Continued from Part 1
Was it that simple? I wondered. Was all it took to make it to manhood, simply falling in love?
I had to smile. For ten years later, I, not he, know the answer to his father’s question. 15 years later, I’d turned out to be more of a man than he, by most people’s estimation. 15 years later, though I live this life in a woman’s body, my reality is that of a full-grown, full-blown man — with a wife of eight years, a small business of my own, obligations and responsibilities and a sense of value and purpose in the world, paying taxes, making plans for extended vacations overseas in comfortable lodgings, on a track that will take my partner and me into a good, good life — maybe not the kind of life the rest of America wants us to have, yet nevertheless the life of our own choosing and making. I am a full participant in the making of my world, donating sweat and dollars to its shaping, stepping up to the daily duties that keep this culture in full swing, doing what I can to steer its course — and mine — in a direction I can live and sleep at night with. 15 years later, I am committed to a cause and a purpose that has taken me places few others dare to go, and I am building out of my own passions the world of my own wishing. I am translating into matter the substance of my desires, and with the swell of blood pounding in my corpus, the pump of adrenaline rushing through my veins, the full sun on my back, the wind in my face, all elements natural and social doing what they may to prevent me, I defy living the death of avoidance so many others choose and wade full-stride into the swells that rise to meet me.
My smile turned down, and I grew troubled. All his condescension, all his pontificating, all the cock-sure bullshit that boy shoveled, lo those years ago, had been for naught. There he now stood, on top of the beach house of a music channel, thin and pasty and aimless and lilting in the wind under a sun he didn’t look like he even knew is there, with no plans or obligations or responsibilities to tie him down, or give his life meaning and purpose, no family to provide for, no lover to protect, no territory to call his own, no focus for his scattered, shattered energies.
15 years later, Buddy-boy, I thought, who has answered your father’s question?
Buddy and I could probably still hit it off — hit it off just fine. After all, regardless of biology, regardless of calling, we may well both be boys all our days — he, by choice, and I by default. He remains a boy for he chooses to refuse to submit to the rigors of adult manhood, by refusing to surrender himself entirely to a cause not of his own making, whether out of fear or spite or defiance towards what life demands.
And I’ll never be a man, for I will not face the knife and needle, and don’t expect to ever be inducted into manhood by those who define such things. My rites are different, my almost-common-law marriage somehow less valid, my devotion tainted in the social sphere by the scoffing of loveless strangers, my commitment called into question, as it’s not cut from the same cloth as that of a “real man”. And the ‘real men’ around me will likely never offer to induct me into their ranks, no matter how similar we may be, for to be male — if nothing else — means to not be female.
I will neither rename the nature of my butch dyke life, nor remake the mold of my female body, and thus am almost-man will remain forever boy — never man. For as much as my life may resemble theirs, yet I am not one of them. As often as I may be mistaken for a man, still it is possible for the onlooker to “correct” themself and so re-establish my gender in their own eyes.
I think about Buddy’s father, every now and then, trying to envision him, wondering how he has handled watching his son refuse to grow up. Did it crush and embitter him as he advanced through his most hopeful years, watching for a sign of grandchildren, then gradually giving up on that dream of progeny? Did he curse the day his son ever said he wanted to go to college, blaming higher education for his son’s rebellious pretensions?
And I think of my own father, wondering if he can appreciate my place — my chosen place — in this world, all the demons nipping at my heels, the laughter of harpies echoing in my ears, as I dance and feint and run like hell to keep ahead of them all — or at least put the demons to work in some marginally constructive way. I wonder if he can see the point beneath my endeavors, the reason I work the long hours I do, the purpose behind my dedication, the nature of my devotion to things greater, goals more expansive, pursuits more inclusive, than my own small, circumscribed self — all of it for the sake of creation, even control. I wonder if he’s recognizing it as the similar to his own, recognizing in his first-born daughter, shades of a first-born son.
