Friday, March 27, 2009

When I grow up...

When I was a kid I had small dreams. I wanted to work in either the 1 hour photo-mat booth in the K-Mart parking lot or collect tolls on the Chicago Skyway. I clearly had a thing for small, enclosed, glass spaces. I think I also kind of liked the idea of not really having to interact with too many people. This was a time when gender, identity and personal fulfillment didn't really matter. A job was a place you went to every day so you could "bring home the bacon" as my dad called his daily trip to the office.

As I got older my plans got bigger. For a while I wanted to be an astronaut. I even went to Space Camp twice. Then I realized I'd probably have to join the military and that idea kind of fell by the wayside. I thought about medicine, but I had a AP Bio teacher I couldn't have followed if I was chained to his ass, didn't do very well in the class and gave up on that idea.

Around the time I was applying to college I was also realizing I was queer. Colleges were picked as much on their population of queer students as they were on academic programs. I was consumed with discovering myself and finding a place I felt safe enough to do so. Picking a major was secondary. I was relatively good at everything I tried so the decision was based more on feeling. Psychology interested me, social theory and anthropology informed me, but it was through art that I was able to really focus on my identity, my relationships and who I wanted to become.

This is not a post about the wonderful and healing power of art though. Although I am sure I learned a lot about myself and am a more well adjusted person because of it, I now find that I have absolutely no idea what I really want to do with my life. When I really get down to it, what I really wanted to become when I grew up was a man. I've done that for the most part. Suddenly I feel like I'm in a kind of transitioning hangover.

In undergrad I used art to study what it meant to myself and my relationships to be a masculine female who loved other women. In grad school I spent two years recording and documenting my transition to manhood. Both of these endeavors got me to where I wanted to be in life, but now that I'm there I don't know what to do next.

I don't regret my decisions, per se, but a part of me wonders if I should have stuck with psychology or science or math or something that would have pushed me into an obvious career path with the possibility of actually making some money.

Transitioning can sometimes feel like a full-time job, but instead of getting paid you are the one putting out the big bucks. You spend all your energy watching, learning, experiencing and trying to understand yourself. The rest of your time and money goes to hormones and surgery and doctors and lawyers just to make your body and your documents fit the person you are in your soul. As much as you look forward to the end, sometimes the end can feel really empty and disorienting. Most people spend there teens figuring out who they are while I faked being someone I wasn't. While all of my friends were spending their 20's figuring out what they wanted to be, I spent them figuring out who I really was.

I don't think that my transition will ever be finished. It will always be something I am aware of, learning about and studying. But it no longer takes the time and energy of a full time job. Sadly, as few jobs as there are out there for artists, there are even fewer for professional FTM's. Even if there where, I'm not sure I'd want that job. It's too bad, too. I've studied all my life for it.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A Boy Named Sue (or in this case Elizabeth)

The act of changing my name and identity documents is a giant pain in the ass. It's been something that I have been admittedly reluctant to do--not because I don't want it done, but because I am angry that I have to deal with it at all. Not only is it wildly expensive (and getting more expensive by the day thanks to a giant increase on court fees), but there are also seemingly hundreds of little steps that must be completed. These must all be completed in order, on time, and of course they generally cost money.
One of these steps is getting a set of fingerprints taken. The assumption is that if you're changing your name for any reason other than marriage than you must be doing it for fraudulent purposes. Attaching a fingerprint card to your name change papers allows your identity remains fluid even as your name changes.
Fingerprinting is one of the less expensive steps of changing your name--it costs about $25. I got mine taken at a strange little place on the corner of 2nd and Chestnut in Old City Philadelphia. Of course, you must bring ID such as a drivers license or passport--the very ID you are trying to change. I walked in, said I needed a set of fingerprints and placed both my drivers license and credit card on the counter. My license says the name Elizabeth, my credit card says Eli. "Getting your name changed?" the man behind the counter asks. I was surprised at how trans-savvy he was and said yes. "Eli is way better, man. I mean, what were your parents thinking naming you Elizabeth? Is that your mom's name or something?" Realizing he missed the glaring "Female" on my license, I simply stammer "It was my grandma's name."
"Aw man, that's awful. How could your parents do that? You definitely need to get that changed. Definitely." I agree that it was a cruel joke, but don't tell him that it wasn't my parents fault. They didn't know. It was more an unfortunate twist of fate.