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A simple test and I flunked

I failed another test today. A test of conscience.

As I parked my car outside my condo after walking at the park, I saw my downstairs neighbor getting in his car. He drives for Uber and Lyft to supplement his income, so he comes and goes a lot. I walked over and told him about my car getting “robbed” the night before. When I got in my car that morning, I found my glove box open and everything in it on the floor. The box in the center console was also open and the old wallet I keep in there for change for tolls and visits to the fast food joints was gone, as were my iPhone earphones and charging cable. I told him my son-in-law’s car had been robbed in our lot as well a few months ago. In both cases, we had forgotten to lock our doors.

My neighbor’s reaction was immediate. “It’s those folks in Knollwood Apartments down the street,” he said. “Are you sure,” I asked. “I lived in Knollwood for a couple of years and it seems like a nice place.”

‘Not anymore.” He said. “It’s gone Section 8!”

My neighbor is a middle-aged white man from Louisiana. I knew immediately he meant the problem was the “blacks” living on government assistance. I wanted to say something to show I did not agree with him that black folks were necessarily the robbers. That needing government housing assistance did not equate with being black. Or being a criminal.

But I said nothing, not wanting to create a problem with my neighbor. A neighbor who seems to accept me for who I am, even though I do not exactly pass very well anymore. I am androgynous at best on a good day.

But I, too, am an older white person. I have no doubt he would not be so accepting if I were not white.

And so, I am afraid of rocking the boat, here in deep red Alabama. I need to find my voice again.

 

[For a worthwhile read about why “Section 8” came to be a racially-charged label, see https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/06/15/how-section-8-became-a-racial-slur/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.11930ad53bb1]

Sound Off!

“YOU’RE THE MAN DAWN!! LETS GOOO!! YOU DON’T KNOW HOW LONG I’VE BEEN TRYING TO FIGURE THIS OUT! THANKS FOR THE DETAILED INSTRUCTIONS DUDE!!”

That is a recent comment on one of the how-to videos I make for my students. Although my name is Dawn and I have a photo of myself on my YouTube channel, my masculine voice tips the male-female basket of gender sticks to the blue side every time.

My sense of gender performance is that we all are a mix of traditional male and female attributes – my basket of gender sticks. The metaphor is of a basket containing sticks, some pink and some blue with others of indeterminate color. If you have enough pinkish sticks, the basket tips toward the feminine side and you are perceived as a woman. If there are too many blue sticks, you are perceived as a man.

This is a potentially life-altering balance for trans folk, particularly for transwomen like myself.

When I was first trying to accept my real self, I felt compelled to have as many pink sticks as possible so that I was “read” as a woman and not a man.

My problem is that I was given a traditional male body – 6 feet tall, broad shoulders, large feet and hands, balding scalp, and a masculine voice.

With a lot of effort and good help, I was able to address most of these fairly successfully, and my basket began to reliably tip toward the female side.

But I was not so lucky with my voice. Although I spent many hours with professional voice coaches, I was never able to get a feminine voice. No matter how hard I tried, I am invariably read as male over the phone and at drive-throughs.

But not so when I am face-to-face with most people. My voice is noticed, but I have enough pink sticks to tip my basket to “woman.”

I have lived in Mobile, Alabama, for about 40 years. My favorite department store before I transitioned is Dillard’s, and it is still where I prefer to shop for my clothes. Soon after I transitioned, I met a sales clerk in the women’s area named Dorothy and we became friendly. Whenever I was in Dillard’s, I looked for Dorothy to help me and ring up my purchases. When she was working with me, I never had any problems.

About 10 years ago, I came in one day when Dorothy was off, though I didn’t know it at first. I found some clothes I wanted to try on and just walked to the dressing rooms by her station, found an empty room, and closed the door. The replacement clerk evidently saw me enter and came over to “claim” me so she would get the sale. She knocked on my door and asked if someone was helping me. I was startled not to hear Dorothy and answered, “Dorothy normally helps me.”

Immediately, I heard a raised voice, “You are in the women’s dressing room and you must leave now!” I panicked and did not respond while I rapidly tried to get my own clothes on. Before I could get completely dressed, I heard a male voice say, “Get this door open or I will force my way in!”

I opened the door and there was a uniformed policeman there. He looked at me, stammered, and said, “I’m sorry, Ma’am, I was told a man was in this dressing room.” He backed off and the sales lady began to apologize as well and saying she would be glad to assist me. But I was too unnerved, and I rushed out of the store to my car and drove home.

After a few months, I finally found my way back to Dillard’s, found Dorothy, and continued to shop there. But a few years ago, Dorothy retired, and I did not go back.

