A Day in the Life – Grace
Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel?
— Alexander Pope, “An Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot”
I board the № 6 train in the Bronx at 8:30 AM on a cold December morning to head for my therapist in Harlem. I haven’t dressed adequately for this weather, something I will regret throughout the day. I disembark from the 6 train at 125th Street and take the M100 Bus uptown. I like this ride, enjoy the life of 125th street and the people on the bus. I overhear a snippet of conversation between two men getting off the bus at Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard: “It because of gentrification.” “What the fuck does that mean?”
The bus swings onto Amsterdam Avenue and I get off at City College. They’ve cleaned the stone on the campus buildings and they’re gleaming, beautiful to see against the cloudy morning sky. But I wonder why universities found it so necessary to design their buildings in the Gothic style for so long. It seems wildly impractical.
I’m early as usual and my therapist is strict on my arriving at 10:00, not a minute before. With time to kill I go into a coffee shop and order a ridiculously expensive thimbleful of espresso that I finish in one gulp. It is creamy and bitter and strong, but not worth $3.75. I wander around the neighborhood, crossing Hamilton Avenue (is this considered Hamilton Heights?) and consider going down to Riverside Park but nix it realizing the wind will cut right through me.
I arrive at my therapist’s on Riverside Drive punctually at 10:00 and take the rickety elevator up to the seventh floor. She lets me in and, as usual, I ask to use her bathroom. I’ve explained to her the T-blockers I’m on are a diuretic and make me want to pee all the time. I have to ask her to use her john at every visit and it’s always awkward but a necessary ritual.
We settle in her living room that looks out over 141st Street just up from the park. I search my mind for something to lead our conversation, or my monologue, to be more precise. I usually start with some event from my past week and we move by degrees into areas related. I’m telling her about some people in my support group whom I find controlling, acting as group elders or authorities which I find complete bullshit. A form of gatekeeping. I go off on a rant about a comment one let fly about “woodworking.” It wasn’t a term I was familiar with and I’m still not sure if this woman made it up but apparently it refers to some kind of stealth, where one can “blend into the woodwork.” I found it offensive and so did a much younger woman at the meeting who took exception (she was gorgeously stealth) and explained through tears that passing didn’t make her life easy but created its own stresses.
My support group talks much about the issues surrounding passing and presenting. This led me to say to my therapist that I’m unsure where I’ll end up but it more than likely won’t be without some harbingers of my other gender bleeding through. There’s another kind of stealth we talked about in my support group, that default form of passing as our old selves because it takes less effort and courage. It’s lazy and depressing but sometimes you just do it out of the sheer tiresomeness of presenting. You put on the jeans, sneakers and sweatshirt and just call it a day.
I talk about the kinds of women I admire, of the woman I wish to embody, not merely physically, as my therapist also understands, but who I’ve become. We talked about an unconscious sense of gender, of not trying to put too fine a point on it, allowing what reveals itself to evolve. I talk also about the effects of my hormone treatments and she asks about how they’re affecting me mentally and emotionally. It’s a good conversation. I feel we’ve finally hit some stride and the hour is up.
With time to kill before I head to my appointment with my physician, I take the M4 Bus to the Met Museum. It’s a long ride but I’m thankful for the warmth. A woman is confused about getting to her destination at Mount Sinai Hospital and I’m touched at the attention paid her by the bus driver and another passenger. We turn onto Central Park North and I’m always caught by surprise at the slovenliness of this street that fronts the top of the park.
My purpose in going to the Met is to see the Costume Institute and after making my way through rooms full of Egyptian artifacts I’m hugely disappointed in the fashion exhibit. It’s one of the largest fashion collections in the world but there’s so little on display. What’s there is striking and beautiful but hardly satisfies my hunger for more.
I head up the grand staircase and find the Flemish art off limits to my dismay as they’re redoing those galleries so I head to the impressionists. The first painting to catch my eye is Jean-Léon Gérôme’s Pygmalion and Galatea. He made many versions of this story in painting and sculpture but the one on exhibit at the Met is stunning. I’ve always been fascinated by this story and the magic that inspires it, breathing life into the thing created by the artist with a kiss, how a woman is awakened not by a man but by the artist.
I quickly wade through several rooms of French Impressionism and get to Van Gogh’s Irises, which alone makes the trip and the museum fee worth the effort. The real reward though was Cezanne’s Madame Cezanne In the Greenhouse. An unfinished canvas, all the work seems to go into her expression, especially her eyes and the set off her mouth which I felt as I was looking at this face expressed such a depth of feeling with such simplicity of execution and composition. It spoke to the question hanging over my session with my therapist about womanhood, what I wanted and saw so eloquently and simply expressed in Madame Cezanne’s visage and bearing, what is revealed through it, what aspects of womanhood were captured.
I was worried about making it down to Chelsea on time for my appointment so I headed out. As I was turning to walk across the park at 79th street, someone called out to me, “Hey cutie!” and I knew it was some kind of hustle so I barged past without acknowledging the verbal assault. At the Museum of Natural History at Central Park West I took the C train downtown, sitting across from two Russian couples, the women stylishly dressed all in black, all of us looking blankly at each other. I got out at 14th Street and headed up to 18th and west to 9th Avenue.
I was way too early but had to pick up my prescriptions at the clinic’s pharmacy so began the usual difficulties of prior authorizations unmet between them and my insurance company and waiting on lines to plead my case. I needed my hormones since I had only a few days left of my current dose. I can get pretty worked up in these situations, all too common, but the matter was soon straightened out and, hormones in hand, I proceeded to see my physician.
This was a monthly follow-up to review my blood tests from the week prior. After getting weighed and having blood pressure checked by an associate, my doctor arrived and we went over my progress. Things looked good for me, the hormones were having the desired effects, their levels were great, and we both agreed we wouldn’t need another appointment for three months. In four days time I go for my first surgery consult.
I felt elated after leaving and headed to Union Square for the final leg back to the Bronx. Chelsea was packed with prosperous-looking people, the seasonal lead-up to the holidays, and I slipped into Pret-a-Manger for a salad to take home. I’d nothing to eat all day aside from a bran muffin and I was starving. Then the final mile-long walk to my apartment where I dropped exhausted onto my sofa, pulled off my clothes and got into my sweats.
I started looking through some news on my phone and came across some tweets in response to some trans hate from Andrew Sullivan. Sullivan is crafty when it comes to beleaguering the trans community or any minority he trains his crosshairs on (the woke, intersectionality, you name it), seeming to strike an impartial observation that sets off a rant from his nutjob followers. This kind of thing always saddens me and I started out today wanting to write something about how loathsome I find this guy but I just didn’t have the strength or the will to plow through pages of his hate and soon abandoned all attempts. What would be the point? There’s no engaging in debate over these issues that he has no grasp of. How we’re ruining relations among the LGBs, how we’re corrupting children, how we’re confounding biology, how we’re a nuisance to feminists, how we’re not the gender we claim to be, and on and on.
Instead I wrote about my day to show myself that I just wanted to pass through life, get through my day, without unnecessary struggle, without inviting trouble. There are better minds than mine, better equipped to engage with the foe in whatever form they take. I don’t deny that the haters can affect my life and liberty but I don’t have the stomach or the intelligence to fight that battle of words and ideas. I’m better with the more general questions that I search for answers to, meanings not in defiance of ignorance and stupidity, but contemplated in the light of common day.