroit was confused when he looked first at me and then at the passport.  He clearly needed help.  When he started asking the usual questions, I said that I worked at the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest and was coming home to the U.S. for vacation and to start a legal name change.  "Oh," he said, "what will you be changing your name to?"  "Robyn," I replied, and he then held out the passport, pointing to the M for sex.  "Will this be changing?"  When I replied "yes," he smiled and sent me on my way.

Photo from Embassy ID:  "The Mad Scientist"
After two days in Washington, I flew up to Maine on a domestic flight.  Again in guy mode, I thought better of showing my passport as an ID.  I had in my suitcase a recent ID badge from the Embassy that at least shows me with long hair, my mad scientist look.  That did the trick.  There were no quizzical glances or questions.

Arriving in Maine was a different matter.  Ironically, I had begun exploring whether there was still a chance I could yet walk the transition road in this lifetime when I was in Maine during the summer of 2010.  It all started there, but my neighbors in rural Burlington were about the only people left in my universe who did not know I had begun transition.  I had asked my neighbors Frank and Kelli if they could pick me up at the airport, but when I got off the plane I instead saw a stranger holding a sign with my name.  This turned out to be Fred, another neighbor from down the road whom Frank and Kelli had commissioned.  I waved, but he took no notice.  I had to walk right up to him and tell him I was the person he was looking for.  Clearly I was not quite the guy he was expecting.  We had an awkward 45 minute drive from Bangor to Burlington.

After throwing my suitcase into my cabin -- the only home I have today in the U.S. -- I walked next door to see my neighbors.  Kelli gave me a hug and invited me in to dinner.  As polite as ever, both Kelli and Frank looked at me strangely as though an elephant had walked into the room with me.  Over the course of dinner I worked my way around to the subject of my appearance.  Choosing my words carefully, I explained what is going on.  To my relief, Frank's response was, "Doesn't change the way I think of you."  Within days Kelli was complimenting me on my new clothes. 

I had had some fears about "coming out" in rural Maine, but to my relief I was wrong.  Maine is a state of yankee conservatism.  The credo is still "I might not agree with the way you are living your life but will defend to the death your right to live it that way."  My handyman Ritchie told me I was just adding color to Burlington's already colorful citizenry.

Somewhat wiser, I kept my mad scientist Embassy ID in my pocket for the return to Romania.  At airport check-in, all security checks, and finally at passport control in Bucharest, I presented my passport along with the ID, explaining that the ID photo is more current.  It worked.  I had no unusual incidents. 

A Rainy Afternoon in Bar Harbor
I should have no such odd experiences when I next travel outside Romania.  While in Maine, I went to my attorney to start the legal name change.  By the time I travel to the U.S. again next summer, I will have new passports with correct name and gender.  The charade will be at an end.

On the flight from Baltimore to Detroit, a young Lebanese woman who sat next to me with her 13-month old son struck up a conversation from which it was immediately clear she had taken me as female.  We talked child care and the difficulty of traveling with family.  I got out the vacation photos of me with my son and with my sisters.  As we looked at them, I heard the voice of the stewardess.  "Can I offer you anything to drink, ma'am?"  Wonderful, simply wonderful.

The Timeless Beauty of Fall in Maine