The more things change, the more they stay the same. I went home for ten days, after eight years of being away. My primary reason for returning was to attend my 20th High School Reunion, as I had seen my parents a couple weeks prior when they’d come to Hawaii. I was quite tentative about going to the reunion. I grew up in a Red State, and I was one of the few in my school who was not religious. I grew up in Utah which is predominantly LDS (Mormon).
Utah High Schools are unique in one key way. The LDS Church tends to buy property next door to the school and, they run a seminary there, a school for studying the LDS religion. Students at the public high school have the option to take one fewer elective class from the high school and instead, go next door to take a class in the seminary building. This allows LDS students to further their religious studies while, “Technically” not crossing the sometimes hazy line that separates church and state. Still, seminary class highlighted who was Mormon and who wasn’t amongst the student body. Also, non seminarians had to take an extra class at the high school. It wasn’t exactly like we were allowed to mess around for one period a semester if we weren’t going to seminary. Most state governments would see the flaws in this system. Not Utah. This was just one example where Utah law served to highlight the differences between Mormons and Gentiles (yes, non-Mormons are Gentiles. In Utah, you can be a Jewish Gentile).
In many ways, I took being non-Mormon in a Utah public school as a challenge. I worked hard to tow the line. To live a life of morality that would put many Mormon class mates to shame. I did not wish to be the stereotypical non-Mormon bad boy. I did not smoke, drink, do drugs or sluff. I remained virginal. I kept my grades up. I even managed to become quite popular accidentally just because I was part of our highly visible, weekly, televised news program and, a member of our school’s state championship winning drama team. Being an actor at my high school was a big deal, when compared to other schools… I mean, we were still drama nerds, but cooler than many other a school’s drama nerds because we reliably brought home a bunch of 1st place trophies. Nobody voted for me and yet, people tended to know of me. Popularity can be such a big deal in high school. I never really sought it out, it just happened all the same. I’d gone from a class of 14 to a class of 500+ and somehow, I didn’t get swallowed up by it all.
Members of the LDS Church are not typically creepy, Bible thumpers. They don’t burn crosses in Gentile’s yards or go out on lynchings. I hope that much would be obvious. They are raised to be polite, loving, hard working and geared towards family. They can be intimidating simply because they are SO practiced in being good people. I mean, like really, really good people. Not phony nice… NICE nice.
The vast majority of my high school friends were/are Mormon. They weren’t constantly trying to convert me and I was not trying to get them to stray. We accepted each other in spite of our differences, and we frequently acknowledged those differences through good natured jokes.
My core group of friends were the folks who over the course of a year or so, decided to eat lunch together. We were an odd collection of people with different beliefs, politics and, ethnicities. For a bunch of Utahns, we were quite the diverse group. The things we had in common were, we were pretty nerdy, smart and, we respected people for their differences. We would spend our lunch breaks debating politics, religion, scientific theory and, whatever else we could come up with. These debates would get quite heated but they never became personal because we understood the need for differing opinions in order to have a good debate and, we collectively were willing enough to look at all sides of an issue even if that meant we may change our own opinion eventually. It is safe to say, they are the smartest, most tolerant group of people I have ever had the honor of knowing, and yes, most of them are Mormon.
Then we graduated. Many of my friends moved away to go to school. Of those who remained, most left on LDS missions a year later. They went around the world to share their beliefs with others, to ride mountain bikes, wear white shirts and dark ties and, to have countless doors slammed in their faces.
I remained in Utah. I made new friends at the University. I continued acting. I started to smoke, drink and, began a love affair with marijuana. I had the time of my life and I learned at a remarkable pace.
Then my missionary friends started to return and, I was filled with a shame that sadly kept me from completely reuniting with them. While they were gone, I had convinced myself that I had fallen too far from the tree. I no longer thought we had things in common with each other. I avoided them like I had some contagious disease and I did not want them to catch it.
It is funny to think about it now. I am sure when I started this post and talking about Mormons, many reading this thought I would talk about how terrible they are. In reality, I did not feel like I could continue living up to the high standards they’d set. I’d convinced myself that I was the terrible one. So, I broke all ties.
After undergrad, I moved to NYC to continue learning, acting and making mistakes. I had already planted the mental seed that I was not as good of a person as I had been in high school, and that continued to weigh me down.
