19
October

True Grit

81 Comments

I hang my hat in two very dis­parate camps: the world of the military/law enforce­ment and the world of writers. The two inter­sect some­times, but not nearly as much as I’d like, and it’s been regret­tably nec­es­sary for me to main­tain mul­tiple cir­cles of friends that don’t overlap much.

Recently, one of my writer friends taught me something.

He lives far away. We have one of those friend­ships where we catch up in person once or twice a year, sit­ting in some trendy brasserie and filling one another in on our lives, feeling as if no time has passed at all. We trade emails in the interim, and lean on one another for sup­port over the phone reli­ably enough that when either of us sees the other’s number over caller ID, we know there’s a crisis. It’s a valu­able friend­ship, one that’s seen me through mul­tiple per­sonal hells, kept me on the straight and narrow when I was so blind with grief and terror that I couldn’t see a way ahead. The friend­ship finally reached the stage where I felt like he was one of the people I con­sid­ered “in my circle.” I’m loyal as a dog, and once you’re in that par­tic­ular circle, you always are, come hell or high water. That lends a sense of per­ma­nence to a person. He had crys­tal­ized in my mind. He was, to me, who he was.

And then, one day, he sent me an email and told me that he had once been female.

I won’t lie. I spent a solid 5 min­utes reading and rereading and asking the com­puter mon­itor if this was some kind of a fucking joke. But it wasn’t. He had changed his gender, and wanted me to know.

Why are you telling me this?” I asked. “You want to iden­tify as a guy, I treat you as a guy. Hell, if you hadn’t said any­thing, I would never ever ever have known.” I don’t talk about my sex life much, and I don’t tend to ask people about theirs. I knew he and I had dif­ferent inter­ests, and that was enough. What he did in the pri­vacy of his bed­room was his busi­ness. He said that it was impor­tant to him to feel like he could truly be him­self with his friends. He didn’t want this to be a secret.

That made sense. After a few min­utes, I swal­lowed the new infor­ma­tion, digested it. “What­ever,” I con­cluded. “You’re my friend and I love you. You want to be a guy. You’re a guy. That’s that.”

And it was.

Of course, there was curiosity. I’d never had a close trans­gen­dered friend before. I had ques­tions. What had caused him to make the change? What was the expe­ri­ence like? How had people reacted? His family? His friends? How did he have sex? Date? Change in a locker room? What bath­room did he use? And because he was my friend, he answered them patiently, kindly, specif­i­cally. This was fol­lowed by some lengthy con­ver­sa­tions on what it meant to be a man, in which I had my assump­tions chal­lenged, my hori­zons broadened.

As the months passed, I chewed on the idea, found that the seed of sur­prise and curiosity had sprouted into some­thing else. As our friend­ship con­tinued in its familiar grove, reg­ular con­ver­sa­tions about work, art and ambi­tion, friends in common, the kind of mun­dane checking in that stands in for the more direct state­ment “I care about you and your life,” I finally came to grips with the flower that seed had blos­somed into.

Awe.

If there is a thing in this world I admire, it is grit. “Grit” is like the Arabic “wasta,” Russian “krisha,” or Heinlein’s “grok,” words that have a def­i­n­i­tion, but a land­scape of mean­ings. The word is an acquired taste, it takes a long time to truly plumb its meaning.

Grit is courage. It is tenacity. It is sui­cidal bravery. It is fas­tening your teeth on an objec­tive and not let­ting go even when it recedes so quickly that the wind begins to strip your skin. It is single-mindedness. It is commitment.

For me, gender has always been an immutable thing. It is like a moun­tain, or the wind. It simply is. I am happy to be a male. I have no desire to change it, but it also occurs to me that I have never, not even for an instant, even con­sid­ered the pos­si­bility of changing it, any­more than I would con­sider the pos­si­bility of breathing under­water without the aid of any gear.

Our gen­ders are chosen before we leave the womb. From the moment we take our first breaths, our gender iden­tity is rein­forced by everyone and every­thing around us. Our shape, our size, even the arrange­ment of our internal organs speak of a single side of the aisle, of a way that we simply are.

My friend looked at that rock solid reality, in all its immutable, mono­lithic cer­tainty, and decided, fuck that. He didn’t like it.

So he changed it.

At first, those around him downtalked his interest, ignored it, tried to dis­miss it. As he per­sisted, the resis­tance grew, until he endured threats, curses, accu­sa­tions. Those he loved turned their backs on him, those who didn’t know him threat­ened his life. Everyone told him he was a fool. That he was crazy. He was female. You might as well try to put out the sun.

I imag­ined the onslaught. I imag­ined how he must have felt, doubting him­self, won­dering if the accusers were right, that he was insane, that he was going to do irre­versible damage to him­self to no effect, that he could never change who he was.

