Saturday, January 14, 2012

Old Clothes and Transgender DADT

Last September we set the date for my workplace transition at the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest.  With November 10 fixed in the calendar, I expanded my new professional wardrobe, packing the old one into boxes as pant-suits, skirt-suits, dresses and pullovers took their place in my closets and drawers.  The two large boxes with my old business suits, dress shirts, and ties sat forlornly in my back room.  What was I going to do with them?

If I had been in the US, I would have donated everything to Goodwill or similar charitable thrift organization.  In Romania I didn't know what I would do.  I didn't want to throw everything away.  To whom should I give it?  My housekeeper who cleans and cooks for me once a week took a few things for her father, but the boxes were still full in my back room at the start of January.

This week my old clothes finally found a good cause.  A Scottish ex-pat friend put me in touch with another Brit in Bucharest who has been active in charitable work.  As of Wednesday evening, my old clothes have started their journey to a new life in northeastern Romania, the scene of severe flooding that left thousands homeless in 2010.  Another tie with the past has been cut as I move forward.  I poured a glass of red wine and toasted the past, smiling towards the future.

Signing Factura Using New Dip ID
It has been a beautiful weekend in Bucharest.  Friday night dinner with embassy friends who supported my transition through hard times last year was a warm way to begin.  Today I rendezvoused near the Arc de Triomphe with one of my new friends, PA, a young Peace Corps volunteer from Michigan.  Many embassies have a beautiful tradition of inviting Peace Corps volunteers and those on academic exchanges to Thanksgiving dinner.  I was one such lucky recipient of Thanksgiving warmth in frigid Leningrad in 1987, spending an evening with other students and academics as a guest of the Consul General.  Last year I was on the other side of the table, so to speak, as I mixed with Peace Corps volunteers at the Ambassador's Thanksgiving dinner.  That's where PA and I met, and dinner conversation led to a promise that "Of course, we must get together again!"

Arc de Triomphe in Summer
My transition has been very visible to family, friends, the entire staff of Embassy Bucharest, friends at other embassies around the world, and to old colleagues at CSC/NASA.  I transitioned in this way on purpose for support, self-protection, and, most importantly, to leave no friend behind.  I wanted anyone who had ever been important in my life to hear this from my own lips in my own words.  Writing these notes from my perch in Romania has been my way of continuing the conversation with friends who are time zones and continents away.

One of the greatest joys of the two months since November 10 has been meeting new friends who know nothing about my background, nothing about my transition.  It has been wonderful to meet and talk without having to trot out my entire story, just to have conversations that are normal.

Do you sense where this is leading?  Like others, I am having to work out for myself how much I tell and when.  I'm starting to think of this as the inwardly directed, transgender version of DADT, "If you don't ask, I won't tell."  At age 57 I have a history and can't sweep my prior life under the carpet.  I already am hitting this mark with PA.  When we met on Thanksgiving, I inquired how long she would be in Romania.  Through January was the answer.  In my mind I thought, "Great!  We can be friends for two months without my having to lead off with a there's something you should know conversation."  

Peasant Village Museum (early autumn)
Today, however, as we walked through the Peasant Village Museum at Herastrau Park, PA told me her time in Romania has been extended into the spring.  She lives not a ten minute walk from me in a sparse apartment in which the oven is not working and where the electricity is more off than on.  Remembering what it was like to live in a dorm in Leningrad in 1987-88, I immediately blurted, "Come on over and visit me for some home cooking."

"Oh sh*t," I thought after I said this.  "I'm going to have to tell her."  The photo of me standing next to my son at his high school graduation is not to be hidden away.  By that time we were sitting out of the cold in a small Lebanese cafe.  "Do I tell her straight out now?"  Perhaps it was self-centered, but I held back.  "Please let us just be normal girlfriends for a little longer."

Yes, sigh, by next time I will have to explain.  From what I can tell of PA, she will be surprised but readily accepting.  It's just that I'm tired of having to be accepted all the time.  I'd much rather just be.  Given that I am living through the greatest miracle of my life, I know that this is one wish too far, one that borders on ingratitude.  I doubt that I am alone in that feeling, the wish of wanting to just be.  I'm learning another lesson, one that others have had to face after progressing into their new lives.

But as we hugged each other goodbye, I could not help from thinking how wonderful it was, just being for those few minutes longer.

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