These self doubts were directly related to my gender dysphoria. The feeling of being trapped as a male were taking their toll. Drugs and drinking helped me escape, I thought. Smoking cigarettes was an attempt at slow suicide. I came very close to transitioning. VERY close. Then, the Twin Towers fell.
I will write about 9/11 at length in a month or so. Let me just say for now that it was terrible and I was close. The thing about huge tragedy, tragedy that is unfathomable, is it can bring with it great catharsis. Something so big can really make all your other problems feel extremely small. 9/11 lifted my dysphoria for quite some time. The release from dysphoria allowed me to man up and seize the opportunity, especially when I met the woman who would eventually become my wife, just eleven days later on September 22, 2001.
We stayed together in NYC for a few years before my dysphoria started to innevitably kick in again. A common side effect of dysphoria is it can cause a person to stagnate. I had trouble holding a job, and even more trouble looking for one, or even leaving the house for that matter. I wasted my time watching television and surfing the Internet. Our relationship was deteriorating and my dysphoria was back in full force. I could not bring myself to tell my future wife I was trans. Instead, I did the same thing to her I’d done in Utah to my high school friends. I’d decided to protect my future wife from my stagnating self. I broke up with her and moved back to Utah. She was better than me. She deserved better than me. I would never change. I wasn’t worth her love.
So, I moved back “Home” and once again, i created a whole new set of friends. I avoided my undergrad friends. I avoided my high school friends. I started over. I am pretty good at starting over. In fact, I tend to thrive for a good while before the stagnation kicks in. I got a number of professional acting jobs and, I got full time work at a professional theatre. It was really a great creative time. I also, kept calling my future wife on the phone and, we’d talk for hours. Eventually, she visited Utah and we patched things up, much to her circle of friend’s collective chagrin. After all, I did dump her once.
I applied to grad schools and was accepted to The University of Hawaii. My future wife moved with me, and I got to start over yet again… again. I proposed to her, came out as trans to her and, very shortly after graduation, we were married.
Let me talk a bit about grad school. I started out very well, just like I do, but my dysphoria returned with full force more quickly than it had in the past whenever I had run away to start over. By the end of the first semester, I was dealing with full on stagnation. I would take classes and do well all semester long, only to fail to complete the final project for absolutely no good reason at all. It was a humiliating pattern I was stuck in, and my teachers were quite annoyed by it and, annoyed with me as a student. I was rude, defensive and, I carried myself around with an air of superiority that was oh, so transparently betrayed by my multiple failures. None of my professors could put a finger on the root of my problems (why was I [sarcastically] paying them?) and, at the time, I was helpless to do or say anything about my issues. To this day, the head of the UHM Theatre Department HATES me. I think he gave me my degree just to get me out the door and yet, I did eventually pass all my classes and meet all the requirements. I earned my degree. The hard way. That I made it through, with my closeted and cripplingly dysphoric secret in tow, is damn near miraculous.
The spiral tightens as it spins downward. As I closed in on my degree, the spiral wound tighter and tighter.
Alcohol addiction was getting bad, and it only got worse after graduation until I got all suicidey and realized I had to transition NOW… if only to see if it would work. It is working.
Then, I started the process of coming out to all my friends. Living in Hawaii, and not having many old phone numbers, I had to come out to a lot of people via Facebook. First, I came out to my friends in Hawaii, because they were closest geographically, and Hawaiian culture is generally chilled out, so I did not anticipate many bigotry issues. I was limited in the people I could tell in Utah, and on the mainland in general, precisely because circles of friends overlap and my mother, father and, my wife all wanted to tell some people themselves and that effect would ripple. After a month or two, I rushed my parents and wife along. Eventually, my folks had told their brothers and sisters and, they gave me the go ahead to tell everyone I wanted. My wife lagged behind.
At around the six month transition mark, I unilaterally came out to everyone on my male Facebook account and invited them to friend me over at my new, female account. There were some interesting side effects. The main ones included many friends thinking I was joking or deciding my account had been hacked. Oh, also, my wife was PISSED. Time and again during transition, things that are good for me have an opposite impact on those closest to me. I did not properly respect the fact that by coming out in such a grand way, I had outed my wife as a quasi-lesbian. She does not identify as a lesbian, but she is married to me, eventually she will be a lesbian or bi, in the eyes of the law. Of course, she, at the time, was allowed to communicate with whichever friends she wanted. I was not. Eventually, I felt I had waited long enough and I acted against her will. I never anticipated her reaction being so negative and she didn’t properly understand how isolated I was required to be by being closeted unintentionally by someone else, when I was ready to come out.
