More than fourteen thousand page views here on Laurustina this month and only four comments. Really? Is it me? Do I talk too much? (My sister will be laughing right now.) But seriously, you people are ridiculiously quiet. So that's it. I'm giving you the floor. And as I once told The Great Bryan Adams, for chri'sake if you don't have anything else to say, write about your socks.
Last week, I was scouring the library for resource books on Memoir. I didn't come up with much beyond the handful I'd already dug through, but later the same night, while re-shelving my own books in our new office, I tripped over Tristine Rainer's “Your Life as Story; Discovering the New Autobiography and Writing Memoir as Literature”.
It's one of the books I bought while researching my thesis on Therapeutic Writing a decade ago and the spine is familiar as any other on my shelf, but I haven't cracked it since September of 2002. I picked up the book, flipped through it and laughed. If I'd found it in the library, I'd have declared it “Exactly what I was looking for!” and clutched it to my chest while running for the check-out line. Instead, it was waiting casually to be remembered and rescued from deep shelves five feet from where I sleep.
I'm a big fan of Trader Joes' sauces. I keep a fat stash of them in the cupboard, including my favorite Curry Simmer Sauce, Thai Red Curry Sauce and their Basil Pesto. My favorite use of TJ's Pesto sauce dish consists of blanched asparagus and green beans tossed with a fresh cheese ravioli, but this quickie pesto chicken pasta dish is now a close second. I added fresh basil, toasted pine nuts and Parmesan to mimic the pesto and a pop of grape tomatoes for sweetness.
The Street Preacher takes to the corner of Pacific and Cooper in Downtown Santa Cruz shortly before noon on most days. I suspect he’s chosen this spot, because the acoustics on the single short block of Cooper Street are amazing. As he bellows, his words bounce off the tall stone buildings and swell with significance. He looks like an aged biker with his grey beard and a bandana covering his head. He smells like dust and sacrament He holds his bible aloft in one hand, while the other skinny arm stretches skyward. His message is a mix of ancient texts and anti-establishment psychobabble. Some days its hard to tell where the reading ends and the sermon begins.
He’s quite mad, of course, but still, I like to lean against the pole just outside Pacific Wave and listen to him. He sounds as impassioned as John The Baptist and as angry as crazy as Charles Manson. The passages he shouts down the block are most often the complicated metaphors of obscure prophets. Some days I want to cross the street and ask him gently to read a Psalm, or one of Solomon’s love poems. I want to make him understand that fire and brimstone won't work here, in this time, in this place. But maybe he knows more than I. Maybe his secret visions are to terrifying to not be shared. Perhaps he really is the lone sane voice, crying out against evil.
I smoke my cigarette, leaning against the pole while a string of verses from Malachi reverberate from the wall behind me. I watch The Street Preacher because he makes me think. Not because I like what he says.
Yesterday, while wandering through the wonders of the internet(s), I came upon an essay by Stephen Ira which was (specifics aside) a critique of media portrayals of trans people. The article gnawed at me all day and by this morning, once I was able to untangle my internal response, I realized I feared that in writing and sharing our story, I am furthering that narrative.
“This construction of the emotionally tortured transsexual does another important job: it normalizes trans suffering. Much of the emotional suffering that trans people have to deal with is a result of cissexism. Lack of access to medical care, disrespect from family and peers, and constant media reminders that trans bodies are worthless and require frequent monitoring/destroying. But if cis people create the impression through media that suffering is trans people’s natural state, they can erase the real cause of trans suffering: cissexism.”
I am acutely aware that I come to this with my own privilege and I struggle to walk a fine line, speaking about though not for my child and the trans people in our life. I write about doctors, psychiatric professionals and school administrators, those who who were helpful (the few) and those who weren't (the many). I write about family and friends, those who rose to the occasion with unexpected acceptance, and those who could only see her as some kind of Other, whether a soon-to-be victim of violence, a mentally unstable child or a slave to sinful things. I write about her friendships with older trans women and about the emerging generation of trans people we knew, living lives full of hope and promise.
As I wrote two years ago in a sharp-tongued memo, I do not believe that Ashlie's gender brought about her death. In this way the narrative of “The Boy Suit” is perhaps false, but the larger story, the one I wake up every day intent on pounding out piece by piece, is one that I hope addresses in some ways, the cissexism that Ashlie and those like her face.
Despite the desire to remain an ally to the trans community, the fear nags at me that perhaps I am doing more damage than good. No defense of my work should undermine the experiences, ideas and reality of the very people I seek to support. It is a fine line and I suspect that I will continue the struggle to find myself on the right side of it.