I imag­ined him dig­ging deep, staring all that in the eye, resis­tance that would have crushed me in an instant, and saying, “Get out of my way.”

He is a man now, phys­i­cally, emo­tion­ally, intel­lec­tu­ally. He has a good job, a solid circle of friends. He has an active love life. His family has, at long last, embraced him. The entire world treats him as he is: a man. His trans­for­ma­tion is as com­plete as it can be. He is a man in every way I can pos­sibly think of.

And more, he is a man with grit. He is a man with steel. He is a man who stares in the face of the greatest obsta­cles the world can offer, shrugs, and rolls up his sleeves.

He is the kind of man I strive to be.

Every single thing I value my life seemed utterly beyond my reach until the moment I had it. A scrawny nerd could never become an officer. A failed writer could never get a book deal.

My friend reminded me that life is com­pletely made up, that nothing is inevitable, that the only rules are the ones we make for ourselves.

There will come a time in your life when you will want to do some­thing. Some­thing incred­ible. Some­thing impos­sible. You will want to do it with the core of your being. Your soul will vibrate with the right­ness of the act. People around you won’t under­stand. They’ll dis­miss you. They’ll insult you. They’ll threaten you.

Do it anyway.

  • Dan Adler

    This post I can empathize with. Com­pletely. I have sev­eral acquain­tances who are Trans. And one dear dear friend. One with whom I was one com­pletely crazy about. When he was male. I found out, in col­lege, that he was male only on the out­side: he thought of him­self as female, and intended, post-college, to make the change. And did. He’s a she now, and a damn good one. I was there, thir­teen years after he (at the time) told me his secret, when she (now) woke up from her final surgery. We’re still fan­tastic friends. I learned a lot about being, not just male or female, but human. Grit indeed.

    Oh, and you are the man you strive to be. Trust me. I’ve noticed.

  • Kathryn (@Loerwyn)

    This is a fairly excel­lent post, Myke, and I think you accu­rately sum up how a number of people will react to learning someone they know is (or, as some would like to term it, ‘was’) trans*, espe­cially if they’ve been living as their cor­rect (i.e. the one they feel is cor­rect) gender for years without ever hinting to any­thing else.

    I also think you, per­haps inad­ver­tently, touch on some­thing that is both rarely dis­cussed within trans* com­mu­ni­ties but can also be a focus for others. Sex. There are people who seem to think being trans* is a sex thing, when it really, really, really isn’t. There’s a lot of con­fu­sion on the ‘out­side’ between gender and sex­u­ality. So you’ll have people who think transwomen are just, like, “ultra-gay” guys and transmen are “super-butch” les­bians. And it really doesn’t work like that. You have transmen in gay rela­tion­ships (i.e. in a rela­tion­ship with a man), and transwomen in the same (i.e. with a woman), and you have them in straight (transman w/ female, blah blah blah, you get the picture).

    On top of that, you also have a poke at the con­cept of gender iden­tity. Many people (even some trans* people) hold it as a binary con­cept. Male or Female. In truth, it’s sim­ilar to sex­u­ality in that you have a spec­trum, with people who iden­tify as no spe­cific gender, as a mix of both, as a third gender (this is more cul­tural, I find) and so on. It’s not two solid lines, and there is evi­dence in burials that actu­ally it’s been going on a long time, and that there have been those who have lived as a gender that didn’t nec­es­sarily “match” their sex.

    But again, Myke, I think this is a good post. And I — as a transwoman — have found a new level of respect for you. I don’t doubt you’ve got a lot of thinking to chal­lenge (I do everyday and I kind-of live this), but you *are* one of the good guys, and this post proves it.

  • James R. Tuck

    My friend looked at that rock solid reality, in all its immutable,
    mono­lithic cer­tainty, and decided, fuck that. He didn’t like it.

    So he changed it.”

    That’s some moth­er­fucking poetry man.

  • Michael Bru­denell

    Wow, Myke. You con­tinue to impress me with your under­standing, and open minded atti­tude. You are always willing to learn from others and chal­lenge your pre­con­cep­tions. I look for­ward to meeting you in person.

  • Rich

    I accept it but I don’t really under­stand it all. I do, how­ever, under­stand grit.
    Good words.
    +1

  • http://www.casondrabrewster.com Casondra Brew­ster

    Excel­lent post, point, and three cheers. Having watched some of my friends chal­lenge gender iden­tity norms, you are dead on. Stronger than most. The dust of grit-driven life is all about them. Kill your fear, kiddos. Kill your fear.

  • Joanne Hall

    Bril­liant post :) I have a good friend who is trans. The more we can help pro­mote under­standing and empathy, the better. Next time I see you I’m buying you a beer!

  • Priscilla Spencer

    This post is fan­tastic. I applaud you both.

  • Mary Spila

    Thank you.

  • C.D. Lewis

    Exactly. What James R. Tuck said, exactly.