I came out to everyone when my wife was too busy bringing home the bacon to keep her thoughts straight, let alone explain to everyone she knew that she’d married a trans woman who was finally ready to be out to the world.
Of course, I had come out to many people individually. Some on Facebook, some over the phone and, some face to face. The Facebook ones were the worst. Imagine having to explain your gender individually to people you have known for years, so they would migrate over to a new, female account where I could safely remain closeted from people I had not yet told.
You used to know me as Tommy, but things have changed, you see, I am trans and… blah blah blah…
It got fucking old, fast. Sometimes I would just try to add folks as friends without writing them the obligatory and, embarrassing note but eventually, after Facebook twice accused me of running a phony account thus requiring me to verify my existence in order to continue posting, I changed tactics.
The thing is, I could not bring myself to come out to my high school friends individually no matter how close we had been. They did not find out until I came out to everyone. Not one of them. I was too ashamed.
Once out to all of them, WOW did they support me! Long conversations began with people I had not spoken to in years. Two people asked if I was going to the 20th reunion. I said, “No”. They said I should. Both of them actually promised they would go if I did, but they were not planning on going otherwise, and yes, they both kept their promise.
Of course, I am poor and unemployed so getting to the mainland from my isolated rock in paradise was purt’near impossible. Then the Deus Ex Machina, my father in law, said he would pay for my wife and I to visit them up in Montana this summer (if we paid him back when we could). After my wife did some negotiating and, as she slowly recovered from being outed by me, she got herself a ticket to visit her family in Montana and got me a ticket to see mine in Utah at the time of my reunion.
It really sucks to think that I outed my wife against her will, and yet that very outing is the only reason I was convinced to attend my reunion. I would not have reconnected with any of these people in time for the reunion otherwise. Everything comes at a price. Sigh…
So, word started to get out that I would be attending. I remember having a conversation with one of our former student body officers online that I wanted to be called Tori and not Tommy. If we had name tags I wanted my female name or I would walk out! I was pretty catty about it. Uncharacteristically catty, in fact. Those things really do not tend to bother me that much, but my point was: If y’all can’t treat me as the transitioning woman I am, spare me the time and effort because I am already scared shitless to be doing this at all.
A few days later, he contacted me again with an interesting question: “What should we call you in old photographs?” I did not know. He suggested we go with Tori and, I went with his decision. It was right then that I realized how in some ways, simply by transitioning, I had become a person with special needs. It was an eye opener. It was humbling. I made a point to do my best not not to make a stink about little things like name tags ever again. I do not wish to be THAT trans woman.
And, what on Earth was I going to wear?
I flew to Utah about a week after my wife flew to visit her family. After catching up on sleep, getting a new driver’s license and, going to the dentist, the first social thing I did was call my former high school drama teacher. 81 years old and, she is as sharp as ever. Sharper. She confessed she struggled to come to terms with my transition, but she is still very much my mentor and she freely handed me some amazing pearls of wisdom, which I have been using ever since with amazing results. She is one smart cookie.
Then my mom took me to the University of Utah Theatre Department to get my hair cut. Well, she took me to get my wig cut. Yeah, my wig needed some work. They get old. Shorter is better. Yay! New hair!!!
The first thing I did that was at all reunion related was I went down to Orem to jam with the old garage band. The BAND!!! After high school, a couple friends from our lunch table decided I would make a great lead singer for their garage band (ha!) so they brought me in and for a while, we made some music. We recorded an album. Eventually life and school took us our separate ways. I never thought we would reunite, not even for one night. Getting back together was just like old times and we even got some poor quality recordings out of it. We actually sounded a good deal better than our recording equipment captured. There was something there. A career as rock stars? No. But there is a living pride we rightly share in not just being a band, but in writing and producing our own songs. We weren’t a cover band. We ARE Children of the Mud.
The next day was the first day of the reunion. I am thankful to have hung out with my band mates before because I now knew I had at least two friends who would tolerate me at the reunion. I was very nervous though. I tried my best to prepare for the worst. What if someone said something bigoted that was met with approval by others?