Last year, I was awarded the Distinguished Faculty award by my school. I was asked to come up to Albany to accept the award at graduation and I needed some clothes. With some apprehension, I went back to Dillard’s, given that nice clothes shopping options are relatively few in Mobile. Trump had been elected, North Carolina’s Bathroom Bill had been passed, and awareness of trans women was heightened, especially in the South.

Compounding the problem, Dillard’s had cut back on staffing and there were very few sales clerks on duty on the floor I needed. I found some clothes I wanted to try on, but could not find a salesperson to help me, so I ventured into the dressing area. Sitting outside the door, was an older white male, glaring at me as I walked by. I presumed his wife was in one of the dressing rooms, and I almost did not go in, as he made me feel uncomfortable. But I needed the clothes.

And within minutes, there was a replay of the scene from 10 years back. A knock at my door asking if I needed help, my answering I had found some things I wanted to buy, and a shrill voice: “Get out of here, freak! I have called security!”

I scramble to get dressed and just made it as a heavy male voice demanded I open the door. I opened the door and the policeman asked for my identification. I gave him my driver’s license, which thankfully has an “F” and he studied it for a minute or so. Then, he apologized, “Sorry, Ma’am, the fellow outside thought you were a crossdresser or something, and he didn’t want to have his wife attacked.”

I nodded and didn’t say anything. I just walked out of the store as quickly as I could, shaken and determined to leave Mobile and this awful red state as soon as I could.

 

 

 

Wigwam Village

Somehow a Tweet about Wigwam Villages showed up in my feed today. I have no idea why. For those of you who are too young or not lucky enough to live in Birmingham back in the 50’s, you may have no clue what I am talking about.

After we got our first car in 1949, my parents liked to go on Sunday drives around Birmingham. Because we lived in the west end of town, West End, to be exact, we were closer to downtown Bessemer than we were to downtown Birmingham. So, many of our Sunday drives took us that way. We would pile in the car – Momma drove since my dad did not know how – Dean and I in the back seat. We drove over to Lomb Avenue and followed it Southeast until we hit Highway 11. Bessemer Road as it was known then, a main drag if there ever was one. We would drive south past the coke plants and steel mills that so stunk up our air, through Bessemer toward Tuscaloosa, though I cannot remember ever going all the way there.

There was a restaurant downtown Bessemer owned by a friend of my father. We did not eat out often and when we did it would be a restaurant where we could get family-style meals at a cheap price. I cannot recall the name of that restaurant now, and I am sure it ceased to exist long ago.

But the highlight of the trip for Dean and I was the Wigwam motor hotel just about midway between the Alabama Fairgrounds and downtown Bessemer. You could not miss it. 15 silver teepees surrounding an even larger central teepee containing the restaurant. The Wigwam Village, as it was called, opened in 1940, the fifth of seven eventually built across the country. My understanding is it was torn down in 1964 when I was in my first year at the Academy.

Dean and I loved to argue with my father about the name. You see, Dean and I watched Hop-along Cassidy on our new TV and we knew that the “wigwams” were really teepees. Wigwams, we tried to convince my father, were short and squatty, not tall and pointed. But he never listened to us and just said, “Then why did the rich man who built Wigwam Village call them wigwams?”

Unfortunately, our arguing with him meant he would never agree to stop the car and let us explore them. So, we drove by, always missing our chance to go in a real teepee.

That is until one cold December day in 1951. My birthday fell on a Sunday that year and I guess my father decided to give in to our pleas because of that when we drove by the teepees on the way to Bessemer. Mother pulled into the gravel parking lot and parked by the big restaurant teepee.

“How would you like to eat dinner here?” he said. We were ecstatic and could not wait to get out of the car and run inside. I honestly cannot remember what we had to eat. More than likely, we had vegetable plates because they were usually the cheapest dinners on the menu. We gobbled our food down and ran around the restaurant looking at the sloping walls. Mom talked to the manager and he let us into one of the wigwam cabins. I cannot remember much about the inside – just a bed and a bathroom. But you could look up at the top of the teepee and see out because there was a window up there, just down a bit from the peak.

The photo below was taken Dec 6, 1951, just four days after we were there.

Don’t Give Them Clicks

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Just thinking out loud.

Clicks count.

Data is the new form of currency and clicks can make people and groups more ‘popular’ and give them more visibility and power. When you run across an article about a hate group, right-wing politicians, and/or their latest machinations, don’t just share a post that contains a link to their website or FB page. Or even one to someone reporting on them if the report is on Faux, Breitbart, or even mainstream media. Even a mad or angry FB response counts in their favor. The more activity related to the posts/articles on them, the more you will see similar posts/articles, as will everyone else.

Instead, take a few minutes to search for a LGBT source commenting on them/their latest evil deeds and share that. If you cannot find a friendly source, write a synopsis and your thoughts/recommendations and share those. If you don’t feel comfortable, right-clicking on the image/meme in the original piece, make your own. It doesn’t take long and having a bit of personal involvement feels good.

