I keep coming back to this question. It hasn’t been an easy year, and I was not finding answers, which is a big part of the reason I didn’t post to this journal.
Part of the reason for it being a difficult year was my hernia. I thought my genital surgeries were slow to heal. I was intensifying my dance training and planning to begin performing again when the pain became severe. The diagnosis was delayed by doctors on holiday and a series of scheduling mishaps.
I was suffering for more than half a year. It turned out I had a moderately severe double inguinal hernia, embarrassingly of the type only people born with testicles can get. In other words, men, and I’m now legally a woman. It was disheartening to have to limit my physical activity. I had to learn to take the bus instead of riding my bike and walking. I tried attending ballet classes and improv dance, doing as much as I could, but eventually had to give up. I did continue with Dance Church every Sunday, preparing playlists and dancing lying on my back.
I tried writing, but despite having lots of free time in bed, I felt blocked. I was full of doubts about my direction as an artist. At 59 was I too old to do movement performance? Would it now be one health issue after another? I had time to dwell on my doubts about gender. The medical part of my transition had not turned out well; tiny breasts, imperfect vulva and apparently permanent nerve damage. Despite a couple of sexual encounters at the end of the previous year with a lesbian friend who found me to be an attractive female lover, and with whom I became aroused, I still wasn’t able to achieve orgasm.
When I grow up… I want to be sexy. I want to be funnier than I am now. I have friends who spontaneously break into song. Could I break into song? Why am I so serious and introspective? How much more growing can I do, I asked myself as I approached sixty.
In the spring I said goodbye to my daughter. She moved far away, with her mother, to Montreal, nearer to her brother who left over two years ago.
We sold what had been the the family home for 22 years. I hadn’t lived in it for the previous two and a half years. It involved a lot of anguish; two summers doing repairs and finishing renovations, holding garage sales and sending trailers to the dump full of materials and treasures I had saved over the years. The market was slow, but finally the house was sold. It’s hard to let go of a dream. Even after letting go, it still seems there’s more… letting go.
I felt scared. I couldn’t decide what to do, afraid of making the wrong choices. Of course I knew the worst thing would be out of fear to do nothing. Somewhere, I read; what one fears may be the thing one needs most. I wasn’t sure I did want to grow up.
My wife knew about us, and we even tried a threesome. I was an idealist, and I wanted to be open about it, to share my joy with all our friends. He was more cautious, and knew the dangers of homophobia. He broke up with me, was the way I remembered it all these years, uncomfortable with my girlish displays of affection, and terrified we would be discovered.
However, what I found in my files proved my memory was wrong. I had written about how I had been unable to handle the growing feelings between my boyfriend and my first wife, and had broken with him, in his car, in a farmer's field, and he had cried. I suppose I had been unable to accept the contradiction between my ideals, and what I had done, and had invented a different version of the events.
For a few days I despaired. How could I know anything about myself, if my memories of significant events in my life were false? On what basis could I make the right decisions? Have I reinterpreted my past in support of my gender transition? What does it take for speculation to become remembered fact? Did I have myself castrated, as my brother so delicately put it, to atone for my hidden or imagined masculine sins? Am I happier now, as a woman, than I was trying to live as a man?
I’ve made so many choices. I’ll never know what would have happened had I chosen differently. All my life I’ve had difficulty making decisions. Some seemed inescapable, like rejecting conventional career paths for a life as an independent artist, or accepting what appeared to be inevitable and deciding to officially change my gender. Usually I’ve preferred to go with the flow. Most of my major life decisions have been because of a person I met and was inspired by, or a project I was offered.
In the late fall, after a short trip to Montreal for a week long Contact Improvisation workshop followed by the Montreal Annual Contact Jam, a visit with my daughter, and to Toronto to see my son acting in a play, I was offered a sublet for the apartment of a friend in Montreal. I had a vague sense I had to get away from the safe and comforting life I had made for myself during the previous four years of my recovery from my nervous breakdown, marital breakup and surgeries. I had learned a lot about self-care, friendship, gratitude and community service, but I had lost a sense of creative direction. I felt oppressed by my habits.
Classes and workshops in somatic practices were being offered in Montreal. Coming from an intellectual, visual, object based background as a sculptor, designer and architectural consultant, I have been perplexed by the somatic, integrated, body, mind and spirit source for creation through movement. I’d encountered the concept in many of the different movement workshops I’ve taken in the past 7 years. I suspect some of the artistic blocks I have struggled with during my life may be due to a disconnection between my intellect and my heart. I am beginning to understand that this kind of somatic integration is what I need to learn in order to move ahead in my own creative process.
I’ve observed my best friend, collaborator and roommate Kyle in her physical and spiritual practice, trying to learn from her, and realizing such practices can be deeply personal, at least for unconventional people like us, arising from our particular histories and a growing sensitivity to our own needs. I needed other influences, and space, in order to evolve my own somatic practice. I didn’t want to leave her, I felt I needed her guidance and support as a movement artist, but I began to suspect this dependance might be self destructive. She gave heartfelt support to my plans, though I could sense her ambivalence at the idea of me going away for many months.
As I grow older I feel less wise. A negative take is I feel bewildered. A more positive interpretation is I feel wonder. Is this a kind of wisdom? Sometimes I think life goes around in a circle, and I keep coming back to insights or fears I have had before, without progressing. But a circle is two dimensional. If you add the dimension of time, going around the circle traces a helix. From one point of view it may seem like I keep coming back to the same place, but from another, I’m moving on.
My first visit to Montreal was in 1959, newly arrived in Canada on the steamship from South Africa. In 1975 I drove my Volkswagon Beetle to Montreal to begin a new life in an ultimately unsuccessful urban commune. In 2014 I flew to Toronto, then took the bus to Montreal for a life-changing surgery. This year, 2016, I am back, riding a bike in the big city.
As I dithered about my decision, dates began to fall into place; for the sublet, for my son’s performance schedule and graduation from acting school in Toronto, and my daughter’s first term at a Montreal university.
What do I want to be? A 60 year old woman; young at heart, living, for now, by myself. Have I grown up? No, I feel like a child, just leaving the nest. Another transition; there is much yet to learn.