A friend of mine, my best friend from high school in fact, had arranged to drive me to the reunion and then, we would duck out early and catch dinner. It was kind of like a date. Only we are both happily married.
That said, he picked me up when he said he would. I made him wait for a minute or two while I finished getting ready. Then, he drove me to the reunion and walked me inside. Neither of us knew what to expect and yet he still walked me in just so I could hold my head high.
Now, I am a manly-ish, lesbian, trans woman but I confess that having a man there to protect me as I walked into the unknowns of my past and present, made me truly understand and respect chivalry. He asked if he could take me because he thought I might need the support. He invited me to dinner afterword because he thought I might need an exit strategy. All he had done was drive me a mile and walk inside with me and yet, it was a profoundly moving experience; both in needing and, in having his protection. Good friends are hard to find.
Suddenly, I was face to face with the former student body officer, the one who I had foolishly insisted make everybody call me Tori. He smiled from ear to ear and handed me a pre-made name tag with, “Tori” written on it. I noticed everybody else was making their own name tags and that he’d also handed me my own blank one. I wrote my name on it and placed it on my chest. I placed the pre-made name tag in my purse to save. It now resides in my high school yearbook. As a side note, this was the first time I’ve had to deal with the issue of where to place a name tag on a female top, over boobs. Eeeeep! Weird.
The reunion started off slow. In fact, there were so few people there early on, that we were kinda’ forced to talk to one another in spite of the awkward vibe we all could feel. Our high school is HUGE, and with just a handfull of people there, we only made it feel bigger. These early discussions were weird more often than not, even though I quite like the people I talked to. I think we were all getting our sea legs. A reunion is a kind of phony event, it celebrates graduation but it does not take place on the actual anniversary of your graduation. It is a get together where most people in their own way fear they won’t live up to expectations. It took about a half hour and a bunch more people arriving before people seemed to settle into a groove.
After an hour or two, I noticed I was getting pretty good at mingling. Few people dared mention my transition to my face, and yet, everybody seemed to know my name even without looking at my name tag. I imagine word got out. No big deal, I am getting used to that. Be the obvious and only trans person in a room, and people will have a fairly easy time remembering you.
Eventually, I realized I was having just as good a time talking to people I did not know very well or at all, as I was chatting with my old friends. Seems 20 years can cause people to become pretty darn chilled out and interesting.
But then, I couldn’t take it any more. I had to pee. Nooooooo!!! Couldn’t I make it three lousy hours without going? Sadly, a side effect of the testosterone blocker I take is, it makes me need to go quite frequently. I can rarely make it to the intermission of a play before I have to get up and go any more. Here I was, at my reunion and I had to do that criminal thing everyone else takes for granted and, I did not want anyone to find out. I walked around the school and all the bathrooms were locked except for the ones in the indoor courtyard where we were all gathering. Fortunately, most of the people were gathered on one side of the courtyard so, considering how I am now a ninja, I stealthed my way into the empty loo on the other side, did my business and left. I do not think anyone noticed. My discomfort with using public toilets is mostly self-imposed but really, people can argue that I do not belong in either room. I used the women’s, FYI. It is how us ninjas roll.
As I’ve said, very few people dared to mention my transition to my face. I appreciated those who did because they were willing to cut through the bullshit. I mean, I can understand the questions about wife, job, family, where I currently reside and whatnot but – HOLY SHIT ARE THOSE BOOBS REAL?!? Kinda’ seemed like my transition was also important to folks but they frequently enough, didn’t quite know how to address it. I did my best to bring it up myself when folks seemed uncomfortable. Joking can be very helpful.
“What have you been up to Tori?”
“Oh, you know… transing. Transing all over the place.”
Once it was out there and, once people had discovered I had a sense of humor about the transitioning elephant in the room, they tended to let their guards down. After an hour or two, I was no longer waiting for people to come to me, I was freely crashing their conversations… just like old times. The more at ease I became, the more at ease everyone around me was.
I discovered something fascinating. My name was not Tori to some people. To them, I was known as TommyToriOhMyGODIAmSoSorry. Being called by my full and formal name will take some getting used to. Usually I am only called that by my mother and even then, only when I am in trouble.