Just don’t give them any clicks.

For more info, check this slide presentation:

Bubba, Frances, and the flowers of spring

Ellie,

I do not know if you will ever read this. Your father David keeps encouraging me to tell my story and I resist, mainly because I do not feel worthy most of the time.

But this is springtime 2016 and I’m watching flowers break out in riotous joy everywhere I look. And that reminds me of your great, great, grandmother Bubba.

 One flower always jumps out in my mind, the iris.

One of my first vivid memories was at our little house in West End. I can remember that the poor front yard was small and had no vegetation, mostly dirt and weeds. But on the side yard between our house and the wealthier Reeds, my mother had somehow performed a miracle and transformed the dirt and rocks into a wonderful garden. There were, of course irises, but also roses and daffodils and, in the summer, daisies and bachelor buttons.

We were relatively poor, with only the income my father made as a hair stylist, and there was no way my mother could have afforded to buy plants for her garden. So how did she get the plants?

When I was a lot older, Bubba and Travis finally were able to buy a home in Acipico that had room for Bubba to make a garden. Prior to that, Bubba and Travis had rented space from my great grandmother Big Momma Dean. I learned that my mother Frances was giving plants from her garden to Bubba for her new place. And Bubba had a tremendous green thumb. While Frances had been successful in growing the plants in her small garden, Bubba soon had a very large flower garden that dwarfed the one Frances had.

On one of my overnight stays with Bubba and Travis, I worked with Bubba in her garden and she shared for the first time more of her story.

Travis was not my blood grandfather, she told me. Bubba had divorced my ‘real’ grandfather Snow long before I was born because he was cruel to my mother. Your great grandmother, Frances, was a smart, athletic girl – she won three letters in basketball at Whitwell high school in Tennessee – and had wanted to go to nursing school. Back then, most southern girls did not think they could be doctors. But Grandpa Snow did not think girls should do anything except find a husband and work in the home. So he refused my mother and Bubba divorced him because of that. This is not to mention that Grandpa Snow had played around on my Bubba – he had. But when it came to her daughter, Bubba drew the line.

At the big house in Whitwell, Bubba had a large flower garden. But Grandpa Snow kept the house in the unfair divorces of the era, given that Bubba had initiated the divorce, and she lost her garden. Or would have except she colluded with a friend and raided the big house and ‘stole’ a large quantity of the flowers she was growing. Her friend transplanted the flowers at her home and promised Bubba she could have them when she found a new garden of her own.

After they moved to Birmingham, Bubba and Frances lived in an apartment house on Southside and, of course, could not make a garden there. But after my parents were able to get the small house in West End, Bubba’s friend would drive down to Birmingham with a trunk full of flowers and so Frances began her garden with the offspring of Bubba’s flowers. I’m guessing Bubba did her green thumb magic, because later when she and Travis were able to buy their own home, the flowers came home to roost.

Years later, we moved to East Lake, and after a few more years, so did Bubba and Travis. Both houses in East Lake soon had tremendous gardens that were unbelievably beautiful in the springtime. I spent many an hour helping Frances with hers, and just as many helping Bubba with hers. They had quite a competition going back then in the early 60s.

While I was at the Air Force Academy, my mother Frances finally found a way to go to nursing school. I to this day do not know how she found the money. But she did and by the time I graduated, she had earned a LPN, licensed practical nurse, associate’s degree. For the first time in my life, she had a way to make her own money and, shortly after I graduated, she divorced my father. They sold the house on 9th Avenue and most of the flowers found their way back to Bubba’s, as did my mother and brother Dan. Mother took over the second of the two bedrooms upstairs in Bubba’s house, and Dan got the new bedroom in the basement that I had dug with Mr. Grey the summer before I left for the Academy.

Your grandmamma, Cyndy, and I started a new home in Lake Forest near Mobile just before Bubba died. Frances soon began to insist that I take some of Bubba’s plants for our new house and I did, though I did not have much of a green thumb. Those flowers were lost when Cyndy and I temporarily separated when your mom was two, but after we built the house in Sans Souci, Frances again gave me offspring of Bubba’s to plant at our new home. I don’t have a green thumb, and most were lost, but enough lived and prospered to grow into a respectful garden on the back side of our garage in Sans Souci.

Unfortunately, that is where the story of Bubba’s flowers ends. When C and I sold the Sans Souci house, neither of us had earth in which to plant the flowers. So all were left to the new owners. Perhaps, if God is good, Bubba’s flowers continue to grow at that house in Montrose. Perhaps, someday, you can go to that house and ask the owners if you can take a cutting or bulb.

Bubba would like that. This one and the original.