But I’ll never truly be that son to him, and as each day and night passes, I am all the more aware of that fact — I am stranger in a strange land. I am ranger, forever at the outskirts of polite society, sailing uncharted waters, no useful map in hand, no established rites defining where I stand on the compass of this world, in this culture, in the context of my daily life. There are no rituals to mark the passages of people like me. There is no meaningful word to describe or name someone like me. The proving ground of butches — the bar — is not one I frequent. And the blue-collar trades are not my workplace. The ways of the butch-femme dynamic have never been clear to me, and the lessons I know only from hearsay — I’ve never been formally taught. I am, at once, unrecognized heir to a broad and rich kingdom, and unrecognizable to all who might pass me my inheritance.
And so, out of ignorance, out of dearth of invention, my station in life remains socially arrested. In the static state of perpetual boyhood, I am always looking in from the outside, uncertain of my place among women, among men, but knowing full-well what I am and where I stand in the world. In earlier days, when the rigors of life had not yet set into duty and my nature still seemed pliable, I thought I could shake my portion — loose myself from it by sheer will and the good intentions of society’s milieu. I imagined my life was complete in itself, that I had no need of unleashing the boy on the world. I imagined my ways were palatable in the shape of a woman, and that I could retain my rights without stepping up to my responsibilities.
But the passing years have drawn me to my portion, my role — moreso, even, than they have that boy on the roof. I cannot shirk my duties, thumb my nose at the wide world clamoring for full-fledged manhood. I cannot play at Peter Pan and make a career of it, dancing in front of the television camera all summer long. I haven’t the luxury of the boy on the roof — ample opportunities to vent that pined-for aspect, the side men glory in overcoming, and yet mourn for all their grown-up days, the side many women crave, then marry, never allowing it to mature. That boy on the roof may never need to become a man — and meanwhile, I step into the shoes he won’t even try on. I step up to the challenges, the day-to-day roster of what-must-be-done, and I do it. I rise each day at the pre-ordained time, I take myself to work on the designated schedule, I complete my chores and tend to my issues in off-hours. I toil and sustain, provide and support, yet I am never truly considered on par with a man.
Who would look past my breasts, my hips, my vagina, and let my life, alone, define me?
I am barred forever from their company by that ever-present sign on the tree-house door “No Girls Allowed”. Surrounded I am, each day, by boys who haven’t the faintest idea what makes a man — most of them years away from their One True Purpose that will bind them with vows and change their lives. Most of them clueless about what it means to marry and spawn offspring and funnel every last ounce of energy, spend every last spurt of passion, for the object(s) of their desires, the family of their own making.
Married these past eight years, seeing lean years and rich. Being protector and provider for the woman I love throughout most of that time — and suffering terribly during the period when I was unable to be an ample provider. I’ve given her a life she never dreamed possible. I’ve laid aside my pride, stepped up to my tasks, done the work of three Hercules, and live yet to tell the tales. I could tell those boys a thing or two about what makes a man, but their ears are closed to the “girl” they see. Their eyes won’t see past their boyhood’s limited scope. And no rite of passage has marked me as their superior.
And yet it is in their company I find myself most often. For no matter how unschooled, no matter how crass, no matter how flawed their outlook may be, the fact is, I am of their cut — the male uninitiated into manhood.
So, I piece my own rites of passage together — the houses I’ve moved us into, the dreams I’ve made reality for my lover, the trip to the emergency room when the woman I love thought she was dying, the paychecks I haul home each week without fail… the little victories I have in making my life suit my whims, the success of my directed will bringing my future to life. Conquests and conquering — I feel no shyness towards those words — and triumph of good over evil.
I can’t hang my hat too heavily on the opinions of men, nor none of these rites would count. What counts is that I place myself, my will, each day at the mercy and disposal of the woman I love, that I am unceasingly at her beck and call… that I have forsaken all others for her and her alone, and that I am true to the end, even beyond the day no breath slips between my lips… that she is all I’ve ever wanted, she’s all I’ll ever need, and she alone is my goal, my prize, my truth, my glory, my hope and prayer without end.
These are things that boys can never know — that many men, too, have forgotten — that women (most women) do not realize, as they hope long and hard for that one, that only one, who will pledge themself to her for all time.
Yes, I have my rituals, I have my convictions. I have my vanities, but also my good works. I know what it is to pledge, to commit, to drive ever onwards in the face of all opposition to take my place at my lady’s side and to know each risk, each sacrifice, is worth the trouble and the toil. I know that in my sacrifice I am redeemed, and that in my seeming losses, I cannot help but gain.