I suppose it is as good a time as any to mention that this night the reunion was at our old high school and there was no alcohol being served so inhibitions were lifting the old fashioned way. People were having fun in spite of themselves and in spite of the innate awkwardness that comes from attending any large reunion.
My ride and I never found the need to duck out early. We stayed until the end. We even went to an after party at a local bar.
Ahhh the bar. That was a lot of fun, at least it was once we got in. Getting in was perhaps the worst experience of the evening.
So… my ride took me to the bar where we were going to meet some friends. Three of us walked in and Bluto the bouncer, immediately stopped us to check our identification. I am fine with this, although it outs me. The law is the law. I know I do not pass often enough as female, and still, it is kinda’ embarrassing. It confirms my old identity. But first, the bouncer noticed one of my friends was still wearing his name tag from the reunion and demanded he take it off. I guess dive bars have dress codes now. Whatever… I mean it isn’t like we’d just come here from our 20th reunion or anything, and that, “Hello My Name Is” name tag had sentimental value to him or our group or anything like that… my name tag meant something to me.
Eventually, it was my turn. I handed him my Hawaii ID. He looked at it for a while. He looked at me. He looked at it again. Finally, he asked, “Why does your ID look different compared to the other Hawaii IDs I see?” I quickly explained that it was not a drivers license, it was a state ID. They look different. He looked at it again. He looked at me. He looked at it again… again. Finally, I reached into my wallet and pulled out my new, Utah driver’s license. I didn’t before because the DMV had suggested I continue using my old identification until my hard copy was issued (this one was on unprotected paper) because I would likely need a hard copy of my ID to fly home in a few days. Since he already had my other ID in his hands, I gently tossed the paper ID on his desk when he snapped, “Let me give you a bit of advice. Do not throw shit at me!” I guess, since the piece of paper did leave my hand and float through the air before landing squarely in the middle of his desk, one could argue that I threw it, but if it was thrown at him, I had terrible aim, and an even worse choice of weapon. He then compared both IDs, took out a sheet of paper and spent an intrusively creepy amount time either writing ID info down, or pretending to do so. Finally, he let us all in. My friends could see I was upset. It did feel like discrimination. I was clearly old enough to go inside. Don’t flatter me, I don’t look THAT young. I was so flummoxed, I was literally shaking. I have half a mind to Yelp him a new asshole. I did get his name…
Once inside, the bar was great. After a few hours, hanging out with a delightful bunch, including the delightful pixie I, and everyone else I had ever known in high school, had crushed on. My ride, the friend who had to remove his name tag, and I, decided we would soon leave and catch dinner/breakfast and then… my bladder attacked again. Guess where the restrooms were? If you guessed, right across from the stupid bouncer’s desk, you would be right.
Ninja tactics are old and deeply rooted. In order to get past this guard, I had to strategize, so I collaborated with a female friend, my smoking ally. She informed me that if I came into any trouble for using the restroom, our entire group would raise Holy Hell. I am THAT good. I had used the often whispered about, ninja mind trick. Now my whole group had my back.
So I snuck in, like I do, and I did the urine thing like we all do. I walked out, and Bluto the bouncer, or whatever his name is was staring me right in the eyes. I shrugged him off and rejoined my group. Ninja!!!
We closed the place.
Foooooood!!! My ride took me and my friend to a place called Dee’s, which is like Utah’s own Denny’s or Village Inn and yes, it is better. Otherwise, we would’ve gone to Denny’s or Village Inn. The night ended when my ride took me home after we’d chatted for a while in the parking lot where he’d once worked as a bag boy.
The next morning, my Dad, relieved to see me said, “When did you get home?” I explained that it was around 3:30 A.M. “Well, I woke up around 3 and when I realized you were not home, I almost called the cops because I just knew something had happened to my girl!”
How sweet is that? I am so sorry I worried him. At the same time, he quite likely would have slept right through if I was a guy. AND, I had a heckuva designated driver after all. I am not used to the emotions others have simply by thinking of me as female or vulnerable.
That afternoon, I went to The Pie to meet fellow members of our high school Pie Club. Actually, we used the symbol for Pi, so we could use it on our resumes and look like we were in some kind of math club. In reality, The Pie is the best pizzeria in Utah and, I promise you, one of the best in the world. You may like New York style pizza, or Chicago style but Pie is PIE. It is its own thing and, I can not compare it to other pizza without misleading someone who has not tried it. Thick crust, great sauce, TOO MUCH cheese and, grease enough to clog a heart once it coagulates. Good stuff! Oh, and they make 23″ pies. That may not sound too big, until you see one. Keep in mind, Pizza Hut’s largest pizza is 13″, and terrible.
So we filled up on Pie, then I went home and got ready for night 2: The Sequel, which was a more formal event. My Mom did my makeup, and shared tons of tips with me. Dad took pictures of me. It was kinda’ like prom night. Finally, they gave me the keys to the car and sent me on my way. I was running about a half hour late. I’ve got THAT part of womanhood down!
When I waltzed inside… well, walked inside, a group of friends invited me to their table, I grabbed an extra chair and squeezed in. Who did I sit with? Why, the old lunch table gang and many of their spouses. Sad to say, we did not spend the evening debating this time. It felt kinda’ weird going solo. I missed my wife and, I had grown tired of explaining why she couldn’t be there.
As for my wife, when I mentioned being married, I was often met with the question, “You’re married?” After showing the questioner my ring finger, several people asked me, “What’s he like?” I would politely and calmly explain how he was very much like a short woman of Hungarian ancestry.
Night two continued. There were presentations by the reunion committee, videos, lots of silly mid-90’s music, and a montage of fellow students who had passed away in the last 20 years. For a class our size, we had not lost many, but the news was often quite shattering, and the mood had definitely sobered in the room by the time the presentation had finished.
I took the elevator to street level needing to escape for a smoke. This was my first time alone, downtown, at night… and it was a Saturday night. I became self conscious. I was no longer in a safe zone. Eventually, someone else came downstairs, he kinda’ looked like a young Tom Petty and, we struck up a conversation. It was a relief to have someone to talk to. Neither of us really knew each other in school, and he actually did not know if he would even be welcomed at the reunion, because he had a reputation for being a trouble maker when we were young but, time had been kind to him and he was kind to me.
Things were winding down. I discovered that one of the lunch table gang won the award for being in school for the longest time after high school graduation (11 years!). I was jealous because I came close to winning, on top of that, I was kinda’ embarrassed since I had spent ten whole years, post high school studying acting and collecting student loans (Collect Them ALL!!!). Should have gone into medicine… sigh…
I won an award later, not the coveted, Most Changed award (which shockingly was not handed out this year), but rather a pair of comedy and drama masks in our school colors (Black, White and Gold, Forever) for answering the trivia question, “Who played Thisbee in our production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream?”, it was unfair, because I had played this person’s, “Lover” Pyramus, in that production… but I couldn’t resist answering since he had to cross dress in that production, while I played a guy. The irony was so irony-ee. Besides, I had lost the Most Schooling award, and the Longest Distance Traveled To Attend award and Most Changed wasn’t even a thing. I could NOT go home empty handed.
Funny thing about being the most changed; I wasn’t. Not by a long shot. 20 years gave many folks ample time to change. A few were unrecognizable in the best possible ways.
Many more had stayed very much the same. Sure they got bigger in places, balder in others… grey in spots, slight wrinkles in others… but the eyes were the same, and their personalities remained. It seems I fit more into this category. Countless people said things to me like, “I didn’t know what to expect when I first heard you were trans and brave enough to still come to the reunion, but I am so happy you came because now I realize you are exactly the same.” Epiphany time! It was true. I am the same, perhaps, oxymoronically, even more myself now than I was back then because I have nothing left to hide.
There are things that annoy me about being trans. My beard shadow and my voice for starters, both tend to get me clocked by people who do not know me. This is sometimes frightening. People I do not know tend to be polite or awesome… but sometimes, strangers see my very existence as a crime against their own understanding of the way the world as they know it is supposed to work. My body is changing due to hormones. My behavior is changing due to giving myself permission to let my inner femininity out. Passing is getting much more reliable, even in the day time, but things can quickly out me if someone inspects too closely. I know I am passing, because people I do not know are treating me like a female much more frequently. An example of passing, someone holding a door for me for an awkwardly long time because, you know, girls can’t operate doors. An example of being clocked, the look on someone’s face after they realize I am trans as I walk past them while they hold the door open for me.
I am working on my facial hair removal, but that is a long and ongoing process. Within a few months, if things continue apace, I should be able to go out without makeup, and not worry about a visible shadow.
Voice is far more complicated. Why? Because it conveys so much. If eyes are the window to your soul, the voice, at its best, translates your eyes into living language. As an actor, I think of my voice as my instrument. And here is the thing: I always have to listen to it!!! I am damned if I do, and damned if I don’t. I sound like a guy, if I do nothing… I sound insincere if I talk in a high pitch with a soft, musical tone. I sound like a bad, female impersonator. That does not convey honesty. Not to me and, not to those people around me. Eventually, my voice may come around but is gonna’ take work. It is not there yet.
So, I spoke with my natural voice and, although I have been told by several people my voice HAS changed a little, I have not made much conscious effort to do anything to it. My point is, I think my voice was helpful at the reunion, because people heard me and, not someone they’d never known. Not so helpful when dealing with strangers though…
Night two was winding down, and I had to use the restroom. So I said my goodbyes, in order to avoid the post-reunion bathroom rush then, I snuck around the corridor so I could get into the ladies room without being seen by the people who were still reunioning. One stall was occupied, so I ninja-ed my way into the farthest stall away from the occupant. I waited for her to finish, wash her hands and leave before I did my business. As I was putting myself back together, the door opened and someone else entered. I was stuck until she picked a stall. Once her stall door had closed, I rushed to the sink, washed and slipped out. Undetected!!! Damn, I’m good.
It was time for the after party at a piano bar. One of my classmates had invited us all to her dueling piano night. She rocked it and, played a bunch of silly 90’s songs for the reunion crew.
The bar was loud though, and after a reunion, I think many of the people who’d gone to the after party wanted to be able to talk a bit more easily. Eventually, a group had decided to go elsewhere and they invited me to tag along. Off we walked through the SLC streets.
We got to the destination. It ended up being a dance club with a line around the block. My Spidey Sense started to tingle. I am more than just a simple ninja. This did not seem like a good place for me. First, dance clubs are LOUD so, no real conversation and, oddly they tend to be where one goes to dance. I was a bad dancer as a man… my female moves are probably worse. Second, dance clubs are often enough, hook up clubs… and I was in no mood for anyone to try to hook up with me, let alone drunken strangers who might discover I am trans only AFTER they had attempted to hook up. That is when shit can get scary. Third, it was close enough to last call that the long wait in line would have prevented us all from having another round together.
So, I did something that surprised me. I put my foot down. I told the group that had at the last moment, invited me, that this was not a good place. I didn’t feel safe. I was afraid of being killed (that got a laugh). So, I would happily go home and they could have fun at the club. The group decided to give up the dance club plan and, to walk together to a dive bar instead.
We walked into the dive as a fight was breaking out at the door. I was at home. No need to fear for my life in here! THIS was my kind of Irish sanctuary. We ordered drinks and got to chatting.
I realized that this group we’d assembled was an odd mix of folks. We really were the late night equivalent to The Breakfast Club. We all knew a couple folks in the group, but we had never before been a group or a clique until this night, and the collective experience of the reunion and the bars was bonding us together. Young Tom Petty was there, a student body officer, a soccer player, a married couple, one delightful, self-proclaimed bitch, the lady who REALLY wanted to go to the dance club, our hockey star, and me, the token trans woman. We were quite the odd bunch and it was delightful.
I walked past another fight on my way to the loo when… NOOOOOO… a line! My ninja skills had not trained me for this. I made a mental note to get in line earlier next time so I would be able to hold it easier. The good and bad news? It was a single person ladies room. Good because I would not need to share. Bad because it would be even more of a wait. By the time I was next in line, a woman lined up behind me, doing the pee-pee dance. “Do you mind?” she inquired, “The men’s room is open and I’ve really gotta’ go! You can use it, and I will make sure nobody comes in… but the lock on the door’s broke.”
I replied, “You can use it. I am fine waiting right here.” She glared at me like I had broken some unspoken golden faucet rule and, she pee-pee wiggled towards the men’s room. Just as she was closing the door, two men burst in and kicked her out because they needed to pee, and she was in their space. It seems she too, had broken an unspoken rule. She got back in line behind me, embarrassed. I said, “It isn’t easy, this, but that is exactly why I am waiting here. I am in the right line. I hope you now understand.” She nodded, and looked down at the ground. The door opened, I slipped in, locked the door and, went as fast as I could, just so the woman behind me could find some much needed relief ASAP, but only after waiting her turn, just like I had done. I do not know if I actually used any of my ninja skills in that situation. I do know I felt a sense of smug accomplishment. I probably would have let her go before me had she not insinuated I belonged in the other room.
The bar closed, and our group started to walk people to their cars, hotels, bikes and, whatnots. The night was winding down. My old friend the soccer player and I helped designated-drive people to their cars or even to their homes. This took some time but it gave us some ample opportunity to reconnect. I do not know if either of us had realized until then, how much we had missed each other. Women used to frighten me so much, because I was both attracted to them, and wanted to be a part of their strangely complex club.
Before all that happened though, I made one terrible mistake. As we walked along, away from the closing dive bar, some random drunken stranger started hitting on me. I told him to buzz off… damn!!! My stupid voice!
“Holy shit! You’re a DUDE?!?”
“Well, uh… hey, you still wanna’ get freaky?”
He followed me, saying creepy things for a couple of large city blocks before I finally turned around and stood my ground. I raised my voice at him in an attempt to make him stop the chase. Epic fail. He began to get upset with me. He physically threatened me. Stupid man. He thought I was a strong guy, just like his uneloquent, belligerent ass was. Now, I may be a ninja, but my training was failing me at this point. I did not want this to come to blows. I told him as much, as my friends gathered to help ease the situation. Then his friends, who had been trying to figure out where he had run off to, joined in. There was a bizarre stand off since all of us were clearly more bark than bite. Eventually, I found their group’s, “Leader” and explained to him how I was being hit on and followed by this kid, when I really wanted nothing to do with him. I was having a night out with my friends for our 20th reunion. This got his group to help remove creepy guy from the situation and, we all went our separate ways.
Still, being seen and hit on as a female is new to me, and it was only after I had opened my mouth that I realized a real ninja would have put her head to the ground, and just kept walking in silence. Lesson learned.
The night had ended and I returned home around 4:00 AM, to my worried mother who hadn’t yet slept a wink. Sigh…
I was up until sunrise, chatting on Facebook with my oldest, and very pregnant friend, my very first crush. We discussed life and stuff… she is tall…
The next day was a family reunion, with most of the people on my mother’s side coming to the house for a, “Hawaiian style” luau. I got to meet many of my cousin’s kids for the first time, and my family got to, “Meet” Tori! One aunt commented that it was all a bit sad because she had lost someone she had known, but she had gained someone new as well. I was warmed by the intended compliment, but it was surreal knowing I was the same person I had always been. Nothing had been lost in my eyes, only gained.
Rising from the ashes like a Fiery Phoenix is an image I have often reflected upon as I transition. I started at rock bottom, and I had already come so far upon returning to Utah. And yet, I had not realized until I returned home, that one thing holding me back all this time was how I had disconnected from my High School friends after we’d graduated.
It was not until I’d shown my face at that first night of the reunion, that I’d realized my friends were always there, waiting with open arms. They’d held me in as high esteem as I had held them. We all, in our own ways felt inadequate. By reconnecting, they’d returned a piece of me that I had long ago forgotten I’d even lost. I hope I’ve done them the same favor.
People kept telling me how brave I was to go to the reunion. At first I just brushed them off. Then I started to believe them. Then, I realized we were ALL brave. 20 years! What if we didn’t live up to expectations?
How many of our classmates didn’t show up because they were afraid they would fall short? That thought they had peaked in high school? Convinced they were somehow less than their peers…
This reunion wasn’t about people coming to brag about their successes. In its own way, it was about people facing their own demons and just taking a leap of faith. People who sincerely hoped, in spite of their wear and tear of the last 20 years, that they could somehow recapture something they’d long missed.
I spent my last days in town, on a nostalgia tour. I visited old haunts. My oldest homes. My old grade school (it got small). I cried a lot of happy girl tears.
The last social engagement, my dear friend, the one who had driven me and protected me that first night of the reunion, took me and his awesome wife out to dinner and a movie. After a short and tearful goodbye, it was time to fly back to Hawaii. Paradise… yes… but not home…
I miss my home. I miss my friends. Thankfully, they gave me something to take with me. ME!
Watch out world, Tori’s got her mojo back!